Training in the early years of my triathlon career was like living with the dinosaurs in terms of technology. There was nothing to measure anything. I had a stopwatch and a regular watch. That was it. Yes, it was barely a step up from the technology the dinosaurs had!
On my bike workouts I only knew how long I’d been out riding. I didn’t have a speedometer so I had no idea how fast I went. There was no odometer so distance was a guess as well. I’d ask my training partners, all of which had been at this longer than me. If they said we rode 50-miles, I was good with 50!
I only had the gears I was using silently logging in the back of my brain somewhere. I could compare routes I did a lot over time against the gears I could push. If they got bigger, I figured I was getting stronger and faster. That was it.
Running was only scientific if I was willing to go to a track and time myself with the stopwatch. It wasn’t convenient, so I rarely did it. I just ran, again knowing the time for specific routes. When those got faster I figured I was getting more fit. In reality though it was often difficult to tell whether I was more fit or if I had just gone harder. But again, either way I would give myself a pat on the back and go on in my era of dinosaur technology.
Everything until about 1984 was done by feel. I couldn’t measure speed or pace or power or heart rate. But I did get pretty good at knowing the different qualities of the pain threshold. By trial and error I figured out the subtle cues that distinguished the critical difference between going hard and going too hard. I got good at figuring out the difference between the tired feeling that was just me being lazy and the tired when I was indeed too tired to do a workout that I had planned.
Finally then the dinosaurs came out of the tech void. We got heart rate monitors, speedometers and the Timex Ironman watch that was waterproof and could take splits. It was a marvel! Suddenly I could actually start to put some values to the sensations I’d been using to guide my training. It was the best of both worlds.
The only bummer was that a lot of those rides we’d guessed their distance of, well, we overestimated. It took a good year before we got over the fact that our 50-miler was only about 42. But so be it!
Swimming had always been a numbers sport. I trained in a pool and there was always a clock on deck. It was the big round kind with the red hand that goes around exactly once a minute. Pretty hard to overestimate how far or how fast you swam with that kind of info.
Cycling had just stepped up with a speedometer and odometer combo mounted on my bars. By comparing speed to heart rate that the new monitors showed me I was able to finally know if my route times were getting faster because of fitness or because I was going harder. As I got more fit, I’d cut time off my favorite routes but be able to do it without having my heart rate get any higher. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to factor in winds that can blow differently on the same route on different days. That would be solved later, but for the time being, we all felt like the cutting edge of science was available to us.
Running was the one that was more difficult to compare. Yes, I could measure heart rate. But I still had no idea how far I was running. Routes getting faster like on the bike if done at the same heart rate was a solid sign I was getting more fit. I loved running on trails, so I still didn’t have a very accurate tally of miles logged at the end of the week. That was fine with me though. I had my hands full with using heart rate to regulate my training zones. And if I really wanted to know the bottom line of where I stood on pace, I’d go to the trusty track and pull out the stopwatch.
Power meters, speedometers GPS, cadence monitors, pace measurers, calories burned calculators and heart rate monitors are all now in a ton of different devices. You can have it all in one place, and measure more than you likely want to know about.
This is my latest toy! It’s stationary trainer riding meets the future. I can ride with my friends no matter where they are. I can join in group rides with people I’ve never met. No one crashes, but you can get mercilessly dropped!
It’s Zwift. The load on my trainer varies with the terrain on the screen. I can see the road pitch, my power, speed, distance covered and cadence all in one glance. It’s taken everything boring out of the stationary trainer equation. Yes, dinosaurs no more.
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.