Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 36 - Marco Nicoli - RUN THE DATA - Part 2 of 3

Right. See, I know you’re talking about being really like quantitatively focused. I'm very qualitatively focused. I don't run races with a watch if I can help it. For the longest time, I did not have a power meter on the bike, although it has been very helpful since I've won the last few years.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 36 - Marco Nicoli - RUN THE DATA - Part 2 of 3

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JESSE: Right. See, I know you’re talking about being really like quantitatively focused. I'm very qualitatively focused. I don't run races with a watch if I can help it. For the longest time, I did not have a power meter on the bike, although it has been very helpful since I've won the last few years. Do you have any kind of a strategy for any kind of qualitative input into what you do? Or are you strictly looking at these are the numbers, this is your set, that's just what it is, and nothing else, or is there a qualitative side? MARCO: Absolutely. I think my approach is I love data. Data tells me a lot. But data is nothing more than a tool, and you are the foremost expert in your body. So, even if the data says you can do this set if you don't feel it, or it feels too hard, there's something wrong. So, the biggest question I always ask my athletes and they're always surprised because I'm such a quant head is how did you feel. I think it's immensely important to have the qualitative with the qualitative. The quantitative is your tool bag, but on race day or on any day, it has to come from how you feel, and how your body is doing. On race day, it's great to have you all your data, but what happens is your power meter dies? If you are so dependent on your gadgets and they fail, you need to learn what 300 watts feels like or what race pace feels like. And sometimes I'll have sets where I'll have my athletes, “Hey, you know what I want you to run three by two miles at 300 watts, but I want you to keep your watch in your pocket and go by feel and then we'll see how close you get.” And it always amazes me and them how quickly they learn what X amount of effort feels like. And then they become better and on race day they'll say hey, you know what, my wash broke or you know an athlete recently that did a triathlon, he lost his watch on the swim, it went to the bottom of the bay. But he said, “You know what, my power numbers are still right on, on both the bike and the run because we did so much training going by feel.” And I mean, I can tell you I mean, that's what you live for as a coach to kind of hear that kind of story. But that is-- sometimes when you're a quant head, you need to get reminded that it's not all about the numbers. The numbers are important, but numbers are nothing more than the byproduct of the process. And you need to know what the process feels like to be able to do it and do it repeatedly. JESSE: Yeah, so I have another show and it's just-- it’s not called a show, but it's just me like talking about running and long-distance running and stuff. I always preach about rate of perceived exertion as like, basically the pinnacle of running because when all else fails, that's what you can rely on. And you kind of talked about this, so recently in this kind of two-week training blocks, we had kind of a fartlek set on the bike where we did 30 seconds hard, 130 off, and there was 12 to 15 of them, depending on whether it was last week or this week, we did twice. And the first week, it was assigned basically as the 30 seconds should be slightly above zone five. So, you're not crushing it, but , you're going a little bit harder than zone five. So, when I went and did that, zone five for me ends currently, my current fitness ends around 325 watts. So, if I'm in 330-340 I'm hitting the numbers. But when I did it, partly because I was fresh, it was the first workout I'd done in week one, I went by rate of perceived exertion and said I need to go comfortably hard, which is right above zone five, right. So, then I think my average numbers ended up like 390. So, I could have missed basically 60 watts of work if I was only stuck on this is the number. Versus like, I did-- And that was outside. I'm always a little bit higher on power outside than I am inside. I did inside this week again, a few more intervals, it was probably 340-350, a little more fatigue but RPE’s still there. I kind of think of that in terms of the RPE both gives you the go ahead, like in my case where if I had said okay, I only can go to 330. Well, then I'm limiting myself but also hold you back. Like this morning when I was tired, I wasn't trying to like crash the workout and hit as hard as I could. I knew my body needed extra time to get up to speed. So, that's why I preach RPE so much is that it helps you make those adjustments each day versus being so stuck on that watch. MARCO: I think you have it spot on. I mean, how often have you heard people say, “Oh, you know what, I took fourth place by a minute. But I felt so good, I think I could have gone faster.” And the data is great, but you have to watch out that it doesn't overdo it for you or it doesn't hold you back. So, that's why a combination of data and RPE, and then working your way through your data to know what that feels like, is so important. Because nobody wants to ride looking at a screen. I mean, it's just not fun or run. So, you need to learn what your body is. And remember, tapering, we do it for a reason because you can have performance improvements of five to 15%. So, if you are going through a training cycle where you're always tired, and you’re riding at say 300 watts. But on race day, your body is really capable of more, you're leaving time on the table. So, you have to be able to adjust and adapt and that RPE and that feeling, subjective feeling has to be part of the question. JESSE: Yeah. So, I want to see, you mentioned using the run power meter pod. I don't have one, I've seen them, will you sell it to me? Will you sell me on why I should get one? I'd love to find a reason to get one but since I'm so sold on RPE, I'm like, do I really need the power data for the run? MARCO: It's a good question, a question I get a lot from newer athletes. My thing is what sold me the first time is I ended up buying it, and then I went for a run and I didn't look at the data. And I just looked at the data afterwards and I said, I'm running steady. And by all accounts, pace, normalized ?? 06:35> it was steady. But then the terrain I run in here is fairly hilly. I noticed that I was leaving a lot of watts on the table when I was going downhill as I was apparently dilly-dallying, and I was really burning myself upon on all up hills. So, the biggest advantage that I find with running with power is the fact that you can appropriately pace just like power on the bike. RPE is great, but RPE will change with your fatigue especially in long-distance triathlon. 200 watts may feel easy the first 10 miles at mile 105, 200 miles may feel impossible. So, this allows you to pace it correctly, pace it steady and also in training, allows you to develop that stamina at that specific intensity, so, you can sustain it on the ride. You know how many times you go out for a five-hour ride and then a brick run and you think you're keeping it steady, but your power decreases over time. So, you're not really accomplishing what you want to both in training and racing. The other thing is prescription. When you go by RPE and heart rate, the first few repeats, especially the higher intensity feel easy, and the first part of longer steady state threshold work feels easy, and then at the end, it feels harder. So, I noticed that effort wise when people are just going by RPE tends to be kind of a slightly decaying function, as opposed to staying steady. The most common thing you'll notice if you ride or run with power, is oh, you know, the beginning felt so easy, then it got so hard. But that forces you to sustain that effort and develop that stamina and fatigue resistance, which you otherwise wouldn't have if you just went by RPE or heart rate because you would just fade off later in the interval. JESSE: And yeah, I think that's-- you touch on that. I think that's probably the hardest thing about RPE only which was like, again like on my pool workout this morning, I slightly had descending intervals, but to get just slightly descending, I'm kind of like a second per interval, 50s, and 100s as the set progresses, and you're 1,000-2,000 into the set, that RPE goes up very sharply. So, you're at the end, trying to hold what should be not too bad. And you're just like cranking as hard as you can go. For me, I have dense legs, so I'm always like, keep your legs out of the way like really trying to engage my abs, which is tough. But yeah, you just get that sensation of like, this is more like a hard 50 then like a moderate 50. When yeah, you try to keep that same, just internal perception from the beginning, then yeah, you really peter off and your time will just kind of drop. So, you have to almost have to be used to going harder at the end, but appropriately harder. And I think that's tough because there's that, like we talked about earlier, that internal limiter that's kind of telling you like, slow down, stop, like you're going too hard. Don't do that. And then you get that positive feedback when you let off in your brains like oh, yeah, that's what I wanted you to do. Like, don't go as hard. MARCO: This feels good. JESSE: Yeah. MARCO: Well, I think, you know, again, it's the ultimate goal is to be able to train with power, and then be able to equate RPE with power and learn the feeling of what a certain effort feels like, irrespective of your fatigue level. It's a training tool, it's a carrot and a stick, right? I mean, sometimes you feel like you're dying, but it's really easy. Or sometimes you feel like, oh, this is really easy, but you're hitting your numbers, it can be very motivating. The other thing is, with power, especially on the run, you can start seeing your power curve changing, you can start seeing, hey what my 1,500 time, my mile time, my two mile time might not have changed, but my power numbers have increased. So, all of a sudden, I know I can go harder. That is an incredibly powerful carrot I noticed with my athletes when they look at their power numbers, not only just the maximum power numbers, you know, all the heroes on the bike, oh, I hit 1500 watts today. That's great. But you can actually-- ?? 10:38> yeah, you can get those metrics over time, over race significant times and durations that show hey, you know what, you are getting better. Your 60 minute time, your 90 minute time, your 180 minute time, if you're a three hour Half Ironman cyclist, it's getting higher. So, all of a sudden, you can then relate that into some of the other software packages and say hey, you know what, what you did in 3:15 last year nowadays, with your power sustainability, you can do in 2:45. It's amazing how motivating that is for athletes who say, I'm tired I don't want to train anymore to “Oh, crap. Let's do it again. Let's keep going.” JESSE: Yeah, yeah. That positive feedback loop. Yeah, it's tough sometimes just because you get in the middle of whatever you're doing, and then it's easy to focus on right now. And like well, I don't feel good right now. It's like, okay, but you've put in all the work and you've made that progression. I think even I fall into this mental trap here in there where it's like, you don't feel good so you feel like you remember the times when you felt great, and were performing great. And you're like, why don't I feel like that even though you may be in better shape now. Like I always say, I kind of got my father into running, and he'd run and he'd like, some days he’d run well and feel terrible. And some days he’d run terrible and feel good. And I'm like, the correlation between feeling good, feeling bad and how your performance is, is not linear at all. It is not one to one in any sense of the measure. They're almost, it's almost confusing like how much of a dichotomy there is. And it's like, you could have the best day of your life and have felt the worst you ever have, in part because you push yourself harder than you ever had before. Or maybe you're in great shape so you feel good and had a good day. So, that RPE does have its limits. MARCO: I think every tool you use and training has its limits. I think it would be foolish to think that hey we found the silver bullet that solves all our training problems because if it was out there, someone would have found it by now. I think, synergistically using all of the tools we have at our disposal to achieve our best results is very important because everything, you know, there's many factors that come into our life. Not none of us, well, maybe there's a few out there are professional triathletes that spent their entire life on performance. So, there's other things, there's sleep, there's stress, there's family, there's work. And it all plays into how you feel and how you perform. And that's where I think data kind of shines because data will cut through all that and say, “Hey, you know what? Today was not a good day.” And you can see in the data today was not a good day, so don't worry about it. So, instead of having the feeling of “Oh crap, I didn't do very well. I stink. I'm not getting any better.” You can say, “Hey, you know what, I can see your heart rate at the beginning of the workout, your heart response was so and so. And the reasons are so and so, and that's why your performance was bad. So, don't worry about it, take a rest day, we'll move on to the next workout.” And more often than not, the athlete will feel better. So, it's sometimes you know, having the data to kind of backup bad performances is almost more important than having the data backup good performances because it gives something else to focus on rather than you know, what we all feel like oh, it was a terrible day, I can't believe it, I'm never gonna get better. I'm never gonna qualify, whatever the response may be. Now you have something to back up and say, there's a backstop that tells you don't worry, everything's gonna be fine. It's just a blip in the series. JESSE: Yeah, so I kind of want to ask you about, there's this kind of scenario that happens every once in a while, basically a plateau. And for I'll say, old school coaches who are thinking this athlete should be progressing, but it's just flat all the way across. Do you ever see that, like with your athletes? And then is there data to back up that kind of intuition that says they should be progressing? And then have you used-- Is there any kind of data that you can dig into that says this is where our issue is? MARCO: Oh, yes. JESSE: This is how we get past that plateau? MARCO: Absolutely. And that's what I like about the data. That's the part that I really enjoy. I mean, as coaches, we all have our training program and it goes through the periodization, and athletes should improve. But every athlete is different. So, it's a learning process as a coach to learn how their body responds. I mean, in some cases, it can be, hey we're doing a whole bunch of tempo to threshold extensive to intensive workout, but you're no longer improving. And then you look at the data, I had just one athlete yesterday that we looked at it and said, “Hey, you know what, we're going to switch it up. Your percentile utilization of VO2 max on the bike is at the upper end of your range when we look at it over the last couple of years. So, banging away at the threshold is not going to help. We're going to swap our training to VO2 work because we need to raise that ceiling a little bit, which historically has been higher. So, we can then continue improving on the threshold.” Going back to running and running with power, I had an athlete last year in Europe, who PR his 70.3 time, but we kept running into that he's not progressing, why is he not progressing on the run? And through running, we figured out that his ?? 16:07> hip flexors are tight. Because we looked at, the metric I used was meters per watts per millisecond. So, no matter how hard he was pressing, or how short his ground contact time was, his stride length wasn’t increasing. So, there was a graph that was increasing and then plateauing. We did a round of stretching and activation work on his - hip flexors, his stride length increased, that chart, meters per millisecond improved, and he was able to set his half marathon PR off of a bike that was his 70.3 bike PR. And it was purely nothing changed, the watts were the same, his heart rate response was the same. But his ability to increase his stride length without over striding on the front end of the stride made all the difference. So, that was one of the times where you can use data, and that's the beauty of data. You can start looking at, why are we not improving? And instead of saying, “Well, I don't know. We're doing everything right.” You can dig in and find the individual intricacy of that one athlete and then kind of play mad scientist and really find it, play with it, address it, and then you have your back end results And sometimes it works great, other times you might have to look at a different factor. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 3

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