About Data Management and Training Insights for Masters Rowers

I have been rowing races (and training for them) for a large part of my life. I started rowing in 1984, and when I was 15 I moved on to race rowing. That also meant my first encounter with a structured training plan. The plan was of course entirely done by my coach, who got professional assistance through the rowing association (KNRB and ARB in my case, this being in The Netherlands). I just executed the trainings.

This continued like that until I was 23. That was the first time I stopped rowing. I stopped entirely.

However, I was bitten by the sports bug, and I continued exercising on my own. Basically without structure. I went running, cycling, swimming, and every session was a fartlek session. Also, the number of times per week varied between zero and “a few times”. I participated in half marathon runs.

When I was 24, I became a member of a rowing club again. I regularly took a single, double or quad for an outing. No structured training plan. From there, though, the situation has gradually changed. First, there was participation in a few races. Then there was more regular training. Then there was following a Plan (Pete plan, to start). Then my training diary started to evolve, from written notes to a spreadsheet, to where I am today. So here is what I use:

Planning Training

Pen and paper and a spreadsheet. Today I do my own training plan, based on my (limited) understanding from reading training handbooks, scientific literature and books on sports physiology. I do not use any online available ready plans or hire coaching support. I have tried Rojabo in the past but wasn’t convinced it was helping me in the long run. Also, I am genuinely interested in the science behind optimizing training.

The spreadsheet has become pretty elaborate, including tabs with favorite workouts and a classification. I use sessions from all the training plans I have used in the past.

The weekly detailed training planning takes about 30 minutes every Sunday evening. Sometimes I remember to write the sessions on my Google Calendar, from where they automatically show up on my smartphone. I tried to use the planning plugin in SportTracks, but was too cumbersome, and the sync with Google Calendar didn’t work.

Data Capturing

I strive to capture Heart Rate, pace and cadence (stroke rate) and weather information for each session, whether it is running, cycling, indoor or outdoor rowing. I use a heart rate belt and various devices:

  1. NK SpeedCoach GPS 2 for OTW rowing. I recently switched from CrewNerd and have used RiM as well. Garmin Forerunner for redundancy.
  2. Painsled, ErgData or RowPro for rowing OTE.
  3. Strava app on the phone for cycling
  4. Garmin Forerunner for running and hotel gym sessions
  5. Wahoo Fitness app for strength sessions at home

Getting all the data in one place

I have a paid subscription to Sporttracks.mobi and have paid for the SportTracks desktop app. I use the free versions of Strava (mainly for the social aspects and for the “segments”), Garmin Connect (sync with my Garmin devices) and TrainingPeaks (syncs with CrewNerd). I have set up Tapiriik to sync between Strava, Garmin Connect, TrainingPeaks, and SportTracks.mobi. SportTracks.mobi syncs with the desktop version automatically.

Through my own site rowsandall.com, I am able to sync my rowing (OTE and OTW) between the Concept2 logbook, Strava, and SportTracks. I can upload SpeedCoach files to that site and send a copy of the data to Strava, SportTracks and the C2 logbook. Same process for Painsled files. With ErgData, I get the data in the C2 logbook. I use the site to pull the data from there and send copies to Strava and SportTracks.

My ideal would be a workflow that does not involve storing FIT, CSV or TCX files on my desktop in any way. Instead, data capturing apps should do online syncing to the mentioned websites directly from the app. Unfortunately, the NK SpeedCoach and Painsled are not there yet, but I think they are working on that.

Data and Training analysis

Being a data geek and very interested in training science, I love plotting my training sessions in different ways, and making graphs of progress (or lack of progress) of various metrics over time. SportTracks Training Load plugin calculates my Training Stress Balance (numbers representing my “fitness” and “freshness”) as well as many other metrics, some more valuable than others. I also like to use excel (and increasingly Python programs) to plot seasonal bests, lactate scores, and I have added most of the standard plots to my rowsandall.com site.

Recently, I have become more interested in “Power based training” and I have considered a few more ways to get insights:

  1. Golden Cheetah. Fantastic program, but geared very much towards triathletes. If you do any sport that is not cycling, running or swimming, you’re out of luck. Still interested in learning how others have tweaked Golden Cheetah for rowing.
  2. Premium version of TrainingPeaks
    1. This would mean dumping SportTracks and go to TrainingPeaks. Their metrics look interesting but their price tag is very steep ($20 / month)
    2. For now, I have only used TrainingPeaks as an intermediate station for my data. When I started to seriously look into the possibilities of TrainingPeaks, I quickly discovered that it was syncing with Garmin Connect. Because I was using Tapiriik as well for syncing, I had duplicates of most of my sessions. Seriously, I expect a training data website to detect duplicates. I mean, sessions with the same start time, duration, and session name should be flagged and removed. I tried to remove some of the data but it takes three clicks per duplicate session, and my training database has more than 1500 entries.
    3. I also figured out that I should first read a bit more about power based training and try to assess what it would bring to me. I suspect it is just an interest for now, and I have no idea if it would have added value on top of what I am doing in terms of planning, executing, and reviewing using the tools I have at my disposal today. In other words, the $20 / month investment probably wouldn’t make me any faster.

So in the end I decided to order a book on Power Based Training and read that first. If I get enthusiastic, I will implement the useful training metrics in Python, and may make them available to a wider public through rowsandall.com. What I am really interested in is a rowing specific interpretation of such a training paradigm, which is extremely interesting given that power meters for rowing are around the corner (with the NK Empower oarlock and other products coming on the market soon).

Illustration from ‘The Poohsticks Handbook: A Poohstickopedia’ by Mark Evans (Egmont Publishing). Illustrations by Mark Burgess after E H Shephard. Copyright 2015 Disney Enterprises Inc. Based on the “Winnie-the-Pooh” works by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard.

Illustration from ‘The Poohsticks Handbook: A Poohstickopedia’ by Mark Evans (Egmont Publishing). Illustrations by Mark Burgess after E H Shephard. Copyright 2015 Disney Enterprises Inc. Based on the “Winnie-the-Pooh” works by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shephard.

Hopefully this summary of where I am in terms of training planning, execution and getting insights is helpful for others as well. The triathlon community seems to be miles ahead of the rowing community in this sense, but I believe there a lot of self-coached or otherwise interested rowers who would like to get training insights and improve the way they train.

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