- We are slaves to our gadgetry, and it is leading us down paths of destruction.
- We are cut off from our bodies.
- We can no longer discern how we feel because we have conditioned ourselves to use our heart rate data or power meter to determine our effort for us.
- We believe we need to have this gadgetry to achieve at a high level, when all we really need to do is to listen--listen to our bodies. Let them tell us what is going on....
But enough on that.
The real problem with the Down with Data movement as I see it is that those advocating a return to working out without data are rejecting the wrong thing. Data, in itself, is not bad. It is how we relate to the data that is the problem, and more specifically it is how we relate to the data as we work out that is (perhaps) most problematic. If we feel great but our heart rate monitor tells us we are in zone 5 and we believe it--that is the problem--not the data itself. Gadgets can run out of batteries and such, and then the data they provide may be flawed. We should be bright enough to pick up on that in those infrequent circumstances. Really.
I've never met a person who is so disconnected from his body that he cannot distinguish a hard effort from an easy one, but just say, for a minute, that such a person does exist. If he has become this way because of his reliance on gadgetry like his Garmin, which will tell him his pace and heart rate, then the argument goes he should LOSE the Garmin. He needs to get back to his roots. Listen to his breathing. Feel the wind beneath his feet. (He could probably only do the last thing if he were barefoot, of course, which, I should add, is the way he should be anyway b/c it's is closer to the pastoral than that evil machine...., right?)
Bullshit. He could do this... He could lose the Garmin. It wouldn't be the end of the world if he did. However, what is his goal? Is it to get faster? Better? Stronger? Then the data will not hurt him. In fact, I would argue it will help him. Information does not hurt people. Information informs people. Information educates people. Information helps us to become more evolved people. Are we really saying that being ignorant about pace, heart rate and power is better than knowing it?
Bear with me here. When an athlete is new to running or biking he has no idea how hard is really hard, how easy is really easy. He has no sense of pace--and no clue about heartrate or power. That's probably okay at first. The goal at first is really just to run or bike for a stretch of time without stopping. But as the athlete becomes more at ease with running or biking, he is ready for data. Far from disconnecting him from his efforts, this data gives a label to his efforts. He measures out his routes, and for the first time realizes that he has been going at roughly say, 8 min. pace per mile. Interesting! As the athlete becomes more experienced he is eager for more and more data. This is not bad. This is evolution.
After years and years in sport, many runners and cyclists know exactly what their efforts "mean". Andy has told me that when he was in college they used to have a competition to see who could run 200 intervals within 1/10th of a second of each other. After running 200 after 200--year after year--the runners on his team were able to that. But is it because they were running on feel? Well yes! But only after having years of data that enabled them to first label that feel, and then replicate it! Assessing one's perceived effort in a very general way is not hard. It hurts. It doesn't hurt. Becoming acquainted with the full variability of the perceived effort for any given measure and being able to label it accurately--eg. this is a 28.8 second 200--takes years of experience and years of KNOWING the data--data that can be used to label the effort and own it.
Today I had a run that was primarily a base run, but I had a few tempo miles in it as well. The instructions were to run at 10K pace minus 10-20 seconds for 3 mile tempo bit. I know what that pace is--on paper-- but that pace feels different to me every time I do it. I started out the run and felt great. I noted that I was running faster than normal while maintaining a zone 2 heart rate. Nice! When I began the tempo portion of my run I expected the ease to continue. I was having a good day! Hence, when I looked down at my Garmin a couple minutes into my effort I expected to see a pace that would cause me to think, Whoa, Nellie! I know you are a speedy woman, but let's slow down here. That's more like 5K pace! Ummm. No. I looked down and was like FUCK! Pick up the pace sister you are a slug! I found the pace with the help of the Garmin (it hurt more than I thought it should at first and then felt right after a few minutes). But my point is that using the Garmin helped me achieve a specificity in my workout that without it I would not have been able to achieve. I was able to find the pace, and feel it. I hope that someday I am able to find that pace -- or any pace-- with no help at all. But how will I know? I WON'T. Because unless I'm racing (where pace always feels different than in training anyway) I won't have the data to tell me!
Here's the real irony. The very devices certain people are advocating to take away so they can become reacquainted with their bodies are the very pieces of gadgetry that might enable the athlete to get to know his body better. It's easy for those with tons of experience in sport to suggest that we go without--because frankly, they are so experienced they can better trust perceived effort than those who are more inexperienced.
It's so easy to believe that simplicity is superior--that we would be in better touch with our true selves if we just shed the trappings of modern, technological life. Maybe this is true to some extent, or in some cases. But here? The machine is not ugly and littering up the garden. Really, it's not. The garden is a beautiful place-- I agree. In this case, however, the machine is just helping us to get to know the garden a little better.