The Technology of Triathlon

Associate Coach Mike Mahoney on Superflag, The Boulder Experience 2013

by Mike Mahoney


Everyone’s aware that technology is revolutionizing just about every area of society, and that the pace of change is increasing. Endurance sports are no exception, and I’d argue that triathlon is the endurance sport where technology is making the most impact. By using technology triathletes can not only train better to get faster, we can record workouts, track everything from route to cadence to heart rate, and share all of it online with friends and coaches. It’s due to all this technology that we can seriously and accurately provide coaching for athletes who live on different continents. The advanced technology we use in triathlon is a great benefit to the sport, but like all technology it has is subject to technical problems and requires knowledge to use most effectively. That’s what this series of articles is about.

I’m a bit of a technology geek, and these articles are my attempt to share some of what I’ve discovered in a way that will be useful to others. I’ll cover the basics, because I think that there’s a real lack of clear, general information specifically for beginning triathletes. I’ll cover the recognized places to get the really detailed, technical information that’s too in-depth for me to realistically cover. I’ll offer some of my own solutions, and I’ll throw in the occasional thought on the state of sports technology and where it might be taking us.

Mostly, I’ll be writing as a coach looking to help Discomfort Zone athletes with the technology questions I’m often asked about. The current state of the industry means that there are many manufacturers and developers producing a bewildering variety of products, some of which work together seamlessly, and some of which don’t. Often, a little general knowledge – for example, just what ANT+ is and why it matters – can save athletes time, trouble, and money on a piece of what should be really useful technology.

Let’s start by listing some my top five online resources for triathletes, since I’m often asked how to find this kind of information.


Training Peaks

Training Peaks offers planning tools and workout analysis for triathlon coaches and athletes.Training Peaks is a website designed for coaches and athletes, primarily in triathlon, but it also works well for cycling, running, and cross training. It offers the ability to plan and track workouts and training online through a calendar interface. You can upload and analyze GPS files such as those from a Garmin or Polar. You can also do things like generate a basic training plan. TP integrates with Google Calendar and because it locates your data in the cloud and offers mobile apps, you can access your workouts from wherever, on any computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Discomfort Zone coached athletes already know Training Peaks as the method we use to deliver training plans. But did you know that you don’t have to have a coach to use it? Any athlete can sign up for free and use Training Peaks on their own. It’s always been important for a serious athlete to keep track of your workouts and a record of your progress, Training Peaks is the 21st-century technological equivalent of the spiral-bound paper training log.


Strava

Strava is great for competing online and sharing rides and runs with friends.Like Training Peaks, Strava is a website where athletes can upload recorded GPS files of their workouts. But whereas Training Peaks is designed for planning and analyzing workouts and perhaps sharing your schedule with a coach, Strava is all about competing with your friends.

Originally designed for cyclists, Strava has been gaining in popularity recently with runners and triathletes. The idea is that you upload your bike or run to the site, which compares your GPS track with everyone else’s. Certain stretches of road or trail are designated as segments and there’s a leaderboard for each segment. So say several athletes go for a Wednesday morning ride and upload our files to Strava. Not only does the site know that we were out for a ride together, but it compares our speeds and tells me that although I’m no longer the fastest down Gordon St. Hill, I got my 2nd fastest time on the Swamp 1k time trial. Let the bragging and trash-talking begin! If you enjoy this kind of competition as I do, you probably find uploading your workouts fun and motivating.

Strava has another use besides competing with friends. Because it’s used so much for competition, Strava houses the world’s largest database of cycle routes. Just scanning the maps looking for segments can be a great way of finding a route for your next ride. And recently, Strava’s been using some really interesting technology to provide information about what routes are most traveled.

We maintain a DZ Multisport Club on Strava so that DZ athletes can easily find each other and connect.


Garmin Connect

Garmin Connect offers planning tools and workout analysis for triathlon, and comes with Garmin devices.Slowly, Garmin has become the leader in triathlon GPS devices. There’s competition, but in terms of standardization and interoperability Garmin devices like the Forerunner 910XT are starting to take over the triathlon market.

Garmin Connect is Garmin’s online data upload, record keeping, and analysis tool. Similar to Training Peaks and Strava in that athletes upload GPS files of their workouts, Garmin Connect is a bit unavoidable because it easily installs with your Garmin device.

Garmin Connect also offers the ability to connect with friends online to compare activities, and in response to requests from our athletes we’ve also set up a DZ Multisport Club on Garmin Connect.


Slowtwitch

Slowtwitch is my go-to place for triathlon news and opinion.Slowtwitch is a triathlon-focused website featuring news, articles, and forums. The site is run by Dan Empfield, a longtime triathlete who designed the first triathlon bicycle and competed in the 1981 Ironman. Slowtwitch is the go-to site for triathlon news and opinion, particularly about iron-distance triathlon. Pro triathlete news and ITU news are covered particularly well, with well-written articles and far more in-depth coverage than an general sports news outlet.

Slowtwitch is known for a very active forum community, and also for the no-holds-barred style in the forums. Users can be anonymous, and alongside high-quality posts from recognized experts you’ll find mean-spirited posts from serial jerks. The arguments can go on for pages, but that’s part of the site’s charm: if you need an opinion on anything triathlon, odds are that it’s already been discussed to death on Slowtwitch. In the best tradition of the early internet, the users won’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. Beware: there are several running in-jokes where new posters are made fun of; I suggest lurking for a bit before posting.


DC Rainmaker

DC Rainmaker offers the most in-depth triathlon technology reviews I've ever seen.DC Rainmaker is a runner, triathlete and blogger who posts some of the most detailed, professional and consistent information on the web. I have no idea how this guy manages to find time to train and post 60-page reviews, but somehow, he does.

If you’re looking for a product review for something triathlon-related, this is the place. Just be prepared to spend some time. The reviews are astonishingly in-depth, with every part of a product analyzed noting every advantage that the manufacturer might want you to know. There’s also every problem the manufacturer doesn’t want you to know about, which is probably the most useful part. The best example of this is DC Rainmaker’s article on Strava discontinuing their API, which sounds like techie speak but meant that thousands of athletes suddenly found that their technology stopped working.


There’s a lot of technology out there, and every time something new is introduced it takes a while for triathletes to use it to full effect. It wasn’t so long ago that power meter technology was the exclusive domain of champion cycling teams – you can read about Lance Armstrong having to stop by the side of the road to manually upload power data. Now, anyone can buy a wireless power meter and more-or-less seamlessly upload their data.

Getting all this technology to work – without the athlete having to miss training to fuss with technology – is the subject of these articles. I hope the online resources above help improve your triathlon experience.


Mike



Before his first Marine Corps Marathon, Mike Mahoney’s idea of running was something a sergeant forced you to do in a rucksack and boots. Triathlon just kind of happened from there. His proudest moment is being talked into a 50k at 9pm the night before. Mike is an Associate Coach with Discomfort Zone and is currently training towards a belt buckle.

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