Analyzing Your Fitness Data: See Hidden Insights and Avoid Disaster

My 2020 in Charts and Graphs

When I was in college, I tracked my mileage and workouts on paper or in my head. My watch only told the time, and I never knew my heart rate or the elevation of the rolling hills of the central Ohio town where we ran.

The only way I knew my mile splits was when Coach Rice would yell them out as the pack of runners blew past him on the track or the cross country (golf) course. And when I got injured, I wasn’t ever sure why. Too many miles? Running too fast? Not enough stretching? It was a mystery.

I honestly can’t afford that kind of cavalier approach to data and tracking anymore.

Why? Because my body is older now, creakier. I’m more likely to get injured from running too much, or lose fitness rapidly from doing too little.

I have to strike the perfect balance between pushing myself and respecting my limits, and the only way I know how to do that is to measure my fitness.

But how do you measure something intangible like “What shape am I in? Am I more fit than last month or last year?”

The answer is simple: tracking.

*Disclaimer: it has taken me 4 years of research and practice with data analysis to have ease and facility with it. If you want to accelerate that timeline, hire a coach to train you in how to use a system like this to elevate your performance and track your goals.

Into the Data Weeds

Every workout from 2020 in one big messy graph!

Whoa! That looks like a mess of dots and lines, but it’s actually highly useful data to help me analyze my year, and plan for 2021.

Every red dot is a day. The higher up on the graph, the harder the workout I did that day.

See the red dots along the bottom? Those are the days I took off — no workouts logged. And the higher the dots, the harder the workout or run. I can see my top efforts and my days off at a glance. I notice that I took a lot of days off in January and February. That time could have been used to build fitness. This year, I’m all over that opportunity.

The blue line is the most important: that’s my level of fitness over the course of the year. What does this tell me? I peaked in mid-September, but didn’t do my big race until early November, when my fitness had declined. This tells me I need to plan the peak of my fitness better in 2021, and do a hard race effort when I’m closer to my peak.

Lesson learned — and if not for that chart, I might have missed it entirely.

How Many Miles to Go, Coach?

I ran 751 miles and 118 hours in 2020!

It’s great to see my total mileage and time for the year! It makes me feel accomplished, like a digital pat on the back.

How much time I did each type of activity

But more than that, it tells me trends. In 2019, I ran only 412 miles in 68 hours. That’s an 82% increase! Nearly double! Using this information I can set a reasonable — and safe — goal for 2021. I’m shooting for 1000 miles, a modest increase of 33% so I don’t risk injury.

Duration – It’s Relative

This beautiful pie chart tells me the relative time I spent on each activity this year. The “other” category is a combination of cardio cross-training like spinning classes and elliptical sessions.

I’ll keep an eye on my proportions in 2021 and try to keep around a quarter walking, and I’d like to up my strength time to 15%.

Tracking Your Personal Best

Another great thing I can visually display is my best performances, all in one view. It not only shows my top three 5k efforts, it also shows my best 5k of each month.

I can see the average 5k time goes up later in the year, as I start to do more tempo running to prepare for the half marathon effort in November. And my best time was toward the end of the year, which is perfect!

Keeping Your Fitness in Perspective

Ok, last one I promise! This is a continuously updating chart on the TrainingPeaks app home page that shows four different time blocks.

If I only looked at the last 90 days, I’d likely be discouraged, having lost 7 points of fitness while I took some rest time after my hard races. But if I look at the 365-day chart, I can see I’m actually way ahead of my fitness in January of 2019 — 6 points! I have a solid foundation to build on, and I can project what my chart will look like in the next 28 days.

If you’re thinking about increasing your measurement and tracking, I highly recommend TrainingPeaks as a tool, and I recommend getting a coach to show you the ropes and help keep you accountable to your plan.