Data; it is everywhere. HR, pace, cadence, calories burnt, steps taken, strokes per length, watts, the list goes on. There is so much data available to us, but what is data? To many, and seemingly a lot, data is what matters.

Experience tells me data is best referenced as a tool. Providing for us the best opportunity to master our crafts.

Lets take a craftsman, as my trusted digital advisor Wikipedia points out;

“A craftsman or artisan is a skilled manual worker who makes items that may be functional or strictly decorative.”

But what makes a skilled manual worker good?

His tools? I bet not.

How about his experience? His feel for what he practises? The understanding of his craft? That library of trials, errors, failures and successes? All of these things, to me at least, are what make a craftsman good.

Not tools.

Tools, known in sport as data, contribute to an athlete’s performance, allowing us to better understand what is possible. Yet tools, whether it is a wattmeter, GPS device or HR monitor can never substitute the human bodies feel for, and adaption to, hard work.

I am a fan of this sport ever reading, researching, following races, athletes and coaches, both professional and amateur. Stories, development and processes intrigue me. Yet I feel so many out there are not, or will not hit their potential in sport because they are controlled by data.

Data is great, but physical and mental training in the form of raw hard work, trumps data every time. We train to race, and racing needs to be mastered. It takes time, experience, hard work, trials, errors, failures and successes, of which are not determined by data, but by the head and the heart. I’m 6 years into my professional career, and this journey through sport is like and open-ended university course. There is so much to learn and so much that can be done to become better. Yet it can become complicated, too detailed with the underlining purpose seemingly lost. My experience tells me the biggest asset to success is hard work.

I ride with a wattmeter. I occasionally run with a GPS device and I wear a HR monitor. I regard wattmeters, GPS devices and HR monitors as some of the best training tools on the market. But they are only tools. My HR monitor allows me to monitor my conditioning/fatigue/hydration status, my GPS device provides reassurance when running, whilst my wattmeter helps us develop bike specificity. Yet I don’t race by any of the above. I, like so many others, race to exploit the reasons why I train. A racing result should not be dependent on attention to data, at least not in this sport.

It is an approach that is reflected throughout the world of endurance sports. Take one look at any finals or major championship. Very few, if any of those athletes occupying the top spots abide by a GPS device for pace, were dictated by a desirable watt range or avoided making a break away because their HR was into the red zone.

It comes down to racing instinct. It is something we can train and it is something we should train. I like to call it hard work of the right kind.

So many individuals have a tendency to over complicate a race before it is even started. Race strategy, tactics, HR zones, watt zones, paces are all things that can over shadow the basics of racing. I’m definitely not saying “don’t use them”, what I am saying is “know how to use them”. They can be great assets yet they can be unnecessary burdens. Familiarise yourself with hard work before becoming dictated by data.

Train your racing instinct when training, and exploit it when racing.