Trying to Tell the Story of a Year with Numbers

For many, a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the data-driven world of science and evidenced-based medicine it is a graph or a chart that tells the story of a thousand words. In an effort to objectively tell the story of this past year, I created numerous graphs depicting weekly training hours, number of training sessions per week, and the percentage breakdown of S/B/R during the phases of my training through injury, progression, re-injury, progression, and finally being healthy and training at full volume and intensity.

At first I only looked at the longest, uninterrupted period of training from the middle of June through the end of my season at Challenge Florida. But then I was curious about what this would look like in comparison to the rest of the year, so I went back and compiled the rest of the data into several charts. This did not tell the whole story, and after some copying and pasting I assembled a year’s worth of training into a spreadsheet. It was entirely coincidental that the data set represented 52 weeks, as I started with the first week I began any sort of physical activity after Kona in 2014 which just happened to be the week of November 3, 2014. 52 weeks later, I completed my last seven days of training before Challenge Florida race week.

Week 1 is the week of November 3, 2014. Week 52 is the week of October 26, 2015. 

The graph fittingly depicts the roller-coaster of a year that I experienced. Hidden in the peaks and valleys, there are stories of great hope and optimism as well as some very dark and trying times. I marked some key events on the graph that help to tell the tale of the past year, such Thanksgiving Day 2014 when I first felt a pain in my knee while on the trainer watching the Macy’s Parade, and April 21, 2105 when the pain returned despite my diligent efforts in physical therapy and a very conservative return to running and biking.

Below are some observations and comments:

  • There is little to no consistency in my training before week 36, the week of July 6, 2015. The only obvious pattern is that, for the most part, I was training less than ten hours a week. Though the graph does not tell the story of the hours a day I was spending doing rehab and strength training 4-6 days a week.
  • Swimming was the dominant activity weeks 12-19 which represents January 19-March 8, 2015. I think all of the swimming I did was crucial to the improvements I made in the swim; and despite the fact that my swimming significantly dropped off after this period through June, it did not take me long to get back in a groove in the pool because of this base of swim fitness I built in that 7 week period.   
  • When the pain came back, I was told no biking or running for 8 weeks, only swimming with a pull buoy was allowed. Felling angry, frustrated, and hopeless, I opted to rest instead of killing myself in the water. If my body hadn’t healed itself, it clearly was not getting the rest it needed.
  • From week 36 and onward there is a story of consistency and a representation of what a graph of a progression in training should look like, with undulations heading in the general upward direction (I don't think it was a coincidence that this coincided with my move back home). It may seem like a fairly rapid increase in volume, but after having accumulated years of base training from my running days and the previous two and half years of consistent and progressive triathlon training I am able to make these leaps.

Looking at only this graph it would be easy to conclude that this was not the making of a successful season of Personal Bests and Podium Finishes. But this was not the case; I set PRs, won races, and finished fourth in my first pro race. The data cannot tell the whole story; the numbers must be taken in the context of an athlete with a history of success and the determination to succeed. While the graph quantitatively portrays the past year, it has its limitations, and I have come to realize there is no way to objectively tell the story of 365 days in triathlon.

After all, training does not occur in a bubble and there are so many other factors that influence the quantity and quality of training, such as health (or lack thereof), stress, family, work, school, fatigue, diet, among others. It was challenging to not insert more explanations of what was happening in my life during the past year that impacted my training; there were many factors that contributed to the ups and downs, but for me the stress in my life stemming from being both a medical student and injured triathlete, as well as from being in a toxic relationship, was the greatest contributor. Going forward, I most certainly will not underestimate the mind-body connection, and how mental and emotional stress can negatively affect the body and contribute to fatigue, injury and poor performance. Conversely, having learned how being in the right environment, having less stress and more positive thinking, can lead to happier days, better training, and a successful season against all odds.