SS 270 – How to Use Data to Be a Better Endurance Athlete with Adam Pulford

Episode 270 Show Notes


Grant and Heavey talk about how endurance athletes can use data to improve performance. They’re having Adam Pulford on the show. He is a CTS (Carmichael Training Systems) coach from

Resonate with Heavey’s take on health and fitness and looking to take your training or nutrition up a notch?   Learn about working with Heavey at

[02:50] Adam’s Background in High-Level Athlete Training

Adam Pulford has been a full-time CTS coach for about 9 years. He has served as a team director and coach for a few mountain biking and road racing teams. Currently, he does remote coaching full-time and is now based in Washington, D.C. working with professional athletes. 

[05:25] Collecting Data Sources

Adam speaks to both endurance-based athletes as well as strength and conditioning aspects of an athlete. It’s really important to recognize how they collect and house the data. Different data collected would include pace, heart rate, power, speed, GPS, etc. Adam uses TrainingPeaks.

He also uses an analytical software called WKO to analyze and look at trends he needs as a cycling and endurance athlete coach. They also monitor sleep patterns and sleeping habits. All information gets housed in TrainingPeaks using a separate metric. 

[07:55] What is TrainingPeaks?

TrainingPeaks is an online interactive tool for athletes to track and upload all kinds of data related to training, nutrition, sleep, and strength and conditioning which they can implement in the future. Whatever device they use can be synced with an online platform where both the athletes and coach would have access to. 

For instance, a cyclist would have a chest strap, cycling computer, and power meter. It would be capturing GPS signals for speed and distance, heart rate, and power. Everything is combined into one device and kicks up the TrainingPeaks to look at it. 

With endurance athletes, they do field tests. They pick a specific duration and distance and will do a maximum effort or time trial for that given duration or distance. They measure everything – heart rate and all. They take the effort and metrics given, analyze them, create training zones, and then make an assessment of strengths and weaknesses.

[10:50] Why Use Power Output on the Bike Over Speed

Power output is the most reliable, accurate, and invariable. When you’re looking at heart rate and speed, there are so many variables that influence speed on the bike. It could be the direction of the wind or an uphill gradient. From the heart rate standpoint, it’s an output of the input you put in. The harder you pedal, the more the heart rate goes up. Hence, you look at power when you want accuracy and precision.

[11:50] Measuring Pace on Runners

There are power meters for runners now. Adam uses this on some of his athletes. That being said, he relies on pace as a performance monitor given a flat duration. So first, he looks at the pace, power, and then speed.

[12:50] The Challenge of Choosing Accurate Devices

Adam thinks the chest strap is still the most fool-proof way of measuring heart rate. It may not be as consistent when measured on the hand or the wrist. Although technology for this could get better over time, for now, it still doesn’t compare to measuring directly from the heart. 

There are some armbands that are pretty accurate as well but nothing beats a good, old chest strap. There’s a lot more movement going on with the wrist devices than when you’re at rest or sleeping where you’re not moving a lot. Therefore, it can capture what it’s looking for a much better in those instances. 

The heart rate chest strap is tight. Some people don’t enjoy wearing it because they feel constricted. Some women may have to tuck it up underneath their bra. As long as it’s in close contact and doesn’t move with the skin.

[16:45] Choosing Parameters Based on Data Sets

Choosing what parameter to use depends on the type of athlete. For most gym goers, heart rate is fine especially for cardiovascular activity. For runners and cyclists, you can look at heart rate and pace. But it’s also about knowing what to do with that data. 

From the data standpoint, make sure you’re capturing all of it and make sure you’re housing it somewhere. It doesn’t really matter what the method is. 

Find well-designed training programs to follow. Choose a sample that starts with field testing or some base fitness parameters where they can assess heart rate, power, and pace, create training ranges, and start on a training program. 

[19:00] What to Do with Data

Your heart rate is your heart rate. It’s not going to change too much within a given year or two. As we age, it will decrease and this is true for absolute heart rate.

But for threshold heart rates or heart rates you can sustain for 30-60 minutes, that’s not going to change too much if you’re well-trained. This is important because it’s the response to the inputs you’ve put in – the power you’ve pushed on the pedal or the acceleration you do while running, or the effort that you’ve given during the WOD in Crossfit. You basically see the output in your heart rate. 

As you’re monitoring, Training Peaks, for instance, will give you training stress scores or relative efforts or training loads. They will start to quantify what you’re seeing within the heart rate. However, if you’re only using heart rate without power or pace, you’re just shooting in the dark because heart rate is not a performance level. It’s just a response. 

[22:18] Measuring Heart Rates May Not Mean So Much 

Realize the variability of the heart rate. A regular human being has 1-5 beats on a given day for a given effort. 

The longer you can sustain your elevated heart rate generally means that you’re able to tolerate more work and have a bigger capacity to do work and you can handle higher workloads. 

But there are other performance metrics that are not as variable.

[24:55] Monitoring Recovery

Recovery is an interesting spot. Adam recommends reading a book called Good to Go by Christie Aschwanden, which encapsulates recovery modalities in the theories and methods. When you read the book, you will realize that there’s a lot of fluff. 

Adam thinks the fitness industry will get there in terms of monitoring recovery better. Right now, however, Adam looks at training stress scores based on the data he’s looking at with power, pace, heart rate, volume, etc. This gives him insights as to how recovered the athlete is. 

However, this doesn’t tell you everything because every athlete is going to be a little different. They call it the athlete’s footprint or fingerprint. Therefore, they try to figure out how they individually respond to training stress and recovery. This way, they can dial it in for their performance and overall wellness.

Getting to know yourself as an athlete is first and foremost, then learning the natural recovery that makes sense is going to help.

For example, after training sessions, get some food in and chill out for a bit. Put your legs up and have a 30-minute to 60-minute schedule time after the workout where you can relax for a bit. 

[30:20] The Mental Aspect: Data for Mental Health

For Grant, the hardest part of any endurance athlete is the mental part. Adam recommends another book called Endure by Alex Hutchinson. The first part of the book contains a great history lesson about endurance athletics. The second half talks a lot about the mental aspect of training. 

There are some measuring devices that pick up a bit on that but again, we’re not there yet. Meanwhile, there are some exercises you can do online that you can get better at. That being said, this doesn’t correlate with anything. 

The main takeaway here is that humans are good at adapting in general. Elite athletes are really good at adapting which helps make them elite. In order to improve cognitively or mentally within the endurance component, you have to do this on a regular basis. 

You can also do some meditation and other skills athletes use on an individual basis. There are ways to trigger flow states so you can get good at the present moment. You’re spending four to six hours on a bike or two to three hours running. On that basis, you have to be a really good athlete. Moreover, you also get some insights into who you are as an athlete and as a person.

[34:10] Thoughts on the Peloton Bike

Adam thinks it’s really cool as it’s inspiring people to move and work out. It makes it a very approachable way to get a work out in. There’s also even a virtual platform where you can ride anywhere with your friends through a real-ride simulation.


Know more about Adam and CTS on

Catch Adam on Instagram @adam.pulford, Twitter @coach_ap, and Facebook.



Good to Go by Christie AschwandenEndure by Alex Hutchinson

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