Understanding Training Peaks

Understanding Your Training Peaks Numbers 

Training Peaks is a powerful training tool for the endurance athlete. To help you make the most of its features here is an article on how to use some of its metrics. These metrics are best combined and displayed within Training Peaks standout feature, the Performance Management Chart (PMC). There are three key markers expressed in the PMC. These markers are the Acute Training Load (ATL), Chronic Training Load (CTL) and the Training Stress Balance (TSB).

Training Stress, Intensity and Fitness

ATL, CTL, and TSB allow us to take both a view into the past of the athlete, a current view of fitness, as well as project into the future when using the PMC. This all goes back to the root metric of Training Stress Score (TSS) which scores a workout based on duration and intensity as a factor of your threshold pace, heart rate or power. 

Chronic Training Load (CTL) or “Fitness”

Think of Chronic Training Load as a measure of your true fitness. It is an ongoing average of your daily training (TSS) specifically looking at the last six weeks or 42 days. This shows your long-term training load and gives a trend line of where an athlete is going. A positive (upward) trending line shows an increasing training load and decreasing (downward line) shows a decreasing level of training load. 

Steady progression is key to prevent injuries, large spikes in CTL correlate with a large amount of training stress. Very fit or experienced athletes can increase their CTL quickly whereas new or older athletes may need to ramp up their training more gradually. Large amounts of training load must pair with adequate recovery to avoid injury, illness, burnout etc. 

CTL and TSS are related and you can use the scale below to determine the intensity of a workout with respect to your current fitness. In this example, we’ll assume the athlete has a CTL of 50.

Hard Workout: A hard workout will result in a TSS score that is 50%-100% above your current CTL (TSS for a hard workout would be 75 – 100 TSS).

Moderate Workout: A moderate workout will result in a TSS score that is 25% above your current CTL (TSS for a moderate workout would be 60-70 TSS).

Easy Workout: An easy workout will result in a TSS score that is 10-25% below your current CTL (TSS for an easy workout would be 35-40 TSS).

From the above you can see that an athlete with lots of time to train can (and should) accumulate much of their TSS through moderate and easy workouts. Those with less time would need some more high intensity training to accumulate more TSS. The mix of intensity of course depends on the athletes stage in their training and their goals.  

Acute Training Load (ATL) or “Fatigue”

Acute Training Load looks at how your most recent training impacts your body. ATL calculates a rolling average of your workout TSS over the last seven days. There is a correlation between fatigue and fitness scores, when your fatigue score is less than your current fitness score, you will normally see a positive Training Stress Balance (TSB) value. However, if you are deep into training you will see a TSB score that is greater than your CTL score.

Steep inclines indicate large loads and will result in a significant and resultant inverse TSB. If you are doing lots of high TSS workouts, you can expect high ATL scores. You can bring down high ATL scores by doing recovery (low TSS) workouts in addition to rest days.

Training Stress Balance (TSB) or “Freshness”

Training Stress Balance is the “ready to race” metric where the more negative the number, the more layers of fatigue an athlete has accumulated and the more positive the number the more recovered and ready to perform an athlete is. This metric has a couple of rough rules that can help guide athletes. However, everyone is different and athletes should rely on their past experiences and recent performances to determine how recovered they need to be to perform well.

  • An ideal TSB range for a peak performance falls between +15 and +25. While zero indicates the athlete has reached a training equilibrium, complete recovery is often needed for peak performance, especially for long-distance racing.
  • The ideal training zone for TSB falls between -10 and -30. It is thought that if athletes push beyond -30 for more than 10 days they are headed for extreme strain. Numbers extending beyond -30 will require consecutive days of rest to achieve the necessary recovery for future performance. For example this is something you might achieve at a training camp, which would then require a recovery week to absorb the hard week of training. 
  • The opposite is true as well, if you start to see +15 to +25 TSB you are extensively recovered and essentially losing fitness.

The PMC is only as good as its data. 

Reliable data creates a clear picture of an athletes fitness. Incorrect zones will undercut any planning and projecting. Propery managed data allows you to maximize the effectiveness and density of your workouts. It is imperative to set your training zones correctly before you can have any confidence in the information being produced. It takes 42 days to get concrete CTL when starting fresh. 

Not all TSS is created equal. 

TSS is the crux of the performance management chart but it is worth noting that it has its flaws. Here is a few examples of how training sessions with the same TSS score would actually feel very different to the athlete: 

A session with intervals of 4 x 10 minutes at a given intensity would feel very different (maybe even impossible) to a session of 1 x 40 minutes at the same intensity. Yet these would both have the same TSS. 

A flat road run at say 5 minutes per KM pace would feel very different to a lumpy trail run at the same pace, again they would have the same TSS. 

A 60 minute continuous swim in a cold choppy sea and a 60 minute continuous swim in a heated pool, both at the same pace giving the same TSS, again would feel very different to the athlete. 

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Enduraprep athlete Scott at the Moab 240 Ultra Marathon.

On 15th October 2019, Scott, a Welsh ultra endurance athlete from Penarth, became the first Welsh person to complete one of the world’s longest and toughest ultra marathons, The Moab 240, a 244 mile non-stop footrace around the deserts and mountains of Utah, USA.

Despite toeing the line with some incredible ultra running athletes such as David GogginsCatra Corbett and Michael McKnight, Scott finished 35th out of 121 starters. 94 runners finished, with Scott completing it in 93 hours 58 minutes, only sleeping for 3 hours during the entire race.

The Moab 240 is a 244 mile run where 121 competitors line up at the 3,000ft start line to scale over 29,000ft of vertical climb and the same descent non stop over the course of several days. The terrain is difficult – large parts are difficult to run due to large boulders, cliff edges and loose rock, coupled with huge inclines.

The spectacular scenery and running settings vary from tree lined mountain sum-mits at just over 10,000ft to barren canyon land desert around 3,000ft. You would be forgiven for at times thinking you’re in a movie scene, then the next minute you feel transported to an alpine retreat. Both of which were scenarios that Scott actually hallucinated on the run, as he discusses below.

The course itself is a full circumnavigation of the Moab desert in Utah, which sees runners tackle and conquer two mountains ranges (Shay mountain and the La Sal Mountain ranges).

This year had an added challenge due to the cold front that was effecting much of America, seeing temperatures range from mid 30 degrees in the day through to -8 degrees in the evenings, coupled with 12 hours of darkness meaning all runners had to carry full kit all the time. This course is not for the faint-hearted nor for the novices, evidenced by strong elite runners DNFing such as Ex Navy Seal, David Goggins. This is testament to the gruelling nature of the course!

The race itself is organised by Candice Burt whose tagline is “200’s are the new 100’s”, which really does highlight this growing shift in the population to try and push themselves further and harder. The 200s are growing in popularity but are still relatively new in the world of ultra running, with Candice Burt really being the main pioneer of 200milers in the US. Her race organisation is exceptional with every runner having spot trackers, medical ATVs due to the remote nature of the course, some of the best photographers in the business (Scott Rokis, Hilary-Ann and Howie Stern) and fully stocked aid stations serving everything from burgers to quesadillas, which also have sleep stations.

To put into perspective just how hard this race is, more people have climbed Everest (4000 people) than completed one of her 200 mile events (circa 300-400), which is impressive in itself. Scott is the second British person to compete and finish and the first Welshman to do so.

Scott Jenkins Moab 240
Some of the spectacular route

So what drove Scott to apply for such a gruelling race and what actual toll does it take on ones body to complete such a feat of endurance.

“For me, I genuinely believe that we each have a responsibility to help and support others where we can. Whether that be listening and helping a friend through to raising money for charity. For me, over the years, I’ve found the way I am able to have the most impact is by pushing my body to extreme in order to raise money for charity. My brother Rhys and I, have found that the harder we push our bodies, the more people are willing to donate money to charities we care about and support. For me, that charity is Operation Smile, which I’m an ambassador for. It’s a charity that repairs children’s cleft lips and pallets so they can smile for the first time – it’s a pretty cool charity to be involved with to be fair”

Pushing the human body is not new to Scott. He’s already got an impressive resume from running 2,000 miles from Boston to Austin back in 2010, he’s cycled point to point from Seattle to Jacksonville in the States in a 4 man non-stop relay and unofficially ran the Badwater ultra marathon course twice. Scott this year also took part in Britain’s three longest, non-stop, point-to-point towpath running races: the Grand Union Canal Race (145 miles from Birmingham to London), Kennet & Avon Canal Race (145 miles from Bristol to London) and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Race (130 miles from Liverpool to London), completing the illustrious ‘Canal Slam’ finishing 6th. He used them as training runs for the Moab 240 so his coach, Lawrence Cronk of Enduraprep, could try to improve his plan and build a race plan fitting for Scott’s running progression to see him finish and maximise his finish position at Moab 240.

“Running for me is a passion – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for me either – yet Lawrence has made huge improvements in my running technique and speed through using VO2 max testing and training in heart rate zones, which was completely new to me this year. I’ll never be the fastest runner but I’ll always try to complete what I set out to do. For me, Moab was no different but the toll it took on me in the final 10miles of the race was like nothing I had ever experienced. Sleep deprivation was something I’ve experienced in other races, however, what I experienced at Moab was more like a parallel universe/alternative state – like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It sounds weird but at one point I called my wife, who was also crewing me and asked her what she had been doing for the last week. When she replied with crewing you in the race, I asked what race. I had no idea where I was and what I was doing. I couldn’t distinguish between reality and make believe. It was like my mind was completely disassociated from my body. I was hallucinating cowboys sitting on rocks watching us through to me having a lighter and trying to make a fire to keep warm. It didn’t wear off until two days post event. I felt I was in the Truman show”.

Scott Jenkins Moab 240
Scott and his super crew

His wife, Abby, who ran the last 16.5 miles with him added, “It was hell on earth that last section. He was delirious. He went from being loving and empathetic to disoriented and delusional in split seconds. It got to a point where his body was moving fine but his mind kept telling him to sleep and that he had fin-ished the race. He just kept saying I need to sleep and would curl up on cliff edges. I eventually got him to move to lay under a rock for more warmth but he couldn’t sleep because we had over-caffeinated him to get him to the end. We gave him coke, coffee, 2 x 5 hour energy shots and god knows how many caffeinated gels in that last stretch alone coupled with nuun and salt tabs to try and rebalance lost electrolytes and salt. It got to a point his body wanted to sleep but the caffeine fought it and it created a limbo state for him. Thankfully another runner, Jason Wooden talked sense into Scott and got him to move again and finish the race. Only another runner could have talked sense into him as he was completely gone. To put it into perspective just how gone his mind was, we thought as a crew, based on Scott’s pace, he would finish 7pm on 14th October and continue to finish in the Top 20 where he had been most of the race, and in fact he finished at around 5am on 15th October – the sleep deprivation in those last 10 miles added 10 hours to his expected finish time showing you just how difficult it was for his mind to comprehend he was still in a race and to move his body forward. It was more mentally and emotionally draining than physical at this point and that was hard to see yet somehow from somewhere, he managed to connected the two – very loosely, and power through to the end. His strong pace throughout the race still saw him finish in the top 25% despite this setback in the last 10 miles.”

Scott Jenkins Moab 240
Scott finally makes the finish

“For me, everyone thinks running is a solo sport, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I often liken it to Tour de France, where one cyclist has a whole team competing on his behalf. For me, that is no different in ultra running. My crew, Jake Cooper (from Reno, Nevada) and Rhyd Morgan (from Penarth also) were unbelievable. They ran over 65 miles each with me, pushing me, popping my blisters and putting up with my diva requests and weird hallucinations. They were beyond unbelievable and this finish is as much theirs as it is mine as without each of them and Abby, I genuinely believe I could not have finished this race. It’s by far the hardest race I’ve ever done and one of my proudest and most memorable experiences to date. I just hope it either inspires someone else to go for a run or to donate to Operation Smile as so far we’ve raised enough money for 14 children to be able to smile for the first time. It would be cool if we could help 20 kids as I like round numbers”

So what’s next for Scott? “Eating lots. I’ll also watch as my toe nails progressively fall off and sleep, sleep lots. However, I’m already thinking what’s my ‘A’ goal for Operation Smile next year as I need a goal to work towards and motivate myself. I do firmly have my sights on Badwater next year and pray I get selected to compete as this has been a 10 year dream and would be great to compete in the race the year I turn 40. I’m also keen to create one of my own challenges again as I’ve not done that for a year or so, as well as competing in different races that I’ve yet to experience”

If you want to donate to Operation Smile go to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?pageId=1096817. Scott, along with his brother Rhys, will be talking at next year’s National Running Show on “running is not a solo sport” and can be followed on Instagram @scottjjenkins and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thejenkobros where he documents all his running escapades with his brother Rhys. If you want to see any pictures from the race itself of all participants, go to www.run200photos.com to get a better idea of the course and amazing landscape that is The Moab 240.