Jan 10, 2011

Reviewing Golden Cheetah - learn from your ride

So I figured out what I have to do to train. I got my intervals all figured out, I have my power ride under the belt - one could say, I have my ducks in a row as far as what I need to do. But after I get home and hook up my Garmin to my Mac, what next? Strava is a great tool for amusement. It tells you how fast you went up the hill and what category the hill is and whether you beat the last guy who went up the same hill, but truly, it's a pretty worthless tool in analyzing your performance. A great tool for motivation, however. Don't get me wrong, I love Strava and can't live a day without it, but to figure out what my ride data really means, it doesn't really cut it.

In reading Joel Friel's book, I came upon a software called Training Peaks, so I decided to download a free trial and check it out. But alas, they don't make a version that's readily compatible for Mac. Really?!? In this day and age they didn't have the foresight to create a piece of software to run on the fastest selling personal computer? Fine, I'm totally pulling that statistic out of my ass, but there are a lot of Macs around, and not making software for them that you charge $100/year for is pretty damn stupid.

Guess what was the next thing I typed into Google: Training Peaks alternative for Mac. What came up was amazing - Golden Cheetah. Not only is this software an amazing analytic tool to squeeze the most out of your training ride, but it is absolutely free and for the technically inclined among you, it's open source. Because it's free, I don't really feel obligated to rave on and on about it because you can all just try it out for yourselves, but here's a brief preview.

You get your basic ride summary, most importantly your KJs, so you can keep track of your workload.
You also get the topo of your ride with the basic metrics plotted. 
One of the best features here is that you can smooth your lines, meaning you don't get crazy squiggly lines due to minor variations in power, cadence, speed, etc., but you can see smooth curves by looking at the metrics as they would appear as an average taken over a brief period of time - 1 to 600 seconds.

Critical power curve.
You know you can push 330 watts for 30 minutes, but what should/could you be pushing in an hour-long time trial? Well, here's your answer. The program takes your efforts over the course of the rides and plots them into zones. That's represented by the red squiggly line in the above picture. Then, it plots a critical power curve - the dashed red line - to estimate what you could potentially push for one or two-hour efforts.

Histogram plot of how much time you spend in each power zone over the course of your ride.
The program keeps track of your progress from training session to training session.
In addition to the above, there are hundreds of different metrics you can play with to track your training and performance, like aerobic decoupling, for example. And the best part is that it is available for whatever program you prefer to run on your machine - Windows, Mac, or Unix. Since you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, I strongly suggest using this software to get a closer look at your workout, but only your workouts. Personally, while I think this is a great tool to analyze your ride, you really don't need to upload your recovery or casual club ride into this program - that's not what this was designed for. So give it a try, you've got nothing to lose and everything to learn.

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