Training Suffer Score (TSS)

Posted: February 17, 2016 in Equipment, In Transition

I have officially survived my first week of official Ironman training as outlined and crafted by my new coach.  It’s hard to believe that the past four months have only been for the purpose of “training to train”.  Now my entire focus has shifted.  It’s no longer “what should I do today?”, its’ “what do I need to do today and how does it specifically relate to my ability to successfully survive 226.6 kilometers of swimming, biking and running?”

You see the difference there?

Subtle, but important.

Yes, it’s true, I’ve done it once before (click HERE) but it’s been hard to regain that same singular focus both physically and mentally over the past four years.  While, I think I’ve done some pretty cool and maybe even impressive things, they haven’t come without extracting a serious cost as it seems now that every year since, I’ve fallen victim to some owie or other.  Sure, I’ve overcome them – eventually – but it’s been frustrating nonetheless.

This year, however, is the  year (click HERE). This is the year I finally regain that Iron quality of fitness, retake that brass ring and get back to the business of kicking ass and taking names.  I finally feel that I am in the right place and the stars are all aligning perfectly where I can actually pull off this Ironman quest once again.

Fingers crossed anyway.

Step One:  find a coach.

I was immediately drawn to Coach Nicole for a few reasons besides the fact that she herself is an 11 time Ironman competitor. After all, just having survived an Ironman does not necessarily a good coach make. I’ve learned that much.

A good part of my decision is based on her understanding, and insistence actually, that “recovery” is every bit as important in the workout schedule as the workouts themselves. This is a lesson and practice I have yet to really learn and embrace given my propensity to get injured. So having someone who not only promotes this principle but actually drive it into my thick skull is definitely a huge benefit.

Step Two:  Register an account with TrainingPeaks.

This is where I have been asked to track all my workouts for Nicole to follow and assess.


Another site to log shit.

Now, understand that I am not exactly the biggest ambassador of change so my initial reaction upon signing up for a free account was that it was scary and different and, therefore, stupid.  After all, I already track my workouts and progress through Garmin.Connect and Strava, so why now TrainingPeaks?

Isn’t it just a different flavor of the same ‘ol shit?

But once I got started, I noticed that, hey, this is some cool fancy-flavored shit.

It logs all the usual bullshit like heart rate, pace, distance, zones, etc., but then I noticed this new data field that I wasn’t normally accustomed to seeing called the TSS.   Unfortunately, all my hopes of it being the name of the ship which was going to deliver a huge payload of lollipops were immediately quashed.

In actuality, it stands for “Training Suffer Score”.

Because, yeah, how much fun does that sound?

Basically, the TrainingPeaks site uses several physiological metrics to quantify the training stress of a particular workout or portion of a workout.  This allows me then the ability to quantify my workouts based on my relative intensity, duration, and frequency of workouts which, at the moment, are fucking intense – let me tell you! So, basically, one single value can now represent how intensely I worked out.

To this regard, think of “intensity” as an RPE value on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being fucking ridiculous.  You earn 100 TSS points for an all out, 100%, 60-minute workout.  Of course most workouts are not completed at 100%, so most workouts will accumulate less than 100 TSS per hour.  If I, say, exercised at a level 5 for two hours, then I would accumulate 50 TSS/hour or 100 total points.  Each new hour of the workout, calculates a new score out of 100 and so on and so forth.  So now that I am provided and understand this unique scoring system, I can even assign a daily point score through perceived exertion.  Or, I can simply let the site do it for me based on the amount of time I spend in specific heart rate zones being recorded through the workout.  It wouldn’t matter then if I were training for the Tour de France or in simply completing a local 5k charity run, because 100 points earned by a pro is relatively the same as 100 points earned for an ordinary schmutz like myself because the score is relative to each person’s individual threshold.

For example, this past Tuesday I ran a 60 minute 10.5k fartlek run in a snow storm.  I know, there’s that idiot factor creeping in again.  Anyway, my TrainingPeaks account calculated my TSS as 86.1 out of a 100 which seems pretty accurate to me given how much it sucked.  By comparison, my “easyish”  60 minute hill spin the previous day was only calculated as a 46.3 TSS.  And, yeah, it was pretty easy so less stress was likely created on my body requiring less recovery afterwards.

tired-athleteThe really powerful benefit of tracking this daily TSS is the new ability to leverage the TrainingPeaks “Performance Management Chart” to easily track your fitness progression over time.  TrainingPeaks will accurately calculate fitness known as a “Chronic Training Load (CTL), fatigue known as “Acute Training Load” (ATL), and finally a freshness or form factor known as “Training Stress Balance” (TSB).  I could get into how each calculation is made but, seriously, it’d be like explaining nuclear fission to a coconut*.

After all, this is why I pay for a coach.

However, the long and short of it is, we could quantitatively calculate how much stress I’m placing on my body and therefore, plan my training schedule – and more importantly – my recovery, accordingly, in order to compensate for that acquired stress.  Well, I could  do all this but I would also need the upgraded version of the site and I’m too much of a tightwad to pay out the big bucks, but I could

Just sayin’…

Maybe if I win the lottery some day.

Going forward, however, I’m going to be very conscientious about following this “Training Suffer Score” on the site and using this as a guide into predicting when I may need to ease off, pull back, or simply take a day off altogether.  Because at this point, it’s not about the race itself, it’s about making it to the starting line…healthy.

*My guess is witchcraft.


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