How wearable technology helps elite athletes get in shape on race day

by Dorian Boulvin

This post tells Dorian’s story of how he did not qualify for the European Cross Country Championships because of a medical condition. Dorian tells his story both from his personal point of view and from a data point of view by looking at the data that was gathered by his Garmin smartwatch

About Dorian

Dorian is part of the elite team within Runners’ lab Athletics Team. He is a long-distance runner which specialises in the 5.000 and 10.000 meter. Dorian also contributes to the collaboration between XAOP and Runners' lab Athletics Team by doing an internship at XAOP on the use of wearable data in the context of health and sports projects.

Dorian’s story

While preparing for the European Cross Country Championships, which took place in December 2019 in Lisbon, I got a toothache beginning November. I consulted my dentist the first time on November 3rd. He gave me some anti-inflammatory pills for a week. But the pain didn’t go away, that’s why he decided to devitalise the tooth on November 10th.

A few days after the procedure, I felt some pain again, but this time it was not only in the tooth but also in my cheek and even on the whole right hand side of my head. In fact, the tooth’s devitalisation had led to an even more painful infection. The pain kept growing till November 19th, which made me unable to sleep and train for about 3-4 days, and I had to take antibiotics for a week.

At that moment, I knew that the selection race, which would take place only 5 days after the beginning of the infection, would be a mental fight. Eventually , I was able to run without pain again on November 20th but because I was still taking antibiotics, I couldn’t complete my trainings well. On the day of the race (November 24th in Roeselare), I tried to remain focused on my goal (finishing in the top 4 as U23), but after the first quart of the race, I felt completely powerless and had to give up…

To my frustration, the federation decided to take the first five (instead of the usual 4) U23 athletes from Roeselare’s race without taking into account that I was sick, even though I proved in the previous XC races that at that moment I was the best U23 athlete in Belgium. I believe that a top 10 place in Lisbon was certainly possible.

Let’s look at the data surrounding my story

We will now describe how data can be useful in this particular case. You can see that from November 16th util about the 24th (race day), my rest heart rate was going up while my total sleep time was going down (Figures 1 and 2). The average stress level was also much higher than usual (see figure 3). All of this indicates clearly that my shape was going down due to the sickness. Moreover, I got less sleep and wasn’t able to train for about 4 days, which was a pity because this was 5 days before the selection race for the European Cross Country Championships.

Moreover, as can be seen on the rest heart rate graph (Fig. 2), my rest heart rate did not yet return to its normal value at the day of the race (24 November), which could explain why I felt powerless.

Figure 1: Overview of Dorian’s sleep profile around race day

Figure 2: Overview of Dorian’s rest heart rate around race day

Figure 3: Overview of Dorian’s stress profile around race day

In hindsight, looking at the data it seems like this really starts showing on the 16th of November as in increase in my stress levels, followed by an increase in heart rate the days after. I only went to the doctor on the 17th or the 18th of November to receive my antibiotics. So you might think I (or Tim) could have acted sooner (on the 16th) and got the antibiotics faster.

In all honesty I don’t know if that would have made any difference but it does show that the data brings us the confirmation that my shape was going down. Tim could have decided to not let me start the race to prevent my shape from going down further. But of course, after months of preparation, I wanted to try my luck even if that wasn’t the right decision as it now took my a look time to get back in shape.

Conclusion - Discussion

To come back on my personal case, it’s really disappointing to see that the federation only took the qualification race in Roeselare’s into account to make the selection for the European Championship, despite the fact that I really do think I was the best U23 XC athlete in Belgium at that moment.

With the collected data (and a medical certificate), we could easily prove to the federation that I wasn’t in shape the day of the selection race due to a medical condition. In the future, maybe this kind of data could be used to bring proof that could help the federation make decisions with regards to giving wild cards to some athletes. But of course, the federation should then accept to change the selection’s method, which doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment.

Anyway, I’m now training again and my shape is going up since December 2019. Thanks to the collaboration between XAOP and Runners’ lab Athletics Team, and the scientific-based training method of Tim. I hope to get in my best shape at the right time in 2020!

Runners’ lab Athletics Team collaboration

In September 2018, XAOP and Olympic Running Team (ORT) announced the beginning of their two-way collaboration. XAOP supports ORT with insights based on data from Garmin wearable devices. Recently, ORT announced their collaboration with adidas and Runners’ lab thereby changing their name to Runners’ lab Athletics Team.

The main goal is to provide insights on training and recovery metrics of the athletes to Tim Moriau, head coach and manager of Runners’ lab Athletics Team. By using these metrics, Tim is able to adapt the training plans in real time and makes sure that athletes reach their best shape on race day. To this end, Tim receives alerts concerning e.g. abnormal rest heart rates or sleeping patterns.