Artificial Intelligence And The Future Of Endurance Training With Dirk Friel & Ryan Cooper

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About this episode:

In this week’s episode, coach Adam talks with TrainingPeaks co-founder Dirk Friel and TrainingPeaks Cheif Scientist and Best Bike Split Founder Ryan Cooper about how technology is evolving and how artificial intelligence will influence the way endurance athletes train in the future.

Guests – Dirk Friel and Ryan Cooper:

Dirk Friel is a former professional cyclist, co-founder of TrainingPeaks, and now Peaksware Chief Evangelist. Ryan Cooper is the founder of Best Bike Split and Cheif Scientist for TrainingPeaks.

Episode Highlights:

  • How artificial intelligence will change athletes’ training
  • How the coach-athlete relationship is changing with new technologies
  • The history of TrainingPeaks and what its future looks like

Learn More About TrainingPeaks and Best Bike Split:

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform


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Episode Transcription:

Adam Pulford:

Folks, the technology just keeps on getting better. The wearables and the gadgets keep on multiplying. The big data just keeps on getting bigger. So, what is the future of you? What’s the future of the endurance athlete? What’s the future of me, the endurance coach? I don’t know, honestly. It’s something that I think about daily, all the time, let’s just say. Even though I have my vision of where I think all of this going and where this industry is going, I figured I’d turn to some of the experts, the people who have been the founders of a lot of this technology and how we do what we do in coaching and in athletics.

Adam Pulford:

So, Dirk Friel, who’s a Co-Founder at TrainingPeaks and Chief Evangelist over there. Reached out to him and I said, “Hey, I got this idea about the future of the endurance athlete for the TrainRight Podcast. Would you like to come on?” He said, “Of course. Sure, let’s do it.” Meanwhile, he wrangled Ryan Cooper, who is the founder of Best Bike Split, super nerd, engineer over at TrainingPeaks and lovely human being. We got them both on the interview, and it turned out really good.

Adam Pulford:

So, I think for anybody who regularly tunes into this podcast, I think you’ll love this. I think you’ll get to hear the story of TrainingPeaks, how it got started, which is wonderful story that Dirk shares. As Ryan alludes to, there’s some really cool stuff coming out of this company and in this industry. So, thank you all for coming back to the TrainRight Podcast. There’s more great episodes coming. For now, enjoy the future of the endurance athlete.

Adam Pulford:

How we capture, monitor and store our data as endurance athletes is more important now than ever before. I’ve spoken about this in shows past, but today, we’re going to explore why this is; where the endurance athlete and coach are going; and what you, the listener, can do if you want to capitalize on the advancements in technology, AI and the services that future-forward companies like TrainingPeaks are developing. We have two distinguished guests today on our show, Dirk Friel and Ryan Cooper. Gentlemen, welcome to the TrainRight Podcast.

Dirk Friel:

Thanks. Thanks for having us on.

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, great to be here.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Could you introduce yourselves a bit more to our audience? Dirk, I’ll just queued up with you first.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, thanks. I’m a Co-Founder of TrainingPeaks. I really haven’t ever had any other job unless you count pizza delivery and working out at health club front desk in high school. So, this is what I dreamed of doing the rest of my life from age 12 on more or less, having something to do with cycling. I didn’t want to sell bikes, but somehow found my way into coaching, luckily, with my father Joe Friel and the family business. And then that led to an idea I had in 1999 to start this web-based TrainingPeaks project. I’m Chief Evangelist. I’ve held almost every role in the business except being actual software engineer.

Adam Pulford:

Very cool. Well, we’re going to get into that a little bit more, because there’s some really fun stories that I’ve heard iterations of at various conferences and happy hours throughout the years. I want to tell that story a bit more, but until we do that, Ryan, could you introduce yourself a bit more to our audience?

Ryan Cooper:

Sure. I’m, I guess, the opposite of Dirk. I have had a lot of jabs, raging the gamut from started off as an engineer, so electrical engineering, not a software engineer. Worked in the aerospace industry and a few other industries, did a couple of startups. At one of these, I was trying to pursue my PhD. I was also trying to train as a triathlete. I noticed that I was just juggling all these things at the same time. That really got me excited about trying to focus my attention job-wise into the endurance space. So, out of that came what became Best Bike Split.

Ryan Cooper:

This is a little story, but we were fortunate enough to accidentally use some TrainingPeaks IP in our application and got not a nasty gram, but Gear Fisher sent us a message saying, “Hey, by the way, you’re using some TrainingPeaks IP. Why don’t you give me a call?” So, we were using Normalized Power and TSS, so I gave him a call. He said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You just have to make sure you do some attribution to TrainingPeaks. But would you guys like to fly up here and talk with us?”

Ryan Cooper:

Five months later, we were part of TrainingPeaks. So, that was my TrainingPeaks journey or my journey to get to TrainingPeaks. It’s been amazing ever since. So, at TrainingPeaks, we have the Best Bike Split brand, but I’m also taking a larger role through R&D and through some of our new initiatives as Chief Scientist at TrainingPeaks.

Adam Pulford:

That’s really cool. I did not know that that is how it all came to be, Ryan. So, love it. I love it. Well, as our listeners can tell, we have some heavy hitters here in the space of technology, AI, and all things training. We’ll get into the ooey gooey good details of that here in just a few minutes, but I want to understand more and have you the listeners understand that there’s a lot more going on under the umbrella than only TrainingPeaks.

Adam Pulford:

There’s multiple companies that people that run them and a vision that is helped to rapidly evolve given the times and give the end users a product that they can do what they do better, be it swim, bike, run, lift, play, learn, but getting ahead of ourselves, so to speak right now. So, let’s set the stage for that. Dirk, you’re going to be the best one to do that. Could you tell us more what Peaksware is and how it operates?

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, for sure. Peaksware is our umbrella company. We’ve got four main brands within Peaksware. TrainingPeaks is the original. Peaksware really came about around 2007. Andy Stephens joined as our chairman and investor in TrainingPeaks in 2007. He started to craft a bigger vision for the company. He loved what we were doing at TrainingPeaks, really connecting expert coaches with athletes and helping them train for their events, but that same model can be leveraged and used in other domains. He saw that.

Dirk Friel:

One of the first work he saw opportunity was in music education. So, we have two brands within music. That’s MakeMusic. The main application there that’s sold in K through 12 schools is called SmartMusic. And then we have Alfred Publishing. So, Alfred really is the number one in terms of music ed content. If anyone’s played the violin, for example, you might know Suzuki method. We own the worldwide rights except for Japan for Suzuki and all their content. So, with Alfred, it’s more about creating educational content and then bringing it to the masses through SmartMusic and through the apps of SmartMusic and into the kids hands. The teachers’ jobs can rely on it.

Dirk Friel:

Just like a triathlon coach can rely on TrainingPeaks to manage their athletes, our music products do the very same thing. They help students learn a new skill which is music, preparing for an event which is actually their concerts. So, it’s all very parallel with athletics. We have another product within athletics or fitness and that’s TrainHeroic. TrainHeroic is the same model as TrainingPeaks. We really service strength and conditioning coaches in performance team sports. We have NFL, NBA, hockey, rugby, collegiate high school teams on TrainHeroic. It’s really meant to make the life of the strength coach easier, better. They can manage the entire team’s strength training programs through TrainHeroic.

Dirk Friel:

Obviously, we have Best Bike Split, which we’ve mentioned. Ryan is a founder of Best Bike Split. We also have WKO5 which is our desktop analysis software. So, we have quite a few brands under the Peaksware umbrella. We don’t really promote Peaksware personally. That’s really a business holdings company, but the roots and the vision for everything really stems from TrainingPeaks and all the marketplace that we have and how we connect athletes and coaches. Instead of saying, “Teachers and coaches,” we say, “Experts”. Instead of saying, “Athletes and students,” we say, “The performer,” for example. So, that’s in a nutshell what Peaksware is.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah, no, it makes sense. Having it all laid out there for the first time, I think for me, that’s good to hear. I was reading a book a while back, one of my favorite books now. It’s called Peak by Anders Ericsson, talks a lot about deliberate practice. You’ve spoken at multiple conferences about how you wrap that ethos into what you guys do at TrainingPeaks. Could you speak a little bit more in terms of how you use deliberate practice within the organization?

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that is at the heart of what we do. Every single person in the business understands the importance of deliberate practice, how we connect experts with performers. So, Anders is a really special guy in our world. Obviously, he’s the father, if you will, of deliberate practice. I think a lot of his research was maybe misconstrued. The 10,000-hour rule came from that, but he did not create the 10,000-hour rule. In fact, hours don’t really directly relate. It’s more about the purposeful practice.

Dirk Friel:

So, when we think deliberate practice, first setting a specific goal, getting expert instruction, doing this purposeful or focused practice, and then getting immediate feedback. So, with all of our technology and our brands, we can map all of our solutions and all of our feature sets to those four quadrants within deliberate practice.

Dirk Friel:

A big one is definitely that expert instruction quadrant, getting connected with an experienced qualified coach. You can go out and ride your bike and swim and run all you want on your own with no purpose, no instruction. You can do 10,000 hours and you may be slightly better. But if you put those 10,000 hours against expert instruction, focused practice, the expert eye, that coach that can see, “Oh, we really need to work on this particular skill,” or “You’re weak in this area of your racing. Let’s focus on whatever it might be,” your weakness as it relates to your goal. So, absolutely. Sorry to say, Anders actually passed away about two months ago.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that was sad.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, we had the actual privilege of having him attend one of our off-sites. We had an executive management retreat up in Jackson Hole a couple years ago. We flew in Anders Ericsson to speak. He spent two days with us and going through his theory and thought. It really opened our eyes to the broader mission that we have within Peaksware.

Adam Pulford:

Well, wow, that’s special. I didn’t know that. That’s really cool. Well, so taking all that information and starting with TrainingPeaks, Dirk, could you tell the story of how TrainingPeaks started and also describe what it is for maybe some of our listeners who are not users of TrainingPeaks or don’t know about it?

Dirk Friel:

Sure. The reason we started TrainingPeaks was so we can deliver a better quality service to our athletes. As I mentioned earlier in my intro, I was coaching with my father, Joe Friel. I started coaching with him in about 1997 towards the end of my Pro Cycling career. Come to find out he was relying on email attachments and fax machines to actually manage all this crazy amount of data. Towards the end of the ’90s, we started to get the heart rate files .HRM files. We were getting .CSV files from PowerTOP, .SRM files from SRM. Every different device had its own proprietary piece of desktop software.

Dirk Friel:

So, with the 15 athletes I was working with, I might have 4 different applications open. Plus, maybe some fax paper that I’m three-hole punching. Just quickly you can tell how inefficient all that was. It’s the late-90s dotcom era. So, I was like, “Hey, Dad, we can probably do better by our clients and ourselves if we had a web-based system.” Neither of us were programmers. We just had this vision. Luckily, the best man in my wedding, Gear Fisher was a web developer. He’s the only engineer I knew of. I just knew he developed web pages. So, he was living up near Vail, Colorado at the time.

Dirk Friel:

I went up in September 1999, took him out to a bar, of course, over a beer and pitched him on my idea. Luckily, he bought it. He totally understood where we’re coming from and how a web-based scheduling calendar or training log system could really benefit us as coaches as well as our athletes. He had read all my father’s books, The Cyclist’s Training Bible, Triathlete’s Training Bible, etc. So, he knew the system and everything from annual training plan all the way down to today’s workout and how much did you weigh this morning and how important all that is collectively. So, we stayed up late at night, many nights.

Dirk Friel:

Actually, it’s about March of 2000, we were actually managing about 30 athletes through this web-based system. Gear had the idea that, “Hey, no other coach on the planet has such a system. Let’s see if other coaches would like to use it.” All of a sudden, we started making revenue through this software application that we had, but yet we were a coaching business. We had no intent of creating a software business, but it was just a void that that we filled. Other coaches started coming to us. So, by late 2000, we split the books with the bank accounts, created a separate LLC.

Dirk Friel:

From that day forward, I spent more and more time on the software side of things and less and less time coaching. I definitely knew a lot of coaches. My father had a big name in the industry. And then we had the technologist in Gear Fisher. So, it was a really nice pairing of the three co-founders. That’s how it started. Really from day one until today, it’s doing the very same thing. It’s connecting coaches and athletes, helping athletes train for their events, get better at what they love to do. We make the coach’s lives simpler. So, yeah, that’s how it really started.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, no, that’s an awesome story. The trifecta of you three getting it done early on, it all started for a beer in a bar. I like it.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, yeah.

Adam Pulford:

So, any athlete can use TrainingPeaks, right? There’s a free version and a paid version, right?

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, we really built the business early on on the backs of triathletes. Triathlon was a very rapidly growing sport, events, Iron Man. All of that was certainly really gaining a lot of traction. We owe a lot to that movement. We owe a lot to the visionary. I guess, the way that coaching developed and grew as a career path for triathletes also was very important to our development. But now really, any endurance athlete is turning to TrainingPeaks. As CTS probably knows as well, you guys, I believe, coach a lot of mountain climbers. We’ve got people trying to reach the top of Mount Everest, big adventures.

Dirk Friel:

So, if anyone cares about time, distance, GPS plus heart rate, then they’re a prime candidate. If they have an event on the calendar… That event doesn’t have to actually have a start line, climbing Mount Everest, doing a bike packing trip. There’s all kinds of things people are training for these days that actually aren’t organized events per se traditionally, but it is a big goal that they have. They need expert instruction to help them achieve that. So, we’ve certainly attracted all types of endurance athletes, but certainly, our bread and butter is cycling, triathlon and running still.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I’ve had some people come to me and even ask if they’re not ready to get a coach, “Can I just start uploading my run data to TrainingPeaks and even some sleep stuff and some other metrics?” It does a really good job of just organizing. So, that if you do want to get more serious, you can; or if you just want to keep it organized and keep it a little bit more casual, you can as well, so.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s no barrier to entry. There’s all kinds of different apps out there that where you can start tracking. I think one thing that where we’re unique is we’re compatible with so many different. I think it’s maybe 300 plus different apps and devices out there now, everything from the Whoop Strap to the latest power meter and everything in between. As well as nutrition, MyFitnessPal and others, you can upload macronutrients into the system. You can do all that for free. And then when you are ready for getting a training plan or a coach, we’re certainly here to help make that connection.

Adam Pulford:

Just off the cuff here, Dirk, is there any file extension that you guys cannot handle right now?

Dirk Friel:

Oh, certainly. I think with the proliferation of .FIT, however, Ryan could probably speak to this, .FIT has taken over the world with Garmin and everybody else. It’s just become so easy now sinking Bluetooth to your phone and then upload to the cloud. And then it’s all handled there. So, that was a big, big, big hurdle that we had to take on throughout our development, just trying to convince athletes to download whatever file type it was. And then to go through this horrible ugly process of manually uploading it to TrainingPeaks.com. That was a big chunk of our time, was convincing athletes to do that. Now it’s just ubiquitous. It’s just like common. Everybody does that, no matter what level of athlete you are.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah. No, that’s right. That’s right. Ryan, we heard your story of how you got acquired by TrainingPeaks. But throughout this journey too, I mean, Dirk and Ryan, both, I mean, you don’t just start this company, and then all of a sudden, it’s up and running. And then you’re rocking and rolling. I mean, there’s probably been a lot of experimentation, a lot of success, a lot of failure along the way. So, Ryan, can you talk a little bit about where TrainingPeaks has experimented, where it went sideways and maybe when it really connected?

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah. Yeah, I don’t want to say sideways, but it’s an interesting… Especially with Dirk on the line. But no, there’s an interesting question or point you brought up about the file process, right? So, in recent years, this explosion of .FIT files, it’s the de facto standard in the fitness industry. Because of that, they started to expand that file structure to allow for new types of data and new types of fields. It’s a standard, but these new fields are not standardized. So, one thing that we’ve done to mitigate that I think is WKO5 can read all of those non-standard data fields. You can still manipulate them and still use them within that platform. But until they become a more standardized format, then they’re not going to be pulled into TrainingPeaks.

Ryan Cooper:

So, for an example, about a year ago, you started to see these Aero sensors out in the world. So, there are several different variants of it. I have one on my desk actually. The whole goal of that was to try and calculate CdA. For Best Bike Split, me personally, like CdA is so important. You mentioned Jim Miller earlier. We did a lot of work with him around Rio Olympics, and Christian Armstrong, trying to fine tune what our real CdA was based on data versus what you were seeing in the wind tunnel. It’s really interesting that there’s all of these devices. None of the devices report that metric the same way, even though they’re all .FIT files. So, each one reports its own little way. WKO5 is able to read all of that.

Ryan Cooper:

But until there’s some standard form… I believe Garmin’s working on that. So, there’s some standard format for it. … we’re really not going to be able to pull that into TrainingPeaks’ main application. It’s a support issue where we can’t handle 17 different ways that these companies are trying to report the same metric. So, I would say that’s an area where there’s some growing pains just as the industry is no different than it was probably 15 years ago when Derek was saying you had SRM files. Now it’s the same file format, but it’s just different ways to record the same data and different field names. So, yeah, I think that would be one area that we hear a little bit about is, “Oh, well, why can’t we add these new data fields quickly and more rapidly?” That’s part of the reason is support long term.

Adam Pulford:

Support. So, how do you decide or what elements have to be in place when you say yes to adding something into TrainingPeaks to incorporate it into the main core of what’s existing?

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, I don’t want to speak for the whole team, but I know we recently added swim heart rate in. That’s one where the format has been steady for some time and standardized. There was enough desire in the community for us to bring that in. So, I believe we released that a few weeks ago, maybe not ideal timing, but it’s out there for people that are wanting to upload that. Dirk, do you have anything to add to that?

Dirk Friel:

Well, we have, as you mentioned, WKO5. So, companies are leveraging that today with innovative new metrics and devices. It’s our sandbox, where these companies can innovate and play. And then they can have their own user groups. And then they keep us informed. We definitely have to see some traction or adoption in the broader scale, if you will, or at least some hint of it in order to invest in bringing in new metrics into the system, because it is such a big undertaking, if you will, to add new metrics. But what’s nice is WKO5 is the sandbox where anyone can dump that data and prove out their new technology.

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, for nerds that may be listening who might have used MATLAB or Mathematica back in the day, couple of math programs. That’s the way I look at WKO5, you can do so many things in it. So, once you get the data, I mean, it pulls in data in any format. In the .FIT files, these companies can go in and do developer fields and add anything they want and then go in and do any functions off of those inside of WKO5. So, it’s a really cool platform and tool for that kind of experimentation.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. To those nerds that really love to geek out, I mean, I’m a huge WKO5 fan, always experimenting and using it with my athletes in terms of monitoring, forecasting and getting better insights. So, if this little segue does interest you, just Google WKO5 and start reading and learning a little bit more about it. It’s a fun little desktop software that you can play around with, as Dirk said, like a sandbox, if you will, if you have a lot of data and if you’re into this stuff. To turn back to you, Ryan, what has been some experiments or some R&D that have really taken off? I think I remember the Run with Hal experiment that Dirk had talked about in one conference. Can you give us some updates on some of the newest and latest that’s really starting to get traction?

Ryan Cooper:

Sure. So, back to my background a decade ago, I went back and did my masters and did all of my dissertation in operations research and optimization mathematics. My dissertation topic was around large scheduling models. So, how do you optimize and come up with the schedules that are basically trying to attain a goal, but at the same time, take human factors into account? So again, little did they know at the time when they bought Best Bike Split, when TrainingPeaks bought Best Bike Split, it was actually in an LLC that had other IP as part of it. So, it had a company called Optimized Training Labs. This was a company I had started with my co-founder, Rich. It was basically an AI triathlon training program.

Ryan Cooper:

So, it came out of my frustrations of having a job and trying to do my PhD and trying to train for triathlon. It was like training was not going to be my number one priority, but it was still a priority. So, I had a couple of coaches. I probably should have used TrainingPeaks and Coach Match to get a better coach. But I had a couple of coaches. They just had such a hard time with this schedule that I was like, “Okay, well, I’ll build this AI system to do it for me.” It ended up working out fairly well, but it never really took off as a product. There’s several reasons for that. But a couple of years ago, we decided to launch an R&D group about two and a half years ago inside of TrainingPeaks.

Ryan Cooper:

Part of that was to look out two, three years, see what was on the horizon in endurance sports, and where we wanted to focus our technical capacity, if you will. So, out of that, we leveraged some of this early work from 2010, 2011 to say, “How can we do this in a way that it’s the TrainingPeaks way? How can we do this the way that TrainingPeaks would do it?” Meaning that ultimately our whole goal is to connect athletes with the coach, right? TrainingPeaks isn’t the coach, but we want to connect you with the coach. Out of R&D, we launched our first commercial test product with Coach Hal Higdon. For those who are not familiar with Hal, just Google my first marathon or training for a marathon or whatever, it’ll be number one on the Google results.

Ryan Cooper:

So, yeah, Hal Higdon has been around for a long, long time. His methodology has been used by countless runners to go from 5K to their first marathon and everywhere in between. He’s been on TrainingPeaks for so long, and such a good relationship that when he was ready to build a new app, it really coincided with the work we were doing in R&D. So, our first test was to say, “Hey, can we take his methodology, his personality, and expand his base to new athletes that don’t really come to TrainingPeaks today?” So out of that, which Dirk mentioned at the last, I believe, Endurance Coaching Summit that we were doing this test, we launched it right before the Endurance Coaching Summit last year, so September or October last year.

Ryan Cooper:

In the first nine months, we’ve had over 100,000 installs of it. Average rating on both stores, 4.6 plus on the iOS store and Android store. It’s really a mobile-first solution to a broader audience that we don’t capture today in TrainingPeaks. Either they don’t feel they’re ready for a one-on-one coach or they’re looking for this mobile-first training solution.

Adam Pulford:

So, when you say mobile-first, Ryan, is that they have this app that tells him what to do and there’s no interaction with a coach, but it kicks them out of plan of some kind? Is that what you’re saying?

Ryan Cooper:

Exactly. So, it’s still the coach personality. It’s still Hal Higdon who’s driving I guess the substance and the personality behind it. So, it’s his methodology, his workouts, his wording, his interventions if you get off track or if you go over or under what he’s recommending, but the one-to-one coaching element is not there. What we ultimately see this doing is really being a conduit to broaden this base of people. They’re getting expert instruction. So, it’s a way to package expert instruction in a different way to allow coaches to connect with scales of athletes that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, but a little bit more so than a traditional just static training plan that gets added. That said, the one-to-one coach, for us, that is always the best option.

Ryan Cooper:

So, we see this as a funnel to pull more people into actual coaching. So, once they get a taste for this expert instruction and feedback, you start to get that loop going. And then people want to go to the next level and the next step in that. So, that’s where we’re looking now. Run with Hal was just really a testbed to say, “Hey, are there people out there that are looking for this solution that we don’t cover today in TrainingPeaks?” A good portion of the people that have downloaded, almost over 90% of the people that downloaded Run with Hal don’t have a TrainingPeaks account. So, we see that as an opportunity to migrate more people into the platform with a more one-to-one level.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. So, Dirk, who’s the next cycling personality that you’re going to roll out with?

Dirk Friel:

Well, we have to test. We’re going through like, “What’s our next product offering?” The biggest thing with all of this is it adapts to the individual. That’s really the big secret to all this, which is amazing. It’s better than a static training plan, because it knows you can’t swim next Wednesday, or you have a family vacation, or you actually didn’t perform today’s workout as planned. It’s going to adapt, and change tomorrow’s workout based on your own lifestyle. So, we need to develop a few more apps just to build that trust in the system, in the engine. It’s really about the engine underneath, whereby we can plug and play different coach methodologies and personalities.

Dirk Friel:

It’s not just go do three times eight minutes today, but it’s why and how should you feel. That personality of that coach coming through is really more than half of why athletes choose a particular coach is they connect with them. So, this isn’t just about numbers, but it’s also about bringing that personality of the coach front and center. So, we want to empower the coaches, AI is not here to replace them in our world.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I was just going to say, I mean, should I be getting worried that all this cool AI is going to scoop up all the athletes, Dirk? What’s going on?

Dirk Friel:

Well, eventually it’s going to all… We want to service this new technology to all of our coaches within TrainingPeaks. It’s step by step. Ryan, why don’t you tell your analogy of you’re going to the moon?

Ryan Cooper:

Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ve got three sons, but the oldest and I were watching the SpaceX mission the other day. So, I was geeking out about that. Run with Hal, I equate it to the first Mercury mission. You’re getting up there and you’re seeing what’s around, but you know it’s not the vehicle that’s going to take you where you want to go, right? It’s just going to give you a glimpse of it. So, with Run with Hal, that’s how I view it. With the next applications or the next thing is not going to really get us to where we want to be either, but it’s going to get us a little further and expand that reach a little bit more.

Ryan Cooper:

But as Dirk mentioned, I want to make sure I preface everything I say with I told Gear and I told Derek and Andy, our current CEO, that I wasn’t going to go build another AI app or another AI thing if it wasn’t done the TrainingPeaks way. They were all on board. We have to put the coach first. It’s about connecting athletes with the coach and allowing those coaches to expand their reach beyond what they thought was possible.

Ryan Cooper:

So, ultimately, the goal of this next application is to get us a little bit further. But with the goal of bringing all this technology, proving it out with these different missions and then bringing this technology inside of TrainingPeaks, so that any coach that wants to use it, whether it’s as an assistant coach type of technology or insights or some of these other things we’re looking at. So, that it benefits every coach. So, that coaches have more time to do actual coaching, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, no, that’s it. That’s it. For listeners here, as you guys can probably tell, I’m a huge fan of tech, AI. I’m a firm believer that the developments in AI is only going to enhance the coach now if the coach does listen and learn. Meanwhile, more people are interacting with different technology and they want to sample it before they take it a step further. So, in my vision, it’s like I’m getting excited as you guys are painting this picture a little bit more on you said an assistant coach or your coach assist program. What does that do for the coach, Ryan? Does that mean you got a little robot here that’s building training programs as I’m on the phone talking? What is it?

Ryan Cooper:

I like that. So, our big thing and I’m sure Dirk would agree is that let’s let technology do what technology is really good at doing. And then let’s let the people do what people are really good at doing. So, in my mind, scheduling is a big thing, right? Trying to keep track of an athlete’s schedule, keep track of when they might have masters swim or when they have access to a track or when they can get to the weight room, if we can ever get back to a the room, those kind of things… Google does a really good job of telling me I have a podcast at 2:00 on Wednesday, but if somebody had asked me yesterday when it was, I might not have known, right? So, let’s let computers do the heavy lifting around scheduling, around keeping track of athlete’s availability, around tracking the metrics and trends.

Ryan Cooper:

So, where a coach might set up what trends you really care about, whether it’s sleep or whether it’s HRV or whether it’s these other things. Let the computer alert you when those things start to look in this, right? So those are the things that I think we really want to focus on in terms of the tech side of things and allow a coach to really spend your time doing the stuff that a computer can’t do, right?

Adam Pulford:

Yup, yup, that’s it. Ryan, I mean, this may be a rabbit hole we can’t get out of, but I’ll ask the question, how important is data hygiene in that whole process? Because if you’re letting computers do what they do best, but you got bad impulses going into the system, what does that look like for the coach?

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, I mean, it’s something we do within Best Bike Split a lot, right? I mean, you have all these variables. WKO5 has to do with it as well. Data is only or I guess the output’s only as good as the input, right? So, if you have bad data coming in, then you know bad data is going to come out. So, there’s going to have to be a lot of automation around, as you say, cleaning that data. That’s any optimization. Any engineer, any scientist that deals with data knows that 90% of the work is often in the cleaning of the data. So, I think what we have to do is really be able to highlight outliers quick and early, and then alert both the coach and the athlete when something looks amiss, right? Because you don’t want to start doing trend data alerts or any real intervention off of what would be bad data.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, no, that’s it for sure, because as I sit here and look at the way I coach this year with COVID. Yes, we’re recording here in August of 2020 and COVID is rampant. But I feel like I’ve done probably the best job this summer of sitting at the computer, combing through the TrainingPeaks program or WKO5 and cleaning data and knowing who’s where, because it’s all more controlled. We’re not going to bike races. We’re not traveling as much. So, I was like, “I’m on top of it this year,” but at the same time, it’s because it’s a lot easier, but it’s not going to be that way for a while.

Adam Pulford:

Meanwhile, I’m still definitely not doing it perfectly. My athletes are crazy and always changing and going different places. So, that data hygiene is important. Just off the cuff again, how about the communication of say scheduling. Meaning, hey, I’m going to go to Breckenridge and sit or stand at the Front Range to do training this weekend? How would something like AI be able to handle that? That could go to Ryan or Dirk in that manner from an AI perspective. Ryan?

Ryan Cooper:

Okay. So, right now, we’re working on some stuff inside of TrainingPeaks actually around the athletes themselves, being able to update some of this around availability and around scheduling. I do think in the future, we talked about the distant future, the things I get excited about, being able to see different calendars and things would be ideal. So, that you can pick those things out.

Ryan Cooper:

But in the meantime, I do think that we have to put a little bit of that on the athlete themselves to say, “Hey, well, you got to let your coach know, but let’s make sure that we have the tools available for you.” So that it can be done inside TrainingPeaks, right? So that the athlete can indicate it. And then you can see their full picture within the application without having to go to two different things or respond to five different emails or get two texts and an email and a Google calendar, all these different things today. Let’s have one source of record for training, which is TrainingPeaks.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, I can see this coach assistant, obviously, being coach [inaudible 00:45:37], obviously, at first. Whereby the coach is either accepting, denying or editing what is being planned or scheduled. So, at the end of the day, it is the coach making decision. But this assistant is actually making suggestions along the way that can get refined from all those inputs coming in to make it more and more trustworthy, if you will, by the coach. So, definitely, this assistant’s going to grow through many generations.

Ryan Cooper:

You guys have more stuff, because I’m in Texas, so we don’t have like elevation or things like that to worry about here. We do have 107 degrees heat to worry about.

Adam Pulford:

I’m just going to say you guys got heat.

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, we’ve got the other elevation, right? So, things like that, I definitely do think down the road as we start to look at… We started to touch on these in the R&D group before we started to spin off our first commercial test was to look at how you can start to recognize those trends in athletes and say, “Well, how do they perform at altitude, for instance? What may make sense for me at 400 feet, basically sea level?” If I went to Breckenridge, I’m not going to be going and doing the same workout, right? So at least not for several months. So, those kind of things, I think, we’ll continue to do R&D and continue to do data analysis over time and start to figure out where we can get the biggest benefit, I guess, based on our data.

Adam Pulford:

I like that. I like that a lot. So, we’re talking a lot about where TrainingPeaks is going. Dirk, I’ll turn back to you. In the short and medium term, over the next, I don’t know, one to two years, I mean, where do you see the vision of the company going? What’s the overall goal here?

Dirk Friel:

I mean, we’ve heard a lot from our customer base in terms of the folks that are coming to our homepage for the first time ever and what are they looking for. We know we can do a better job of connecting them to the expert instruction that they came to the site for. Historically, TrainingPeaks was thought of as software. We’re now seeing ourselves as, “Yeah, we have software, but actually we lead with the marketplace.” Because the majority of the people that hear about TrainingPeaks and decide to go venture to our homepage and create an account, they’re actually looking for expert instruction, they’re not looking for software. Having that realization is an aha moment. It’s a big deal in our evolution.

Dirk Friel:

So, our teams are now really honing in on, “Okay, let’s find out what type of coaching this individual is looking for. Are they looking for a training plan? Are they looking for one-to-one coaching? What price point?” Aha, well, a lot of them are telling us, they want something better than a training plan, which is just static, but yet, they’re not quite ready to pay the $300 a month or whatever it might be for a premium coaching service. So, there’s a lot of opportunity there and a lot of demand for us to fill that void. We have coaches, obviously, that want to fill that void, but we can do a better job of making those connections happen.

Dirk Friel:

So, we have a Coach Match program. We obviously have our training plans store, but we need to figure out a better way of serving up these new offerings to the right person at the right time. So, that’s certainly in our more middle range plan is to just take advantage of all the opportunity we have every single day today and helping these athletes find the right services that they’re looking for. So, that’s probably a big focus of ours right now.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, you’re talking about scaling athletes as well as scaling coaches.

Dirk Friel:

Well, yeah, we have a lot of demand right now from the athlete side. We have coaches that can provide those services, but teasing out from athlete, “What are they really looking for?” and connecting them with the right coach is a big opportunity.

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah, yeah. Oh, sorry.

Adam Pulford:

No, no, no, go ahead, Ryan. Go ahead.

Ryan Cooper:

I was just going to add, I was given a presentation the other day. One of the things I like to focus in on is that as a company, I mean, we really do believe in and we strive every day to live this, that every single athlete deserves great coaching, right? That’s how they’re going to get to be the best athlete that they can be, whether that’s just getting to the starting line in some cases or getting to the World Championship, right? Every single athlete deserves great coaching. Now, I’d add to that that we should provide tools and technology and services so that every coach can be as successful as they want to be as well.

Ryan Cooper:

So, right now, as Dirk mentioned, we have this gap where we have athletes coming in and we have service and we have coaching, but there’s something that’s missing that they’re telling us that they need something in between. So, that’s something that we’re looking to build upon, but we’re doing it with our coaches, not in spite of our coaches. I think that’s an important thing is that we really do feel that every coach should be as successful as they want to be.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I appreciate that, Ryan. What both of you has said is putting the coach first, I really appreciate that. I’ve spoken with some of my colleagues in terms of having a product that’s in between, say, the athlete and the coach. I’m personally a huge fan of that, because it actually helps the athlete to learn and develop more. So, that when they’re ready for the coach, they’re up to speed much more quickly. Meaning I have to essentially do less or I can be more creative and focus on what actually matters as opposed to the very basics of education, mechanics, uploading how this device works, “Oh, why can’t I push for 20 minutes?”, all this thing where a refined athlete when they come to a coach, now it gets more creative. So, from that standpoint, I think this is wonderful.

Adam Pulford:

And then the other thing I was going to say is at that point as well, when somebody has practiced or trained up to a point where they need more of an expert instructor, that coach-athlete relationship will only be much better if the athlete’s more proficient. But also, if their communication and core principles, methodologies, thought process, communication styles align. Dirk, we talked about that on another podcast with one of my athletes. When that meshes up well, that’s when success can occur. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s what you guys are also trying to optimize through AI and the core bread and butter of what you’re offering already.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, every coach is unique to have their own methodologies, terminologies that need to be communicated and then understood and educated to the athlete as you’re alluding to.

Dirk Friel:

Likewise, if an athlete needs to back off some services, if they put a lot of intense training into this year, their Big A race is over, they need to take downtime. Hey, coach, I think I need four months, but I really want to have more of a maintenance program. Can I have a lower level service offering? Boom, you can have that as well to help bridge the gap. So, they just don’t leave you all together. But when they’re ready to come back, you now have all that collected data, you can see what was planned for them, how they reacted to it. Are they truly ready to get back on board with another serious schedule? So, it goes both ways as well.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, absolutely. Totally. So, that’s in the short term. Can we go longer term? You can tease out. So, Dirk, if we are to talk, how long term can we go here?

Dirk Friel:

Well, I think we’ve been talking about a lot of it right now. We don’t really have that per se roadmap to the exact month or year, etc. It all has to take on a life of its own. We learn as we go. We don’t know the pitfalls ahead of us. So, we’ll learn, adopt. We’re always going to be pushing forward. So, again, it’s about bringing that technology to all coaches, but yet, coaches don’t have to use it. If a coach wants to have five athletes and they want to review every single file and they don’t want any interventions or any AI, that’s completely fine.

Dirk Friel:

We have coaches today that have never written a training plan. They have never sold a training plan. They never want to. On the other side of the spectrum as well, we have coaches that have never really done one-to-one coaching. They just sell training plans, but they are big authors like Hal Higdon. So, it allows the coach to build a business in the vision that they have for themselves and their business and to be able to leverage these different offerings within our ecosystem and suite of products.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, so from that longer-term perspective, Dirk, just curious, I want to push into this, what is the biggest challenge right now at TrainingPeaks that you see?

Dirk Friel:

Well, at the end of the day, we are a software company. We don’t employ coaches. We develop software. So, certainly in this day and age of high tech in this world we live in, it’s a challenging time to hire. There’s a lot of great talent out there, but a lot of great companies. We are literally competing with Facebook and Google. Google has probably 2,500 staff right here, a mile from my house. So, that’s probably the biggest challenge in terms of the business side of things is we’re hiring right now. We’re always hiring. We’ve always had a budget to be hiring more folks. It just takes longer than we like, because the competition is so high out there for developers and QA and everything else. So, that’s probably the biggest challenge we face as a business, which is good in a way.

Dirk Friel:

We’re in a strong challenge. We’re in a strong, I guess, domain, if you will. Software is a very good industry obviously to be in. It’s growing. We don’t know what the future looks like. There’s ever more dollars coming in and more power to do better and better things. It’s really, really exciting. That’s what’s awesome too about being in this world and being within TrainingPeaks in the software industry is, it does feel like a startup every single year. The product we envision is five years out in our heads, and we need 10 more developers like yesterday. That’s always the conversation we’re having, right? So that’s probably the biggest challenge we’re facing.

Adam Pulford:

Well, I was just going to ask, what is the biggest opportunity? I mean, you may have already answered that, but feel free to [crosstalk 00:58:01].

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, no, I think our biggest opportunity is to convince people that they are deserving of coaching. A lot of people feel that it’s intimidating. I’m not worthy, I’m not good enough. I’m only here to finish. I only want to break an hour for the 10K. I mean, everybody deserves that expert instruction and that some level of coaching. Even if you’re training five hours a week, you can make that five hours much more valuable than just trying to figure it out on your own and just haphazardly training.

Dirk Friel:

So, literally, we want to bring a coach to every single endurance athlete in the world, no matter where they live or what technology or what interface they want to have; or if it’s in-person, that we’re also all about in-person coaching as well. So, I think that’s our biggest opportunity is it’s top down, it’s started at the Olympic level, Iron Man level. Now, people are starting to realize, “Hey, I am worthy.” It doesn’t have to be crazy expensive to get great expert advice for your next event. So, that’s a great opportunity for coaches obviously as well. This so much more opportunity out there.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I think having the AI will help people to realize they are worthy, as you say, or that, “Hey, this actually works. It applies to me. It actually benefits me.” And then they can take it to whatever level they want from there, which is super fun.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, I mean, the mainstay of probably our customer base train 8 to 12 hours a week, obviously family and job, but they have high ambitions for whatever event it might be. So, we can help them make the most of those 10 or 12 hours they have a week.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, I like it. I like it. Well, Ryan and Dirk, we’re coming up to the top of the hour. I always like to end each episode with a few takeaways or questions to the guests. The answers usually try to summarize what we’ve talked about, hit on some key points or just give the listeners a few nuggets that they can take away and think about or apply to their training. So, if you guys are ready, let’s do this.

Dirk Friel:

Okay.

Ryan Cooper:

Sure.

Adam Pulford:

Okay, question number one. This goes to each of you. I’ll ask Ryan first. What’s one thing you didn’t see coming along this journey at TrainingPeaks?

Ryan Cooper:

Oh, yeah. I didn’t even see TrainingPeaks coming, honestly. So, there’s so many things that I never saw coming in. But the biggest one is you rarely get a chance. In my case, you rarely get a chance to do something a second time the right way. We talked about failing and we talked about failing fast and those things. But when I tried to go down this route a decade ago, it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right place, it wasn’t the right way to go about it. Now we have a chance to do it. I don’t think there’s any other company besides TrainingPeaks where it makes sense. So, I think that’s what I didn’t see coming when I started back in 2014. So, I’m really excited about the direction that we’re starting to head, so.

Adam Pulford:

Nice. Dirk, question to you, what didn’t you see coming along your journey?

Dirk Friel:

I always hated training indoors in the turbo trainer. That whole world is now completely different from the ’80s when I sat in my turbo trainer. It’s not just training. It’s that virtual community, the virtual racing. There’s now more race days done indoor virtually than there are outdoors. That’s only happened in the last year, right? So that’s a big wave-

Adam Pulford:

With the pandemic going on, so.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, the pandemic in a way I feel squished several years’ worth of innovation or not even innovation. Just like the dynamics of the marketplace would be the same, but it would have taken a couple more years.

Adam Pulford:

I think it’s forced it out quicker.

Dirk Friel:

Right. There’s many other instances of that in other industries, where what was inevitable that may have taken a few years is now here now. It only took three months. Virtual racing was coming for sure. I’ve been watching Formula One simulated races on Monaco Grand Prix. It’s pretty darn cool to watch on TV, even though it’s all fake. The best driver still wins in. Different things to deal with in virtual racing, but it’s a different type of racing. It’s cool. So, I didn’t see that coming, but yet, it was inevitable. So, these things are just coming at us faster than we could have ever thought.

Dirk Friel:

There’s also industries that haven’t survived or will have a very difficult time surviving because of this epidemic as well. So, obviously, I didn’t see that coming, but on the bright side, it accelerated virtual racing, virtual training. That’s all great. There’s different winners of the eTour de France and there are of the real Tour de France, right?

Adam Pulford:

Right, right. That’s it. Okay, question two. We’ll go back to Ryan and then to Dirk. What is the biggest challenge in your view to the endurance athlete out there? So, people listening, people out there training, the 9:00 to 5:00-ers, the professional athlete, but to the endurance athlete, what’s the biggest challenge, Ryan?

Ryan Cooper:

I mean, right now, I think there’s a lot of uncertainty, but as we kind of hopefully get back to some normalness, I still think it’s juggling priorities. The elite point of the spear people and the people that have training as their number one priority, I think they’re going to continue doing what they do and performing at a high level. I think, the people like myself that are juggling a family and a job, trying to train and just a busy life and really trying to fit everything in and set those priorities that may change throughout the year, I think that’s the area that I believe is that area that we all struggle with a little bit. Hopefully, there’s an opportunity for TrainingPeaks to help with that as well, so.

Adam Pulford:

Agreed, agreed. Dirk, what do you think the biggest challenge is for an endurance athlete out there?

Dirk Friel:

There’s no one formula of success that works. It’s really the individualization of that training, which is the challenge. Having that expert, I guess, coach or somebody else to work with, to go through all the decision making processes and what takes a higher priority maybe, as Ryan is alluding to, to decide on what to do tomorrow, it’s different for every single person. Even if you weigh the same, you have the same strengths and weaknesses and you’re training for the same race, two individuals are going to adapt differently.

Dirk Friel:

I have a sore back today, what should I do tomorrow? Which is totally true and legit, is my story right now. So, what should I do tomorrow? I’m taking up running now in the fall. I’m not adapting the same as what I have in the past. So, how long is this going to take me? So, I guess the challenge is just realizing that every person is unique and adapts differently. Figuring out your own secret formula is really the biggest challenge.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Okay, final questions for each of you. They’re slightly different. So, listen up. Ryan, we’ll go to you first. Where do you see the endurance coach in 10 to 15 years from now in terms of how they monitor data, develop training strategies, and interact with the athlete?

Ryan Cooper:

Yeah. So, I mean, I think one-to-one coaching is always going to be the gold standard, right? So, I do think that there’s still going to be a lot of the one-to-one nuanced coaching, where everything Dirk just mentioned about, the individual nature of athletes and their responses. You mentioned earlier cleaning of data and all these things, I do hope that we get to a point where there’s less of that needed. So, whether it’s through an assistant coach type technology that the TrainingPeaks will develop or the devices themselves getting better over time, I do think that we’ll start to see more and more. I mean, I look at my three kids and you see how much technology they interact with… Unfortunately, way too much, right? … on a day-to-day basis.

Ryan Cooper:

But 10 years ago or 15 years ago, when we look at what we had, they were starting with some beginnings of the internet, right, like 20 years ago. So, we’ve come a long way, but there’s so much more that we can gain out of it. So, I think the coach, there’s always going to be the one-to-one coach, but you will be able to scale your methodology, your personality as much as you want. So, as Dirk mentioned before, you may have a broad funnel of athletes that are not ready to step up for that one-to-one, but they’re still using your training mechanisms.

Ryan Cooper:

So, when they are ready to step up, they’re already… I don’t want to say groomed, but they’re already used to the terminology. They’re already used to the type of data you want to look at. They’re used to the things that you care about in terms of metrics. So, I really think that coaching is going to get more tailored to the individual than it is even today and that a lot of the… I don’t want to say busy work, but a lot of the work that you have to get through to get to the coaching will hopefully be fully or partially automated.

Adam Pulford:

I would greatly appreciate that, Ryan. You keep working our way on that. Dirk, final question to bring us home. Where do you see the endurance athlete, how they train, how they live, and how they monitor their data and take care of themselves in 10 to 15 years from now?

Dirk Friel:

Well, I think one constant that will be the same as today is the importance of just how you feel. I mean, we’ve been talking a lot about numbers and automation and AI, etc, but you can’t automate how the athlete feels and how their mood is today, right? So that rate of perceived exertion, hopefully, we can take advantage of that input more in the future and actually allocate for it more in terms of the decision making. But certainly, we’re not going away from how the athlete feels. That’s so, so, so important, but maybe we can account for it more in the future.

Dirk Friel:

I hope the endurance athlete and coach are just simply smarter because of technology that these apps are bringing to the surface, insights that they didn’t maybe think of or previously know about or see in the data and the correlations between the training routines and “What is developing?” What does that trend look like? So, I hope the endurance athlete is smarter in the future and can make better decisions on what to do today or tomorrow based upon all the inputs coming in. But I still feel having a personal experience coach is still going to be the best way to go in the future, but hopefully, they’re just smarter because of the technology.

Adam Pulford:

I couldn’t agree more. I couldn’t agree more. Well, guys, thank you both for taking time out of your busy days to connect with us on the TrainRight Podcast. If listeners really enjoyed the conversation, they want to follow each of you on social media, where can they find you, Ryan?

Ryan Cooper:

That’s a good question.

Adam Pulford:

I was looking. I couldn’t find you.

Ryan Cooper:

[crosstalk 01:11:59] very much. Oh, man. Yeah, I guess you can find me on Facebook or just follow Best Bike Split on Twitter. So, I still-

Adam Pulford:

Cool.

Ryan Cooper:

… man that occasionally, so.

Adam Pulford:

Got you. If they want to follow you at the high-altitude adventures in the wintertime, where can they find you on the socials?

Dirk Friel:

Absolutely, Instagram, just Dirk Friel on Instagram. I tend to rarely go to Twitter or Facebook. So, Instagram is really simple for me.

Adam Pulford:

Got it. Got it. Of course, everybody that is curious can follow TrainingPeaks at @TrainingPeaks on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Check out our show notes for a little bit more content as well. So, thank you guys again and have a great rest of your day.

Dirk Friel:

Thanks, Adam.

Ryan Cooper:

Thank you.


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