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Pushing the envelope: Kate Courtney uses data to gain competitive edge

“I majored in human biology and my dad is a data analyst, so data has always been something I’ve been interested in,” explained Courtney, who studied at Stanford.

Kate Courtney is a lot of things — dedicated, hardworking, talented, and the reigning cross-country world champion and current overall World Cup series leader. What Courtney is not is a technophobe. Indeed, the 23-year-old Californian calls her Scott Spark RC race rig “a bike of the future,” a nod to the technology she uses for training and racing.

Those key cutting edge components include a wireless SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS drivetrain and Reverb dropper post, Quarq power meter, and of course her trusty Garmin head units. For training she opts for the recently launched Edge 530 with its litany of cycling-centric features and 20 hours of battery life. Come race day the smaller Edge 130 is the choice.

“I have a lot of things that need to be charged,” said Courtney with a laugh. “But it’s such an exciting progression right now in how people are helping make our rides more efficient and fun. I’ve always been interested in new things, so it’s really neat to be a part of that at this level.”

To stay at the world class level she’s on right now, the Scott-SRAM team rider relies heavily on data, both from training and racing. Time, power output, heart rate, and speed are just some of the metrics Courtney gathers during each on-bike session then parses with her coach afterwards. This allows them to both track trends and be consistent with how she prepares for competition.

“I majored in human biology and my dad is a data analyst, so data has always been something I’ve been interested in,” explained Courtney, who studied at Stanford. “I love to look at trends both over years and within a season to see where I am physiologically, and then use that information to set process goals. Setting and hitting those various smaller targets at different points of the season helps keep me on a path to reaching the bigger goals.”

Courtney’s two Garmin devices are key components in this data collection process. During races, her main focus is on the task at hand, thus she uses the simpler Edge 130, which is there primarily to keep tabs on her efforts for post-race analysis.

“Occasionally I will take a peek at power or elapsed time,” she revealed. “But it’s having access to those layers of information after the race that’s the main goal. Training is where I really interact with my devices.”

That more intimate relationship manifests in multiple forms. Courtney uses the Gamin Edge 530 to work her way through interval sessions, receiving real time metrics to make sure she’s following the day’s desired plan. Sometimes the focus is power output; other times it could be speed or cadence.

“Every training ride a little different,” she explained. “They can vary in terms of length and what I am targeting for that particular day. That’s where the 530 is really nice because it allows you to set up so many different data fields on various pages. For example, I have a specific interval page that shows me exactly what I want to look at during those efforts. But other days I might be doing cadence work and I have a different page for that. Or it could be some combination, where I have elevation gained, power, and normalized power. There are tons of options. I probably have five different pages set up right now.”

The Edge 530 also performs high end functions such as advanced performance and power analysis, including time in zone, FTP tracking, cycling-specific VO2, and recovery and cycling dynamics such as training balance, which distills the previous seven days of riding, breaking it down in terms of endurance/threshold/high intensity efforts while also evaluating how “balanced” a rider’s training is.

“For me, consistency is so key, especially consistency in training,” said Courtney, who spoke with VeloNews just ahead of a transatlantic flight from the U.S. back to Europe for the second half of the World Cup slate. “Collecting data and using the aggregate load information to make sure I am hitting key metrics is really important. Right now I’m just coming off a really focused block of training this last month. Now I’ll rest a little and then be ready to hit the next round of races really hard.”

Of course, being the world traveler she is, Courtney uses her Garmin when seeking out new trails or roads to ride, making features such as Garmin’s new Forksight mode especially valuable. The way it works is that when a rider stops mid-ride, the Forksight mode automatically displays upcoming forks in the trail, and even shows where they are within a larger trail network.

“It’s so nice to be able to arrive somewhere new and confidently go explore,” she said, using the example of the Whiskey 50 Epic Rides event earlier this season in Arizona when she was able to accurately pre-ride the entire single loop race course. “You can upload routes for scouting, or if it’s a training ride you can make sure that it will have the right terrain for the workout you’re trying to do, whether that’s finding a specific type of climb or just making sure it’s the right distance. It’s also good for not getting lost. That’s always important.”