It might seem contradictory - I've tweeted that every workout should have a purpose and athletes should be aware of the purpose prior to starting. The parameters of the workout should be clearly stated, along with the goals to be accomplished during the workout. That means the athlete needs to keep an eye or distance, pace or heart rate and power output to ensure that the workout achives the desired effect. It also means the athletes need to be aware of falling outside the ranges and when physical status might preclude an effective workout. The gadgets, toys and technology employed by both runners and cyclists now make that real time monitoring easier - and can assist the coach with providing feed back to improve performance. But I've also said that we need to unplug and leave the gadgets behind to reconnect with the world. Without numbers staring you in the face, you learn how you feel during the workout. There are no numerically imposed limitations to performance - just the feeling of working hard and pushing the limits. That sometimes dictates slowing down or allows you to reach undreamed of summits. Simply doing can also be the rejuvenation needed to inspire new goals.
So which is right? Tethered to our gadgets or flying free? As an athlete, I like having the data at my fingertips during hard workouts - but more as a guideline for performance. I also like tossing the garmin in my pocket and just riding. I get the input on how I feel during the ride, but am also to look at the data afterwards. Then I get the best of both worlds - the freedom of just doing and the information on how my body responds to the workouts. As a coach, I want my athletes to enjoy what they are doing - even doing working hard. Simply focusing on the numbers might get the desired improvement, but decrease the motivation to actually get out and do. Each person is an individual - the numbers can drive and damn at the same time. But I also need the numbers - be it pace, heart rate, RPE, distance or watts to provide the feedback each athlete requires. That's the beauty of coaching - helping athletes progress and achieve their goals no matter what the motivating factor is - numbers, experience or a combination of both.