No, No, Mr. Roboto
It is important that the athlete does not become simply a mindless robot in the process of training. Rather, it is incumbent on the athlete to manage their efforts throughout both the interval block in question and their current training phase as a whole.
As an example let's say your coach recommend the classic 2x20-minute threshold intervals at 300 Watts (or 95 percent of your recent 20-minute test at 315W). By simply going out and trying to hit 300W with no regard to the perceived intensity of the workout, you run the risk of either working too hard and being unable to complete the workout as prescribed, or working too easily and missing the essential training benefit.
If you apply the perceived exertion criteria to the workout you may find that instead of being a 6 or 7, the workout was more akin to an 8 or, if your pacing was wrong, a 10! Clearly your ability to replicate the workload has been compromised because you didn't apply an internal measure to your stress. Learn to self-evaluate and you will be a better cyclist.
Track Your Progress
Once you have a handle on managing your intervals you need to track those efforts across time. Certainly you'll want to track the raw data of your workout. Knowledge of workload, speed, energy expenditure and duration are easily managed with either a simple spreadsheet or one of the common analysis software packages currently on the market, including WKO+, PowerAgent, Polar and others. With the development of power measurement systems, more and more athletes simply rely on the numbers to explain what happened in their race or workout.
While the numbers are a wonderful tool, they do not address every element of your training and racing. To that end it is important that each of you create and maintain some sort of training log. There are many useful online resources you can choose from, but you still want to apply a structured approach to inputting the information. I'd like to borrow an effective and common model from the medical community, the SOAP note.
The acronym SOAP stands for Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan. By grouping your information into these simple categories, a SOAP note provides an easy-to-use format and a variety of helpful information that you can reference for future workouts. Divide your SOAP note as follows:
S — Subjective: Your impression of the workout, ride or race. Though seemingly straight forward, it is also a great place to record some of the nuances of your workout. Did you feel tired at the outset? Did you eat right during the workout? How was the weather? Try to avoid conclusions about the workout—that comes later.
O — Objective: The hard data summarized for your later recall. Rather than having to go back in and look at the power or heart rate file for the workout, record the critical information here. Duration, distance, energy expenditure, average and normalized power for the ride, and any intervals within the workout, intensity factor, etc. Some also include their daily metrics like hours slept, intake calories and general rating of mood. Again, just the facts here!
A — Assessment: Given your responses to S and O, how was the workout overall? Did you meet your goals? This is where you analyze the workout. What shortcomings did you experience? What would you do differently in the race next time to correct any tactical problems? Was the interval pacing correct, too high, too low? In some cases your coach may wish to complete this section as well (they may also have their own version)
P — Plan: Now that you have a good overall view of your workout, what will you do next time? "Next Time" typically means the next time you attempt this workout. Will you increase/decrease the watts requirement? Change your fueling strategy? Should you have more warm up?
Plan can also include specific recommendations for the workouts to follow in sequence. This is typically planned a bit farther out than the day before, but if you, or your coach, are tightly managing your workouts it can provide some needed structure for subsequent days.