Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Training with Power

Thanks to Fatty for his post that triggered this entry.

I'm a bit ridiculous with my bicycling, and I always have been.

Very soon after getting back into riding about 10 years ago, I was looking for data.  First, it was a simple cyclocomputer.  Speed, distance, average speed, time.

Very soon after, it was a heart rate monitor, a cheap one that displayed on a wristwatch which I mounted to my handlebars with a drafting eraser under the band to hold it in place.

Yeah, I was the epitome of road bicycle style, hairy legs and all.

I quickly saw that heart rate wasn't telling me anything, especially without some data recording capabilities.  I'd feel great with my heart at 165bpm, and feel like I was about to pop at 140bpm.  Heart rate was just not very helpful.

I was also deluded into thinking I was truly fast.  I was occasionally able to beat the other riders in the Tuesday/Thursday pick-up ride on my aluminum framed Specialized.  They knew me by name, and I even had a nickname: Red Chris.  (I wore red kit exclusively for years, and my bicycle was red.)

I thought I was cool.  I thought I was fast.

So I bought a power meter: a CycleOps PowerTap SL 2.4, built with Mavic Open Pro wheels and DT Swiss spokes.  Top notch kit.  I put my shiny new wheels on my hardly new Specialized, tripling the value of the bicycle with the swing of a quick release skewer.

I was so cool.  No one else had a power meter at the time.  They were still pretty rare even at the pro level.  I ran out and did a hard ride.  I recorded heart rate, power, speed, cadence.  I rush home, hook up the LYC (Little Yellow Computer) and download the data.  I bought software to help me analyze and track my power training.  I reviewed my power in detail.

And I realized that I stunk.  I was slow.  Weak.  Pathetically weak.  Didn't register on the charts weak.

Buying a power meter was one of the most demoralizing moments in my cycling career, if you could call it a career.  I suddenly knew my standing in the world of bicyclists, and it simply wasn't very high.

My ego was badly bruised.

Then I read the instructions.  I need to zero out the torque!  Next ride, I get out, zero out the torque.  I reset, ride hard, capturing all this data.  Go home.

I still suck.  My ego was almost fatally crushed.  My dreams of riding in the Tour de France were fading fast.

For years after that, I capture my data.  I don't buy a new bicycle.  I regret the investment in a power meter that cost as much as a sweet new mid-level carbon bike.

I realized that the fastest way to see how much you suck is to buy a power meter.  There are times when you're suffering, you feel like you're working yourself to death.  Legs screaming.  Heart pounding.  Gasping for air.

Look down, you're doing 50% of your normal power.  And you can't turn up the wick.

At least, with a simple cyclocomputer, you can delude yourself.  Sadly, high technology doesn't lie, it tells the cold hard truth.

But, it's those moments where you learn.  And learn I did.  Over time, I started to understand what my power meter was saying.  I learned what it meant about my performance in a broad sense, and my body's response to my activities.  I started to get faster.

I learned a lot that had nothing to do with power and everything to do with making power.

I learned about hydration, and the impact it has on power.  Food, and the impact it has on power.  Temperature.  Riding position.  Sleep.

I learned a lot about power, too.  I learned about the impact of using power, the impact of accelerations, tempo, threshold riding.  I had sudden clarity on the idea of "matches" and what happens when you light them.  I gained clear understanding of the advantage of drafting, both as the drafter and the draftee.

I learned how to manage my performance; how much capacity I had, how to have capacity when I needed it, and how to develop more through training.

Even more, I learned how to combine information.  Heart rate and power.  Power and cadence.  I learned how each affected the other, how to utilize them to my benefit.  I started to understand how my body would act when I was tired, dehydrated, hungry, poorly fueled, hot, cold, sick.

Today, I have two wheelsets with power meters, and I seriously considered putting a power meter on my MTB wheelset (still regret not doing that, the stats would be really cool to compare and contrast with road).  I know my thresholds, I know my limits, and I can see them play out on a screen in front of me when the time comes.

I also know how I compare to typical competitors, and I know what I need to do to be competitive with them - or to force them to respond.

And, most importantly, I know how to see when I need a break.

Buying a power meter was the best thing I ever did, despite the outrageous price tag when I did it.  A power meter is the most powerful tool available for bicycling, right behind the bike itself.  I wouldn't be half the rider I am today if I didn't have all the knowledge I gathered through simple observation of my power meter.

And I'd probably still be deluded into thinking I could ride the TdF.  Today I know that'll never happen.  Cat 2, or maybe even Cat 1, but not that.

Hey, we gotta dream.

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