Why You (Yes, You) Should Think About Using Power for Bike Training

Written by Victoria Anderson, CT3 Member, Ironman Triathlete

If you spend enough time around the triathlon world – probably 5 minutes or so – you’ll hear people talking about their bike gear and gadgets. Why train hard when you can just buy speed?

If only it were so simple. Ultimately, you need to be fit enough to move your fancy equipment faster. But wait! What if one of those fancy gadgets could actually help you get fitter AND race better? Aerohelmets and race wheels may promise to shave seconds off your time, but there’s something else that can help you train more efficiently and effectively so that you are ALWAYS faster.

A powermeter.

A what?

A device that lets you know how much power you are producing so that, regardless of the hills, wind, or heat, you know how hard your legs are working. This is an advantage for training, as it allows you to target a specific physiological adaptation, even if you are indoors, and for racing, since you need not be frustrated by slow speeds in a headwind when you know your legs are doing what you trained them to do.

Do they really help you train and race better? As with anything in the sport of triathlon, you get out of it what you put into it. If you just have your power output being recorded and don’t use it to plan your training or racing, it won’t be much more than another number for you to look at. However, if you consistently test, plan, and execute your biking with power as a guide, you can make substantial gains.

Need an anecdote? I came into triathlon as a swimmer with a couple of months of basic bike training, which meant that at almost every race, spectators would cheer me on as the second/third woman out of the water, and I would then find myself on the bike course getting passed by half the field. It was frustrating, and you can only listen to so many race wheels whoosh right past you before you decide to drastically improve your cycling. This season, after several months of focused bike training using my powermeter and a plan for getting the most out of my training rides, I found myself holding onto my position from the swim, or even passing people on the bike.

So it clearly helped me, but why should YOU consider training with power?

You can get more out of your sessions. This is especially important if you wind up training indoors, where a lack of feedback on your efforts can make a ride unproductive at best, and mindnumbingly boring at worst. With power, you can plan what specific physiological adaptation you want to work on in a given session, week, month, or season, and know that you are getting that adaptation with the feedback you get on your power.

You can better target your training so that you are less likely to overtrain or undertrain. If your workout involves “30 seconds all out” or “5 minutes hard,” what exactly does that mean? How hard should you go? A power-based workout plan will tell you EXACTLY how hard you need to push, and your powermeter will let you know if you are doing it. No need to worry about unnecessarily trashing your legs, or not pushing hard enough to improve your fitness. Simply ride to the prescribed power numbers and be done with the workout.

Power-based testing offers a chance to objectively assess your progress throughout the season. It can be difficult to use speed to gauge your bike fitness, as road conditions, elevation profiles, and weather can all affect speed at a given power output. But with a powermeter? You can do a test on a trainer, or flat road, to see how much power you can produce. If it’s going up, you know your plan is working, if it’s going down, it might be time to reassess your approach.

You’ll be able to better manage your race efforts. Triathlon and cycling experts with decades of experience have analyzed ideal power outputs for different race distances, and those target ranges are available to anybody. Simply take the output from your training and testing, set your target power output, and follow it throughout the race. No more cursing headwinds or blowing your legs out climbing hills, just stay in your target range and you’ll hit the run course ready to finish the race strong.

You can still go and ride for fun. While the majority of my workouts have a power-based plan, not all of them do. I still ride a road bike in to work, with no data whatsoever, and take my bike out for a ride on a nice day without paying attention to my power at all. Training with power doesn’t have to mean that power is all you think about when you ride, it just means that you use the information from your powermeter when it’s useful for the workout.

Interested? Come back for the follow on post, How on Earth do I Train and Race with Power?

Better rules.

Its the start of the training season for Fall races.  Many triathletes are in taper mode for long races they faced cold winter training for.  Some people are just getting in the running groove for the first time.  And others have been at this so long, they have long forgot those early days of training milestones and meltdowns.  For all the above mentioned, there is a lot of focus on pacing, goal times, beating the clock, beating your last best … and beating yourself up if you don’t show yourself better for the training you have or haven’t done.

Not always a productive side effect to the wonderful world of endurance sports, but absolutely normal.  Especially in an area driven by deadlines, demands, and the infectious quest to prove our ever best.  As we have further advances in the technologies that track our training, measures of success and failure are stored, shared, posted, and analyzed – this trend is only getting more intense with each added pace and power meter on our equipment roster.

The problem as we all know is.  One can’t always be faster than the last time.  Watts can’t always be hit on target.  Humidity does zap the life out of you and will take your well trained body to its knees if you stay mindful to your wrist not the weather.

So. To broaden our respect for the sport we train, the discipline we seek, and the times we hope to beat.  I’d like to offer another measure to rely on on when data doesn’t  prove its worth.

Being a better athlete.  Not faster.  Not stronger.

Better.

I started into this world of endurance sports later than some.  At 32, I discovered that I was a runner.  And that I could run.  I’m all of 5’2 with a small frame  and legs that make up the majority of my proportions.  It makes sense.  I took to the sport as a result quite readily.  But my body soon taught me to respect it and the sport in ways I could not have imagined.  My first year into the sport ended with a broken pelvis.  My second year, a stress fracture in my ankle.  Year three, a broken foot.   After learning about shoes, better nutrition, strength training, venturing into multisport to ease the single sport pounding and such — the injuries were less often but I was still not without set backs.  A broken rib, a broken knee cap, plantars, and more.  Not a sound endorsement I know.  But in fact its just what you need to hear.  And just what you need to understand when it comes to learning and appreciating what getting better really means.

When you get injured, you have the opportunity to get better.  Not just in healing what is broken.  But in your awareness to how you got injured, what you need to differently to prevent it, how to manage the frustration of not being able to train, resetting your training/race calendar, and the opportunity to hone in on muscles you tend to ignore while you let your injured muscles heal.

The first such muscle to tend to.  Your mind.  With so many injuries early on, I learned it was my mind that was leading the charge in recovery and determination beyond all those who said this sport was not for me.  Finding a doctor of like sport mind was key and very lucky for me as well — but the ability to take that set back and use it.  Not just begrudge it.  An absolute must!  And from those many set backs, these essentials to getting better ALWAYS proved true:

–   It means NOT training when told not to.

–   It means when the doctor says 6 to 8 weeks – you wait 9.

–   It means doing core /upper body strength work as your foot heals so you can carry more of the load when you return back to running.

–  It means sitting with that forced time out and accepting that your body is sending you a message and you might want to listen so it doesn’t have to send it again.  And again.  Messages like… Are you taking rest days?  Are you pushing too hard too fast on every workout?  Are you rushing to be the best without letting your body build to being its best?

Injures are just one avenue of learning to getting good at being better.  But the opportunity to be better is present with every training cycle, and every race you set to conquer.  And seizing that opportunity will ease the mind field of disappointment when things aren’t on track otherwise.

Key components of being a better athlete.

–   If this is your first year racing.  Every race is an inaugural race.  And is not to be compared but celebrated.

–   If this is your tenth year racing, you are just getting the hang of things.  Celebrate your experience and use your mind to establish the patience and strategy you need to be successful in racing – not just speed.

–   If you only think of speed.  Expand your thinking.  Speed does not rule.  Strong minds along with smart racing does.

–   If you don’t make your goal, look to the lessons of the race as your prize and know it will pay dividends down the line. When I set out to qualify for Boston, I didn’t make it. And had to try again.  And again.  But along the way, I learned a lot about how to run a marathon and how not to as well, and good nuggets about myself that proved most valuable in the process.

–   Honor your training don’t dismiss it.  So often if a race doesn’t go as we hope, we begrudge all the effort we put into our training for such a failed outcome.  Short answer.  Remember the last time you were injured.  And savor that you were able to train and stay healthy enough to start the race and finish it even if it wasn’t as you hoped.

–  List ways to get better that aren’t measured on an app in balance to the data.  I’m going to be more consistent with my nutrition, I’m going to smile more during races, I’m going to stay more focused throughout the race, I’m going to work on my mental mindset so I allow myself to stay positive and feel confident in training and racing.

–   Take a break and race for fun.  Or a charity.  Or both.  Remember the roots of your passion.  And give back to them as an athlete, volunteer, and beyond.

–   Break down elements of the race so you can have a victory within the day no matter what the day brings.  (I didn’t beat last year’s time but I felt better at miles 11 and 12 and didnt bonk like I usually do, I was faster in transition, I remembered my bike shoes.)

–   Most importantly… keep perspective. Winning is great, but some of our most valued races end up being those where we struggled most.   It is then that we prove our willingness to endure the worst and are indeed better for it.

As the summer heats up and our efforts will be masked by the forces of Mother Nature.  Embrace better.  Because fast is not part of 100 degree days.  Better is the runner who accepts and adapts.  Respects and hydrates through it.  And allows the patience of slower pacing and shorter miles that are doing the work that will show itself worthy now and in cooler days ahead.

–  Coach T.

Sweet Sweat of Summer

We can’t complain.  We spent every cold bitter day of winter dreaming of stepping outside without our nose hairs immediately freezing together with one intake of that bone chilling air.

Summer sun and humidity is here.  Better to accept, acclimate, and move through the soup of summer and use it as a measure of determination and dedication to our athletic adventures as we do every other element of nature that comes our way.  But the goal is  not to just sweat and suffer.  The goal is to use such conditions to learn better to accept the elements, respect them, adapt your training and pacing to them, and slowly help your body learn to work within them  to a better level of fitness despite them.

Yea, that all sounds good and noble.  Like a motivational poster  – that notion plays well in your mind until the wheels start to fall off half way through your run and you are certain that you’re going to drown in your own pool of sweat before getting home.

We’ve all been there.  And every season we have to go through it again.  The ‘oh yes, humidity drains the life out of me’ period of getting your body and mind to adapt and endure the heat and humidity.  I know. I was in that very place this morning.  With a 10 mile run on tap and 97% humidity showing on weather.com, I knew the potential for ugly was high.  And my run, and all its glory and moments otherwise, helped me hone in the following list of hot and humid tips to help get you through the next few weeks, okay months, of summer suffering.

Coach T’s Strategies for Surviving the Sweet Sweat of Summer!

1.  Talk to yourself before you set out on your training run.  Tell yourself its going to be hot so you are checking your expectations at the door.  When its 90 degrees or 90% humidity – you should not expect to – or even try to – run the same pace you run when its 60 degrees out. Reminding yourself of that before you even start the run will help set the tone for a more balanced pacing effort.

2.  Set your Garmin to show distance or time only.  Not pace.  Let that go.  It will help take the pressure off. (see #14 for further benefit to this).

3.  If you are running solo and wearing music.  ONE EAR IN ONE EAR OUT!  You can still hear the music but you can also hear the bike trying to pass with notice on your left.  Okay this is a general rule of thumb but we know its one I feel can’t be said enough.  Back to the list…

4.  If you are running solo and wearing music as noted above.  Set your playlist to be a bit more mellow.  Leave the Rocky theme out and instead put music in that will help you stay relaxed during the run, not tempted to run fast and hard.  Not productive – especially in the early miles.   Rocky can come in for the last stretch because by then well sure.  You’ll need it!  But music does often dictate pace and if you go out too fast. You will crash and burn. And that is not a fun trip home.

5.  Breathe.  I spent most of my run this morning focusing on just breathing and staying relaxed.  If you fight the elements, they will fight you back.  By just staying focused on being calm, pacing steady and light, keeping my shoulders relaxed and my breathing in good tempo, I was able to set a steady cadence and ran relaxed and therefore well paced throughout.

6. The guy who posted out the noble article saying you don’t need to drink during an hour run. I want to meet him. I want him to run with me for an hour at 7am in June when it is 75 degrees and 97% humidity.  And I want to see how he feels after.   Anyone help me here?  I’m serious!  Oh wait, I digress yet again…

7.  Carry hydration.  And drink it!  Water is great but adding in a blend of gatorade or Nuun tabs is better. There are some great new hydration supplements out there that also address getting good electrolyte/salt intake in part to your hydration (Orso, Skratch, Infinite) Key is to TRY THEM!  Like anything.  What works for you is different than what works for me.  But I can say that we all sweat and just water won’t replace the needed elements you are losing with every bead rolling down and burning your eyes.  And drinking it when you need it, not when you happen to find that water fountain you pray works.  Priceless.

8. EAT. When its hot, many times people are not as hungry and don’t want to eat before or during a run. And yes, because we all hate warm gus too. But if you don’t eat, you will get light headed. Just like you will if you don’t hydrate!  Work your breakfast routine as you do in the winter (and if you don’t eat… START!).  Avoid dairies and fruits that are overly acidic if you have a sensitive stomach.  Simple carbs with a touch of protein before (bagel/peanut butter, half a pbj, waffle, etc) and try the chews rather than gus on the run.  They tend to not get quite as ‘hot’ and do the trick of keeping your calorie balance in check.  Warm food is better than falling face first on warm pavement.  Simple and true.

 9.  Enduralytes. In addition to the blended hydration, I have come to love and adore Enduralytes as my key to summer salvation. They are pills that you take during your run (2 to 3 tablets per hour) and they serve up an added blend of electrolytes and salt to keep your body stable as your sneakers slosh in sweat. I call them my happy pills. They work for me. There are other brands (Salt Stick for one) but for me Enduralytes are not too sodium heavy and just work. I take 2 before a run such as today and then took 3 at the 4.5 mile mark of my run and 2 more at the 8 mile mark to get me home.

10.  For the love of that lost sock.  You have 3 different socks in your drawer right now I am certain.  The dryer ate the mate and yet you are still hoping beyond hope for its sudden magical return.  Fear not.  In addition to using said random sock as protection for your smart phone on long rides in your bento box, this same sock can also serve as a handy sweat wipe on runs.  Yes!  Tuck it in the nip of your shorts or just carry it in your hand.  It will be a godsend when the sweat overtakes  your brow and burns into your eyes despite the visor you wore (or because of it).  It works!  Your shirt will be too sweaty to be of service I can guarantee so having this on hand will give your sock a whole new purpose once again!

11.  Cough drops. (Hall Honey Lemon being this fan’s favorite if that matters).   I talk of these in the winter to help fight off the frozen nose hairs.  In the summer they just keep your mouth hydrated as you run and fend off that pasty dehydrated over gatorade flavored feeling you can get.  Halls… yes. You need to sponsor me.

12.  BODY GLIDE.   SUNSCREEN.  VISOR.   Yes, all three.  Protect your body, skin, and eyes now so they hold strong for the long haul.

13.  A well earned reward.  Plan it before you walk out that door.  Have it as a beacon to get you started and finished.  Mine was a treat from the pastry counter at Starbucks.  But, note to self.  After a hot humid sweaty run, standing in a long line may not be the best next step.  I had to dismiss myself before getting said treat as I was creating a safety hazard from the pool of sweat dripping to the floor.

14.  Last but not least.  Now. Take that Garmin.  Plug in the data.  See how your pacing compared to those 60 degree days.  See the difference.  Accept it. And respect it.  Know that whatever that difference is, it is what it is.  15 seconds to 30 seconds per mile slower?  A whole minute per mile slower?  Sure. That is about right. Own it and allow it. By doing so, you’ll be all the more able to steadily work the element and strengthen yourself through it.  So much more positive and productive to the cause!  What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Remember this and these long days of summer training will be a brighter spot in the season of success than you think!

15.  Oh… wait!  I didn’t mention what not to wear!  Cotton.  Enough said.  Capris.  Its summer.  Your knees need sun.  Thick socks.  If you need cushion, look to socks like Balega’s super light sock that offers cushion and yet breathing material to help your feet wick out a bit of that sweat.  Hats.  Be careful here.  If its really hot or humid, hats can over heat your system.  Try a visor instead.  Quite simply, don’t wear too much. Keep it light, wicking material, short, comfortable.  But okay lets just say for us all. Respectful.  You get the point.

NOW.  You are officially ready to sweat into the season.  Run smart, savor the sunshine, and sweat out the rest.

Rev it up and rally on!

Coach T.

___

SHOP FOR HOT STUFF HERE:

Local reference to some items I posted and where to find them – aka support small business – they need us as much as we need them!

Hydration:  Potomac River Running Stores (PRR) have a great stock of hydration systems (Nathan, Amphipod, Fuel Belt) and supplements.  Cycle shops such as Revolution Cycles, carry a range of alternate types of hydration supplements as well. You can often find small sample packs to help you test out what you like.

Nutrition/Supplements:  PRR carries the Hammer Enduralytes and a huge array of nutritionals for you to test and love.  So too does Revolution Cycles and other such bike and sport specialty stores.

Visor:   I believe in the Headsweat Visor for comfort and protection so much, I offer them myself!  Get yours while they last – and motivate those running behind you at the same time. How cool is that!?

Google – or click these links for more information on the fun assortment hydration and salt supplements mentioned above – like Osmo, Skratch, Enduralytes, Nuun – to see what they are and what they have to offer!