May 17, 2007
When I pulled the yellow computer out of the box, I thought it was a very cool gadget. It had all the regular features you need - speed, cadence, time, and intervals. It also had the feature it was really meant for - power.
At first I would go out for a ride and see this new set of numbers flash on the screen. I started to see a nice 150 watts on a flat road. I saw 390 watts on a hill. I saw 0 watts on the downhill. It seemed to make sense.
I do love the fact that the new 2.4 SL PowerTap (the little yellow computer) does not have any wires. None! I have the hub built into the wheel on the back (Zipp 808), but all the features like speed, cadence and power are all done with no wires. I hate it when you have a nice bike and have to add wires all over the place. This feature alone is well worth upgrading from the older wired versions. Was that way to OCD?
After working with the PowerTap for a few weeks, I needed to understand what this was all about. Neal Henderson (Boulder Center for Sports Medicine) started me thinking about how important it was to train in the correct zone. He said things like, "You can train all you want, but unless you are training in the right zones, you may actually be going backwards." At first I didn't understand this. How can training, either fast or slow, actually not do you any good? Was it possible to do workouts that actually don't help you go faster?
Here was the best comment Neal made, "you need to train slower to race faster." You can listen to the entire interview here. It is well worth the time just to listen to Neal talk. It all seems to make sense now.
So what's the big deal about power?
Like Coach Mike and Neal said over and over and over. You need to train in the correct zones. You need to know your zones. You need to follow your workouts and you will get faster. That is the one thing that Coach Mike said to me so many times that I never believed. He would say these ultra confident statements like "Stu - if you do the work you WILL get faster." Or here is my favorite, "Stu - Just do the work and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish." HUH? What?
Here is the difference for me. I think the easiest way to explain is to show you the way I trained in the past and how I train / race now:
Last Year: Ok. I will try and go out on the Ironman route (on a training day) and try and average 17 MPH.
Result: The first part of the ride had a 20 MPH headwind. I went out, stuck to my game plan of going 17 MPH. With that big of a headwind, I was having to kill my legs in the first 20 miles. I was basically shot for the rest of the workout. I had the desire, however, so the next 40 miles I was still trying to keep up the pace. At the end of the day I was just gone. This workout, however, had results that would hurt my next few workouts. I simply went to hard at the wrong times. I averaged 16.5 mph. I didn't even accomplish my goal for the day.
This year: Ride the Ironman route with power at 65% for the 1st hour and 70-80% the next hour and a half. The last 30 mins I would ride at 85%. [*** This is just one example. I do many different types of power workouts in training.]
Result: I don't even look at speed. I may from time to time just out of curiosity, but for the most part it really doesn't matter. I stuck to the plan and felt great after the workout. The wind was the same, but with power you don't even think about the wind. [***As a side note, people that did Wildflower talked about how windy it was. I'm going to be totally honest when I say that I didn't even notice it. Why? When riding with Power, you can eliminate a lot of the elements like wind, rain, and hills. ] So this ride had the 20mph headwind, but I just stayed at my power level, and it was no big deal. On the flip side of this, when I had the wind at my back, I would (in the past) often lay back a bit as I was going 20mph. Why go faster? This year, however, I would keep that power at the level for the workout and I found myself going 28, 29 or even 30 mph. [*** This happened at Wildflower as well. On the hills and with a headwind, I would stay in the power range, and when the wind was at my back, I was just flying past people. I was staying very steady from a power perspective.] At the end of the ride I averaged 17.4 mph, and felt so much better than in the past.
Coach AJ (part of D3 Multisport) talked about "burning matches." He told all of us that you only have a set of matches. We agreed that for the race at Wildflower, I had 3 matches to burn, and that was it. I thought about this all day, but looking back, I might have burned matches, but with the help of the PowerTap I was in total control. I kept my power at about 190-220 on the hills. Could I have gone faster? I'm sure I could have, but keeping my power at this level made it so I didn't burn too many matches. When the day was done, with the help of Neal, Coach Mike and Coach AJ - I burned my 3 matches on the 3 biggest hills, but kept my power in the levels I needed to have something left on the run.
I still have so much to learn. Coach Mike looked over my numbers and is working with me to get more out of my cycling. With power you cannot hide. With power you can look at a good day and figure out how to make it better. That is what Coach Mike did for me. He said he was happy with my day, but now has a plan to make it even better for Ironman Wisconsin.
So the question is this. How can you go faster and actually work less? How can you have a great race and still train better the next time? The answer is plain and simple. Train and race with power. I think this is one of those tools that might do more for amateurs than pros. I just think that an amateur can gain SO much with this simple tool. It takes so much of the guess work out of the mix. If you ever get the chance, just try it, but be warned. Once you try a PowerTap, you will NEVER want to ride without one. You can come out to WIBA this year and try a PowerTap with the great team at CycleOPS.