Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Journey From Zero to Hero!" Part 1: Learning & Understanding the metrics of riding with power

So after a very extended break away from biking and swimming, I have finally cured the itch for running and want to become a triathlete again.  Getting back on the bike for the first time definitely felt a little weird, but surprisingly good.  I am going to have to re-tame my "gooch," because after a short 45 mins, it was not too happy. It will just take some time, nothing I don't have on my side :)

Over the past month Andy and I have discussed a lot regarding training, and bike power in general.  He told me that the first and most important thing we can do right now is increase the bike volume and just gather a bunch of raw data.  The only way that we can build a true plan that fits my needs is to throw in some interval work, some easy stuff, and even some all out race simulation efforts to see how my body responds to these challenges.  We will be able to look at the numbers, and build workouts and race strategies around what I have previously been able to do in training.

The numbers I am referring to when I talk about power are Watts.  Watts are a measurement of the energy you transfer from your legs with each pedal stroke, into the bike which propels you forward.  The more energy you put into the pedals, the faster you you go.  A common misconception I quickly learned when talking with friends who were already using power was to compare my numbers to theirs...it doesnt work that way!  If you are going to compare one riders Power numbers (watts) to anothers you would need to break it down into a per mass basis.  So say my buddy is 6'3 and weighs 180 lbs, and I am 6' 165 lbs.  If he told me he rode 300 watts for an hour and i could only put out 280, the common misconception would be that he rode faster than me.  But that is not the case.  You have to take into account the ratio of their watts/weight.  And the common number cyclists and triathletes talk about is watts/kg.  So in this case even though I put out 20 watts less than him, I would be putting out 3.74 watts/kg to his 3.67 watts/kg.  So ignoring all other factors, I would have ridden slightly faster than him.  Even this mindset is flawed because you have to take into account bike position, aerodynamics, etc.  If i put out that power, but sat up the whole time, i would be far less aerodynamic than if he were to be in aero position and putting out the numbers he was.  You get the point, but that is my quick lesson on the numerics of power and how to compare to other cyclists of similar build as well as completely different body types.

Leading up to the Disco Tri I didnt really have any expectations.  I hadnt done a triathlon since Kona last year, and really hadnt done any focused training outside of running for the half marathon.  This was actually the first time that I really just said "hey lets go out and have fun, race hard but still have fun."  Quite honestly, at the level i am at in triathlons, thats all you can really do.  If you are not having fun, then why are you still sticking around doing them? You are here for the love of the sport.

As i mentioned, I wasn't peaked for that race, in fact i had only had about 2 weeks of serious riding workouts from Andy, so there was no way I was going to go out there and blow the field away.  Just not realistic.  I had a chat with Andy leading up to the race, and we agreed, based on the power numbers I had been putting out over the previous 15 or so days, on a target power range to maintain for the race.  Power is just another form of pacing during a workout or a race. The benefit of power is knowing that you are riding steady for the entire ride.  If your performance measure is speed, you have to majorly accelerate if you want to keep that pace going uphill, which usually tends to tax the legs a lot more than riding at a constant effort.  With power, on the other hand, you can keep up the same effort, and know that you are not "burning your matches" too early. 

Getting out on the bike in the race, i settled right into  a comfortable pace and rode.  After 10 miles i looked down at the power numbers and saw that i was putting out 10-15 watts higher than what we had determined was a "solid race pace"  so this made me a little nervous.  I didnt want to blow up, but I also still felt amazing.  I continued to press on with my effort continuing to hold above the agreed upon range and i rode a great race.  I got off the bike feeling good and ran a very strong run split as well.  I can honestly say that I think power really played a key role in my race success today.  I was able to keep steady on the bike, which i had trouble with in the past, and ride a strong bike leg, but have the energy left to back it up with a run i was capable of. 

As the season progresses, and Andy and I get more data to analyze, I have no doubt that we will be able to dial in "race paces" to within 1% of what I should be riding.  As for now I know that everything we have is still a work in progress and I will continue to learn and see the progress I am making as time goes by.  Ultimately having these power numbers on my side is going to allow me to reach my fastest bike splits ever in races, all while backing them up with all time best run splits as well because of the smart steady pacing strategy power allows you to follow.