Watt is my experience with Power?

I would like to start off my second blog post by saying thank you to everyone who read the first entry. I really appreciate all the nice messages and words of advice that were sent. It means a lot! It has inspired me to write this second one.

This blog post will be about POWER, and no not that Netflix series everyone is raving about. I mean the power you put through your bike to make it move or as I like to call it ‘making it rain’.

I am going to start off declaring my ability on the bike is severely average. My best result to date was third in a club league 9.5 mile time trial. Every dog has their day and all that. My knowledge on power is limited to a certain extent. I have read the Joe Friel Power Meter Handbook which was a brilliant and insightful read. Joe really knows his stuff and has wrote several books on bicycle related training. I am also an avid follower of the main man himself, DC Rainmaker. Being a salesman and bicycle mechanic I am fairly familiar with the various different types of power meters on the market. The main message behind this blog will be that if you don’t train by power and want to improve then stop limiting yourself and get one. Okay, if you are a fair weather cyclist, only cycle in the summer and I mean proper summer, you only cycle to and from the coffee shop, the thought of doing a ‘100-miler’ disgusts you and if your honest with yourself, you’re the definition of a total FRED then okay you probably don’t need one. Everyone else however, get it sorted! I’m going to tell you why.

If we break it down to the basics, when we train what is our first goal? To improve. Before you dream of getting the hands in the air on the Champs-Elysées you start off wanting to train to make yourself better than what you currently are. At the start, the rule of thumb is generally to ride your bike as much as you can. This is good to get used to cycling specially if you haven’t done it in a long time or are taking the sport up for the first time. When you’re up to speed, regularly taking part in club rides, doing sportives and maybe even dipping your toe in club racing you naturally start to analyse your rides. This may be in the form of looking at your distance, speed, cadence and heart rate. In terms of your physical exertion heart rate is probably the data to look at out of those listed above. I love (and by love I could not be any more sarcastic when I use that term) cyclists who ride 20 miles, in one direction, on pan flat roads who boast about how great they. Their average heart rate 104bpm. What can we tell from this? Unless their threshold heart rate is 110 bpm this ride wasn’t very strenuous. Straight away this shows that some tools are better than others for gauging efforts. Heart rate is good but not the best. Now I am not going to say heart rate shouldn’t be used but it does have its flaws.  Heart rate definitely has its benefits but its biggest downfall is the amount of factors that can affect it. I am not going to get bogged down on the disadvantages of using heart rate as that isn’t what this blog is about but something I find funny and most people may not know this but even having a poo can even affect your heart rate. Yeah! Just let that sink in!

Now this is the part of the blog where I am going to tell some anecdotes about my experience with power. As I said previously I am as average a cyclist as average cyclists can be, some hurtful people may even say I am below average. Anywho….. for my first two years of cycling competitively I always used heart rate. I then went on a training trip to the Mecca of cycling, the island of Mallorca with some friends. They are above average cyclists. They used power. All they spoke about during and after rides was power. I felt very left out. I cried…..just kidding. When I got back from that trip I bought a power meter, the Garmin Vector pedals. The peer pressure and feeling left out got to me! After I bought it I still used heart rate and the power data that I recorded was merely used to compare to with my friends’ data. To coincide with the power meter, that season I had bought a time trial bike and was really enjoying the battle against the clock. I had all the gear; skinsuit, carbon disc wheel, deep section front wheel, power rangers style helmet, velotoze etc etc. I was training 4 to 5 times a week and sometimes even 6, which would be considered quite a lot. I regularly took part in 5, 10 and 25 mile time trials. So this is the interesting part, the PBs. I’ll be honest I can’t really remember my 5 mile PB as it was my least favourite distance and well, I just can’t remember (forgetful in my old age). My 10 mile PB was 22:45 and my 25 mile PB was 61.20. My strategy for these TTs was to get my heart rate to its threshold which was 174bpm and hold it there. My mindset was that a straight line average heart rate graph of threshold was the key to success. When I got my power meter during this season the best FTP (Functional Threshold Power) I recorded was 284 watts. Are you getting the picture of how average I am? I would like to state that at this stage in my career I only weighed 75kg.

Let’s jump to the next season. I didn’t train as much over the winter as I was in my final year of college, I had just started fixing bikes for money and had a nightmare with illnesses. The difference between this season and the previous season was I had started to use power. My whole mindset of training changed. No longer was I trying to get this flat line average heart rate, I was now using power to measure my efforts. I had read Joe Friel’s book and was pretty in tune with how power training worked. I didn’t have a coach and did configured all my sessions myself. When race season came around I still had all the kit from the previous year so nothing had changed in terms of aerodynamics, even my position on the bike was the same. The one thing that did change, my strategy! My strategy this time was to try my best to hold my FTP and even improve on it if I could. If you think about it in simple terms, if you ride really hard up a hill your heart rate goes up as does your power. You get to the top and start to free wheel the descent. Your power goes to 0 but your heart rate will drop slowly (commonly known as ‘lag’). One of the best pieces of advices I got in relation to my strategy was from Marcus Christie (former pro, competed at commonwealths, national medal holder and all round animal on a bike!). Marcus said that when riding up the hills not to bust yourself maybe ride 10 to 20 watts above threshold but on the downhills keep riding hard to keep the power at threshold. The misconception a lot of people make, including myself, was to ride as hard as your could up the hill, putting yourself in the red, and then recovering too much on the downhill. Taking Marcus’ advice helped to level out the overall effort and therefore increasing efficiency. Once you go too far in the red it can be very hard to get it back. So the interesting bit, my PBs for my second season, drum roll please….. *drum roll*…… 10 mile was 21.05 and 25 mile 57.15, my new FTP 314 watts. These were on the same course as the previous PBs. Yeah, I improved, A LOT! I put these PBs solely down to training with power.

 

To conclude, as this blog post has been a lot longer than my previous one. Power changed my training for the better. To be honest I can’t imagine training without it now as it is such an effective tool. The great thing about power is 100 watts are 100 watts, 200 watts are 200 watts. Power doesn’t lie, it can’t be affect by how many coffees you have had that day, what you have eaten, if you have just visited the throne. Think about it, if all the pro’s use it why would us mere mortals not use it too?

 

Many thanks again for reading this blog. If you keep reading I’ll keep writing. My hope is that everyone gets something from it. Whether that be a laugh or some insight on the world of biking. Until next time amigos, au revoir.

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