Sweat from the Heart: Coach Bree’s blog on training, racing, and life.
Bike Puzzle: Why a Power Meter Paints the Whole Picture.
Just this week I was updating a data profile for an athlete and I reached out asking him to re-assess his strengths and weaknesses. One weakness that he mentioned was “losing focus on the bike during training and racing.” This is not the first time I have heard this from an athlete. In fact, it used to happen to me. So, being the very analytical person I am, I began to think about why this might be happening. Whenever there is a concern, I’m going to look for an answer.
I thought about him, I thought about myself as an athlete, and about cycling metrics. And then it all made sense. He’s missing an important piece of the “bike puzzle” – power.
Using myself as an example: When I used to train and race without a power meter, I lost focus. My speed would slow down on ascents and pick up on descents, and I would always ask myself, “was I working hard enough?” And heart rate wasn’t always accurate. I could have altered values based on heat, nutrition, if it was on correctly, etc. Not truly knowing what effort I was putting out, and in the moment of pain surmounting, I couldn’t convince myself to stick with my plan and I would inevitably lose focus, and then slow down. Later, I would “wake up”, regain focus, and push hard again…only to repeat the process. And when you’re doing the Half or Full distance there are many opportunities to snap in and out focus. All of these moments are wasted time.
Here’s the deal: when you can’t see the whole picture, you lose focus. What is it you’re supposed to look at? What is the focal point? What’s the purpose? And if you can’t figure it out, you give up and move on. We do this in life, and we do it on the bike.
In cycling, when you have pieces of data, and not the whole picture, it’s easy to lose focus. If you can’t figure out what it is you’re doing, and why, and you can’t see the whole picture, you move on. You move on to things that will keep you entertained for the rest of your bike ride: thoughts, conversations, scenery, rest stops with junk food and sodas, group pictures, selfies, etc. But these don’t keep you true to your workout goals and you’re missing out on a quality ride (unless you’re on a recovery ride and by all means, goof off and have fun!)
I call it the “bike puzzle”. The more pieces you have (data), the clearer the picture. You know exactly what you’re doing. You know the effort you are to put out. You know where you’re to be in each given interval. You see the whole picture.
It’s not fun putting together a puzzle with a missing piece. The whole picture is distorted. Same is true on high quality bike sessions without a power meter. Your heart rate says one thing, speed says another, so does cadence, but what energy are you putting out? Were you going too hard? Too easy? A mixture of both? What’s really going on? The whole picture is distorted. No wonder people lose focus on bike rides without a power meter.
Does this mean you cannot race and train without a power meter? No. It can be done. I did it for years and still enjoyed riding. But once I got the last piece of my “bike puzzle” the whole picture became clear and everything came into focus. I knew what power zones to stay in for set intervals. No more guessing. In fact, I remember my first race with a power meter. I stayed true to my goals and stayed within my parameters. I never once lost focus. My power meter kept me honest and focused. Those 56 miles seemed to fly by. I had my best bike split ever. It was at that moment I realized I was riding in the “dark” without one….or playing with a puzzle that had a missing piece.
If cycling is going to be part of your life, invest in it. Stop playing with a puzzle that has a missing piece. Do yourself and your passion a favor, buy a power meter.
Our good friends at Bicycle Heaven have installed power meters on our athletes. They order it fast and install it quickly. You will be back on your bike, with a complete puzzle, in no time!I write this from a coach and athlete standpoint. The coach in me loves it when my athletes have power meters. I can see if they worked hard enough in a workout. I can see if they were on target in a race. For most, they think they are pushing hard enough, but with a complete puzzle, they realize they are not. I can also gauge progression in an accurate manner. And the athlete in me finds the power meter keeps me honest in my workouts and races. If my speed is 8 mph up a steep hill, but my power numbers are above my threshold, I can back off and not feel so guilty for riding slow.