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Learning to Train with Power

  A coach once said to me, “Monica, if you’re every going to do an ironman, save your pennies and buy a power meter and Joe Friel’s book, Training with Power.” 

Well, I signed up to Roth and I’ve done one of those things: bought a power meter. As I haven’t bought or even borrowed a copy of Training with Power, you can imagine how disorganized this endeavor has been …


An Objective Number

One of the reasons I wanted a power meter is because I tend to be quite emotional. What this leads to in training and racing is me wanting to achieve a certain pace or time, and then crumbling apart if I don’t achieve it. It’s one of the reasons said former coach had me race without a watch – successfully.

So I thought a power meter would be helpful. And it is. Now, even if I am riding into a strong Dutch headwind, I’m not looking at speed and freaking out if it says 12kph. I’m looking only at the power number I’m aiming to achieve. I complete sessions feeling a lot better.

I know some of you would say I could look at my heart rate to similar effect, but I have a strange heart rate … A former coach used to ask me to take my heart rate every morning. Sounds simple, right? But as soon as that chest strap went on, I would start stressing. What would today’s number be? Would it show I am in good shape or not? Please let it be low! Please let it be low! It was never low. It got to the point where I would wake up, strap the chest strap on, start the garmin, and try to sleep again. You can see giant jumps in the line as I oscillate between drowsiness and remembering I am checking my heart rate.

In addition, I have a really high heart rate. I regularly hit the mid-190s in track sessions, and have raced 10km races with an average heart rate of 194. In cycling, my heart rate is much lower – but then again, so is my level of cycling, so I reason that I could probably push harder on the bike – but then people start getting overly concerned around my heart rate and telling me I shouldn’t be so high. Plus it feels hard. I guess I’ve been running so long that when I run at 180HR it feels ok, but I am still so unfamiliar with cycling that it feels very uncomfortable…

Apparently you have to calibrate?

Of course, it’s not like I look at these numbers and have amazing training sessions all the time.

Easter weekend I had some big bike sessions planned. I had been working with my power meter since late January. I’d done an FTP, with a cycling buddy taking me through that. But apart from that, my scientific knowledge of what power I could hold was based on what I’d tried out in intervals. But I had a pretty good idea of numbers I could achieve and numbers which weren’t achievable.

I started out. An hour easy to start. Things seemed kind of tough, but I was cycling into a headwind. So that made sense kind of.

Then the efforts started. I tried to hold my race pace – and came nowhere near it. Ok, I thought. Bad day. Let’s aim a little lower. But on the second intervals the number got even lower. I checked my heart rate: it was high. Higher than if I were holding race power. What on earth was going on?

With my heart rate high and the power number low, the outcome was inevitable, I suppose: I burst into tears. Unfortunately tears make things worse in some situations – like when you’re already gasping for breath for example!

I called my boyfriend and explained the situation. “I can’t do this!” I cried. “My heart rate is too high and my power is too low!”

“Go home,” he said. “Maybe you’re getting sick.”

I didn’t feel sick …

My girlfriends I trained with had other ideas.

“Did you calibrate your power meter before the session?” one asked. “My coach tells me to do that before every session.”

Did I what? I had no idea what she was talking about. A quick google search revealed it is indeed a very good idea to calibrate your power meter before every session – otherwise the numbers may not be accurate. They may tell you you’re working a lot harder than you actually are, or they may tell you you’re not working hard at all – but you’re outing your guts into it. Sound familiar?

First race is in May

So May I have my first big race: Mallorca 70.3.  I’ve got an idea of what power I should be able to hold … Perhaps my idea would be more accurate if I got that copy of Training with Power, but let’s see…

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