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Adapted with permission of VeloPress from RUN WITH POWER by Jim Vance. Check out the book for more information on power meters and their benefits.
Training is stressful on the body. It has to be, because fitness is really just the ability of your body to tolerate a level of stress. The faster you go, the more stress you put on your body for a given level of fitness. But for as long as runners have been training, our ability to measure the amount of stress we put into our bodies has been quite limited.
With a power meter, you can measure your performance and training stress more precisely than ever before, and take control of your training and racing to improve every aspect of your running career. No longer will you wonder whether you are meeting the intensity, recovery, pace, and volume goals of your training plan. Instead, you will erase any doubts about your training, and you will be able to monitor changes and improvements in every aspect of your running fitness.
Here are just some of the ways a power meter for running can positively affect your training and performance.
Boost Your Training Specificity: One of the core principles in sports training is the principle of specificity. Simply stated, in order to become better at a specific task, you must practice or train that task. Power meters help us see how well our specific training is improving our fitness. More to the point, the power meter can help you prepare for the specific demands of the target race you’re preparing for.
A Running Power Can Improve Your Running Technique: Imagine making a small change in your run form and seeing a major change in power (whether good or bad). A running power meter can help you understand which aspects of your running technique you need to focus on and which you can improve or even abandon. It also is a huge asset late in a race, when you may be tired and need help to stay focused on going as fast as you can.
Your Power Numbers Don’t Lie: Fitness may seem pretty simple to measure: Just look at how fast you ran. But not all courses are the same, and conditions vary constantly. What if you ran entirely into a headwind? Or had a constant tailwind? Yes, pace is a good tool for analyzing your training, but power and pace together are an even more powerful way to measure training and fitness. Add in heart rate (HR) and you’ve got some very objective data to work with.
Predict a Fitness Plateau: Used together, your power, pace, and heart rate numbers can tell you when you’re about to hit a performance plateau and need to consider a change in your training.
Monitor Injuries: If you get injured, you can use your power meter measurements to understand exactly how much fitness you’ve lost, or better yet, bolster your confidence by showing you how little fitness you have actually lost. In some cases, the data from your power meter can even tell you if you are still suffering from an injury that you thought you had put behind you (or, more likely, that you are pretending to ignore).
Know Truly How Hard You’re Training: With power data, you can know your actual training volume, intensity, stress, and fatigue. Your Training Stress Scores can also show you your trends in these measures over time.
Better Recovery: If you don’t recover adequately, you’re not actually training; you’re just beating yourself down. You are probably familiar with the formula Training = Stress + Rest. But how much stress is enough? How much is too much? How often do you need to take a day off? How many days of recovery do you need after a big training block? If you understand the correct amount of recovery you need based on the data from your power meter, your training will be better.
Power Meters Offer Precision Tapering: Tapers and their effectiveness can vary greatly among athletes. Some athletes feel that they shouldn’t taper at all, some are trying to figure out how long to taper, and others are just trying to find out what type of taper to do. When you have data from your power meter that measures training stress and fatigue, you can use it to better plan and perfect your taper, down to specific target numbers. When you can taper with precision, you’ll know you are ready when you toe the start line.
Warm-Up Without Wasting Energy: There’s no use expending more energy before a race than absolutely necessary. With the data from your power meter, we can dial in specific intensities and certain physiological systems to deliver a high-quality warm-up that will prepare you fully for your race.
Power-to-Weight Ratios: Your power meter will identify your power-to-weight ratio, which can tell you a lot (including your ideal racing weight). If you’re looking to break 3 hours for the marathon, reaching a certain power-to-weight ratio might be a very effective metric on which to base your training and diet.
Speed per Watt: Possibly the most important concept in this book, and arguably the biggest advantage of a power meter, is a better understanding of how the watts you produce are converted into speed. This insight into your running is something you could never measure until now.
Is Your Training Working? At the end of your season, the data you’ve accumulated from your power meter can be invaluable in assessing how well your training plan worked and what to do next. Your power meter will offer a detailed look into yourself as an athlete, and your power meter data gives you an unparalleled view of your season’s ups and downs.
Pacing to Win: A power meter can help you establish and maintain the correct pace, even on courses where establishing the right rhythm is difficult. For example, if you’re preparing for a hilly course that requires perfect pacing, your power meter can help you dial in the exact output pace you need to hold throughout the varying terrain.
Know When to Open the Throttle: Let’s say your race is going really well, perhaps even better than expected and you feel like you’ve got more you can give. Your power meter can give you an objective assessment of your running condition and can help you determine—even in the middle of a race—when you have the form to open the throttle.
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