Friday, December 15, 2006

first thoughts on training with power

A few weeks ago I bought my first PowerTap. So now I get to play with power.

Later I'll post some pictures of my snazzy new wheelset, the less-than-interesting frameset they're on, and all the rest, but for now, some preliminary thoughts and tactical implications.

Take a look at this graph of power output for a 60 minute stint on the trainer:

The graph here looks more or less as I would expect any casual ride should--power gradually increases as I stretch my legs and shift up a bit, then stays pretty steady throughout the workout with the exception of a few spikes, in this case, two: a spike downward at about 43 minutes into the workout, where I probably stopped pedaling to reach for the remote, and a spike upward at about 53 minutes into the workout, where I probably shifted up to get out of the saddle for a bit.

Now look at a graph from today--a 75 minute romp in the countryside:

It's a mess!

I think of myself as a pretty experienced cyclist with a well-trained pedal stroke. My average cadence is pretty high (105-110) and pretty smooth (really--I get complements). I don't like to coast, I don't like to stop, I don't like to sightsee. I just ride. So when I first started looking over this output it was a little disheartening--I look schizophrenic!

It seems obvious now (and so obvious I'm embarrassed to mention it), but when you venture into the great outdoors the terrain is not consistent and therefore neither is your power output. There are traffic signals, roadway obstacles, gentle rises, legitimate hills, wind, changes in wind due to changing directions, conversations, drafts, and whatever else that one learns to compensate for without a second thought, but that have a very real impact on the actual work your body is doing, even when you're just "going for a ride."

In my case, living in rural south-central Pennsylvania, the significant inconsistency in the terrain is elevation--it's hilly. One way to interpret this later graph is by the changes in elevation I encounter on a ride. Each spike upward represents a hill. The zenith in the spike is not associated with the top of each hill, but rather the point in climbing where the change in grade of the hill begins to decrease, like this:

(Very sophisticated picture, huh? I made it myself. Free free to express your gratitude in your comments.)

Anyway...I think anyone who has spent any time on a bike understands this idea intuitively, if not conceptually. In every climb (I'm talking rollers here, not real climbs) there's that point near the apex where you begin to taper off, naturally, you begin to back off your effort, and in fact probably begin to recover even before having reached the highest point of the hill.

Now it gets interesting. Imagine, tactically, if you could detrain this impulse. Imagine what the impact on your riding buddies or racing compatriots would be if you could successfully eliminate in your riding style what has become instinct, and instead of beginning to taper your work output where the percent change in grade begins to decline, continue to increase your output until you're on the other side of the top of the hill and have accelerated to the speed you would likely achieve had you ridden the hill normally. Then begin to recover. Maybe something like this:
I think you'd drive your buddies crazy. And if you rode hills like that when you trained, it would seem like nothing to do it during a race. Every hill--the top of every hill--becomes a tactical opportunity.

I invite your thoughts...


UtRider said...

Have you officially enlisted the services of a coach? It's his job to figure this stuff out. Hit him up for some answers!

ehyde said...

aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh the learnings of power training.