The Experiment Continues…PART TWO: Power

The experiment continues.

Over the last couple of weeks, my plan has consisted of swimming, biking, running and strength training sessions.  I’ve logged the workouts in an app that I LOVE, called Training Peaks, recording within the application all of the data that comes along with 21st century technology (heart rate monitors, triathlon GPS watches, and my IPrecious).  I’ve completed a number of training sessions in all four disciplines, so that I have a fairly decent-sized sample in order to crunch some numbers that will actually mean something to my training and improvement.  This is the second post wherein I’d like to briefly talk about the data.  In this post, I’d like to elaborate on a number that stares me in the face every time I hop on my bike (I named him Maximus, after a horse from a Disney movie…and with that, let the lambasting commence within the comments…) or take a cycling class at my gym: Watts.

20130626-055155.jpg   (This is Maximus)

If you ride your bike a lot or go to spin classes, you can track the amount of power your legs are generating through the amount of watts shown on your GPS or the device attached to the stationary bike on which you take your spin classes.  Here’s what the device on the bikes used within my usual spin class look like:


My spin classes normally go for 45 minutes, but I try to get there early in the hope that they will turn on these devices 10-15 minutes before class starts.  In the example above, you can see that the device was only turned on about 5-6 minutes before the class began, so the only hard data I have to go on for the morning’s effort is captured here.  Normally, I’ll start my morning with a run of 45-60 minutes before transitioning to a spin class, so my legs have already been forced to work for a bit before this 45 minute cycling session begins.  This means I am warmed up and awake – but the tank of energy has already been depleted.  During triathlons I will already be tired by the time I hit the bike – a 2.4 mile swim can do some damage – so hopping on the bike not feeling 100% is a good thing.

When I first looked at this screen, I could understand RPMs (revolutions per minute – how fast those pedals were going around in a one minute time span), MPH (miles per hour, just like a car), heart rate (beats per minute – got that one), calories burned (say hello to an extra Oreo – oh hell yeah), time and miles covered.  The one data point I didn’t really understand was Watts.  So I did some reading and I asked a couple of Ironman athletes in my gym about how to use this data point in my training.  What I learned was freakin’ awesome.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I focused all of my time and attention on average speed and miles covered.  I used these two pieces of training data to measure my performance.  The faster I went, the bigger my smile at the end of the 45 minute training session.  The other athletes poked holes in my analysis almost immediately.  Here’s the breakdown on what they shared:

  • average RPMS – a nice statistic to track, because the higher your average, the quicker your leg turnover.  That’s nice to know – but it’s not a predictor of future race performance because you aren’t pedaling in wind, rain, on uphills, downhills, etc.
  • average MPH – another fun little statistic – but don’t use it as a predictor because a) you are only going 20-23 miles in an hour on the stationary bike, and b) no elements, heat, hills.
  • Calories burned – nice if you want an excuse to eat another Oreo.  (I do.  I like this number.  So there.)
  • Miles covered – nice little piece of information, but it doesn’t mean you will rack up mileage even close to what you see on the screen when you are riding in a crowd of other athletes on race day.

So there I was, left with only one data point left: watts.  When I asked about this number, I got a solid lesson over awful cups of burnt coffee that left me re-thinking how I attack my cycling workouts from then on.  The average watts figure at the top of the picture above measures the average amount of pure power being created during the training session.  This figure is a more pure measurement of cycling strength because it is immune to the other variables.  It simply states how much power your legs are giving off.  The More power generated, the faster you go.  Simple.

OK – so how the name of Zues’ rear-end do I measure my average watts, comparing the power that I currently generate to the amount of power I need to generate over a 112 mile bike course (leaving some juice in the tank for a marathon)?  Well their obvious first answer was “just try to meet or exceed your average every time.” OK, well that’s easy enough to track.  But how does watts translate into speed in a race?  That’s where the conversation got a little gray.  However, they recommended looking at pro triathletes statistics on-line, since they usually share these data points post-race.  I followed their advice, using my Unicorn as the race of measurement (Ironman World Championships in Kona).

Ben Hoffman is an elite Ironman triathlete.  He came in fourth this year at the Ironman World Championships, as was the top American male finisher.  While I couldn’t find his 2016 stats, I was able to google his 2014 cycling statistics for this race, and the numbers blew me away.  Ben covered the 112 mile Kona bike course in 4 hours and 33 minutes.   He maintained an average speed of 24.4 miles per hour, with a cadence (RPMs) of 89.  He averaged 2:27 per mile.  The average watts he generated for this portion of the race was 274.


While I am not nearly looking to keep up with these beasts, at least it gives me an idea of how watts translates into speed.  Hoffman averaged 24.4 miles per hour and the average watts were 274.  While listening to the live coverage of this year’s Ironman World Championship, the announcers estimated that the leader on the bike (and eventual winner – Jan “Frodo” Frodeno – was probably putting out close to 290-300 watts on average.  He covered the bike course in 4:29.

Using the elite athletes’ numbers as a point of reference, I designed a couple of goals for myself going forward:

  • During these 45-50 minute spin classes, my primary goal is to generate an average watts figure that beats my prior workout.  In the picture above, I averaged 254 – so I know cranking out a 250 average watt session is possible.  My next goal will be 255…then 256…etc.
  • I’ll need to attach a power meter on Maximus, and then collect a sample of data to measure my watts for longer rides.  Obviously, the average will be lower than in my spin sessions.  However, I am hoping to begin at around 220 and then get stronger from there.
  • By the time next July rolls around, I am hoping to have an average of 230-240 watts for a 100 mile training ride under my belt.  That should get me back to the transition area in plenty of time to begin my 26.2 mile waddle to the finish line before the clock hits midnight.

The data matters.