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.



The 2016 NYC Half Marathon: A Review

I haven’t been posting very much lately because of my insane schedule.  What’s that old quote…”Life is what what happens when you are busy making other plans”.  Well my plans included a brief break from the stress of daily life…until reality basically told me cancel my plans and get the hell back to work.  So much for the mental break I so desperately needed.


I was lucky enough to have the time to run the 2016 New York City Half Marathon last Sunday, March 20th.  I wanted to provide my readers with a brief review, just in case anyone was considering running in next year and beyond.  So without further gilding the lily, off we go…..


The Expo: Held in the flatiron section of Manhattan, it was easy to get to by mass transit, and it was open and well-staffed during the week.  Picking up your bib and your race shirt is a quick and easy process – I was in and out of the expo within minutes.


Pre-Race: OK, let’s be honest here – security was tight for this race, as it had been in prior years.  Each runner has to go through a metal detector – and there are not many of them – in order to gain access to Central Park and the runners’corrals.  There were plenty of bottlenecks and the wait time was a bit annoying; however, in light of what occurred in Belgium just yesterday, let’s just appreciate the added level of safety that these precautions provide – waiting in line is a small price to pay.  If you don’t like lines, then show up early with a blanket and a book.  The race was organized into three waves, set of go off with spaces of 15 minutes in between each.  Accessing the corrals was easy, and there were plenty of port-o-crappers available to runners right after they passed through the security check.  Runners were able to check a clear plastic bag with your bib number affixed to it before you walked through the TSA-like checkpoint.  They also had a number of large blue bins inside and outside the corrals for depositing any layers of old clothing you may have worn to keep warm before the start.


The Course: This course has changed a few times over the years.  The 2016 version of the race began along the east side drive of Central Park, right near the 72nd Street Transverse.  Within the first quarter mile of the race, the runners climb Cat Hill, and then head north along the outer loop.  Just after you pass the hockey rink at the northeaster-most section of the park, you turn west along the outer loop, and then exit the park briefly on Central Park North.  A quick out and back brings you back into the park at the 3 mile marker.  From there, you climb Harlem Hill and make your way south along the west side drive.  You exit the park just past the 6 mile marker, and spill out on to 7th Avenue.  The first six miles of this race are fairly quiet as far as fans are concerned.  If you are running it, focus on getting past the hills.  When you exit the park, the hardest work is already behind you.

As you spill out onto 7th Avenue and head toward Times Square, there are numerous races held for kids along the left hand side of the course.  So runners can also cheer the young runners on as they begin the trek downtown.

Once you hit 42nd Street, you hang a right and head west, to the West Side Highway.  After waving hello to the USS Intrepid, you are at the 8 mile marker.  At this point, the course becomes flat and fast as you make your way toward the southernmost point of Manhattan.  You pass Ground Zero and the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and then turn back north toward South Street Seaport.  A couple of quick left turns brings you to the finish line.

Crowd support is solid along the course from miles 6 through 8.  The course is very quiet until you close in on the finish.


There were 20,149 finishers in this year’s installment, with the winning men’s time of 1:01:35 by Stephen Sambu of Kenya.  Think about that for a second: The winner averaged approximately 4:45 pace for 13.1 miles.  I have one word for that: BEAST.

The story of the day was the women’s race – which was won my Mollie Huddle by…are you ready for this….eight one-hundredeths of a second…over the second place finisher, Joyce Cheplrul of Kenya.  The winning time?  1:07:41.  That’s somewhere between a 5:10 – 5:15 pace for the race.


It was cold – approximately 37 degrees at the start, with some decent wind along the course.  The wind definitely chilled things off along the west side highway during the latter half of the race.  So I recommend running in layers – this race falls at a time of year where the conditions are hard to predict.


All in all, it was a solid, fun race.  Well run.  I would recommend it to anyone!!!