Training for an Ironman race requires many sacrifices. The adventure from the first day that you begin training until you get to the finish line takes determination, commitment and a detailed plan. In the end, every second and every ounce of energy counts as you swim, ride and run. You live, breathe and eat compelled by finishing your race, achieving a goal, placing on the podium, or making it to the Ironman World Championship.
When it comes to race day, your body must work like a machine and your brain must work like a computer. You will perform constant calculations about how fast to go during the swim, the grueling bike leg and then the run. You must pay careful attention to nutrition and hydration, and know where your competitors are in relation to you. The combination of these actions takes plenty of energy from your body and brain, and you need to be functioning at full capacity. Having the right tools while training and racing will help reduce the stress for any athlete.
Training with power will help you train smarter on the bike by carefully monitoring your body's performance and stress over time. If you use a coach to plan your training schedule, a power meter will help them analyze your training rides in more detail. This data will provide more structured, targeted workouts, and measure your performance gains.
The 3 Essentials to Power Training with a Coach
Functional Threshold Power, or FTP: This metric is used to create an athlete's training zones. In short, this measurement shows you how hard you can ride within a one hour period. When you have this information, you are better equipped to plan when and how hard to push during your training or your race.
Training Stress Score and Intensity Factor, or TSS and IF respectively: Both are important measurements of an athlete's workout loads. TSS will tell you how much physical stress you are accumulating during a ride and training sessions. IF shows how hard your ride was in relation to your FTP. The only way to receive this type of information is by using a power meter.
- Pacing: In the context of racing, pacing is of utmost importance if an athlete wants to sustain endurance and stamina. When you race, you need to produce a maximal sustainable effort for the duration of the 140.6 miles. This is especially important during the bike leg, which is usually the longest portion of the race. By going out too hard on the bike, you will lose precious energy (aka: bonk) and have to slow down towards the end. By starting too slow, you may end the race with excess energy that could have been put toward a faster pace. While starting slow is not always a bad idea, it may mean the difference between first and second place. An athlete who is experienced and understands his/her own capabilities can more effectively measure the proper amount of effort required throughout a race. Using a power meter can quantify effort accurately, independent of environmental factors.
Ready to start training with power? Here are 5 things to think about before committing:
Durability. Will your new power system survive pouring rain? A crash on the course? Is the unit field serviceable? These are all questions you should ask when evaluating a power meter. We recommend looking at how the most important components are housed. For instance, hub systems are enclosed within a hub shell that shields the electronics and strain gauges, protecting them from the elements. Also be sure to read up on the warranty policy before you buy.
Accuracy. If you aren't getting accurate data from your power meter, then you shouldn't be riding with one at all. Above all things a cycling power meter should provide you with accurate data ride after ride. The gold standard in accuracy is +/-1.5%. Only two companies reliably hit this benchmark and are backed with validated, third-party research: SRM and PowerTap.
Compatibility. There are three locations on the bike that are ideal for power measurement: hub, pedals and crank/chainring. Choosing the right power meter is dependent on the athlete, his/her goals, and data needs. A power savvy coach familiar with your season goals can help guide you in the right direction.
Versatility. If you have a race bike and a training bike, versatility may heavily influence your decision. With this in mind, you'll want to choose a power meter that can be switched between all your bikes with ease. And when it comes to versatility, it's hard to beat a quick pedal swap.
- Affordability. When presented with a variety of power systems, it may be tempting to just buy the cheapest option. Before you do, we recommend you weigh items 1-4 above to ensure you're getting the best bang for the buck. Ultimately there is a power meter for every pocketbook.
Training and racing with the help of data provided by a power meter can help you prepare for and complete your Ironman race with confidence. It will also reduce the stress and uncertainty of how your training is progressing by monitoring progress during the training season. Because when you can quantify how you are building strength, endurance and stamina—you will not only start the race strong, you will be able to perform at your peak by monitoring your entire ride and it will allow you to make the necessary adjustments to ensure an exciting and successful race day.
Whether you win, have a bad race, or end up with a DNF—don't categorize it as a failure, view it as a learning experience—data, if you will. Ride and race data from a power meter is priceless information that can be used to help you achieve your next goal. Whether you're just entering the sport or looking to gain fitness and strength, consider investing in a power meter to help you get the edge.