Adapted with permission of VeloPress from RUN WITH POWER by Jim Vance. Media may republish this article without prior permission in its entirety (2,056 words) including the book cover image and a link to this website. Contact VeloPress with questions or for additional content.
Do you have high goals?
Are you trying to qualify for an event or place high at a certain race?
Perhaps you simply want to run a faster time than you’ve run before. The higher you set your goals and the better you become, the more commitment you’ll need to reach your next level, however you define it. And as your goals become more challenging, the margin for error in your training and performance will become ever smaller. Many of your competitors are just as good as you are, and some of them are better. It’s crucial that you get your training right.
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.
We can track volume easily—we don’t need anything more sophisticated than a training diary to record how long and how far we train each day. But volume is not a very accurate way to measure stress. Workout intensity is the real key to fitness, but the usual ways we measure intensity, such as a scale of perceived exertion, are subjective. Heart rate (HR) is a tool we’ve used to infer intensity in the past, but it’s flawed, too. In addition to the fact that heart rate does not measure intensity directly, it can also be affected by factors unrelated to training, such as diet, temperature, and stress. Pace may seem as straightforward as training volume at first, but in fact it is hard to quantify; varying terrain and elevation can markedly affect pace. Windy, hot, or cold conditions can also affect pace negatively or positively, adding to the challenge of quantifying the intensity.
All of these tools are helpful in creating a snapshot to measure fitness, and yet none of them give us an impartial way to monitor training intensity with repeatable precision. But when we measure stress incorrectly, our training suffers. We become more vulnerable to injury. We may suffer from a lack of recovery. We may get intensity wrong. Any one of those setbacks can derail a training plan. What we need, clearly, is a better way to measure the stress we are inflicting in our daily training routines. And that’s exactly what the power meter provides, and it is why the power meter has the potential to revolutionize your run training.
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.
Why Run with a Power Meter?
If you’re a triathlete, a bicycle racer, or a fan of either pro sport, you are probably already familiar with the use of power meters in cycling. The power meter transformed training and racing in the cycling world. It has surpassed every other training tool because it delivers an objective and repeatable assessment of overall fitness without any of the drawbacks of previous measurement methods, such as heart rate, speed, and perceived exertion. In fact, the advantages of the cycling power meter are so great—and the margin of error so small in the world of competitive cycling and triathlon—that to ignore the information and the advantage from a power meter would be to concede victory before the race had started.
In the running world, we have recently seen a surge in the popularity of GPS units, and we’ve seen these units get smaller and smaller as usage has grown. The increased adoption of GPS shows that the running world, like the cycling world, is open to embracing technology and its benefits.
While the GPS unit is a useful tool, its contribution to training pales in comparison with the advantages the power meter can provide. The leap in technology is something like the difference between using a typewriter and a computer. In the history of running technology, a stopwatch is probably equivalent to using a typewriter—pretty good at its job, but severely limited in scope. Running’s step up to heart rate monitors was a revelation, but in retrospect, it was like moving from the typewriter to what we would now regard as an old, heavy, slow desktop computer. Today’s GPS wrist units are like the first cellphones, much like a flip-phone. The portable power meter for running is the next step, equivalent to the laptop, tablet, and smartphone coming into existence all at once. And while you can still accomplish a lot with a desktop computer, you likely will be much more effective in many ways if you add the laptop, tablet, and smartphone to your arsenal. This is what the power meter brings to the world of training and racing for competitive running.
I am sure you are wondering what makes this technology so great...