Dear coach: What are the three most important things triathletes should understand about training and racing with a power meter?
A power meter is not magic. Simply having one on your handlebars and looking at it occasionally will not improve fitness or performance. It takes a lot of study to understand how to use it effectively. Then the rider must be willing to spend at least a few minutes weekly analyzing the data to see how training and fitness are progressing. I have a new book that explains power analysis in a simple and straightforward way—The Power Meter Handbook. Another excellent, more in-depth discussion may be found in Hunter Allen and Andy Coggan’s Training and Racing with a Power Meter (VeloPress, 2011).
A power meter will help you easily manage the single greatest challenge in a triathlon—pacing on the bike. Triathletes typically start the bike leg too fast, fade later, and then have a poor run—which sometimes turns into a walk. This problem is not due to poor run fitness as most come to believe, but rather due to poor pacing on the bike. Once you know how to use a power meter, racing simply becomes a matter of staying in the intensity range called for by the duration of the race. For the sprint distance, that’s about 95–100 percent of functional threshold power (or FTP, described in No. 3). For the Olympic distance it will fall someplace in the range of 85–95 percent. Half-Ironman is 75–85 percent, and Ironman is typically 65–75 percent. The faster one is, the higher in the range he or she will race.
The single most important power number is one’s FTP. That’s the highest average power that can be maintained for one hour in an all-out, race-like ride. Once you know this number, all of your power training zones can be established. How to find your FTP is described in The Power Meter Handbook, or you can search “FTP and Power” on my blog at Joefrielsblog.com.
Joe Friel is the author of 12 books on training for endurance athletes, including his latest, The Power Meter Handbook: A User’s Guide For Cyclists and Triathletes (VeloPress, 2012).