Cyclists using Power to Monitor Fitness Levels

Accountability time — it is time to look at my power numbers for July. I use a PowerTap on both wheelsets that I have, and yes, I pay a lot of attention to it both when I am riding and after the fact. I think it is one of the best training and pacing tools available to cyclists. It helps me know when I need to HTFU and pedal harder and when I need to back off my effort a little. I love the analysis it can provide you with.

All that being said, you have to be careful with focusing too much on your power levels during a ride. While it is good to ride “within yourself”, there are times that you need to push your efforts higher than what you have done in the past. Let’s take a look at my July 2013 numbers:

Distance: Goal: 1,000 miles Actual: 1,167.6 miles
Climbing: Goal: Goal: 50,000 ft. Actual: 62,677 ft.
5 second ave. watts: Goal: 1,200 w Actual: 1,146 w
1 minute ave. watts: Goal: 500 w Actual: 435 w
5 minute ave. watts: Goal: 300 w Actual: 289 w
20 minute ave. watts: Goal: 275 w Actual: 256 w
60 minute ave. watts: Goal: 225 w Actual: 227 w

At the end of June I weighed in at 178 lbs. and I wanted to drop under 170 lbs. to help my climbing. I am happy to report that I made that goal this morning when the scale read 169.5 lbs. My two big races are coming up in the Ultimate Challenge and LOTOJA and both feature a lot of climbing. I have target the range of 165.0 – 168.0 lbs. for both races because of what I have read in Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight. I totally recommend reading this book if you want to improve your running or cycling speed because like it or not, weight matters. Read my review here.

I did not do a ton of intervals in July. From my mileage you can tell I was focused mainly on endurance rides. I did start racing crits at the Rocky Mountain Raceway, and that has helped my bike handling and ability to accelerate so I can hold onto a wheel. But my workouts were focused on climbing and holding higher power levels over longer periods of time. As a side note, I did finish both Strava challenges this month — the climbing challenge of climbing 23,740 feet in one week and the distance challenge of riding 1,043 miles during the month of July.

I think my current power levels are a little low. Honestly, I should be able to hold 500 watts for a minute. The five minute and 20 minute goals are also attainable. I hit both during the 2012 season and by the end of July I wanted to be at the same level. I wanted August to be the month I set new highs in my power output. I also wanted to target specific Strava segments for new PR’s. The motivation behind both of these goals is I want to significantly improve my LOTOJA time in 2013 when compared to 2012. To improve my finish time, I will need to average about 10 more watts over the 206 mile course. I want to take my time down to a 9:30. With similar conditions, I think this is possible.

To judge my July performance, on Strava I ran a comparison between July 2013 and August 2012 power numbers. The resulting graph shows the best efforts during both time periods.

PowerMeter, Strava

My sprints of less than 30 seconds are stronger now than they were during August 2012, but then my power through the 5 minute mark is lower. Outside of that, I look at the graph and see that I am actually stronger this year through to the 6 hour mark. That makes me happy. There are some holes to fill, but for LOTOJA, I am going to focus on my 5 minute and 20 minute power outputs. If I take care of those, I think most everything else will take care of itself.

While my power levels for July 2013 do provide me with a mental lift, where are my fitness levels compared to 2012? Luckily, Strava has an app for that.

Sorry the dates are cut off, but leaving them off made the graph a little less confusing because of the way Strava presents them. The first peak are my fitness levels from 2012 and the second is my fitness levels through July 31, 2013. What is important to note is that my fitness levels as of the end of July are at the same level they were for August and September 2012. Now I also use WKO+ from TrainingPeaks, but it shows about the same trend. So now I know once LOTOJA rolls around the first weekend in September, I should have higher fitness levels this year when compared to 2012. Looking at where my fitness levels could be at then end of August, I am excited about the possibility of reaching my goal of cutting my LOTOJA finishing time.

Monitoring fitness levels and your ability to kick butt are two of the benefits of training with a PowerMeter. It won’t push you to the top of your climbs, but the device can help you make improvements in your riding that will help you in races. I will tell you when I am riding with a group I totally ignore my power levels on my Garmin and just focus on holding the wheel in front of me. When riding with other people it is time to focus on the V-meter. My next post will discuss what the V-meter is and the role it should play in your training and racing.

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About the Author

I have been participating in running and triathlons for 10 years and love the feeling that training provides. You may not agree with me, but you know you just can't look away...