The Future of Running - POWER UP.

"Once the best athletes come into contact with the best coaches, who know and understand how to use this technology and data to design training programs and improve an athlete's weaknesses, the next revolution will begin, with performances that will leave us dropping our jaws."  - Jim Vance, Author, Run with Power

Running with power... It's here.  This is a tool that finally allows us to track performance both directly and objectively with a consistency that has not before been possible.  A power meter is not intended to replace pace and HR, but instead, work hand in hand to create a greater level of analysis and specificity in one's training.  It's fabulous.  If you are a #datanerd like me, you're going to love it.  

What is power? 

I fell in love with Jim Vance's book precisely at this moment (page 20):

That's right, if you just had flashbacks to high school physics class, chances are you've got the idea.  But here it is - the simple stuff:

Power Output = Force (how hard) multiplied by Cadence (how fast)

It's easy.  The concept is easy.  And the output?  It's alarmingly accurate objective data that is unaffected by terrain or weather.  Power doesn't care if you are running up or down.  It doesn't care if you have a rippin' Prefontaine-inspired tailwind.  Running off the front or sitting in the draft?  Doesn't care.  Chase or be chased; power is power.    

We measure power in watts.  Specifically 1 watt = 1/746 horsepower, which is completely useless other than I have (more than once) had the thought that my run was literally the equivalent to a horse's a$$.  And a small horse at that.  Let's face it, we've all been there.  Training with power, however, will give you incredible insight - far greater than pace and heart rate alone - as to actual, legitimate, straight-off-the-farm-inspired work.

After all, when you're running, "work" is a measure of what you're actually accomplishing.  

So... How does it work?  

When we head out the door for a run, there are 3 types of power to consider, which can be measured by a foot-based power meter (holla, STRYD!).  The sum of these is the total power you produce while running:  

  1. Horizontal Power:  We care most about this plane of power because it's the work rate that is legitimately tied to what we're trying to do - MOVING FORWARD.  
  2. Vertical Power:  If you, like me, owned a pogo ball as a kid, you likely expended 100% of your effort trying to get that thing to go straight up.  This is vertical power, and every runner has some varying degree of it in order to lift the foot from the ground.  The best runners, however, recognize that forward/backward movement is the marker for efficiency.
  3. Lateral Power:  I will simply say, "awkward runner," and you'll likely know exactly what I mean - twisting at the torso or elbows, knees that rotate in, or a leg (or two) that kick outwards.  Obviously these movements limit your horizontal power production. 

Why should I care?

Fitness and efficiency are a beautiful marriage, and while they don't always go hand-in-hand, a power meter will give you massive insight on them BOTH.  Here's why:

  • FITNESS:  You can track your speed per watt - this is the Holy Grail for this technology.  Increase your speed while maintaining watts, decrease your power output for a specific pace, lower your heart race at a specific power, increase your horizontal watts held over a duration?  These are all clear-cut #fitnesswins.
  • EFFICIENCY/ECONOMY:  Running with a power meter will improve your technique by defining needed technical improvements.  Given a specific pace, a decrease in vertical, lateral, and total power is an indicator of efficiency.  A power meter can also measure leg stiffness - one of the primary indicators of running economy (we're not going to take a deep dive on this one, but it's worth a dig). 

Training = Recovery + Stress.  A power meter is going to help more accurately define and refine your training load, while helping you pinpoint greater biomechanical efficiency.  Meaning... your training stress is going to skyrocket in terms of accuracy and predictability with some careful tracking and planning.  Pair it with sufficient recovery?  You are on your way to your next PR.  

Grab Jim's book HERE.

Vance, Jim.  Running with Power.  VeloPress, 2016.


Kate Ligler