Unless you been living under a rock for the last year, you know the bicycle power meters are the new rage for triathletes. You see the articles, read the testimonials, done the math on the price even researched a couple of the models available on the market... but you have yet to decide: is training and racing with power really all that it's cracked up to be? The short answer is a resounding Yes, but before you race out to your local bike shop or online retailer here are some solid reasons why you should consider a power meter.
#1. Triathlon is little more than an individual time trial in a group setting. While you may feel like you're racing all the people around you, the truth of the matter is we each have our own limitations. Best case scenario on race day is that we put forth our best effort on that day and see where that puts us by the time we hit the finish line. So while you might run a little bit harder over the last half mile to catch the guy in front of you, it's not as though you've been jockeying for position all day long. Being able to pace the bike appropriately will not only ensure your fast on two wheels, but that you're even faster on two feet.
#2. The longer your race, the more precise you have to be with your effort. If you're riding 112 miles, there is almost no margin of error. Even a small mistake early in the day can have significant ramifications on your overall race performance. Using a power meter means that you know, real time, exactly how hard you are working. This alone can save many triathletes on race day.
#3. Having a power meter also reduces the "taper effect" - that feeling of superior fitness that overcomes most triathletes upon leaving T1. Having just come out of the water and raced through transition, and on the heels of a nice paper after months of hard work, the temptation to ride fast in the first hour of the bike is very high. A glance at your heart rate monitor won't raise any red flags because you are so well rested coming off your taper. A power meter, however, does not lie: it tells you exactly how hard you are going, and you can make your decision on pacing based on that number. Sometimes even simply riding conservatively the first half hour of the race has helped racers PR.
#4. A power meter also allows you to effectively flatten any course. Old-school racing had you nail a specific pace, say 18 miles an hour, for your day. As a result your heart rate would fluctuate wildly depending on the terrain: on a hill your heart rate would spike high, on the descent it would drop low. Using a power meter you can have specific race-wide goals depending on the terrain. So instead of racing up every hill to achieve an overall average speed, you are looking for an average wattage. The upshot of this is that your speed will now fluctuate wildly while your heart rate -- and wattage -- will remain constant. By minimizing the impact of your racing on your body / heart rate, you'll be able to run faster, for longer, off the bike.
#5. Aside from excellent race day execution, a power meter also enables you to have high quality training. Now regardless of where you live, you can do efforts that will simulate, or exceed, your upcoming race. If you know you need to climb a hill at 300 W, you don't actually need the hill. All you need to do is ride hard enough to hit 300 W. Up, down, headwinds, tailwind, 300 W is 300 W is 300 W.
#6. As a coach, power meters have revolutionized the way that I interact with my clients. More importantly, it has revolutionized how each of my athletes coaches themselves. There's no hiding from the hard data: whether you've gone too hard -- or not hard enough -- we'll know. More importantly, the increased data has resulted in a new set of metrics for training. New terminology like functional threshold power, intensity factor, normalized power, TSS, etc. are now becoming mainstream. While there isn't room to get into each term specifically within this article, suffice it to say that having access to these numbers is a distinct competitive advantage for athletes who know how to use their power meter.
There's no denying the power meters are expensive. Some even cost as much as a new bike! That said, don't underestimate the value of your own time. Sure you can keep on training for another three years to achieve that new level of fitness. But if I told you you could do it in one year -- effectively saving you two years worth of work -- how much is that worth to you? Think about it... you can be certain that your competition already is.