The other day, riding in the rain, my Powertap head unit went a little crazy on me (as you can see from this picture). It occurred to me that many athletes may feel a bit lost when something like this happens.
Some riders dread the power meter. They see it only as a burden, a device that only serves to punish them. They would love to just throw the thing away and ride how they feel. There are also those that become too attached to their power meter. Without the feedback, they are lost. Some may not even do the workout. If there isn't a power file, what's the use?
Though everyone uses their power meter in a different capacity, what I would really like to see from my athletes is something in between the two extremes. A power meter is a very powerful tool. It can help you make sure that you do the workout correctly, help you pace yourself, give you quantitative data on how you improve, and measure the difficulty of your rides or races. Not to mention, it is a great way to show your coach what is really going on with your training. However, it is important to remember that it is only a tool. Even without the power meter, the power is still there. One of the most important reasons to have a power meter is to fine tune your own sense of perceived exertion. In other words, after a while, you should pretty much know what doing your workouts correctly feels like, with or without the power meter. Below is a list of comments that I would not like to hear from athletes regarding the use of their power meters...
Bad: "My power meter stopped working half way through my ride, so I just rode how I felt"
Should be: "My power meter stopped working half way through my ride, so I tried to do the workout appropriately based on feel"
Bad: "I was in this race and I looked down and saw that I was putting out 700 watts going up the hill. I can't sustain that kind of wattage, so I dropped out"
Should be: "Although I wasn't looking at my power during the race, when I downloaded the file afterwards, I saw that I was putting out 700 watts every time going up the hill. No wonder so many people didn't finish"
Bad: "I felt really good today on my endurance ride, so I went really hard and tried to average the highest wattage I could"
Should be: "I felt really good today on my endurance ride, so I had to use the power meter to hold myself back a bit"
Bad: "I want to be a Cat. 2, and I saw a chart that said that Cat. 2s have an LT power to weight ratio of 4.44 watts/kilo, so I do all my LT intervals at that level"
Should be: "On my last LT test, my power-to-weight ratio was 4.00 watts/kilo. While this is above average for a Cat.3, it is below average for a Cat. 2, so I know that if I upgrade I will need to work on sustained power."