Off Season Run Sessions And How Power Training Can Help Avoid Pitfalls

By Coach Joe Beer

Coach Joe Beer is part of the Neuff Red Ambassador team and has substantial experience of coaching at all levels.  In this Power series, Coach Joe Beer is looking at ‘Training with Power’, both for the bike and run.  Joe’s first article looked at an overview of power.  

Now it’s time to see the ways that power measurement, particularly using the Stryd foot pod, can help you avoid the pitfalls of training in this Autumn, off-season period.  And there are many...


Winter triathlon training basics

Okay, so winter is the place where the base of training adaptations are laid down, like the initial foundations of a house.  This phase of training is not about tons of motivation, tons of training and the rest of life being put on hold - there are many pitfalls of that mindset.  I refer to the 3 ‘S’ of Steady, Skill & Strength which help to avoid some of the main pitfalls:

1. Too much anaerobic strain

As we move towards the mid-winter dip there is a natural loss of peak form and therefore what you can achieve in your aerobic zone (Zone 1, 55% to 80% HRmax).  So if you take your summer sessions and do them in Autumn/Winter almost all people end up doing far too much in Zone 2, often on a daily basis! 

Steady sessions end up feeling like races and recovery is impaired.  This level of anaerobic strain is probably too much when it exceeds 10-15% of your weekly total time, and especially if every session in a week has some of this accidental or deliberate hard work in it.

So train Steady.

2. Too fast an increase in volume

If you want injury, especially in running, just ramp up your running too fast and too frequently week after week.  This factor is magnified if you mix it in with pitfall #1.  There is no ideal secret number of percentage distance gains in training, but it’s okay to keep endurance subtle at this time of the year, unless you want niggles and injury as the basis of your run foundation for 2021.  Less focus on volume and more on skilled, shorter runs makes injury pitfalls less likely.

So train Skills.

3. Ignoring strength and just doing distance

An equally important “S” to the focus on skill is that of “strength”.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s resistance running work such as heavier shoes and carrying things with you, or doing home/gym resistance training.  Strength work should be a greater emphasis than stamina right now, as you want a modest base of strength and coordination now to build upon into late winter and spring of 2021.  Distance dulls an athlete whereas strength training makes them feel tight and energised.

So train with Strength.

 As a coach my job is to keep clients (and readers of any articles) “out of trouble”.  By using Stryd power measurement in running (and Rotor on the bike) we can target sessions to keep you in the right zone, work on strength using whatever inclines you have to hand and think about the skill (economy) of your movement across the floor.  No one really wants two steps forward and two (or three) backward.  I love the motivation and enthusiasm that athletes have at this time of year, especially with the non-season of 2020 behind us. However, the key is to take 50% of that big-volume-“smash it up” mentality, put it in a jar and shelve it until March.  So how can run power measurement in training help you between now and then?

Winter run training with Stryd Power Meter

Power Training to the Rescue

Power measurement in running lets you focus on controlling your sessions much more than just “It was steady 9's” or “Well, it was 12k but it did get faster at half way”.  Average pace is a pet peeve of mine as it often makes people scrimp on the warm-up, drift out of Zone 1 too often and think about speed not economy of movement.  Stryd power measurement (from a simple 8-gram disc of plastic hooked onto your laces) completely blows your mind, as it can calculate metrics such as your power, stride length and even vertical movement of your body (aka oscillation).  There is no single solution to how you can run faster, but the metrics look at your movement beyond just pace.

Using power in running we can keep the majority of time in the predominant HR Zone you should be targeting in the majority of your sessions.  Namely Zone 1.  Let us be very clear, this means anything from 55% to 80% of your maximum heart rate.  It's not the Zone 1 that some online system use that is much lower and wrongly termed “recovery”.

Power is not meant to force every run session into a herculean effort to push your body forward as we trudge into mid-winter. Instead when we measure running power we often see:

1. Running is good solid work

Athletes see just how much work a solid aerobic run actually achieves.  It often amazes them that it’s a Z1 run, but with a very solid wattage despite saying the run felt slow in minutes per kilometer or mile.  A 200-220 watt run may only be 6 minute kilometers, but if its zone 1 then it’s a true endurance autumn-winter training session.

2. Running is technique and technique

After your sessions are finished, you can focus on how economically you actually ran.  Stryd gives you a number of watts that your form (technique) takes away from moving forward and a ratio to overall power.  Think “form” and you can save energy from the untapped “economy of movement” element of your training.  If you really get into the metrics and look at your vertical oscillation, cadence and other metrics you can really geek into data mining.  But a word of warning about such “gold” mining: most people just need to do Z1 training, think about running smoothly during the actual session and (perhaps) trim weight as they head into the important phase of race prep (Jan/Feb onwards).

3. Running factors are compounding

Run power tends to show what terrain or conditions push an athlete’s power up, which may be invisible if the speed is your main run metric.  Running uphill or walking on the very steepest of hills gives you enough power to still be a very top of Zone 1 session, despite a speed that your ego will have to ignore.  Off-road, running into a head wind, or just subtle inclines that may go unnoticed, will all add surprising wattage increases when glancing at the Stryd data on your wrist device.  You're doing the desired work (stimulus = good) but maybe not going as fast as your Strava nemesis (comparison = bad).

The clarity that power gives you is more precise than Heart rate.  Yes, we use HR to see the strain on the body, but as power is more immediate feedback it is especially useful when optimising short efforts to keep a target HR outcome (Eg. see TEMPO STRIDE session below).

Stryd run power meter

How do I know I’m training correctly with power?

The difference between two athletes doing a session right or wrong comes down to one simple analysis:

How much strain is the training actually putting on the system?

If you plan a base training Z1 session, does it turn out that way at the end of the sweat and toil, or has it varied wildly due to chasing other people, poor terrain  or poor pacing because of ego?  Power helps you to monitor your actual training progress and can help settle your mind to the optimum way of training.  It really isn't physically hard to slow down, I tend to find it harder to speed up!

Take a look at the run graphs.  Athlete One had no time in Zone 2: it’s a purely aerobic session through flat terrain choice and cruise mentality, using Stryd to control heart rate.  You can clearly see the warm-up and warm-down stages, with steady power and heart rate in between (apart from crossing a road!) 

Off-season running with power training data.  Good vs bad example

 

Athlete Two with the same 'base session' has 16% of their time in Zone 2 because they have worked harder than they should.  They did not warm-up or warm-down effectively, so the heart rate spiked immediately, along with uncontrolled surges and a random hill effort chasing another runner, resulting in an erratic pattern throughout the run.    

Working harder is not the point of training to build your base.  Of course there are sessions that need to have an athlete work hard but they are few, they are planned and they are not the focus right now.  In the graphs, you can see that the power line predicts changes in the heart rate slightly - this means that if you see your power increasing during a run (e.g. because of running up hill) you can quickly adjust your pace to control heart rate.

If in doubt of this slower paced training ethos, don’t shoot the messenger!  Instead please read this great research paper – it’s not that heavy honest: “What is Best Practice for Training Intensity and Duration Distribution in Endurance Athletes?

Putting Power Training together

The Stryd power meter can take several sessions to tweak your zones or you can do a good solid time trial effort or series of sessions to set your power zones. Stryd recommends the following varied sessions to build your power profile:

  • Long runs over an hour in duration.
  • Medium duration runs of 10-20 minutes at max effort or near max effort (time trial or race)
  • A short max effort run that is 3-5 minutes in duration.

Source: https://support.stryd.com/hc/en-us/articles/360039261314-Critical-Power

I also like the session below called the NOSE BREATHE CRUISE.  This gets you focusing on relaxed nose-only breathing to see what power you can sustain with this aerobic breathing pattern.  You do not want to sound like an asthmatic donkey, but instead take deep breaths and feel what cruise power you can sustain.  As you get fitter and possibly lighter, but definitely not breathing heavier (or cheating with mouth breaths) you can see aerobic run efficiency improving.  

Bingo: training is making you cruise to faster racing, not hammering your body for short-term ego payback. 

In summary, using Stryd power measurement during run training is an amazing way to direct your training towards the correct stimulus to encourage improvement, not suffer winter pitfalls. 

Seeing your run benchmarks improve through fitness, your efficiency metric get better due to focus-on-form and your previous niggles reducing really helps you achieve the winter goal of fun training not pitfalls.  It's not brute force that wins, instead it’s using a pacer that sits on your run shoe to find the cleverest way to train.  

As we creep into the low-ebb of winter you can use power to have a variety of planned sessions that are fun and rewarding.

Train smart and have fun.


Joe


"Nah, but… Training with Power means training harder" 

The counter argument to all of this is that a power system is used to increase someone’s power... The harder you push the greater you become...  No pain no gain...  The ‘best athletes’ just push harder, more often, in heart rate zones zones 2 (81-87%) and Zone 3 (88% to max)...  If someone pushes a club training session at 230 watts then to beat them you had best push at 250 watts.  
In other words, power measurement using Stryd on the run, and the bike with Rotor INspider, is just a new carrot to make you train “more seriously” and to “give 110%”.
Wrong.  Sorry, but if you push every base session beyond Zone 1 multiple times per session, hit lots of threshold intervals maybe 3 times a week and try to get power up week-in-week out, then you will not become more powerful than the next person.  Your peak power, threshold and even race power is limited by your genetics, not by “not trying hard enough”. You must train smart, consistent and seek all training, nutrition and tech ways to become a more efficient triathlete.
Sadly, pushing power too high too often will mean overtraining.  It goes hand in hand with “athlete with short fuse all the time” syndrome – of having a tense attitude to training/racing and being extremely competitive, maybe even aggressive, towards other athletes.  Worst still, you will suffer lingering poor health despite a training diary bursting at the seams: this could be low testosterone in men, lack of a normal cycle in women and just not a balanced aerobic athlete at all.
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Coach Joe Beer has been in endurance sports since the mid 1980's. From academia to Ali'i Drive, Joe has learned and practiced the principles of endurance sport improvement and helped professional athletes and amateurs.  He works with some of the best in the business such as Science In Sport, Ventum, Stryd, Nopinz, Rotor and ForthEdge.  He has always loved the geeky tech side of sport adopting many gizmos ahead of the curve such as heart rate (earlobe to watch), glucose polymers (Maxijoule), aero-bars (Scott DH), UV reflective clothing (Hind) and Duathlon shoe plates (Pyro). Geek!

 

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