What Is Running Power And How Can It Help You Improve?

What Is Running Power And How Can It Help You Improve?

Running with power requires a mental shift, but it can help you pace your training and race efforts to perfection.

There are three traditional methods that runners use to pace their training sessions and races. The simplest of these is to run on feel, gauging your effort based on your perceived rate of exertion. The most common is to run according to pace, especially in races when you know the target pace to achieve a PB. Finally, as heart rate monitors have become standard on running watches and fitness trackers, heart rate zones have also become a useful method to judge your efforts.

All three have their merits and all can work for any runner, but all have their faults too. We’re all liable to misjudge our efforts and overdo it when running on feel, while a raw pace number doesn’t take into account hills or weather conditions. Heart rate is better on this front, but wrist devices can suffer from accuracy problems, and your heart rate can vary based on things like stress and how much you’ve slept.

All this brings us to running power, which is a measurement that advocates claim is a better way to judge your efforts in all conditions, regardless of variables like terrain and the weather. To learn more about it, we spoke to Angus Nelson, co-founder of Stryd, which makes a power meter.

What is running power?

“Running power represents the intensity you’re running at,” says Nelson, and getting the intensity right is key when following a training plan.

“For pure runners, using pace as a training metric works fine if you’re running on a treadmill, track, or other very flat surface with no wind or temperature changes. You can keep an even pace and your pace represents your intensity. But when you run outside and you hit hills, or it’s windy, or the temperature or humidity changes, you’re going to be working a lot harder to keep a consistent pace.”

On those occasions, keeping your power output steady means your effort will be consistent, whereas trying to hold a certain pace could mean the training run is too hard, because you’re overdoing it up hills, or even too easy, if you have a tailwind pushing you along all the way. Either way, you won’t be getting as many benefits from that run as if you had stuck to the effort specified in your plan, and if you have worked too hard to hold a pace in unfavourable conditions it could affect the quality of the rest of your week’s training.

“Instead of trying to guess the right pace value as the conditions change, it’s easier to run on your energy expenditure directly – to run based on a power number,” Nelson says. “So you’re not trying to keep to seven minutes per mile, you’re trying to keep the energy expenditure that correlates with that speed. You might be given a power target of 300 watts, which correlates to seven-minute paces on flat ground, but when you start running up hill the pace changes. The power target doesn’t.”

What factors combine to produce the power number?

There are various power meters out there that use different factors to produce the wattage number you are given, but generally the idea is to take into account your speed plus external factors like hills, and in the case of Stryd conditions like wind, temperature and humidity.

“The Stryd pod connects to laces on the shoe,” Nelson says. “It can understand the effort you’re putting in because it measures the motion of the foot, and then it measures the environment you’re in and how that’s affecting you.”

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How can power help you improve as a runner?

“If you’re following a structured plan, you’re going to be doing some easy runs, some hard workouts, some racing,” says Nelson. “There is an ideal intensity to get the maximum benefits from training and run as fast as you can on race day. The most important thing is to establish the targets you should be training and running at. If you can do that you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of other runners.”

How do you establish those power targets?

It takes time to get used to power as a runner, and devices like Stryd also need some time to calibrate themselves to you and set your target power zones.

“[With Stryd] this is done through a system called auto calculated critical power,” says Nelson. “This takes all of your running data, profiles you as a runner and works out those targets. In the first few weeks you have the device, you have to tell the system what you’re capable of. You need to do three types of runs in the first few weeks – a short, fast sprint effort, a 10- to 20-minute tempo effort and an endurance effort. Stryd will then have a very good idea of what kind of performance you’re capable of, and that will determine what zones you should be training in and what effort you should be racing at.”

How does power help on race day?

“This is really the breakthrough moment for a lot of people who try running with power,” says Nelson. “Folks have a tendency to do a lot of strange things when racing – like start too fast, or push the hills too hard. It’s easy to get caught up in the atmosphere and stick with people who they consider to be of the same ability as them. But when folks start running with Stryd they have the confidence to run to the power value. They see those packs of runners push up the hill too hard, start too hard, surge mid-race – all these things are not optimal behaviour if you’re trying to produce a max-effort evenly paced race. People realise they weren’t taking control of their pacing strategy, but with Stryd they can.”

Power meters are especially useful for trail and cross-country races, or road events where you can expect undulating terrain or rough weather conditions.

“If you’re a trail runner, a cross-country runner or a road runner who loves challenges, you’re going to get a greater benefit from this technology,” says Nelson. “You’re going to be able to run faster in these difficult conditions.”

Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Coach

Develop a Morning Routine That’ll Stick

Develop a morning routine that’ll stick

Every morning I wake up at 5:27. I read for 17 minutes, perform my ablutions (13 minutes flat), then meditate until 6:43 when I break four raw eggs into a blender with two strips of bacon, blend for 33 seconds, and chug in eight. By 6:50 I’m ready to face the day—and I’m sure most of you, mere mortals, are still asleep.

Or maybe not.

Your morning routine is what you regularly do when you wake up. For most people, that’s getting out of bed, having breakfast, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, and heading into work. There is, however, a productivity movement driven by people like Tim Ferriss and James Clear that suggests having a morning ritual that includes activities such as meditating, journaling, exercise, and other healthy and mindfulness-oriented practices to get your day started.

But in order to work, a good morning routine has to be something that works for you. It’s better to have something that’s 60 percent perfect and you can stick with 90 percent of the time, than something that’s 100 percent perfect but you only have the time to do every third Tuesday.

Maybe you’d like to do some meditation before going out and facing the world. But if you’ve got a two-year-old whose morning routine is throwing tantrums, you’re not going to get those 20 minutes of silence before work.

Decide what you want to achieve

Journaling could be a great addition to your morning routine. You could even journal about your morning routine.
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Personally, I like having a morning routine that involves meditating, stretching, and journaling. I find it’s a really effective way for me—a childless, freelance, remote writer—to get settled and focused on work. I have seen many of the touted benefits of these seemingly over-the-top morning plans, like less stress, better emotional health, and more productivity. If I skip my routine, it’s easy for me to waste my morning procrastinating on Reddit and Instagram.

But that may be totally different from what someone with two kids and an hour-long commute needs to do every day before they go to work. There are lots of benefits to the aforementioned morning routine mainstays and the like, but focusing on them shouldn’t compromise other things you actually need to get done.

Before deciding on a highly demanding morning ritual, consider what you need to achieve and work backwards from there. If you have to make it to work on time, clean, well-dressed, and fully caffeinated, start with building a routine that allows you to do that—and then you can add in some weight training or meditation. On the other hand, if you struggle to get focused in the mornings, maybe a bit of physical activity or mindfulness practice is exactly what you’re after.

Don’t go overboard all at once

You already made that great cup of coffee. Why don't you try breathing deep a few times while it becomes drinkable?
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Like with any self-improvement plan, it’s easy to go from zero to 100 and back to zero again with your morning routine. Just because they’re currently in vogue, it doesn’t mean you need to create one that will best everyone else’s. It’s better to slowly build a series of habits you can stick with, than failing while trying to do everything at once.

The easiest way to build new morning habits is to piggyback them onto your existing routines. You can easily use the time you wait for your coffee to cool—which you probably spend scrolling through Twitter or Instagram—journaling, if that’s what you want. If you want to work on meditation, start with five minutes as soon as you get out of bed, or even 10 mindful breaths in the shower. Don’t set the bar too high—if exercise is what you’re interested in, for example, you’re far more likely to build a successful routine around a seven-minute bodyweight circuit than a 5-mile pre-dawn run.

Also, don’t try working in a dozen different things in one go—add new habits and routines slowly and let each one settle. It takes about two months for a new habit to become automatic, so don’t spread your focus too thin.

Morning routines start the night before

Just imagine the smile on Future You when they see the amazing fruit smoothie you made for them.
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While most of the focus is on what you do after you wake up, what you do before you even go to bed can determine how successful your morning routine will be.

Consider the ideal ritual you’re trying to build and look for both trouble points and opportunities to do more the night before. If there’s a way to head off a predictable potential problem with a bit of preparation, take it. And if there’s not, think about how you’ll deal with things in the morning.

If your goal is to eat a healthy fruit salad for breakfast, slicing up the fruit the night before makes it much more likely you’ll stick to the plan, and will prevent you from falling into the trap of quick and easy sugary cereal. If you want to get to the gym, don’t start your day digging through your laundry—take the time to get your washing done and leave your bag packed and ready before bed.

Stick with it

Some days are harder than others. Don't worry—you can catch up tomorrow.
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Once the initial flush of excitement fades, sticking with new routines is hard work. Just look at the vast majority of people who fail to keep their well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions—most flunked them by February.

And the February of your morning routine will come. You’ll just need to plug away through it. One of the best ways to speed up habit formation is to stick with it. It takes a few months for your morning routine to become an actual routine, so don’t stop as soon as you lose a bit of motivation.

Obviously, everyone will miss a day from time to time, but it’s important to not let skipping your routine become the routine. If life gets in the way, don’t overthink it and just continue where you left off. A good challenge is trying not to miss two days in a row.

However, if you do start skipping days, stop and reconsider things. That’s a sign that you either don’t really want what you’re telling yourself you want, or are taking on more than you can handle at once.

Don’t fight your chronotype

Are you sure you're a night owl?
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Some people just aren’t morning people. There’s actually a theory about how hunter-gatherers had staggered sleep patterns, with some falling asleep early and waking early and others falling asleep later and waking later, so there’d always be someone alert around the campfire in case lions came by for a midnight snack. This now expresses itself as your chronotype: whether you have a propensity to be a morning or evening person.

If you struggle to develop a productive morning routine because you just can’t get up early enough, you might just be genetically disposed to be a night owl. Don’t fight it—instead, schedule big things like gym sessions for the evening. You can still make a great routine for yourself, but you’ll need to be aware of what you’ll actually be able to achieve.

Be warned though—this comes with a major caveat. A huge number of people think they’re night owls, but in fact they’re just staring at screens too much and mess up their sleep patterns. I thought I was chronotypically an evening person, but as soon as I got a handle on my late night screen use, I found out I was actually a long-suffering morning person.

Adapt and thrive

Start small. Eventually, you'll be able to find your balance (literally).
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There is no perfect morning routine—only the one that’s perfect for you. And it is perfect because it gets what you need done, and therefore, you can stick to it.

If your morning routine still isn’t coming together despite your best intentions, then take a step back and reconsider what you’re doing. Change a few things, iron out any trouble points, and try again. You’ll eventually find out what works for you, what supposedly productive habits are actually good, and which ones are just ludicrous fads.

Written by Harry Guinness for Popular Science and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Popular Science