Don't Chase Base Wattage

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re excited to introduce “Catalyst Content”! It’s our new blog where you’ll find updates on training, racing, Catalyst athletes, and what’s new in the sport science world. 

Today we’re kicking off a feature where one of our athletes shares their favorite workouts. It is always fun, and valuable, to see the athlete perspective, because a lot can be learned from it.  There’s no silver bullet to training, but we’ll give you a few bronze ones…thanks for reading!

We asked, our athlete, Matti Rowe what his favorite workout is, and here’s what he had to say:

“My favorite workout isn’t a workout, it’s more of an injunction that I see pop up from time to time in the workout description of my workouts and that is ‘don’t chase base wattage.’

I like that, because in the age of STRAVA, and with a certain group of friends you can get into the bad habit of spending a lot of time on the bike not going fast, not going slow, but spending lots of time at a middling pace adding a lot of fatigue that looks good on paper but isn’t actually going to do much for you when you’ve got to jam hard for 20 seconds to follow a move.

Physically, ‘not chasing base wattage’ stops me from being such a diesel because I’m not adding unnecessary fatigue that’s going to take the quality away from my interval sessions.

But really, I think the biggest benefit is upstairs.  There’s a big difference between high zone 2/low zone 3 and low zone 2 mentally.  The former requires a bit of mental exertion while the latter is effortless. The thing is, you’re still doing good work in low zone 2 and since so many hours are spent on the bike at a comfortable base pace it makes the riding so much more pleasurable then kind of going hard all the time.”

First off, a translation is in order, what do we, as coaches, mean by, “don’t chase base wattage”?  When we say, “don’t chase base wattage”, the idea is to ride at a comfortable pace.  What pace would the athlete settle at, if they were riding without a computer?  That is the pace we want.  That pace is going to vary day to day; it is a sensation, not a number.

It is really easy to get caught up in shooting for a high average power, at the expense of doing the true quality pieces of a session below where the athlete is really capable. A perfect example is if an athlete has a big session of intervals, and they perform the intervals 5% below the target, but their average power for the whole ride is comparatively quite high.  This is something that we come across all the time, when we start working with our new athletes.  If an athlete can buy into the idea of “not chasing base wattage”, their quality efforts will improve, because they’re less fatigued going into them.  In addition to the quality aspects of the individual rides being better, the total ride typically does not tax the athlete as much, so their recovery is better and they can do more work in the week and month, as a whole.

Circling back to what Matti noted, about the mentality of “don’t chase base wattage”, the total stress of a training session, is much more than what shows up in the TSS score.  It also includes how much it taxes an athlete mentally.  On paper, someone might have no problem riding around at 250 watts as their “base pace” on all their training rides.  However, in reality, there is always a pace that is doable, but is just a hair uncomfortable.  Year in, year out, we see athletes that insist on trying to ride that pace all the time, and it just grinds them down mentally.  On paper everything might be ok, but if it translates to showing up on the start line 10% less fresh, and not able to race at maximal capacity, then all that training did not really elicit the end goal, best possible performance.  Counter to that, there are plenty of days where high average power is the target.  On those days we, as coaches, definitely believe in the tool the power meter can be in keeping an athlete on track. 

Always good to end with a dichotomy, so we’ll wrap it up there!  Thanks for reading!