The Power of No Power

10 years ago I got my first power meter. There were two "real choices" I can think of - PowerTap and SRM. There were some "other choices" - Ergometer, iBike, and probably some others I'm missing. At that point training with power was certainly popular and established, but it wasn't what it is today. Today it often feels like power meters are on bikes like bar tape - I'm sure there's some people out there riding without bar tap, but it's not really done, and why? A lotta folks are training with a power meter. I was just at a team camp, and these kiddos are rocking 3-4 different bikes, between training bikes, racing bikes, TT bikes, and they've definitely all got power meters. Well, point being - power meters are popular as hell. The pros have them, and trickle down economics is a thing. 

Where I'm going with this next is a place I believe is becoming a more popular topic lately, and one I've written on before - but today the mood is striking again. Are we blinded by data? At what point could power meters be hurting us more than helping us? My short fuse answer to both those questions is that, yes, we are blinded by data, and the point at which power meters hurt us is earlier rather than later. We (the "royal" we, of coaches, analytics software, etc) have gotten really "good" at coming up with metrics to track training loads, crunch power numbers, and generally "figure it all out". Honestly though - when I really start thinking about it, about what information is gained - it feels an awful lot like not that much information is gained, but rather it's turned into a game of synonyms. We're taking an end goal that is super simple - go faster - and breaking it up into a million different pieces. My question is, does having more pieces make a puzzle simpler or harder? I'd say harder, but that is also a metaphor and we're not trying to do a jigsaw puzzle, we're trying to ride bikes faster. 

Don't get me wrong - I am a big believer in the data, and it has a ton of value to me, but I also find myself getting more and more confused by it and having more confidence the simpler I can make a process. Here's a scenario - 5k climb, rider does a maximal effort, time of 15:24. Goes and trains for 6 weeks, does same climb again - 15:24, but cadence was up, HR was down, CTL says "fitness" is high - look at that, they're just cruising. BUT - the time was the same. OK so to me yeah, no progress. Now that's probably oversimplified, obviously maybe weather is different or something. But saying weather is the same, etc, I think one thing the limitless amount of data we have available has taught us to do is ignore the elephant in the room because we can always find some metric that says we're making progress. Surely, there is value to that - but at some point I also believe it's not supposed to be warm and friendly - the elephant in the room should be realized - sometimes progress isn't made, despite our best efforts to draw a data picture that convinces us it has.

OK - so this sentiment is common at the moment, I think. There is a reason that less people are doing cat 3 RR's, and more people are grinding gravel wearing jeans (which is another post - that can't be comfortable!). Cool is in, and maybe power meters and data isn't cool? So at the risk of trying too hard to be cool - I'd say those folks have a point. Maybe they don't have a point about it being "fun", it's not supposed to be fun - it's supposed to be snowing and uphill both ways. However, I think it's a very worthwhile challenge to simplify the task, ditch the meter, focus on going fast - which folks don't need ten metrics to judge - and make it happen. There's easily a whole other post about the benefits of riding without a meter to also train speed development that's not necessarily accomplished by just doing more watts. However, the attention span is waning, and the inbox is filling out - so rant over for today. Take up the challenge - ride a week without a power meter, without analyzing data, and tell us about it.