Power Runs: Key Workouts to Start Understanding Your Power Meter

Garmin has just released its first power meter for running. 

Combined with the just-released, power-compatible version of Garmin Connect IQ, Garmin’s new Running Dynamics Pod ($69) can turn compatible Garmin watches into basic power meters.

Training and racing with a running power meter is different from running with GPS pace, and it takes a little mind bending to get used to this new way of doing things.

Try out some power workouts inspired by Jim Vance’s new guide, RUN WITH POWER, to get to know your new running power meter and start to see how power can make you a stronger, faster, and more durable runner.

Here are some workouts we’ve designed to help illustrate how running pace and power are different. New power meter owners might want to try a few of these to get used to thinking in watts instead of in minutes per mile. Or you can use these exercises to get a feel for your training trifecta of power, pace, and RPE.

[Related: Running with power vs. running with pace.]

Hill Repeats with Pace and Power: Find a course that’s flat, then has a hill, then returns to the flat. Run the hill at a constant pace. What you’ll notice: You’ll work really hard while ascending to maintain the pace. Then you’ll feel like you’re descending really easily at the same pace. Is pace telling the truth about how hard you’re working? No; pace makes it look like running up the hill and down the hill are equally hard. Now try it with power: Run the hill at a constant power number. What you’ll notice: You’ll have to slow way down to avoid overshooting your target power on the ascent. You’ll have to fly back down the hill to hit your power number.  Did the efforts feel the same? Which felt easier or harder? Were you surprised at the difference?

Constant Power Run: Do your 3/9 test to set your running power zones. Then find a course with rolling hills or some variable terrain. Run 45 minutes in Zone 2 while trying to maintain a specific power number in that zone. What you’ll notice: It’s difficult to maintain a constant power on variable terrain and you might find that your rating of perceived exertion (RPE) is much less reliable than you think. Your pace will swing wildly over the varying terrain as you learn to pace by power instead of by pace. You’ll have to run much faster downhill and much slower uphill than you might expect. In fact, you might not be able to hit your target power on the downhill. Very lightweight runners have narrower power zones and might have a harder time staying close to their target power number. The run is likely to feel harder than you’d expect because although the ascents were easier, the overall effort was much more consistent. (After all, maintaining a constant power output makes this a tempo run in zone 2.)

Envelope Runs: This workout makes regular appearances in the training plans designed by Jim Vance in his guide Run with Power. Envelope runs will illuminate the efficiency or energy waste clearly and on any terrain. Run easy in Zone 1-2 for 10-15 minutes, then build to a moderate speed on the edge of comfort/discomfort. Look at your power number or power zone, likely Zone 3-4. Stay in that zone, but find a way to go faster. Push the envelope! Try to be quicker without raising your watts. It’s a balance of trying to hold or increase speed with technique. Focus on your rhythm, cadence, forward lean, soft foot strike, relaxation, eye and head position, even breathing. Finish the run with 10 minutes in Zone 1-2.

Race Pace Intervals: Warm up and then run 3 x 1 mile intervals at your 5K race pace with 2 minutes recovery between each. Or 3 x 2 mile intervals at 10K race pace with 2 minute recoveries. Or similar intervals for half-marathon or marathon. You’ll likely be hurting during the run, so focus on maintaining race pace and running even intervals. After your workout, take a look at your power data: Does it go up for the whole workout? Just at the ends of each interval? Does vertical oscillation go up or down? What stays the same? Now take a look at some recent races at those same distances. How does your power trend and how does this compare against your interval workouts?

Fartlek Peak: No, it’s not a mountain! Do a fartlek run. Use a power meter analysis software that shows can show 30-second Peak Power. What was your 30-second Peak Power for the run? In a few more weeks, do another Fartlek Peak run and compare your 30-second Peak Power. Has it changed?

Cold Start: Skip any usual warm-up and start an endurance/base run in zone 2. What you’ll notice: If you normally do a warm-up before your runs, you’ll probably feel awful for the early part of the run. Your power numbers might seem high. As your heart, muscles, tendons, and joints warm up, you should expect to begin running more smoothly and comfortably, and your power numbers should fall to a more normal zone 2 range, perhaps by as much as 10-20 watts.

Scratch the Surface: Find a sidewalk or paved bike path that is bordered with grass. Run 45 minutes at a constant pace while alternating 5 minutes on the path and 5 minutes on the grass. Note what effect this has on your running form and power, if any.

Sandbagging: Find a stretch of sand, whether it’s a playground sandbox, a beachfront pedestrian path, or a sand volleyball court. Start running toward the sand at a constant pace from a few hundred yards and try to maintain pace as you hit the sand. Note what happens to your power numbers and RPE.

Dreadmill Form Ladders: Hit a gym and head for the treadmill. Tape your watch to the treadmill so you can see it clearly and fire it up. Start at an easy jog pace. Every 5 minutes, speed up the pace by 30 seconds per mile until you reach 5K race pace. Taking care not to misstep or fall off the treadmill, just observe what happens to your power numbers. Now return to easy jog pace. In 5 minutes, speed up the pace by 30 seconds but try to keep your power number as low as possible. Once you’ve achieved the lowest possible power at this pace, note what it feels like. Then repeat. This is an excellent way to drill your muscle memory for more efficient running form.

Trail Running Is Hard: This exercise is a little risky if you don’t run on trails regularly, so be careful and don’t risk a sprained ankle or a fall before any key workouts or races. Run 30-45 minutes (or not so long that you get sloppy with running form) at Zone 2. Try to run at a constant power number on a trail. What you’ll notice: Trail running is hard! Depending on how practiced you are at running on trails, you might feel as if every step requires more effort to stabilize your feet, knees, hips, torso, and arms. You might see this extra effort in your power numbers, which may read much higher than usual, even at slower-than-road paces. It will be difficult to maintain a power number as you jostle around obstacles and negotiate the trail. If you are monitoring your Efficiency Index on a computer, you’ll notice it suffer as your pace slows and your power rises. Trail running might make a good drill for improving efficiency. If you can learn to run smoothly and at a consistent power on trails, think how smoothly you’ll be able to run on the road.

Kite Runner: On a windy day, get stoked for some threshold intervals. Run straight into the wind (if possible) at 10K race pace for 10 minutes, maintaining a constant pace. Note your average power output. Then turn around and immediately run with the wind while maintaining the same pace as before back to your starting point. Did anything change? You might see a higher power number running into the wind and lower with the wind. Now try it with power: Note your starting point, then run into the wind at the top end of Zone 3 for 10 minutes. Then turn around and run with the wind at the top end of Zone 3 for 10 minutes. Your return trip might be faster and you may overshoot your starting point. The difference is the effect of the wind. Though you put out the same power on both intervals, you had to speed up your return trip to hit the same power number.

Have you had a “power meter epiphany” on a run? Have you discovered a workout or drill that shows how running with power is different from running with pace? Please share it with us at dtrendler@competitorgroup.com!

Run with Power by Jim VanceRUN WITH POWER is the groundbreaking guide you need to tap the true potential of your running power meter like SHFTStryd, or RPM2. From 5K to ultramarathon, a power meter can make you faster—but only if you know how to use it. Just viewing your numbers is not enough; you can only become a faster, stronger, more efficient runner when you know what your key numbers mean for your workouts, races, and your season-long training. In Run with Power, TrainingBible coach Jim Vance offers the comprehensive guide you need to find the speed you want.

Run with Power is available now from your local bookstore, tri or running shop, and from these online retailers:
Coach Jim Vance
VeloPress
Limited offers: Get Run with Power FREE with purchase of a SHFT, RPM2, or Stryd power meter while supplies last.

Also available wherever books are sold:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
local bookstores
Chapters/Indigo

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