Stryd PowerRace

Today I installed PowerRace onto my Garmin 235, and it feels like it’s made my Stryd massively more useful as a training tool.

Stryd is a powermeter for running. There have been two iterations so far; a sensor that strapped to your chest (the "Pioneer") and a footpod (the "Summit", the current model). Powermeters have been around in cycling for donkey’s years, but perhaps because it’s easier to fit strain gauges to various parts of a bike than it is to measure power output from a runner, there haven’t been powermeters much until recently. (Now there are power measuring insoles, devices that clip to your shorts, and probably a bunch of others in some Kickstarter’s basement.)

Power should be good for training (it changes faster than heart rate, and should correlate better to performance), both in allowing you to figure out how hard to push, and also how easy to go on your rest days. But there’s been the typical scepticism of a new metric, plus arguments about whether a bunch of gyroscopes and some magical algorithms are "really" measuring power or some proxy to it (please spend a year studying the philosophy of science and then tell me why this is worse for runners than cyclists) and, most of all, a lack of a full training suite.

By this I mean if you’re targeting a certain pace in a run, your Garmin will happily alert you if you’re going too fast or slow. Target a particular heart rate and it will do similar. But because power isn’t part of the standard training metrics, it was (if you were lucky) something you could review during your run only by looking at your watch (and on some watches this was via a kludge where you pretended it was your cadence) or else something to look at afterwards, in a variety of awkward ways. Less than a year ago, I had no way to look at average power per lap, so it was fairly rubbish for interval training, either during or afterwards.

Data review got fixed; Stryd’s website now allows much more detailed analysis, and TrainingPeaks now consumes and displays running power data. There are ways to display power as power on a Garmin now, rather than pretend it’s something else (which would be more helpful if you’re trying to compare cadence and power, say) but up to now, there’s been no way to ensure you’re at the right power apart from by looking at your watch.

Never assume malice where incompetence will suffice. It didn’t have to be that Garmin have their own powermeter waiting to be released, and were intentionally making things hard for Stryd. Hell, never assume incompetence where a lack of time will do; Garmin don’t have an infinite number of software enginĂ©ers available to support every third party sensor that might want to connect to their products. But still, this has been frustrating.

And now, much less so. PowerRace, when installed on your phone, allows you to set a target power and a race distance, and then all it shows you is your current and average power, and your heart rate. It doesn’t even show you the time; they’re serious about keeping you focussed on a small number of things. Then whenever your power output goes more than 20 watts above or below your requested target, the watch buzzes to tell you to go harder/easier on yourself.

I went for a gentle 5k tonight, and it was wonderful. Usually if I’m trying to keep to a particular power, it’s an exercise in obsessive-compulsive behaviour, constantly checking the watch. On a hilly run, even worse. Today, apart from a few early checks to make sure it was on, I could run quite placidly, only reacting and changing effort when my watch nudged me to do so. This would have been so nice to have during this year’s marathon training.

There are a few gaps, but the app is really a late-stage beta product for now. It would be nice to be able to set it for a time rather than a distance, and it would be even nicer if you could build structured workouts into this, so it would handle interval training sessions. I’d like it if the display could be stripped down even further, just to a single power number and alerts as necessary. And I’ve yet to see how I cope with this in a race situation rather than a training run. But right now it feels like the whole running with power ecosystem, at least for Stryd & Garmin users, is fundamentally complete. Now what other refinements can come?

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