Friday, March 27, 2009

SRM vs. PowerTap

A while back I mentioned that the CFO (aka, my lovely wife), had recently authorized a new purchase. Several of you have guessed that I was getting a new bike. Others thought it was new wheels. You were all correct that it is bike related. After a few years of riding with a PowerTap power meter, and racing without one, I am the new proud owner of an SRM power meter!

Yes, it's used. I haven't ridden it enough yet to cause that much crank rub. But I have ridden with it enough to know that it is WELL worth the extra price over the PowerTap. And if you want to race with the PowerTap, those $850+ hubs for all of your race wheels will quickly add up to more than the cost of an SRM.

So far, there are several things I like better about the SRM:

1. I can finally race with power. Because PowerTap measures power from the rear hub, you have to either race on your training wheel, or buy new hubs for every wheel you race with. And as you know, from my latest marathon adventure, I am an idiot when it comes to pacing during a race. The SRM measures power in the cranks, so it doesn't matter what wheels you are riding on. Now, I can race with whatever wheels I want (including a disc), and still get instant feedback, which should keep me from going out too hard in an Ironman or even a 70.3 race.

2. The computer displays more information. The PowerTap only shows Power, Speed, and one other reading, so you have to toggle to see distance, time, cadence, work, and heart rate. This is very distracting when you're trying to do intervals and you need to see, for example, cadence and time. You can leave it on cadence, but then if you want to know how much more time is left in the interval, you have to push a button SEVEN TIMES to get back to time! That can actually be dangerous if you're working hard during the interval. The SRM computer, as you can see here:

displays power, heart rate, speed, and cadence all at the same time, while time and distance toggles back and forth on its own. Much better for those intervals! Speaking of intervals . . .

3. Interval times on the SRM start over from 0:00 so that the time you are looking at during the interval is the actual time you have been doing the interval. The PowerTap will record splits, but you can only look at the overall ride time, not the time you have been doing the interval. In other words, you have to do math and remember what time you started the interval! This is very annoying. Let's say you're doing 8 minute intervals with 6 minute recovery intervals. You warm up for 15 minutes, and start your interval. That means you have to remember that your first interval ends at 23 minutes, you start the next at 29, then it ends at 37, and so on. With the SRM, you start the interval at 15 minutes, and the time goes back to zero. When the interval is over, the time goes back to your total ride time. Again, MUCH better than the PowerTap.

Some people complain that because the SRM is in the cranks, you can only use it on one bike. NOT TRUE. If you add a sensor to your second bike, you can swap the cranks back and forth to whichever bike you are riding that day. This takes less than 10 minutes, and is perfectly safe if you know what you're doing.

I can't wait to do some shorter races and find out what kind of power I can push for a sprint or Olympic distance event! It's impossible to push yourself in training as hard as you can push in a race. Now we're going to know exactly how hard I can work under race conditions. But more importantly, I'm going to know early on in an Ironman bike leg, whether I'm working too hard, long before it's too late to do something about it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Newton Project - "Adjusting" to My New Drug

It's been just over a month since the Austin Marathon. It always seems to take me longer than I expect to fully recover from such an event. What usually happens is I feel like I'm recovered but as soon as I try to pick up the intensity, my legs remind me that it's only been a couple of weeks and that they are still tired. I think that's what it must feel like to get old. I KNOW I can run faster than this! I remember when I used to. But I just can't make my legs do it anymore!

Just after the marathon, I received a box in the mail. The return address said "Boulder, CO" but I think that's just a cover for Newtopia because when I opened the box, this is what I found:

A brand new pair of (free) Newton running shoes. To recap, when we first discussed my foray into Newtopia, I had sworn them off forever! And then, just one week later (and still not recovered from the PAIN caused by the first run in them), Tory from Newtopia made me an offer I can't refuse, and I agreed to give them another try. The plan was to run in them for 10-15 minutes at a time and then switch back to my Brooks shoes for the remainder of my runs. In theory, over time, I would increase the time spent in the Newtons until I was running exclusively in them, recovering faster, running further, and generally enjoying life (hopefully, injury free).

My experience thus far:

I've run in them four more times now, and I'm getting more and more sold on them with every run. I think just running in them the first time (Dec. 26), pointed out the "flaws" in my running stride. I wasn't someone that you would consider a "heel striker" but I was definitely landing on my heels more than I thought I was (especially late in a hard run after I started to get tired). Since December, I've worked on consistently landing more on my mid to fore foot rather than my heels. So when I got the Newtons in the mail, I couldn't wait to slip them on and go for a run! But having learned my lesson in December (and after reading Linday's comments that "Athletes that meet their goals on time are the ones that don't make the same mistakes twice"), I decided to stick with the plan of only running 10-15 minutes at a time in them.

My four runs in them so far: (1) the first 15 minutes of a 40 minute treadmill run - after 10 minutes, I considered pushing it to 20, but after 15, my legs were tightening up, so I switched to my Brooks; (2&3) the first 20 minutes of a 50 and 60 minute run; (3) 25 minutes on the treadmill during my "rest" day this week.

At first, I was fairly sore the mornings after running in them. But this week, after my 25 minute run, I was not sore at all. In fact, I felt like I could have run a lot further in them than I did, but I called it a day after 25 minutes, since technically I wasn't supposed to be running at all that day. Regardless, I'm adjusting to the shoes faster than I expected to.

My thoughts thus far:

For all of my running life, the first 15 minutes of most runs was the worst. It just always seems to take at least two miles to get in a groove and feel like I can run. But for my past four runs, the first 15-25 minutes of running have been fantastic. I can't explain it, but running in those shoes makes me feel faster, lighter, and more comfortable than I have ever felt in a traditional running shoe. Now, the first two or so miles of running after I switch back to my Brooks are the worst part of every run. I eventually get the feel for them again, but I never feel as good as I did when I was in the Newtons.

One thing is for sure, the Newtons have completely ruined my Brooks shoes for me. After running in the Newtons, my Brooks (and a pair of Nike's I have) feel heavy, clunky, old, and even less cushioned, even though they are supposed to be MORE cushioned. The best way I can describe the difference is that the Brooks shoes feel "flat." My Brooks only have about 150 miles on them, but they feel like they have two or three times that. Imagine riding a bike on a smooth, paved road and all of a sudden you're riding on the beach. That's what it's like when I switch back to the Brooks.

The problem is, after too much of my Newtopian bliss, I still get a debilitating lower calf hangover if I run too far in them. If I don't (as they say) "adjust" to these shoes soon, I may go crazy. Patience has never been one of my strong points. And now that I've tasted what those Newtonian "drug dealers" have to offer, I want more! I've heard that drug dealers will often offer potential customers a free sample of their "product," knowing that the potential customer will soon be hooked and will then come back for more. But upon returning, the helpless addict will be forced to pay a premium to get his or her fix. Welcome to Newtopia, my friend. Yes, the lower calf hangovers can be hard to take at times (I'm still trying to build up my tolerance). And the premium you pay to get your Newtopia fix ($175 a pop), can be hard to swallow if your used to paying a lot less than that for running shoes.

Oh, but that spring in your step just 2-3 weeks after a marathon, that normally takes at least a month to come back. And the feeling I get when running in these shoes . . . well that, my friends, is worth the price of admission. I just hope my tolerance builds up soon before I decide I will never "adjust." I had a hard enough time finding running shoes I liked before I tasted Newtopian bliss. I can't imagine ever finding a shoe that feels this good. Even if it's only for 25 minutes.

I'll keep you posted . . .

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