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Running power – the finishing touch to your running data mix?

Photo credit: James Mitchell

Power meter technology has made a major breakthrough in running, as much as the power meter tools and data have invaded and revolutionized the sport of cycling.

Although running power is different from cycling power in how the power data is interpreted, runners can get the same insights from running power tools. They allow athletes and coaches to better dial in training intensities, measure training load on the athlete, and even pace efforts.

Running power tools allow athletes and coaches to better dial in training intensities, measure training load on the athlete, and even pace efforts.

Running power in the simplest sense is a work rate, measuring how work is being accomplished to move the body, measured in watts. Apply a force into the ground and the body moves a distance. The faster the foot applies that force, and the larger the force, the more power the athlete produces.

Same pace, different power

Running, unlike cycling, is greatly affected by the biomechanics of the athlete, so insights into the biomechanical economy of the runner can be measured, and any technical changes the runner makes can be objectively evaluated for performance.

For example:

  • Two athletes can run at the same pace, with entirely different power.
  • Or two athletes can run at the exact same power, and same body mass, but at entirely different paces.

For a runner to move they must push a force into the ground through their legs and feet, to lift their body up into the air. This airborne lift is required for running, but if a runner goes too far up in the air, it’s not conducive to running forward very fast. Work is still being accomplished, but it’s moving upward, instead of forward.

A change in technique that a runner makes, can be more effective at transferring their efforts forward – foot-strike, upper body position and many other small changes can take the same power output and make it faster.

The movement can also be lateral. A change in technique that a runner makes, can suddenly be more effective at transferring their efforts forward. Foot-strike, upper body position and many other small changes in running technique can take the same power output and make it faster.

Running power AND THE BATTLE AGAINST GRAVITY

Running power is a better measure of intensity than pace typically is.

For example, your power can stay the same when going uphill, but clearly if you kept the same power on the uphill as the flat, the uphill portion will be slower. However, you’re working the same effort and intensity, despite the slowing of the pace due to the battle against gravity now being prominent.

Pace is not effective for measuring intensity, especially on hilly courses.

The opposite is also true when running downhill –  the pace will likely increase greatly but your work rate is lower as gravity is the force placed on the body to pull it down the hill. So, even though pace increases, your effort and intensity decreases. Therefore, pace is not effective for measuring intensity, especially on hilly courses.

Also consider interval workouts, where you do a certain distance or time, either on a course or track. Yes, you might run fast on the interval, but you’re not sustaining that pace the whole time, you’ve added in recovery periods. Pace for the workout will be affected by the recovery periods where you’re standing around, walking or jogging extremely slow. If it’s a course with hills, you’re adding to the variation of pace.

Power is much more effective than pace to account for variations with rest intervals or hills.

RUNNING POWER AND HEART RATE DATA

Combining running power and pace with heart rate data offers unique opportunities for runners.

The advantages this provides is the opportunity to see where a small change in power can lead to a big jump or decline in heart rate. This type of data becomes very helpful in hot conditions, or longer race efforts where pacing is challenging and critical.

As athletes begin to collect more heart rate and power data on themselves, this relationship and the key points of exponential change can likely become more clear, and training and racing strategies can be devised to maximize this.

If you notice a certain heart rate required to hold a common aerobic power value while running, then you’re seeing aerobic economy fitness improvements. This is much more objective than pace/heart rate comparisons, as pace can be affected by hills, or even GPS error.

With power, you can run at a steady workout, even if going uphill, without the slowing of pace affecting the ratio of power/heart rate.

With power, you can run at a steady workout, even if going uphill, without the slowing of pace affecting the ratio of power/heart rate.

WHY settle for crumbs of data when you can have the whole cake?

If you already track your pace, heart rate, and distance, running power can be the missing ingredient in that mix to gather and analyze all that running data even more precisely.

In the past, the concept of running power wasn’t even comprehended, so the power channel among all the major manufacturers was to limit the native power field options to strictly cycling. Bike computers have a channel to collect power data, just like they collect GPS, HR, speed, distance and cadence data. They may even have fields for things like average power, lap power, time in power zones, and more.

To help bring the running world up to speed with the technology of power meters, Polar Vantage V comes with wrist-based running power and Polar Vantage M can be paired up with Stryd running power to gain access to power metrics and data field options. This allows you to easily track power data (together with heart rate, speed, distance and cadence) when you’re running, and view your post-workout data, without the need to add any special applications to the watch.

This was the “why” part. Stay tuned to learn how to measure and use running power.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

Running power
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