Use Tour de France-level tech to maximise strength when you need it most
We reveal how boosting your power could be the key to success, with expert tips from an Olympic athlete
The number one question trail runners have when it comes to improving always seems to centre around hills, and how to conquer them more effectively. As a result, it’s something we’re always keen to explore here at TR. Invariably the answer is always fairly similar – stride length, a fast cadence and head position form the basis of most theories. But we have some news for you – it’s really all about power and how much of it you generate!
We’ve discovered one of the best ways to develop power, which is derived from core strength, is by running and training on hilly terrain. So it turns out we trail runners have been getting it right all along! Simply going out for a run over the stuff we love best – off-road full of
lumps and bumps – is actually the best way to get fitter, stronger and better at everything else. That’s one in the eye for all of the road runners out there.
By running on trails instead of urban jogs around the block, not only are you enjoying great scenery, wildlife, kinder running surfaces and cleaner air; but you’re also building strength and generating power at the same time. Now that is smart training – and it doesn’t involve a visit to the gym.
Learning from cyclists
Instead it involves using devices like the new Polar Vantage watch, which measures the power you generate on each run and enables you to create a training programme to boost speed.
Cyclists have used power or wattage data for many years. During races such as the Tour de France, race tactics and instructions are issued to riders from coaches and staff in support vehicles who are busily tracking the riders’ stats moment by moment, analysing their power outputs and communicating what their next move should be in terms of when and how hard they should go.
Now, the latest thinking by tech experts – and a possible game changer for the running world – is that runners too can use power measurement as a tool, enabling us to benefit in the same way cyclists and rowers do.
Until now, runners have typically used heartrate and speed (minutes per mile/ km) to build optimal training programmes and gauge how effective their training is, but it might be that power could be more informative. Heartrate is sometimes slow to respond or measure and speed is sometimes difficult to predict, or can be affected by a strong headwind; but power can more accurately measure the body’s output.
“Power isn’t something runners think about very often, let alone measure, but since it’s one of the key factors in determining how fast we run, it’s of massive importance,” says Siobhan Dockerill, UK head coach for Race for Life.
“Developing power should be an important part of any runner’s training programme and trail runners, by the very nature of their running, are doing it right – hills build power.”
Using new technology
The latest technology from Polar is a single-piece wristwatch, without any external sensors, which instantly measures a runners’ power. It calculates maximum and optimum wattage and – along with other running metrics including heartrate, speed and distance – it displays the all-revealing power measurement on your watch face. All you have to do is run! With the predicted game changing effect for runners, the ability to measure it could help you train smarter and get the most out of each run.
Utilising power is certainly not a new phenomenon to runners. Sebastian Coe (800m & 1500m) Paula Radcliffe
(marathon) and Mo Farah (5,000m and 10,000m) to name a few British successes, all attributed strength and power training as one of the key factors in their success.
So now that the well-kept ‘power’ secret has hit the headlines, trail runners can enjoy the validation that they’re doing the right thing.
By simply running hills regularly, power will improve. More power means more speed. More speed means faster race times. Power to the hills – power to you!
Analysing your stats
I wore the Polar Vantage V multisport watch on my usual varied loop around rural Horsham. I typically run as many offroad sections as possible and the loop includes fields, hills, footpaths and trails with some moderate and steep short and medium length hills. Running at a steady pace, below my threshold but not jogging, I can usually tell when an uphill or incline feels a bit harder. Sure enough, the watch told me that on every rise and hill my heartrate (bpm) increased. But the power measurement, displayed in Watts, was a whole lot more sensitive, showing a marked increase in power as soon as I hit a rise or hill. During the run, glancing at my watch, the Watts seemed to react more quickly than the bpm. When later analysing the data on the Polar Flow App, it did indeed show that the power I was generating on the hills was quite considerable. This made me feel quite good, almost powerful, which for a small build, let’s say ‘more mature’, woman, is quite something! Measuring power is definitely worth it and could be more informative than heartrate. What I need to do now is measure it on a regular basis and see how my power improves over time, then see if that translates into running faster. I used to underestimate the benefit of hills in terms of their training impact. They now get my full support and make me feel less guilty about avoiding exercises in the gym.
All that hill training could pay off when you need a sprint finish