Where do I Rank?

Have you seen this commercial? 



I love it, it's for Asics, the shoe company. The series is called "Better Your Best". It took me a couple of times watching it to realize the woman was racing herself. It is an excellent metaphor for the training process and to a great extent endurance sports in general (more on that in a moment).


After the last couple of classes (the first ones where we calibrated the trainers), I noticed everyone coming up to the front and looking at all the numbers. There is an innate human need to know "how do I stack up". Someone might want to point that out to the school board, but that is another topic for another day. 


The point is the numbers, your numbers, are specific to you. In and of themselves they don't mean much. A larger rider will generally produce higher watts, they have to, they are moving a greater mass.  They also have more pure muscle mass, longer leverage arms (bones). 


Someone who is a strong sprinter will have higher watts over a short period of time, this has more to do with their innate physiology Andre Griepel (aka The Gorilla) can push 1800 watts in a sprint. 


Someone who has trained to cover longer distance quickly will, likely, have higher watts over a longer time frame than their sprinter counterparts. They have been training this in over a long time. 


The watts you produce today are simply an indication of where you are today. And if the only factor in race performance was watts, they would just line up a bunch of guys on trainers see who put out the biggest watts and save all the bother of cars, timing chips, race officials, travel etc and give him the Yellow Jersey and the Tour de France wouldn’t be much of a TV spectacle.


Also the average watts, in most of our workouts, mean very little as we are all over the place in terms of effort levels. So one workout is not really comparable to another and the average is truly meaningless (so don’t worry about it). 
If you are, however, looking for a benchmark so you can track progress. Use one of the longer big ring sets to see where your watts are. Since these are longer, steadier efforts you can get a better sense of where you are now. Then watch, over time, to see if the numbers go up.
Also make a note of where your heart rate is relative to watts and link that to "how do I feel". This is that "inner feedback loop" we are always talking about. Generally speaking, as you become more trained the HR will not change much, but the watts you produce at the same relative HR will go up. Heart rate is a very, very personal number, there is no correlation from one athlete to another.


Try to avoid comparing your watts to someone else in the class. As mentioned before there are a whole host of reasons why your numbers are not comparable to others. Unless you are competing at an elite level and start looking at watts per kilogram can really make a meaningful comparison (and even then it gets complicated).


Better yet do like the woman in the commercial and "Better Your Best". By getting a sense of "where am I now", you can see your progress. And nothing gets you pumped to do your next session, like measurable progress.