Riding without Data - your experiences

While true, I am talking about just a few years ago. I didnt start training with power until maybe 2021 or so. I was my fastest a year or two before that.

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Ridding with power (or using data) is undoubtedly the most effective way to get faster. But sometimes, we have to get our ducks in a row before we can truly focus on getting faster.

There may be periods of time where removing the focus away from data (and getting faster) is helpful. This was the case for me personally after some forced time out of the sport.

I was initially returning to movement with the goal of learning to listen and trust my body. For me personally, data would have interfered with that process.

Riding and running without power allowed me to prioritise and return to full health (without being distracted by my ego or competitiveness) and landed me in the position now where getting faster is once again a possibility :face_holding_back_tears:.

Throughout our lives, our priotities will ebb and flow, and so will our relationship with cycling/ endurance sports…and data! :crazy_face:

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I’ve been a competitive runner and recreational cyclist (with some competing) since I was little. I’ve worn every running watch under the sun, and had all the bike computers, powermeters, HR-monitors, trainers, and gear you could imagine. Despite all that, since about a year back, I ride and without any electronics whatsoever.

I structure my training very simply. Either I can breathe comfortably and hold a conversation, or I’m breathing out of my eyes. About one in three to four sessions includes some intervals at “breathing out of eyes”-intensity.

Sometimes I ride 30 hours a week, sometimes I ride 5 hours. I’m under no illusion that this is the most effective way to train for everyone, but it is for me. Why? Because I enjoy it, and I want to keep doing it. I hate having a bike computer, it distracts me from the view while riding. I hate having a running watch beep at me every km. When I get back from a ride and ask myself whether it was a good ride or not, I want to evaluate my experience, not the data. I’ve had countless rides that felt amazing, yet when I came home, I realized I only averaged 219 watts for 6 hours, not 225 watts as planned, and I subsequently felt poorly about a day that was actually fantastic.

Conclusively, I ride without data because I like it more. I can’t deal with the input from a powermeter, HR-monitor, or even a GPS or timer. I don’t want to know my average power, I want to know my average effort. Sometimes my Vo2-intervals may be at 440 watts, sometimes at 380. I just go as hard as I can and feel good if I can barely stand up afterwards. I ride my bike to see nature, smell the flowers, and listen to the wind. No bike computer has enhanced my experience of that, only deteriorated it.

Do what you like to do.

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Because it doesn’t agree with what you believe in? To be fair, I want to post the same when people post they get slower in summer because they aren’t doing intervals on TR. What the heck are they doing out there?

Here is what I’ve seen and believe in… The fastest people I know mostly use some form of repeats (using terrain) or intervals for building a base and preparing to race. Then in spring and summer they all get faster by racing twice a week, and riding easy endurance in between. The ones plateauing are staying inside on the trainer and doing intervals. These fast people are on podiums at local crits and road races, and setting KOMs and QOMs in the mountains. Its not just race craft, I’ve seen power curves objectively improve when focusing on race efforts, which around here ends up looking like long threshold efforts and of course repeatedly going above threshold. My own experience mirrors that, I objectively get faster when not focused on structure. To each their own!

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Ummm, no. I gave my reasons in my response.

That’s called specificity, and is part and parcel of any serious training plan (including TR).

Most of the fastest people I know are in their 20s, and spend tons of time on the bike, period. They have tons of time to ride and have a life style that allows them flexibility. They go out on epic all-day rides at least once, often twice a weekend. Most weekends. The combination of youth and time is hard to beat.

yeah I’m talking about the 40-60 year olds with jobs and families that can keep up with the 20 somethings on fast group rides. And those are ongoing from March thru November.

I think that there are a ton of different directions any one of us could go with this topic depending on our own experiences and what has worked for us in the past. :sweat_smile:

Personally, I’ve sold off a few bikes in the last year and really only ride one or two now. Neither one of them currently has a power meter installed, and oftentimes, I wish they did, but I also really appreciate one less distraction when riding outside when the weather is nice. :relieved:

I can still get some work done when out riding if I’m feeling up for it and this usually comes in the form of riding timed segments that I’m familiar with (similar to what @JoeX recommended). It helps that I’ve done some of these before with a power meter which gives me a little bit of context as to the effort I’ve made when I get back, but ultimately, I know my times on those and how they should feel. You don’t need much as far as tech goes for these other than a phone or something else to track your ride, or even just a stopwatch would work. :stopwatch:

For example, here’s one that I hit pretty often. I know that my PR is 7:38 which makes this a long-suprathreshold effort for me in the ~8-minute range. I’m not looking at any data during these efforts, but rather focusing on keeping a strong steady effort, and solid form.

I have a handful of these (some of which I’ve created just for this purpose) that range in duration which gives me a good breadth of effort types close to home. Having different hills around or “pole to pole” segments as @TrekCentury mentioned should provide you with plenty of options for efforts from 30-60 seconds all the way up to 20+ minutes.

My fitness personally peaks somewhere around mid-May each year, because I’m much more disciplined with my riding over the winter, and yes, this is 99% on the trainer with TR. When spring comes around up here, I get back on my bike for the love of riding and do a lot more long, exploratory endurance/tempo rides in the woods as well as a couple of small grassroots events.

I still love to push myself which is why I’ll tackle these segments when I feel like I need to sharpen things up a bit, and a few focused efforts get the job done in terms of what I’m typically looking for. A typical ride for me this time of year is usually a few hours at endurance or tempo, endurance with a couple of longer threshold efforts, or repeats of shorter efforts. It’s pretty easy to use RPE for threshold and above once you’ve got a good feel for it.

In terms of getting faster, I’d say structured training with power & heart rate data is going to be the most effective, but you can certainly build plenty of fitness without any electronics! :low_battery:

The pros of going this route are that you don’t need to charge up batteries just to ride a bicycle, and you get to focus on the experience of the ride instead of whether the numbers are good enough or not. :innocent:

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How many of the fastest guys you know have learnt to train without power or modern indoor trainers?

In my experience there is more variability: some spend quite a bit of time on Zwift and do weekend rides, most train in the morning. Some have a coach, others are self-coached. Many don’t seem to follow any kind of training plan, at least that’s what their Strava profile suggests (they might hide their workouts).

At the very tip you have former pros and former college athletes. Almost all of them use indoor trainers, though. One of the fastest master’s athletes is old-school, but basically he is using what he was taught — 20 years ago. (No offense to him, it clearly works for him, he knows the process and himself.) He doesn’t need a power meter for a lot of his training, because he didn’t have one when he was “growing up”. What makes him fast is the extraordinary dedication, me thinks. Last month he posted he did his 100th gym workout this season. He also coaches someone for free. Plus, he’s a cool dude.

Apart from things like bike handling skills, I don’t think it matters much whether you train indoors or outdoors. Indoors is more time efficient, outdoors can be much more enjoyable.

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my favorite part of the April 2023 polarized plan update was the “no difference in training outcomes as compared to regular base/build plans, when controlling for compliance.”

I’m not sure how much I share, besides very little. I bet you’ll see 1000 miles on my profile right now, but I’m usually in the 10-15k a year (with a lot of mountain biking and running), so use Strava with caution.

I’m not against data, and I feel like for the “time crunched”, something like TR and having all this data is ideal.

But I don’t feel like there is a huge revelation in training right now, just small increments. Eat less junk (my weakness), lots of Z1/2, do intervals (long climbs, short VO2, etc), and rest when you feel tired. That’s all you need to be in the top 1% (oh, and genetics).

I did have a coach a while back who made a big deal about me being better about intervals and less “just riding hard”. But when I look back on what he had me doing to make me fast, it was the same thing I was already doing (I was already doing huge volume, low effort) but written on paper (or TrainingPeaks). What I really got out of the coaching was learning how better to perform on race day, and I didn’t realize it until after I “fired” him (financial reasons, and I had a ton of positive feedback).

That’s why I want to try and go back to where I was. I know how to execute now (did have a great event last fall to remind myself), and I know how to read my body, I just need to focus less on the numbers and more on doing the work, in a fun way. TR and training plans have kind of spun my brain making me feel like if I don’t follow the plan, then I’m a failure. That’s a motivation killer.

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To answer the OP question on experiences, I’ve found the following three points consistently emerge whenever I’ve rode outdoors without using a PM - noting in most of these cases I’ve done it by choice so the ride is still recorded but the head unit was in my pocket as I’ve deliberately wanted to avoid obsessing about data and just focus on the fun aspect:

  • it’s liberating not focusing on the head unit and instead spending more time taking in the environment - feels more like cycling did (playing bikes?) when I was a kid :grin:

  • if putting in an effort on a climb (more than a couple of minutes) I’ve found that the power I hold is higher based on feel, so effectively I push myself a tiny (but noticeable) bit harder when not self limiting to what I perceive is my numerical limit - so probably tells me two things:
    i) - I can go harder than I think
    ii) - the head unit is super valuable when training to avoid over cooking things if doing multiple hill reps / intervals (ie it’s quite easy to end up going too hard without realising)

  • riding to ‘feel’ is very subjective and so for an easy, social, just ‘going riding’ spin there is no issue, however for training it’s less accurate and so (probably) less effective if wanting to take a consistent structured approach

These are just my own personal take-aways from my experiences so may be vastly differ to those of others :+1:t2:

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I haven’t done it for extended periods. But I’ve done endurance rides with just a map up (and time/distance/etc). Honestly, since doing so much riding/training with power I could probably do most of my riding and training without it. It’s definitely more precise with a PM but I’ve got my RPE pretty well calibrated to the point where I could probably hit interval averages to within like 10ish watts.

As it is, I don’t really look at power on endurance/chill rides. Taking the power away is really just a psychological hurdle and just requires you to pay attention to and trust your internal effort gauge

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Not quite riding without data then :sweat_smile:

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I’ll do Z1/2 stuff sometimes with the map only, on review afterwards I’ll review things to make sure I stayed in zone, I usually conservatively did.
Before I had power and knew about HR the club used to do hill repeats and chaingang loops (each lap building in intensity. On review of them I’d be looking at the strava segment times and how they compared climb to climb and lap to lap. I think though I prefer a target or just glancing down when RPE goes up and seeing where I am (eg 75% max HR) and knowing I’ve got plenty left in the tank.
The closest I’ll get to HIIT structure without a target now is in the warm up for a TT when I’ll do sprints for a count of 10 but those aren’t analysed.

I’ve been riding my Zone 2 rides for a few weeks without looking at power in ride (I still record…just made an activity profile with just a map).

One thing I’m noticing is my RPE-meter is broken. I go waaay to low in power during my Zone 2 rides. the middle of my zone 2 is 200-210…so if i’m fresher I might go ~220-225…if i’m trashed I do fine around ~190. without looking at power I have gotten home and I’m at 160 :frowning:

just much lower than I would like. So probably gonna ride with power on my screen 4/5 times to calibrate myself better. but that’ll be my goal.

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I see absolutely nothing wrong with this

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Sometimes more data is just ‘more data’.

I had a ‘heart scare’, and started watching every day the numbers from my Garmin strap on the screen, and adjusting my output to what I thought I should be at. I reduced effort because of the data. I was ‘riding the numbers’. After a consult with an ‘expert’, and more tests, I was told: You are perfect, more than perfect. Ride like hell!! Boy did I feel silly.

I did buy a power meter set, and did look at the data, but in the end only looked at the highs. Perhaps I could have saved a lot of money and just kept riding and training like I was doing and let any complications guide me. It was cool to see the max power numbers at times. I stopped watching my heart rate, and just kept riding. More data is more data… More data is often useless…

But I am still amazed at the numbers of people that don’t use heart rate straps. :man_shrugging:

What is your threshold? Zone 2 at 200-225w is pretty high, and if your RPE is that off, are those zone 2 rides really not anything but aerobic? I’m not saying you’re definitively going too hard, but if you go that much lower when riding to perceived aerobic rides, your power goal may be too high.

I do, @genefish’s intent no longer matched his workout. A quick back-of-the-envelope computation suggests his FTP is around 280 W. That puts the top of Z1 at around 170 W.

Will that “ruin” his training? No, but it won’t be optimal, especially considering that he will likely see similarly large deviations in other power zones, too.

Likely around 280 W. Just play with numbers in a power zone calculator until the middle of Z2 lands in the 200–210 W range.

In my experience basing that on RPE alone is very problematic. I don’t have a power meter on my mountain bike and have to make do with heart rate and RPE. Having two metrics for your effort is better than one.

Having power in addition to RPE and heart rate is better if you are unsure. (I pace endurance rides by heart rate as I find that a more enjoyable experience than looking at power numbers.)

~300

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