When 32-year-old runner and triathlete Charles Garabedian of Boulder, Colorado, ran the Rock-n-Roll Las Vegas half-marathon last November, he was thrilled to clock a 1:20 finish — a full five minutes faster than his time at another half just four weeks prior. He knew a month wasn’t long enough to transform his fitness; the big improvement had to have come from something else.
Garabedian’s theory? It was paying attention to his energy output, a number he measured via a power meter, a new tool for runners. The meter — a small, oval-shaped pod — clips onto your waistband and syncs with most existing smart watches or cell phone apps via Bluetooth or ANT. “I took my wattage results from the earlier race and changed my strategy for the second one,” he says. “In Vegas, I paid attention and kept my power output lower in the first half of the race and then went for it around mile eight or nine. I didn’t blow it early on, like I had a month before when my output was about 100 watts higher starting the course.”
Power output is a very individualized number, but for any runner, the goal is to run faster at a lower sustained output. By learning typical outputs for different distances and paces, runners are able to hone in on the right range for them for racing, as Garabedian did in his second race.
The small tech device Garabedian clipped to his waistband is the first power meter of its kind, specifically for runners, developed by start up company Stryd. The product measures power output — as expressed by wattage — and sends the data wirelessly to a user’s watch or phone. Wattage is the result of a complex algorithm that takes into account factors like air time, cadence and foot impact on the ground. The lower your wattage at a faster pace over a sustained period of time, the more efficiently you are running. In other words, the meter is the first tool to allow runners to measure their energy output in a tangible metric.
The Power Meter: A New Running Metric
Power meters have been around for the past decade for cycling and are widely used by both cyclists and triathletes. For this reason, Stryd founder and CEO Robert Dick believes that triathletes will probably be the first to buy in to the same idea for running. “They’re already comfortable with the technology, while this is a new concept for runners,” he says. “But once runners understand how it works and how they can benefit from it, it will click.”
The Stryd meter offers pavement pounders and trail blazers a metric they can’t get elsewhere, like in a GPS watch. “It measures how the body moves,” explains Dick. “It can help the runner determine whether or not changes in form or pace can result in more overall efficiency.”
Early adopter Garabedian discovered that he was less efficient at his easier paces and so he experimented with his form to make improvements. “I found that I was sloppy at slow speeds, expending much more energy than necessary,” he says. “So I practiced getting my cadence up and learning to keep my head still, and that brought my wattage back down.”
“Out of all the tools introduced in the past 20 years, this has the potential to make the biggest impact.”
For most runners, it will take some trial and error with the meter to determine the “sweet spot” for them on energy output or wattage. “After a few runs, you will understand your power curve though, which is a rough idea for how much power you need to get through a sustained effort,” says Dick.
This range will be very different from one runner to the next. An elite runner, for instance, will likely have a lower power curve at higher paces and for longer distances than an age-group athlete.
Knowing this information about yourself and your running ability can especially come in handy on race day, says Dick. “If you know you average around 200 watts on your training runs and you go into a race averaging 300 in the first few miles, you’d better reel yourself in,” he says.
While Dick and Garabedian say the power meter will change the way runners train, elite runner, coach and founder of Runners Connect, Jeff Gaudette, is still skeptical. “I think there is some benefit, but in my opinion, the ‘danger’ outweighs it,” he explains. “I think the good part is that the meter gives some actionable data, like cadence for example, that can make improving running form and efficiency easier,” Gaudette says. “On the other hand, most runners shouldn’t try to act on this data unless they have a very good understanding of biomechanics, which most runners don’t.”
Gaudette also believes that some of the data provided isn’t that useful, like ground contact, for instance, “because it’s going to change drastically depending on pace,” he says. “There is no ideal ground contact time. Yes, improving it helps you run faster, but it’s not something you should actively try to improve. Trying to pick your foot up too fast could lead to a host of injuries tying.”
The Future of Running Data
As of now, Stryd appears to be the only company offering this specific technology. Even Garmin, leading maker of GPS running watches, says it has no plans to enter the market. “Our Forerunner 620 with heart rate monitor already provides vertical oscillation, cadence, and ground contact,” says spokesperson Amy Nouri. “Runners can use that data to find wasted energy and improve their strides.”
While Stryd is funded and deliveries to Kickstarter supporters will begin in fall, runners can order now through the company’s Kickstarter site for a pledge of $449, which includes a GPS watch.
Only time will tell if power meters will catch on in the running community. Garabedian remains a believer: “Out of all the tools introduced in the past 20 years, this has the potential to make the biggest impact.”