I got my start in road cycling through mountain biking. Kind of like Cadel Evans, except not at all like Cadel Evans. I enjoyed it, but was never very good at it, I’m still not very good at it, but I still enjoy riding dirt once in a while.
When I’d ride trails around my home in suburban Chicago, or singletrack in southern Wisconsin, I never really cared about how fast I was going, all that mattered was keeping it upright, which quite often proved to be a challenge.
Then a year later I got my first road bike, and compared to my mountain bike, it went fast. Clearly, the first thing I needed to know was exactly how fast it went. So I got one of those cheep cycling computers that just measures speed and distance. And that satisfied my curiosity.
Then, my friends, who have been road cycling a bit longer than I, said I really needed a heart rate monitor. “Why?” I asked. They told me that I would be able to train better with an HRM, and I would know my efforts and how hard I was going. “Huh?” I thought I could figure that out because I felt like I was going to puke and my legs were on fire?!
A year later, I got my first Garmin – Edge 305 with an HRM and a cadence sensor (a useless piece of information, I thought at the time). And all of a sudden, I could no longer go on a ride without one. I needed to know. I wanted to see how hard my heart was beating, how hard I was working. Going by feel suddenly wasn't enough. What's worse, I stopped trusting "the feel."
Instead of saying, “boy, that was one killer MTB ride we just did.” I’d say, “shit! I don’t think I’ve ever seen my heart rate that high for so long!” What the hell does that even mean?
Then a couple more years passed and I started getting curious about power. I started training indoors at Vision Quest in Chicago and really got hooked on them. I’m a numbers kinda guy in general, so it should come as no surprise. It would be another couple of years before I decided it was finally time to fork over the dollars for a power meter. And all of a sudden, riding became even more calculated and numeric.
Every race was a dilemma: do I race with my heavy powertap, or the lighter race wheel set but no power data? Almost always I’d opt out for the latter and feel a little guilty about it.
A little time passed, and I got familiar with my power outputs and stopped being dependent on the meter, and raced without it, being able to fairly accurately estimate the stress after the race given past performances with the power meter. So that became less of an issue. Then at one point, it was race day and my HR died, and I raced with no data other than the feelings in my legs and the speed on my Garmin – that first little piece of data I was curious about as a novice road cyclist.
And all of a sudden, I stopped caring about the numbers. I no longer need to see the numbers, and a lot of times I don’t want to see the numbers. (Interval training being the exception) “Why do I need HR and power?” – Sound familiar?
Numbers are great, and I love them. I love sitting down with my Golden Cheetah once or twice a week and checking out my workouts, and stress scores, and seeing what my body has been up to, but the desire for real time feed back during a ride or a race is no longer as important to me. In fact, I finally did what many of my fellow racers did a long time ago, I created a Garmin screen for racing only, time/distance/speed (that one I still enjoy seeing). I guess you can say I’ve come full circle.