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Power PRs vs KOMs: all that glitters is not gold; New FTP established.

Thursday, November 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


I have been a Strava user for a few years now, and I think it’s a great service. The interesting thing about that, though, is how drastically my reasons for liking Strava have changed since I first started using it in 2012.

Like most competitive people–and I am most definitely that–I was first drawn to Strava for its timed segment “virtual competition” features. In those early days it was all about chasing down as many KOM crowns as I could, and rising as high as possible on the leaderboards. Over time, however, it became obvious that Strava’s leaderboards are far from black and white: they don’t (and can’t) account for the numerous variables that affect speed and segment times.

What sorts of variables? Oh let’s see… you’ve got tailwinds vs headwinds vs crosswinds vs no winds, group rides/pacelines vs solo riders, road bikes vs recumbent bikes vs time trial bikes (and more), the dubious practice of motopacing, and even those sad individuals who have such a low sense of self-worth that they outright cheat.

There was never a point at which I flipped a mental switch, but over time and with experience my reasons for enjoying Strava shifted dramatically. These changes were gradual, and went mostly unnoticed by me–that is until a friend of mine recently joined Strava for the first time. This rider’s list of concerns–which closely mirrored my own Strava frets back in the early days–really brought into focus how differently I now view Strava.

I gave my friend the following advice: “Ride hard, have fun and let the Strava chips fall where they may. If you start worrying about group/no group, wind direction, cheaters and other variables you can’t control, it becomes a grind and takes the fun out of it.

…and that pretty much sums up my current philosophy about that aspect of Strava. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the virtual competition feature of Strava, but I take it with a grain of salt, and I definitely don’t take it too seriously or stress over it.

Thankfully Strava has evolved considerably since its early days, and now offers significantly more to its members than just leaderboards. This is especially true for Premium members, and those who ride and train with power meters get even more bang for their Premium membership buck. I have numerous articles discussing some of Strava’s many lesser-known, yet highly useful, features in the Articles section of my site.

KOMs are nice, but they are comparatively worthless to me next to power output PRs.

KOMs are nice, but they are comparatively worthless to me next to power output PRs.

I mentioned power meters in the previous paragraph. Once I started riding and training with a power meter, everything changed for me. If you want to know what I consider to be the single best single investment a cyclist who wants to get faster can make, my answer is simple: get a power meter.

As most of you know, I’m a data junkie. I absolutely love analyzing my ride data, and I make no apologizes for it. One of the most enjoyable facets of cycling is sitting down after a hard ride with a recovery smoothie and going over my ride data. Of that ride data, none is more important to me than the data gathered from my power meter. This post-ride data analysis is not only fun and interesting, it makes me faster: I can quickly pinpoint my weaknesses, and then work on addressing those holes in my game.

We all ride for different reasons, so when people say to me, “Oh wow, man, like, just enjoy the ride, dude!”, my reaction is, “Who the hell are you to tell me how I should enjoy cycling?” The arrogance of a statement like that is staggering. I am enjoying the ride–my way. How about you ride the way you want, and I’ll ride the way I want.

I’m finally getting to the main point of today’s blog (thanks for sticking with me!)

To me KOMs are weaksauce compared to power output personal records. As mentioned above, Strava segment times are affected by any number of factors that are completely outside my control. Power output PRs, on the other hand, do not lie (assuming a properly calibrated and accurate power meter, which almost all are these days). None of the external factors that find their way onto the Strava leaderboards will improve power output. Power meters are pure and honest, and they answer one simple question: how much power was I able to transfer to the drivetrain over a given period of time? I like that.

So when I upload a ride to Strava, there was once a time I zeroed in on the trophies like a laser. These days I take note of the glimmer, but I usually gloss over the virtual awards and immediately head over to the most exciting part of my ride data: my power curve. That’s the real stuff. When I see that I’ve set a new power output personal record, I get infinitely more satisfaction from that compared to a new KOM.

For example, on yesterday’s ride I took down three new KOMs, but that’s not what made me smile: it was the 5 power output PRs I set! I put down more power for 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 minutes than I ever have in my life. That’s tangible improvement, that’s worth smiling about. Here are the new PRs:

08 minutes: 338 watts
09 minutes: 340 watts
10 minutes: 342 watts
11 minutes: 338 watts
12 minutes: 326 watts

These results were obtained over a 10m15s effort (yes, inspired by a segment), and the cool thing is that I actually increased my average wattage output over the final two minutes of a very tough effort (+4 watts at 10 minutes vs. 8 minutes). This indicates to me that I could have gone a little harder. 🙂

Strava will accurately estimate your FTP using established methods (90% of an 8-minute effort, or 95% of a 20-minute effort), and display that on your power curve (click to enlarge):

My current power curve, with my new FTP of 305.

My current power curve, with my new FTP of 305.


My new FTP is 305–a 16 watt improvement over my previous FTP of 291, which was established three months ago. That’s a very nice improvement, and I actually believe it to be a little on the low side since I continued to increase my wattage output for two minutes after the 8 minute mark. I’ve also set new 1.5 hour, 2 hour, 2.5 hour and 5 hour power PRs this month, so I’ve definitely become stronger over the past few months.

Even though I’ve added a little weight, my power output improvements have more than offset that, giving me a new FTP/Kg of 4.02–a slight improvement.

My complete current power data is always available on my Power Output page.

I am going to be easing up a bit as we close out 2014, but in early 2015 when I cut weight and resume hard training I am confident that I can further improve my power output while dropping about 15 pounds. Even if I only maintain my current power output, 68.04 kilograms (150 pounds) would put me at 4.48 FTP/Kg, which is well into Cat 2 territory.

John Stone Fitness Comments

8 Responses to “Power PRs vs KOMs: all that glitters is not gold; New FTP established.”
  1. Good blog with good points about Strava. I would also add that Strava has provided a nice social outlet for cycling as well. For me I would have never known about the WSC Saturday morning ride if I hadn’t been going head to head on some segments with some of those guys, which then led to their ride and getting to know them outside of Strava. I know the end of this year was a bit hectic for all of us, but I forsee some good group rides in particular with our sites set on 6 Gap together next year as well. Plus it’s just fun to poke back and forth about rides and segments with guys. My wife is always asking if there is any good Strava “drama” going on.

    As far as power meters I have been on the proverbial fence for years on whether or not I want to take my cycling in that direction. I am convinced it is the best form of training I just don’t know if I want to commit to the numbers that much, and worry a bit that without the proper guidance or coaching wouldn’t get the most bang for my buck perhaps even getting a little frustrated with it. If I were racing I would definitely commit to that form of training in an effort to “put my best foot forward”, but for my goals I’m not sure it’s right for me so I guess we’ll see.

    I know you are playing your cards close to the vest John, but if I were a betting man I would say you have your sights set on some racing next year! From what little experience I had with local racing I would say your biggest frustration will be the early phases of having to race in categories far below your fitness level and the horribly dangerous tactics and maneuvers from inexperienced riders that often lead to crashes and usually lots of drama.

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    • I totally agree with you about the social aspect of Strava. I’ve met dozens and dozens of people in real life solely due to Strava. Of those people, many have become regular riding partners, some have become good friends and a few have even become very close friends.

      Yeah, with regards to power meters I feel they are the number one bang for the buck cycling investment for those who wish to become faster, but there’s a time/learning investment that needs to happen in addition to the financial investment. Those who purchase a PM and don’t take the time to learn how to use the data it provides have wasted their money. That’s why I recommend the Allen/Coggan book, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”. As far as I’m concerned it’s a must-have book for all power meter owners. My review is here: http://www.johnstonefitness.com/2014/04/23/must-have-book-for-power-meter-owners/

      I’ve corresponded with Dr. Coggan and, while friendly, he’s so intelligent that I feel like a child trying to hold a conversation with him. He really knows his stuff: http://www.johnstonefitness.com/2014/07/18/email-from-dr-coggan-analysis-of-my-power-data-using-wko-4/

      As for racing, you touched on the main thing holding me back. Those Cat 5 races are notoriously dangerous. I was talking to Hector about this, and he said I should try the Lake Louisa races next year. He said they are pretty safe, and not categorized. Adam Baskin (Cat One Fitness) runs them. I think that’s my ticket.

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      • The one summer I tried a little racing I went out to the Lake Louisa races a few times. It is definitely a safer alternative and a nice midweek diversion. Adam has definitely turned that event into an enjoyable staple of the local racing scene. It definitely doesn’t have the same element as I experienced as described below.

        The first and only race outside of Lake Louisa I did was as a Cat 5 out in Clermont with the loop that has the finish on Bruce Hunt. Everyone told me never go with a break on a Cat 5 because they never stick. As luck would have it a two-man break did stick so I was in the bunch sprint for 3rd place. I had scouted the finish earlier in the week in anticipation of a sprint and where I would go for it if it came down to that. It actually worked out exactly as I had anticipated, and I made my move on this slight incline to the finish. I was stronger than the field and had pulled a couple of bike lengths ahead and had it in the bag. Had it in the bag that is until I realized the Cat 4 race going after us was staged on the start/finish line right in our way!!! The race promoter had completely screwed the pooch and was trying to start the Cat 4 race between the breakaway and the bunch sprint. To avoid crashing into the Cat 4 guys standing on the line I let up and some guy came tearing around me crossing the line ahead of me and crashing into some of the Cat 4 guys. Thankfully nobody went down, but the Cat 4 guys were pissed. The guy who went around me could have cared less and was celebrating like an idiot. I confronted him, and told him it was obvious I had let up to avoid the other racers and he said he didn’t care he would do whatever it took to win. I kid you not he really said that and had no qualms claiming a place on the podium. The race promoter recognized the situation, and in an attempt to satisfy me put us both on the podium, but a check of the USA Cycling website you will see I am forever memorialized as having finished in 4th place…LOL!!! I never received my medal as promised by the promoter, but I certainly received a lesson in lower category racing and what guys will do to win a race that amounts to about nothing. I think the biggest problem is the lower categories are full of young guys and as a 40-something year old guy I understand there is more to life than risking life and limb to win a meaningless race. I actually petitioned and moved up to Category 4 the next year, but never raced again. I pretty much decided events like 6 Gap were more rewarding and age appropriate at least for me personally.

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  2. john i don’t even ride a bike and i read every word of your blogs every day because they are so interesting. you make me want to start riding a bike just because you are so f**king inspiring. you should quit your job with computers and write for a living dude, serious.

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