How to Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Using  a cycle computer during your rides is an fun way to see how many miles you did,  how many calories you burned, or uploading to Strava see your route and KOMs.   Understanding how to train and race with a cycle computer will help you meet your goals and improve your performance.

Many cycle computers allow you to set your heart rate and power zones. To get your power and heart rate zones  do a field test and use our zone calculator once you completed the test.

For reference I use a Garmin 820, but this post will work for many cycle computers, not just Garmins.  Here is how I have my Garmin 820 setup.

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Power Zone Zone Settings

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Heart Rate Zone Settings

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Data Recording Settings

Pacing

Knowing how to pace in training and racing is hard to learn, but you can use your device to help you.   I use three functions for pacing, at least one of these should work for you.   I prefer pacing using IF (Intensity Factor).

Another method is to use NP (Normalized Power) over your entire ride.  It will take some time to learn what your NP can be over different workout durations.  You can have a high NP for short sessions, and a lower NP for longer sessions.    You can target specific NP values for a ride and try to keep it in a range relative to your Power zones.

Alternative to using power, you can use Heart Rate.  Heart Rate is slow to react to efforts, which makes pacing  hard to manage.  Using the HR zone where you have sustained efforts you can gage your effort.  HR may also change if you are ill, dehydrated or fatigued which makes pacing with HR even more difficult.   If you are serious about training, a power meter is highly recommended.

Alerts for zone and fueling

I like to set my Garmin to alert every 10 min to remind me to fuel.  I use Infinit and all my fuel is in my water bottle for a race or during training.  When I see the alert I know it’s time to take a couple of swigs.  This keeps me well fueled and ready for big efforts or long rides.

If your coach has told you to ride in (or stay out of) a specific zone during a training session or race, it could be helpful to set an alert to tell you so.  For example, your coach may have told you to stay out of zone 5 for your workout.  Set the zone alert to tell you when you are out of the zone.  When you hear it go off you can back off by lowering your gears or effort.

Setup Your Cycle Computer Data Pages

Training and Racing Page

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Main Page

This page is the default page you use when on a Training Ride or Race.   It shows all the main details of the overall ride.  Below is an example screen.

  • Time: the elapsed time of the ride.
  • Power: the 1 sec power number.  This value changes frequently.
  • NP: Normalized Power is essentially your avg power with the zeros removed.  Zeros are accumulated when coasting or stopped with the timer still running.  In MTB there is a lot of coasting, so it’s good to see what your power is when pedaling.
  • Speed: It’s fun to see how fast you are going.
  • Distance: Distance isn’t really that important in cycling, but how much distance you cover over time is fun or if you are trying to see how much distance you covered over time.
  • Cadence: Many structured workouts have cadence drills.  A higher cadence (90 RPM) is more economical than a lower cadence.
  • IF: Intensity Factor gives you an idea how hard you are going.  Our workouts often have IF targets to help guide you.  It’s also important to help you with pacing.  If you are doing a hard ride, IF will be closer to 1.0, and should probably be .87 +.  Easy to Moderate rides are .75 – .85.     Recovery rides are .75 or less.
  • HR Zone: Structured workouts often target a specific zone to follow.  Displaying it here will keep you on target.
  • Power Zone: Structured workouts often target a specific zone to follow.  Displaying it here will keep you on target.

Intervals/Lap Page

This page is great when doing intervals or laps during training and racing.  Using this page gives you insight on your times and power values for each lap/interval.

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Lap/Interval Page

  • Current Lap Time: Your Lap or Interval time.  This is important when doing intervals.  Count those seconds down
  • Power: the 1 sec power number.
  • Lap Power:  When doing intervals this is helpful to keep you in check.  You can use it to help pace yourself and stay on target for the intervals.
  • Laps: The number of completed laps.   After a lot of intervals or time racing this will help you keep track of where you are in your workout or race.
  • Lap Distance: If you are on a course with distinct laps/loops, it might be good to know how far until you complete the loop.
  • Cadence: Many structured workouts have cadence drills.
  • IF: Intensity Factor gives you an idea how hard you are going.  Our workouts often have IF targets to help guide you.  It’s also important to help you with pacing.If you are doing a hard ride, IF will be closer to 1.0, and should probably be .87 +.  Easy to Moderate rides are .75 – .85.     Recovery rides are .75 or less.
  • HR Zone: Structured workouts often target a specific zone to follow.  Displaying it here will keep you on target.
  • Power Zone: Structured workouts often target a specific zone to follow.  Displaying it here will keep you on target.

Summary Page

The summary page is good to show how much work you have done so far, including other attributes that you don’t need to see all the time.  I like to show the kilojoules, TSS, current elevation, total ascent and total descent and temperature.  You may find you want to show other fields.  The two fields I recommend showing are the Kilojoules and TSS.  Kilojoules will help you keep track of how much energy you have burned and keep your fueling inline.  TSS is good to show for any of our Athletes we are coaching because we give TSS estimates for daily and weekly targets.

Train and Race with a Cycle Computer

Summary Page

  • Time of Day: Could be used for many reasons, but I like to know the time in case I have an appt or other activities to attend to.
  • Temp: This could be useful to help you layer property in cold weather, or shed in high temps.   But I just like to know how cold it is sometime when I’m riding.  It rarely gets that hot in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Battery: If you know your battery level then you’ll know when it needs to be charge.  Don’t let your coach down by running out of battery.
  • Heading: For the directionally challenged.
  • Kilojoules: Equates to how much energy you have burned.  This is especially important for rides/races longer than 2hrs.  There are lots of articles on how Kj are translated into calories and your fueling needs. Coach Daniel Matheny wrote a very good article on it a couple of years ago.
  • TSS: Training Stress Score is often a target on our workouts.  Use this a guide to help meet your workout goals.
  • Elevation: If you live where you can get some elevation, it’s fun to see how high you got. Those that ride in the Rocky Mountain love seeing the 12k-13k on our devices.
  • Total Ascent: Some of our workouts have suggested elevation gain.  Use it to help track your progress in meeting the workout goals
  • Grade: How steep is this freaking hill?
  • Total Descent:  I don’t often look at total descent, but it’s fun to compare to ascent.

I hope you have found this helpful  If you have your own screen preferences, please share them on our Facebook page.

Posted in Training Blog.
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cwilhelm

Head Coach for mtbcoach.com. USAC Certified Cycling Coach.