Saturday, October 10, 2015

Stryd Pioneer - Further Review

So I've been using the Stryd Pioneer for about three weeks now.  For the most part, my impression was simple:

The device is simple.  It's essentially built into a heart rate monitor.  The Pioneer fits on the garmin premium soft strap, and... done.  Set your weight in the app (which has come out since my last post) and go run.

I'm not going to get into the workings, mostly because dammit I'm a firefighter, Jim, not a computer programmer.

So far the device works VERY well on pavement.  And the potential is huge.  But as I get more used to the device, there are some things that need development to really access the potential the device has.

I've been told the device stores data, and also has the potential to measure run metrics like the new garmin run heart rate monitor does.  Right now, accessing that data is pretty limited, and unfortunately if you have to choose between the garmin hrm run and the stryd, you're missing out on a dataset that the other doesn't provide.  The Stryd has also not been set up to be used on a treadmill.  Which is somewhat frustrating, as the device was originally supposed to clip on and be used separate from the heart rate monitor that WOULD provide that data.  Add that to the data recording side where you can record in run mode without power, or cycling mode without run metrics....  But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Let's talk about run zones.  Can you tell me how to set them?  No?  Me either.  Basically, no one knows anything about how to set run zones.  As with cycling, when power came to the sport, it took a long time to figure out just how to apply it.  That's were we're at.  BUT...  Here's the thing....  Using the protocol developed by Stryd, I was able to set my threshold at 240 watts.  Taking it out and playing with it resulted in an endurance pace between 190 and 210, and a tempo pace of 210-230.  Recovery falls below 190.  So there are clearly some defined zones.  After three weeks with the Stryd, I've tweaked the zones for the following:

Z1 (recovery) < 82%
Z2 (endurance) 82% - 88%
Z3 (tempo) 89 - 95%
Z4 (threshold) 96% - 104%
Z5 (anaerobic) >104%

Definitely not the same as in cycling.  Which, when you think about it, makes a ton of sense because in cycling, you're using a mechanical advantage with a fixed method of reading power (torque on a chain or a pedal).  In running, you're using the data from an accelerometer.  You're having to read data as it is interpreted from movement rather than as torque.  Problem?  Not really.  As long as you always run on the same surface.

Wait, what?

So when discussing power, you're talking about the force used to push a body through space.  Force production rather than force absorption.  Which - for where I want to go with this post, I will have to come back to.  In the meantime, when you run on sand, on soft surfaces, where the absorption of force is higher, your power tends to read a bit lower.  Which tends to mess with consistency a bit. So while it may take you 280 watts to push your feet out of sand, the fancy accelerometer that you've attached to your chest may interpret the data as 220 watts.

See the problem?

Since I'm a pavement runner (not a fan of cactus lined trails) this really doesn't affect me much but it is something that will need to be addressed in the future.  Personally, I suspect you could do the critical power protocol from Stryd to figure out profiles for different surfaces, then apply that offset to the power later.  For now, you might have to figure that out manually, and set different profiles in Training Peaks.

What's that you say?  Different profiles in Training Peaks? Yep!

Training Peaks has the ability to set different power profiles in the software that you can apply to different activities.  I've set power zones on my own account for running, and it appears that once the data is safely nestled in the arms of training peaks software, the training stress score is calculated based on power...  The way it is in cycling.  HOWEVER....  This is when we get to the really frustrating part.  Garmin hasn't seen fit to enable power recording in run mode using their watches.  So you have to run in cycling mode, then update the run after you've uploaded to whatever software you're using.  This is infinitely frustrating because it requires a great deal of babysitting the data.  So if anyone at Garmin is reading this, this is something that needs to be addressed.  Immediately.  In respect to other methods of recording data - I've paired the device with Maximum Trainer, and attempted to pair it with Zwift - both had differing levels of success.  It all comes down to that little ability to predict distance on a treadmill.  (Which I'm told the ability to predict distance is coming).

Trust me, I totally get it.  I'm using first of it's kind technology and getting frustrated when it isn't supported by companies that stand to make a profit in conjunction with it...  But when something this potentially ground breaking comes out, you better believe that if someone wants to use a power meter when they run, then you better have that channel open to recording.  ASAP....  (To be honest, if I were someone of any importance at Garmin, I'd be hanging over Stryd's shoulders, waiting for it to be released... "Is it ready yet, is it ready yet, is it ready yet?  It is?  RELEASE THE FIRMWARE UPDATE!!!")

To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure why Garmin has to only have a single mode that uses multiple sports for that mode.  If you could record on all channels during a single workout, those of us with high maintenance tendencies could create the laps later based on gps and data recorded.  A true "Multisport" mode that records all the data, all the time, based on what data to expect, I can set up laps later and determine what is a swim, bike, run, or transition after the fact.  Meaning, I can record power in that mode during any segment I want....  Problem solved.

As a runner that crossed over to triathlon, statistically, my bike has predicted a slower run, or my run predicts a faster bike...  (Either way I need to spend more time on the bike...)  Now, for the first time, we can see the links between power on the bike and power on the run - something we have previously had no real way of measuring against each other.  "What about heart rate" you ask?  Well, about that...  There is at least one small study that indicates that when pure cyclists run, their max heart rates are identical to what they can produce on the bike.  Ask any triathlete what their heart rate max is, and they'll ask if you want to know bike or run.  While the study I just mentioned suggested that the ability to push heart rate to insane levels comes down to muscle fiber recruitment, obviously, we're looking at different scales here.  Ever try getting your heart rate to match on a treadmill vs outdoors for the same pace?  Not happening.  So, for the very first time we have a metric that is uninfluenced by outside (pun intended, lol) factors where we can really get into the brass tacks on how bike power and run power are linked.  Forget power - we can start to see how run ability/potential and bike ability/potential are linked.  For the very first time.  And did I mention - we can finally see the links for the first time?  So if I follow the data, the difference between my bike threshold and my run threshold is about 20%...  I came over from running and can definitely speed up on the bike.  If a pure cyclist has a difference of 0%, then I suspect the well balanced, fast triathletes are at a difference of 5-15%. It seems that to propel a body forward on a bicycle through space would take less power than to propel a body upward and forward with no mechanical advantage.  The study linking heart rate and muscle fiber recruitment might be the key to finding balance - are cyclists only able to recruit muscle fibers for running that they use while cycling, or are runners not able to recruit their entire leg when they get on the bike?  I suspect the answer lies in the middle somewhere. Say around 5-15%?

So let's go back to force produced vs force absorbed.  I'd heard someone say that if power came down at the same pace under similar conditions, that meant form had improved.  The more I ran, the more I thought about that - and the more I'm convinced that may not be the case.  I get the impression that producing less force at the same pace might actually mean better muscle efficiency - but not necessarily form.  I think a better measure might be force absorbed.

See - as coaches, we tell our runners to quicken their cadence with the idea that with faster cadence comes shorter strides and less force absorbed - with the endpoint being minimizing force absorbed by the runner, because all that shock absorbed just wears those poor little runner legs out. With better form, we assume that people get faster.  And as you get stronger at a faster cadence, your strides lengthen again because you can hurl your body through space faster.

But no one is measuring how much force is absorbed by the body.

Now that we have a device that measures force produced, it seems that the other side of the equal sign would be force absorbed.  If you can measure that with some degree of accuracy in runners across the spectrum, you'd probably get a better picture of runners across all terrains, all surface types.  Obviously force absorption increases when running downhill if you lean back into the run, but lean forward, and force absorption decreases...

Meaning - you can use force absorbed in combination with force produced to determine how hard a runner is working to move through space.  The bottom line is now that we can measure power with some degree of accuracy, I think we're missing a significant part of the picture.

Ultimately - here's my view on the Stryd Pioneer.  The device is a bad ass little piece of technology that is going to reshape run coaching as we know it.  It's going to reshape everything.  We're going to get a better picture of how run power is linked to cycling power - whether you come from running or cycling - and we're going to be able to use that to tune our athletes and ourselves better with regard to which sport needs more work.  We're going to be able to look at run form in a new light.  We are going to train differently, look at the data differently, and we are going to be able to achieve because we can apply the same principle to different data with better results.  I'm very excited that the Stryd Pioneer is out, and I'm even more excited to see where the industry goes with it.  I believe that run power is going to reshape the industry the way cycling power did.  So when Garmin enables power in run mode, and Stryd enables the device to do run metrics and to measure distance on a treadmill, I think the device is going to be a game changer.

For myself - I'm excited to be using the device.  As my power profile fills out, it's telling a very interesting picture.  Now we just need the software/firmware support on the end user side to support it as thoroughly as bike power is supported.