Tips & Recipes

Gravel meets power

Emily discusses the role of power in gravel racing

November 3, 2022

Between her road bike, her gravel bike, and her mountain bike, it’s safe to say Emily Newsom rides her bike — a lot.

But there’s more to successful racing than just chamois time. For Emily, keeping an eye on her power is one of the most valuable data points to a rider.

“Usually during a race, I don’t ever look at my power,” Emily says. “But then after the race when I upload it to TrainingPeaks, I usually take a look at peak power and see what were my peak one minute, two minute, and five minute power and where. It’s fun for me to look back and think, ‘Oh, ok, that’s where I did my highest 20 minutes,’ which in the case of Big Sugar was the first 20 minutes when the guys were going crazy.”

This year she did over half a dozen gravel races, the most she’s done in years. Through it all, Emily has been tracking her power with TrainingPeaks. Not only is she happy with what she sees, it’s given her an insight to how her body responds to different training loads.

“I saw a pretty good improvement this year over last year. A lot of that was due to the strength training I did with my weights coach. What I discovered was my power went up, not hugely, but it did. What we noticed more was my ability to recover was way better thanks to the strength training and so then my workload could be higher.”

Once Emily had concrete data showing her that her stronger body was responding better to short blocks of high, intense mileage, she and her coach redesigned her training to mimic this.

“The February training camp we had in Spain really showed that too because we had those two weeks that were quite hard,” she says. “I went in and then I did those Spanish races that I didn’t know I was going to do and I kept getting stronger through those races. Then we went into the spring classics and I was flying. And so we were like ok, when you really hit your body hard and do multiple days of really difficult work, it really pays off. Knowing that, I’ve been able to somewhat replicate that where I just did three to four days of very high mileage or even a week here and week there of really high mileage, some intensity the next week and then I’d really see it come out in my racing.”

The advantages of her new approach to training were two-fold. First, she was able to tailor her training to best suit her body’s strengths. Second, this meant she could be more effective with her time and to an athlete who is also a parent, that time gained is priceless.

Throughout the season, Emily continually checked her progress on TrainingPeaks.

“I would say I’ve been more consistent this year than in the past. I’ve been more confident and I haven't had the dips that I’ve had, the way I’ve had in other years. I managed the breaks better. Instead of not taking breaks, I did take breaks and also instead of too long a break, I just did three 3 day breaks, so 3 microbreaks. I would look at Training Peaks and I would let my TSB, my training stress balance, come up and get way into the positive. Basically you're just letting your fitness drop so you can recover. It’s kind of hard to see those numbers change because I really like numbers and I want them to be high, but I allow myself that freedom and remember that, no, it needs to come down, and then when I’m ready to get back at it, I gradually start working to bring that back up,” Emily says.

Tracking her power data finally answered a question for Emily: why does she excel in the longer gravel events when so many of her competitors fade over the hours?

“Last year I didn’t have a power meter on my gravel bike so I didn’t know all this information,” she says. “We’ve seen that I have an ability to hold very close to FTP, so just under it for a very long time. That of course, with gravel being such a long event, is very beneficial. So that’s partially why these events that are six to ten hours long suit me because of that ability to continue at that high power for a very long time. I was like, ‘Ooh, ok! I’ve always wondered!’”

While Emily had certainly noticed that she continued to race strongly after so many hours on the bike, it was only when she understood why that she was able to turn it into a mental advantage in the form of a confidence boost.

“In a race, if I see that some of the other women are still with me, I know that I have this ability is not altogether very common. So give them another two or three hours, I know I'm still going to be able to maintain this and I know they’re not going to be able to,” she says.

This knowledge, that she has a gift at grinding hour after hour, gave Emily a piece of mind at Big Sugar. When the group was whittling down and one rider was still hanging on, Emily stayed calm, secure in the knowledge that she could outlast her competitor — which is exactly what happened.

“I was pretty sure that at some point she was going to start fading and I didn’t have to worry about it. I just needed to focus on my effort and staying with the guys I was with and it would just work itself out.”

Given its straightforward layout and the simplicity of uploading her workouts, Emily feels that TrainingPeaks is one of the most valuable resources an athlete has.

“I use it all the time, almost every single day,” she says. “I really like the conciseness of TrainingPeaks and the fact that I can understand everything that’s on there. I can get a really good picture of my current fitness, what I need to work on, and what I’ve done. I can get a really good overview very quickly so I can feel pretty grounded in where I am with my training.”

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