They All Think They’re Churchill …

The daily dose of Dan and the other politicians is stirring stuff …

We will fight on the beaches, we will fight on the landing grounds, we will fight in the meatworks …

and there’s every chance we will fight in the supermarkets that are suddenly meat free zones. Thank goodness I’m a vego. And what is it about toilet paper?

Stage 4 restrictions for the majority of Victoria’s population Stage 3 for the rest of us. Almost no valid reason to let anyone into your house only four valid reasons to leave it. House arrest. There does still seem to be a social licence for these measures. The other day’s Herald-Sun had some snippets from half a dozen persons in the street all in favour. The tone crystalises into putting up with short term pain for long term gain.

There is emerging some disquiet and disobedience. The utter nutters are in the vanguard declaring Covid19 a hoax or blaming it on the 4G network. Just to make sure that they have no protection by way of civil rights Mr Andrews has declared a state of emergency giving the police supernatural powers, after all, these people are not Black Lives protesters or union members picketing a building site.

Following the Covidiots are the invincibles, mostly young with little to fear beyond the death of a grandmother here and there. They don’t believe that Covid will kill them. The government tells them it will but mostly that’s untrue.

The current strategy is to limit the spread of the virus by severely limiting the movement of people. I do believe it will work. I expect that in a couple of weeks case numbers will begin to come down quite quickly. But then what?

The population of Australia is 25 million people. As of yesterday there had been 18,318 cases of Coronavirus infection. That means that 99.94% of the population are naive to this virus. Unless there are no cases left in the community there will be a third wave once restrictions are lifted. If there are indeed no cases we will all be safe … until we open our borders.

Will there be social licence for stage 5 restrictions when the populace realises that this isn’t short term pain?

Hot Air …

Over the last few days I’ve estimated my VO2max by some of the many methods available to those unfortunate enough to lack a gas analyzer and cycle ergometer.

The first couple of methods don’t involve getting up out of your chair, the second is the simplest – the inputs are just your resting pulse and your age. The next two involve exercise. The inputs are your weight and active pulse or measured power.

The Rockport test doesn’t involve exercising at maximum capacity, at least not unless you are totally out of shape, therefore it is suitable for elderly gentlemen. The six minute power is meant to be a maximal effort.

It is interesting how close the results cluster together. Whether that is anywhere near a lab measured VO2max is an unknown.





World Fitness


World Fitness


Resting Pulse

Take pulse

MDApp method 1



Walk 1 mile fast

MDApp method 2


6 minute power


Michael Konczer


VO2max peaks in young adults and then declines at about 1% a year. Young and middle aged men can halve the rate of decline by regular vigorous exercise but the rest of us are stuck with it. It is largely the consequence of a declining maximum heart rate. The second most important culprit is increasing body fat.

After 70 it’s supposed that VO2max drops off a cliff but the evidence is getting pretty thin at that stage. Clearly nobody told Giuseppe Marinoni who set the Hour Record in the men’s 80 to 84 category last year by cycling 39.004 km.

Great things are still possible.

Another Glass of Red …


It’s from 2017 grown and made in our own little slice of paradise.

We enjoyed another little sojourn in the bush. We live in splendid isolation and prefer to camp in splendid isolation. The only other human that we came close enough to talk to was at the fuel stop going and coming back and that is the one closest to home in any case.

How isolated is isolated? This is the map of a morning ride. It’s 13km from the bottom to the top of that red line so a swathe of country about 50km wide. There’s not a town or a named feature on it, one of the things I love about Australia.

Best bird in the couple of days was Gilbert’s Whistler and we came across this little guy …

We also came across the Shire of Hindmarsh Ranger, his job is to enforce the local laws …


How Fit … ?

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we learn that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42 which I’m sure is correct. If we ask Strava how fit I am the answer is …


Not bad, eh?

In fact three point six (recurring) times greater than the meaning of everything but notice that back in February when I started tracking my bike riding on Strava my fitness was zero. As far as I can recall I had a pulse and could ride around the block – zero it could not have been.

It looks as though my fitness has improved and in the last couple of months there is the suggestion of a plateau. The dotted line at the right hand end is a prediction of what would happen if I quit exercise. In broad terms I wouldn’t argue with all that but what does the 154 represent? If you are a 152 am I fitter than you?

There are a number of metrics in Strava and other fitness and training apps for which you can find an explanation but not a definition or a formula. Strava’s explanation from their glossary is …

While fitness is a complicated concept, it can be simplified to an accumulation of training. The Fitness Score is calculated using Training Load and/or Relative Effort to measure your daily training, and an impulse-response model to quantify its effect over time. This will intuitively capture the development of fitness from training, as well as the loss of fitness during a break.

and you won’t find Relative Effort or Training Load in the glossary.

So training volume goes into a black box where it is fiddled with in mysterious ways and out comes the answer in unspecified units.

Fitness is indeed a complicated concept. The word fitness has a great deal of work to do. At it’s broadest it means capacity to do something. It’s gets a lot easier to get a handle on it when you define the something. Let’s make that endurance exercise. Now we can consider the factors that contribute to capacity. They may be physical characteristics that the athlete in question is stuck with such as leg length or characteristics that are amenable to manipulation such as weight and body composition.

Endurance sports are various ways of turning food into distance covered with the prize going to the fastest person to the finishing line. Oxygen is required to burn the food. A good measure of fitness therefore is the maximum rate at which oxygen can be utilised or VO₂max. It comes in two flavours – absolute and relative.

To measure VO₂max accurately is a laboratory task. Inspired air is compared with expired air to find the amount of oxygen removed by an athlete as they perform a steadily harder task until the athlete cannot continue or the oxygen consumption reaches a plateau. The difference in humidity and temperature of inspired and expired air has to be addressed. A mask is worn throughout.

The Absolute VO₂max is simply the number of litres of oxygen taken up per minute going full gas. For relative VO₂max you divide by weight and express the result in millilitres per minute per kilogram. In a series of tests for a single athlete it’s handy to have both in order to distinguish between the contributions of adaptation and weight loss. If comparing one athlete with another relative VO₂max is more useful.

As the saying goes “Test is better than guessed” but it requires attendance at a lab and a fee in the vicinity of $200 a time. It’s not a one off – if it’s worth doing then it’s worth doing regularly to ensure that training is having the desired effect.

There are ways to estimate VO₂max rather than measure it. These don’t involve wearing a mask and analyzing expired air. Some don’t even involve exercise!

If you are interested in an estimate at the level of a general health interest try the online calculator at In my case I think the answer was a little flattering. Four different ways are on offer at MDApp including one based solely on resting heart rate and age. For the other three you will need to do some exercise. The Rockport Walking Test involves a one mile walk. The formula includes a refinement that reduces the error involved in being the wrong gender.

For the price of five or six visits to the laboratory you can buy a smart watch that will estimate your VO₂max and tell the time. Passler et al 2019 (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) tested a bunch of wearable devices and concluded that they don’t do a particularly good job of measuring energy expenditure or calculating VO₂max.I believe they are reasonably good at keeping time and some play music.

If you are male and have a power meter you can estimate VO₂max by investing six minutes of your life in all out effort on the bike and plugging the result into a calculator provided by Michael Konczer. I haven’t been able to find a formula for females. So sorry girls – you’re walking. The formula used is …

It is an informative site with a table that you can consult to see how your result stacks up.

Regular testing is the ideal way to keep track of progress. A six minute test over the same course is directly comparable especially when measured by power rather than distance because that reduces the problem of variable winds. Estimating VO₂max from it may not be as exact as a lab measurement but the error will be much the same each time and it gives a value that will serve well enough for rough comparisons with other athletes. Friends will be delighted to hear of your improvement.

VO₂max is a very handy metric but by itself it will not tell you who will win the next race. Economy is the ratio of work done to energy expended and this varies from athlete to athlete as does the ability to tolerate workloads close to maximum. According to Allen, Coggan and McGregor VO₂max is to be found somewhere between 106 and 120% of functional threshold power (FTP).  If you know all those numbers for every entrant your crystal ball has a better chance. And the higher your VO₂max the better the chance that it will be you.

Back in the Zone …

Back to the daily grind. It was strongly tipped that our fearless leader would lock the entire state down again but instead he has mandated masks. If nothing else it will improve the appearance of the Victorian public. But I digress. The theme was power meters.

Functional Threshold Power measured on the bike is a handy way to adapt training intensity to a particular individual. Zones based on heart rate are another easily accessible method and a chest strap is less expensive than a power meter. Exercise physiologists have laboratories and all sorts of tech and therefore the means to make things way more complicated. By and large, though, the physiologists prefer a three zone system rather than five or seven,

You can find a good post (and podcast) by Dr Shawn Bearden on the topic <HERE>.

The zones or domains have nice practical names moderate, heavy and severe. The boundaries are only slightly fuzzy, rather than mostly arbitrary, and correspond with changes that can be demonstrated in the laboratory.

During moderate exercise oxygen consumption increases with work load. If you drew a graph it would be linear. At the same time lactate levels rise very little. As the intensity increases there comes a point where the slope of oxygen consumption increases and you enter the heavy zone. Round about the same point the lactate level heads gently upwards. FTP is close to the top of the heavy domain.

The moderate zone is easy, efficient and sustainable. The heavy zone is less efficient but still sustainable. Increase the load further and lactate begins to rise more rapidly, breathing becomes laboured and exhaustion beckons. The severe zone is inefficient and unsustainable but essential for a place on the podium.


The boundary between moderate and heavy sits at about 65 to 70% of FTP or at the top of zone 2 in the Coggan model that I discussed recently. Severe kicks in at the top of zone 4 (roughly).

Race pace for endurance events is in the heavy zone but should you train there? Proponents of polarised training say no. Training at moderate levels will build stamina and pace efficiently with the athlete adapting and recovering from fatigue optimally. Top this off with some training in the severe zone.

So perhaps the most important use of a power meter in training is to ensure your easy days are easy enough. You don’t need a power meter to tell you when you’re going flat out.

A Brief Escape …

The accursed Covid has certainly changed our lives. Gayle and I were not intending to spend the winter in Victoria. Another road trip to the tropics looked good. It wasn’t to be. Nonetheless we are better off than many. Locked in a tower block apartment has got to be a nightmare. Fortunately for us we live in a sparsely populated rural location which wasn’t locked down when restrictions were reimposed on Melbourne.

We can’t go far but western Victoria is available and we’ve been keen to go to Woomelang for a look at their little silos. We camped by the lake at Wooroonook the first night. It’s a spot we can reach in little more than an hour. We were blessed with a clear sky, a perfect night for a glass of red by a campfire.

The landscape is pretty well flat but 8km away there is an isolated hill that gives a good view of the surrounding country. The mountain bike and I made it to the top of Mt Jeffcot. The view was splendid and the descent was terrifying.

Strava segments are named by their creator. Presumably this one is not part of a naked bike ride. And for a timid rider like myself you’d want shorts on to hide the fact that you’d packed your daks.

After lunch it was off to Woomelang for some small scale silo art. There are seven portable silos with work by a variety of artists scattered around. This sort of silo is often called a field bin. The artists that were issued with corrugated ones got the short straws. They were definitely at a disadvantage. I was particularly struck by the Western Pygmy Possum and the Mallefowl …

The camp that evening was in Black Box woodland at Lake Albacutya.

In the morning it was back on the bike …

The lake was dry as it usually is. When the Wimmera River carries enough water it spills through Lake Hindmarsh to Albacutya and then into Wyperfeld National Park. It hasn’t happened so far this century! It does have a nice concrete boat ramp for the next occasion.

A walk turned up some nice birds including Chestnut-rumped Thornbill and Scarlet Robin. My second cuckoo for the “spring” was calling prominently – Pallid Cuckoo.

After that it was home again, home again as a westerly front blew in bringing a gale and some heavy rain.

In the Zone …

Armed with my newly established functional threshold power (FTP) I can set my power zones and use these to guide my training.

The ideal training program stretches the envelope and leads to greater fitness – remember stress, recovery, adaptation. Too aggressive a program tears the envelope. Lack of adequate recovery can make the process inefficient. And the cardinal sin would be not training hard enough.

Behind this there is an assumption of a predictable dose/response mechanism which simply doesn’t exist. In every study of training outcomes, no matter whether the subjects have been recruited from the couch or are trained athletes, the gains vary and may even be negligible. There are, as well, diminishing returns for the highly trained but then they are better placed to deal with the bigger doses.

Training zones help to tailor the dose to the individual.

The continuum from not pedaling  (0 Watts) to pedaling as hard as you can may best be communicated by dividing it into a number of zones. The most popular seems to be that devised by Andrew Coggan utilizing seven levels. Your FTP serves as the anchor point so that the zones have some correlation with your physiology. It is at or close to the point where a graph of blood lactate makes a noticeable increase in slope indicating the beginning of an oxygen debt.



% of FTP


Active Recovery









Lactate Threshold






Anaerobic Capacity



Neuromuscular Power


There are other schemes with different names and/or a different number of levels. The notion that there is any significant difference between high level 2 and low level 3 is nonsensical. The state of the athlete (rested, fatigued, hungover) is likely to have a far greater effect on the response than the difference in power output.

In general terms levels 1 through 3 are all day levels – for those with the patience and all day backsides. The time that you can sustain the higher levels falls away rapidly.

Different athletes have different strengths and weaknesses in large part determined by the muscles they were born with. In any workout session the further you are from your FTP the less accurate is the zone as a guide to the likely benefit. This can be addressed by measuring your best power output for a number of time periods and setting zones that better match your current abilities. Too great an obsession with the numbers may not be all that beneficial because departures from the norm are likely to be at the sprint end of the spectrum where workouts are likely to be maximal rather than at a target power.

In summary. The power meter is a measuring device. FTP is a  valid way of calibrating the athlete to work with one. The power zones around it are largely arbitrary, handy for communication between athlete and coach and excellent material to bore your mother with. On your easy days the power meter is a good guide as a number not to be exceeded. On hard days effort is the key, analyse the numbers after the session to check on progress. And every day remember that happiness is not measured in Watts.

Training is Testing…

and testing is training.

The standard work on power meter use is Training + Racing With a Power Meter by Allen, Coggan and McGregor. I had plenty of time to read it while waiting for the meter to arrive. It is comprehensive, it is useful but it is a bit verbose. It stretches to 366 pages although I think I could rewrite it in about a quarter of that.

It prescribes a testing protocol beginning with a 20 minute warm up at endurance pace extended by 3 one minute intervals at high cadence and a further 10 minutes easy riding. Then the real work begins starting with a 5 minute all-out effort followed by 10 minutes easy. Then it’s what you came for – the 20 minute maximum effort.

Rather than collapse by the side of the road a 10 – 15 minute cool down is recommended. The power that can be sustained for 60 minutes is assumed to less by about 5%.

In the lab you could do it just like that. In the real world you need to fit the session to twenty minutes worth of road suitable to the all out effort. It needs to be flat or slightly uphill and it needs to be uncomplicated by turns, crossroads and traffic lights. I chose a circuit that I do fairly frequently. All up I rode 46 km and you may see some resemblance to the protocol …

After slightly more than 10 km of easy riding I reached a Strava segment that I substituted for the 5 minute effort. It is an uphill sprint. I unleashed such power that I managed it in 1.03 minutes a new PR. That’s efficiency.

About 10 km of easy riding later I launched into the big twenty. This included within it another Strava segment which the creator entitled Headwind Hell. There is a clue in the name to why on the majority of occasions I do this circuit in the opposite direction.

For the first couple of minutes I was engrossed by the power numbers. It wasn’t long though before my interest shifted to the clock. At about the 19 minute mark I was reflecting on Allen, Coggan and McGregor’s suggestion that you test your FTP every six to eight weeks thinking that they had to be joking. It was brutal.

I covered 10.63 km at 31.8 kph and the average power output was 206 Watts. Take 95% of that to give an FTP of 196 Watts.The effort was paced reasonably well. Running out of gas was one trap that I was concerned about. Heart rate rises through the effort and there is a peak earlier in the ride during the one minute effort (which wasn’t brilliantly paced).

The entire ride
Just twenty minutes

So 196 Watts – how good is that? A quick trip to reveals that 90% of male cyclists report higher FTPs. (None of them have anything shorter than a seven inch dick either – he says petulantly).

So how shabby an effort was it? I did mention that it included a Strava segment. Headwind Hell is 8.33 km long and took me 15 min 27 sec which was good enough to put me on the leader board albeit in 10th place.

That left me with a 34 minute ride home which I knocked off at 25 kph – clearly there was a bit more in the tank. Only a few hours later it already seems reasonable to do it again next month – that invites comparisons with childbirth but think of the prospect of 24 FTP tests in the next two years. I need to talk to a woman with 24 children.

This post was amended on 12/07/2020 to correct an error.