The evolutionary value of being able to sprint is obvious. Back on the plains of Africa a lion could appear at any time. You couldn’t out sprint the lion but it would suffice to out sprint the person next to you for just so long as it took for the lion to catch its breakfast.
After a little while it would be possible to repeat this perhaps several times. Eventually you would run out of companions or become exhausted. Each sprint would likely be a little slower.
You can’t sprint far but as you cut back on the effort you can increase your range. After about 12 minutes steady running (or cycling) you have settled into a pattern in which the lungs and heart are delivering oxygen to the muscle fibres at pretty much the rate they need to burn adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and bring about contraction. This is aerobic exercise, the stuff that endurance is made of.
Using a power meter you measure how much power your legs can put out for varying periods of time. Handy things to know are what you can achieve in a sprint (bragging rights) for 5 minutes (determine appropriate strategy for hills) and for an hour (a useful guide to endurance).
The maximum power that you can sustain for one hour is your Functional Threshold Power or FTP. It’s the hardest you can go without crossing the line into oxygen debt. With training your FTP should increase, without training it will diminish. It needs to be measured from time to time and will make you feel good when it moves in the right direction.
One way to measure it is to go out and bang away full gas for an hour. You really can’t expect the youth of today to do that though. Plus there are some practical difficulties, finding somewhere to ride for that long without traffic lights and cross roads and that is flat or up hill is a challenge in itself. There are alternatives.
The method I favour is a flat out 20 minute effort. FTP is taken to be 90% of your achievement.
The video below shows how a couple of more impressive cyclists go about testing on an indoor trainer and some discussion with an eminent sports physiologist.
If you watched it you will recall that the FTPs came in at
Blake 247 Watts
Si 342 Watts
to which we can add
McGee 196 Watts
which we can regard as either pathetic or evidence that I might be an even better sprinter than Blake. I confess it’s the former but look at it this way it was a first effort that leaves plenty of opportunity for improvement.
To find out, in excruciating detail, how I went about it, how it felt and how much I’m looking forward to doing it all again stay tuned. I’m sure you can hardly wait.
This post was corrected on 12/07/2020.