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 cyclinganalytics.com 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.

FTP …

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.