I wouldn’t normally make a blog entry about an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test, but as with everything I post, I believe there is something to be taught and learned from it for myself and others. So here we go. I’m a self-coached athlete and I like to share what works for me.
I’m in Peak 1 for Ironman Cairns and I feel that it is important to be sure of what my FTP is as this will determine pacing and overall race strategy for the race. Yes yes, coaches I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not going to just change everything I’ve trained, but I do need a new test. So last Sunday, instead of doing a 4 hour test ride, I started with a 20min FTP Test. I followed Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan PhD’s 20min prescribed session which includes: 20min w/u, 3x1min fast pedaling, 5min easy, 5min all out, 10min easy, 20min Time Trial all out. I typically do a 30min test outside.
The week of the test was the week after Big Day Out #2. My hours for the 6 days leading up to Sunday totaled just under 10 hours. On Saturday, the day before, I did a 2hour run test covering 24km which was quite slow to where I’ve been training at while HR was very high. I figured it was the 2 Coronas I had the night before and lack of adequate sleep. That afternoon, I picked up my brand new bike, Sami, and did a 50min Zone 3 workout since I was excited to test out my new bike. Fiona and I woke up around 7AM and had some food and we started the session at 8:20AM.
The setting was set with a fan angled at my face, loud music on, the A/C on and temperatures of 68F/20C. I was also fueling with gels. My goal was to hold between 324w – 345w based off of prior experience and where I thought I was. The 5min piece was 324watts. Then after the recovery and getting set I knocked out 5min laps of: 327, 305, 304, 303. My HR was pretty much where my LTHR is, at 151.
I was pretty disappointed and knew that this was wrong. The 310 avg for 20min indicated an FTP of 295. So far this season I had tested 30min pieces outside of 311, 300, 300. After the test we continued on with the testing outside. I did a 3hr15min ride at 240NP or 81% IF. Something was clearly wrong.
Since following Your Best Triathlon by Joe Friel as my core plan since 2013, I can recall that this week is historically the worst performing. In fact, I remember an Epic Fail of an out and back course. I went from Alice Springs, East to Ross River Homestead which is 80km away. On the way back I had to stop 3 times, completely fatigued. But is it really a surprise that this weekend be so rough? In the 5 weeks leading up to this point I had nearly covered 2 full Ironmans having done 2 days of race-pace testing covering the full swim/bike and just under 2/3rds of the run. I felt good Friday and Saturday due to the active recovery sessions. However, I know that fatigue runs way deeper than how you mentally feel and this is key to a structured plan and why Fiona and I have mostly been injury-free (knock on wood) for the last 2 ½ years.
The book called for a 1hr-1hr30min ride including a Muscular Endurance Set of 4-6x5min at Zone 4 & recovery on the descents. I knew what I was going to do instead. I was going to ride to work on Tuesday, leave Sami there, and then do a 2 hour ride home on Wednesday. Tuesday morning included a 6AM swim of 4x500m at Zone 3 and then a 6PM, 75min run of 4x8min at Zone 3 with 2 min rest on the treadmill. I hadn’t been able to do these Tuesday sessions in Build, moving them to Thursday as I was not recovered from Sunday long rides but this week, I was and I made a note that it was absolutely essential I knock this workout out on Tuesday. After the run, we had leftover white pasta with meat-free mince and some carrots that I butchered by putting too much Turmeric on. I had 3 glasses of Chianti as well.
Wednesday was a 5AM wakeup, English muffin with vegan butter. Eyes shut on the bus at work by 6AM. I had a V Energy Drink when I got to work and also had half a bag of red grapes, a Clif Bar and a Vega Bar during the AM. Lunch was a package of Tofu with leftover green curry/brown rice/tofu. I had 2 cups of Tea (Green/Earl Gray and a cup of zero-calorie tea). At 1:30PM I had my ARO Caffiene Supplement with 200mg of Caffiene. 15min later I had a full package of Clif Shot Bloks (no caffeine). I left at 2:15, got my bike, put 3 Winners gels in the slot and 2 bottles of water. I wore a regular helmet, Sugoi Tri top, and bike shorts. No Rear Disc. My legs were a bit tired/sore from the run session and the lifting session Monday night but I have historically done well when the legs felt a bit tired/fatigued.
The plan was to get to Hatt Rd in about 5min and then start testing along the “Hatt to Gap” Strava Piece with Steve Cullen, the KOM sitting on 31:37. I would work to 30minutes and then back off till the Tom Brown Roundabout. I looked at the flags and they were blowing East. “I picked the perfect day to do this!” I thought.
The first section is a straight shot with small undulations but an overall increase in elevation. It took me 12:47 at 323watts, 29.1mph/47.1kph and got the KOM by 48seconds, sorry Steve. Then I was on the Stuart Highway with a rise over the RR. Turn left into town essentially flat but now I had the headwind. The power was still going strong but after 15min started to dip into the 320’s. I didn’t use laps as I was using a different mental strategy of keeping the power up for the full 30min vs 5min pieces. I was trying to work out where I was coming and thought I was falling short. I certainly wasn’t going to break 30min for the piece and didn’t know the KOM time. After my analysis I found that I went 31:41. Missed it by 4 seconds, damn you Steve.
30min test results: 327avg, 327NP, 4.01 w/kg, 26.9mph/43.2kph. Temperature 89F/32C. I weigh 179lbs/81.4kg. This 4.01 w/kg metric puts me just on the cusp of Very good Cat II/Good Cat III according to Hunter Allen. More importantly, my goal of 324 watts was based off of Table 4.1 from Jim Vance’s latest book Triathlon 2.0. In it, the male Watts at FTP for an Under 40 Qualifier to the Ironman World Championships is 290+. Well, I had that with 295 from Sunday and 327 from today. But it was the w/kg at FTP of 4.0+ that I was after. And I got it. Bingo!
But I wasn’t done. I cruised through town with the plan to hold high Zone 3 or just above race pace up “the hills” from MVR to the highest point on the Stuart Highway. This is a 419’ (130meter) climb over 16km at an average grade of maybe 2-3%. I was cruising on some sections and held 271NP climbing. Then, I turned around and TOOK OFF! I was nearly 8minutes faster on the decent hitting 38.3mph/61.6kph and averaged 28.2mph or 45.3kph on the decent. That was quite intense considering I held the same 271NP on the way down! So it’s pretty clear the new bike is freaken FAST! At one point I took the throttle off just a tad since I was feeling just a bit out of my element. The “MVR to Highpoint & Return” Strava piece wasn’t something I was going after, I only held 83%IF and this time missed the KOM by 17seconds to Ryan Coppola who I believe was the best cyclist in town. If I recall correctly he took 17th in the world in a Time Trial Championship race in Italy for his 30-34 Age Group it earned him NT Sportsperson of the Year.
Overall, I held 279NP for the near 2 hour ride. The next most powerful ride was 288NP in November 2015 but that was only 58:40 long since it was the 40km segment of an Olympic Triathlon.
FTP testing is important since it allows each individual to train according to their current fitness levels. What made my Wednesday test so much more successful that the Sunday test? One could extrapolate that I test better having drank wine than beer, in the heat vs in the cold, outside vs inside, not rested vs relatively rested, PM Testing vs AM Testing, without music vs with music, and having a point to reach and knowing the course rather than just sitting in one spot. All of these would be partially correct. The key is to know yourself and this takes years of practice to determine. Even then, you’ll be evolving. The reason I haven’t done any trainer intervals this season is because I know I work better outside. It’s highly motivating to me and is why I have been such an advocate for Strava. But I also know that at 81kgs, I’m big for a triathlete. Cycling at 45kph, even if it is in the 32degree heat cools me down way more effectively than a fan in an air conditioned house. And, instead of a giant pool of sweat below the bike I get nice crystalized salt all over me which I think is way “cooler”.
Recovery Drink: Vega Recovery, Vegan Protein Powder, Soy Milk, Mixed Berries, 1 ½ frozen banana, Chia Seeds, Ground Flaxseed. Incredible goodness.