A Series of Unfortunate Events

We’ve all had a helluva time for the last year and I think everyone is looking for a change of luck in 2021. So when things go wrong, it is easy to say FML.

Last week my coach put an FTP test on the schedule. Your FTP is supposed to be the output you can sustain for about an hour. There are many workouts and race paces built off of this value. For me, the idea was to set a baseline to gauge progress and make sure my workloads are dialed in. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a great cyclist. I self estimated my FTP to be 250 based on workouts and race data and have been using that for the last several months. With that said though, I’ve never done an FTP test. Because there was no up front knowledge on what to expect, I did some research.

First up I planned to use Zwift which has multiple options. There are shorter ramp workouts that are said to be less accurate, as well as a longer 20 minute full gas effort wrapped in warmups and shorter higher intensity sections. I apparently love self induced punishment and so decided on the longer more accurate test, which all in goes for 1:15. After picking which one I planned on, I read up on what to expect. Obviously, pain.

In short the test consists of an easy warmup, some heavier spins, a longer sustained effort, and then go time. Simple. I picked my normal route up Alpe D’Zwift (free climbing points when you are in ERG mode) and got after it.

You start out with a pretty long 20 minute spin to loosen the the legs followed by 3 minutes of 1 x (20 seconds easy, 20 seconds harder, 20 seconds hardest). Then another spin, followed by 5 minutes at above threshold, and a final 10 minute spin out before the 20 minute max effort starts.

These went quickly enough, seemed easy enough, and I had my plan. Music was blaring, lights were out, I was basically in my own basement gladiator stadium ready to do battle with my legs. As I approached the virtual starting line I spun up the cadence and took a deep breath.

As the ERG mode released itself, my power immediately went up 100 watts. Soon after so did my RPM’s. Unfortunately, I was doing 90+ RPM’s and not feeling the normal bite on the pedals. That sweet spot between easy and hard that means you are going the right speed for you. I went to shift into a smaller gear and remembered, my DI2 battery was dead. DOH! With all of the ERG mode work I do, I have no need to shift. My RPM’s are constant, and the resistance is modulated by the Wahoo, so shifting has no real impact beyond the few seconds before the Wahoo reacts. At this point, I am about 2 minutes in, and my power is steadily declining from a starting wattage of 280’s to 230’s. Not good.

I decide that because I am a clever fella, I would quickly open another app, put my Wahoo into ERG mode there, and ride out into the sunset. So I jumped into the Wahoo app, set my watts to 275 (I had just done 5 minutes of this so why not?) and switched back into the still running Zwift companion app. Well, let me tell you this, Zwift did not enjoy fighting over who got to run the Wahoo Kickr. The good news was my RPM problem was solved. The bad news is I was spiking the wattage to 380. Not good.

Unable to hold the wattages that were bouncing all over the place, I decided that it was not a valid test at this point, and sad to say, I stopped at around 52 minutes in. Listen, it happens, and even though I spent all day getting psyched up to give this my all, I wasn’t disappointed because I learned a few things.

First make sure your gear is good before you race or workout. I knew I had a dead battery, but just forgot to take care of it. That is on me. Second, be humble with your goals. Maybe 275 was too hard for me, and I should take an easier approach on my end, building as I went vs starting out hot. Third, these things happen. There is always the following week to try again. Which leads me to this week.

With the same FTP test up on my schedule, I made some adjustments. Of course the intitial one being the battery. All systems were good to go before the effort. Next, I adjusted the course to a flat one, and not my normal Alpe D’Zwift. My reasoning being that if Zwift was using the incline in the FTP it may have contributed to my downfall on the last effort. I didn’t want terrain to be the deciding factor. Last, I tempered down my pace based on feel and not numbers. In fact, I started the first minute or so no looking at the numbers and trying to go at a pace that felt right.

Before I give you the output, I have to say, that it was nice to go to my absolute edge of performance. Without racing for the last 12+ months, I miss pushing to my limits. It is hard to do on your own. The FTP test rose to the challenge though, and I saw a heart rate that I may have never seen on the bike. Trainingpeaks told me that I set a number of all-time efforts in power and heart rate as well. Pretty neat.

The 20 minute section basically unfolded with me taking a blind stab at effort, and basing it on feel. When I looked up, I saw I was holding about 260, so that was where I tried to stay. My strategy for this was to switch to a smaller gear every minute or so for 15-20 seconds and just mash on the pedals. This would spike my watts, and make me feel that when I went to an easier gear and lower wattage it was easy. Did it work? Probably not, but at the time it was what I needed to do. It let me break the workout up into smaller sections and helped me to push through the times when I was falling off pace. For the finish, I decided at around the third minute that with 2 minutes to go, I would give it my all. So I just had to get to minute 18 close to pace, and then finish strong. I did that, I think it worked, and I was pushing about 350 in the last minute to finish the overall 20 minutes at 258 watts average. This put my FTP at 245. Good? Eh, for me I think so. The Tour won’t come knocking, but it is still only January, and I am riding at what I think has been my peak pace.

As for other factors, I am still on the annual Weight Watchers start of the year diet. Details of that to come, but as of the FTP day, at my current weight, I was at 3.25 watts/kg. Again, not a very high number, but something I am happy with. It will be interesting to see how this number shifts with the increased training loads as IMLP and ITU LC Worlds gets closer.

The key to improvement will be consistency and discipline. Putting in the work, and keeping training as a priority are the only ways to get better. Well, buying a faster bike helps too, but after that, you have to work hard. It is better that way anyway.

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