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FTP test served up yesterday, with a side of humble pie.

Friday, January 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Daily Blog


For the past several months the weather in my neck of the woods has been–almost without exception–so nice that all of my riding has been outside. In fact, the last time my Bike Torture Chamber saw any action was back in early October.

Yesterday it was a cool and sunny day and, yet again, I was itching to saddle up and ride outside. But I knew it was time to kick off my 2014 structured cycling training program on TrainerRoad, and so I dutifully mounted my trainer wheel and prepared my gym for a fresh FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test. For more information on FTP and power-based training, give my Coggan’s Power-Based Training article a quick gander.

A little backstory before I dive into the meat of today’s blog…

The last time I tested my FTP was back in May, and I scored a “career” high of 294. After that FTP test I continued my indoor training program on TrainerRoad, following the “Intermediate Build I” track. These were challenging workouts at my new FTP, but I did extremely well. I’m sure if I’d re-tested my FTP at this point it would have been over 300.

Then, in October, the weather turned nice, and I shifted my focus to outdoor riding. Also, November was “Century” month, and I did a few 100-mile rides, along with some long outdoor training rides (MTB and road).

Finally, in December I took a few weeks almost entirely off from riding. Additionally my diet was crap, and I basically laid around watching movies and playing Xbox. Definitely not my usual way of doing things, but I felt like I needed it. I don’t regret this, but, as I found out yesterday, those indulgences really set my fitness back.

Return to my Bike Torture Chamber: the setup yesterday just before my FTP test.

Return to my Bike Torture Chamber: the setup yesterday just before my FTP test.

The “8-minute FTP test” is actually an hour in length. The core of the hour-long test are two 8-minute intervals. These two intervals are used to determine the cyclist’s FTP, which is probably the single most important fitness marker for cyclists (again, check out my Coggan’s Power-Based Training article for more information). The rider’s average wattage from the two 8-minute intervals are combined, divided by two and then multiplied by .90; the result is the cyclist’s FTP (the estimated maximum average power a cyclist can sustain for one hour).

Going into yesterday’s test I knew that I was not anywhere close to my peak, but I’ve ridden every single day in 2014 (almost 600 kilometers and more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain in 15 days), and so I thought I’d perform at least reasonably well.

During the warmup my heart rate was much higher than usual. For example, during a relatively mild section at 220 watts, my heart rate reached 170 BPM. Usually I can ride just below my FTP, say 285 watts, at around 160 BPM. Then, there were two high wattage clearing efforts: 30 seconds build, 30 seconds maintaining 441 watts, and then 470 watts. I knew I was in trouble when I had difficulties holding the target watts (normally not a problem for me).

So when the first 8-minute interval started, I powered up to 300 watts, which was still below my target, and could not even hold that. I sure tried, though, and that really hurt my overall performance. My first interval average power was a very lackluster 275 watts.

I was feeling a bonk coming on (I am cutting and in a caloric deficit, after all), so during the 10-minute active recovery interval I ate a few GU chomps. The energy chews helped stave off the bonk, but I knew that if I tried to hold ~300 watts again on the second interval the wheels were going to come off the wagon…

I started the second interval around 250 watts, and was able to build from there, finishing around 317 watts during the final push. My average power for that interval was 267 watts.

So my new FTP is a dismal (for me) 243. My average heart rate during the two 8-minute intervals was 178 BPM (275 average power) and 176 BPM (267 average power), respectively. Compare that to my previous FTP test: 175 BPM (325 average power) and 176 BPM (324 average power).

So, what went wrong? I think it was a combination of factors: lack of structured training for several months (TrainerRoad really works!), the long break in December, the fact that I’m cutting and eating below maintenance, perhaps just an off day… I guess none of that really matters now.

What does matter is that I know precisely what I need to do to get back to where I was, and then some. Because I’m in a caloric deficit this will be especially challenging, but I’m up for it.

Time to dig deep!

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