Intense 29.2 mile time trial on yesterday’s 72 mile ride.
My work schedule was packed last week, and I wasn’t able to get away for any rides longer than 36 miles. This past Sunday evening I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Monday morning plate was still nearly empty. So, after a week of short (but punchy!) rides, including a reevaluation of my FTP, a long Monday morning ride sounded good. Also–and this was likely a reaction to the dietary indulgences I enjoyed over the weekend–I was in the mood to get out there and do some suffering.
So on Sunday evening I was pondering how I was going to manifest my Rx for pain, when suddenly an idea came to me. I knew exactly what I was going to do.
Before I get into my plan, I need to provide a brief bit of information for non-cyclists. Specifically, the term “FTP”.
“FTP” stands for Functional Threshold Power. Simply put, “FTP” is the maximum power (in watts) that a cyclist can sustain for one hour. FTP is the single most important measure of fitness for cyclists, and it also serves as the foundation for power-based training.
Sustaining a maximal effort one solid hour is extremely difficult, especially in a non-race situation. This is why most cyclists determine their FTP using one of two standardized tests, both of which require very hard efforts, but those efforts are far less than an hour in duration. The “8 minute” FTP test has two 8-minute working intervals, while the “20 minute” FTP test has a single 20-minute working interval. Both of these tests require supra-FTP efforts during the working intervals, and then a little math is used to determine the athlete’s FTP. For example, the “8 minute” test uses the following simple formula:
FTP = ((P1 + P2) / 2 * .9)
…where P1 and P2 are the average power outputs from each 8-minute interval.
I recently re-tested my FTP with my Stages power meter using the “8 minute” FTP test, and my results were as follows:
Interval 1: 323 watts / 176 BPM average heart rate / 99 RPM cadence
Interval 2: 318 watts / 179 BPM average heart rate / 97 RPM cadence
FTP: ((323 + 318) / 2 * .9) = 288
So, getting back to my plan for bathing in beautiful agony. I thought it would be, um, “fun” to head over to the long, flat and straight Van Fleet trail and do a true time trial-level effort. I figured I’d ride the entire trail + the extension out and back (116 kilometers/72 miles), and time trial the entire outbound 47 kilometer/29.2 mile main trail. Van Fleet is perfect for this sort of thing, as it’s long, straight, very flat, remote, sparsely trafficked and only has around 5 street crossings.
Even though I was riding solo, I was sort of racing against a virtual partner. Up until a couple weeks ago I held the long course 29.2 mile KOM (King Of the Mountain) at Van Fleet, but it was recently nicked by about 30 seconds.
I knew in the back of my mind what my average speed needed to be in order to regain my crown, but I decided to mostly ignore that and focus instead on my power output. According to the FTP test I did last week, the maximum power I am capable of sustaining for one hour is 288 watts. I knew that the 29.2 mile segment was going to require roughly 1 hour and 19 minutes to complete (in order to equal the current KOM time); riding that length of time at my FTP is, by definition, not possible (assuming my FTP is accurate, of course), so my goal was to hold a wattage very close to my FTP.
This is one of the reasons why riding with power is so, well, powerful! Because I had a very accurate idea of what kind of power I’m capable of holding for an hour (I absolutely buried myself when I re-tested my FTP last week), I knew I could harness that information and use it to my advantage. Going out too hard when feeling fresh and then blowing up later in the ride is a common problem, but cyclists who ride with power have the information they require in order to keep their efforts strong and consistent. Another situation where power information is extremely helpful is on climbs.
I’m starting to digress a bit. I’ll cover this subject in more detail in a future blog.
Anyway, the 29.2 mile time trial section of my 72 mile ride was definitely painful, but I still enjoyed it. There’s no question that I was riding fairly close to my limits for that distance, and my power and heart rate data back that up (click to enlarge):
Assuming my current FTP is accurate–and I believe that it is–I definitely was riding at my threshold during the time trial effort yesterday. During that effort I rode for 25% more time than my 1-hour FTP, but my average wattage was not even 4% below my maximum sustainable 1-hour wattage (277 watts vs. 288 watts). Not a bad performance for a solo, non-race situation.
My previous best time (November 2013) on this 29.2 mile segment was 1:19:32, with an average speed of 22.1 MPH, so I’m very happy with my improvements since then. Also worth noting is that when I rode that 1:19:32 my average heart rate was 184 BPM. So I not only rode 1 MPH faster with more power yesterday, my average heart rate was significantly lower.
I took a few minutes after the TT effort to rest, and then I rode the remaining 43 miles at a moderate pace. I wound up finishing the 72 mile ride with an average speed of 20.6 MPH, a weighted average power of 233 watts (3:29:28 ride time) and an average heart rate of 161 BPM. I also picked up a total of 4 KOMs along with some other trophies along the way. Here’s the entire ride on Strava.
One of the cool things about Van Fleet is that it’s remote and has lots of wildlife. On yesterday’s ride I saw three alligators, more hawks than I could count, a deer, a rattlesnake, an owl, several dozen suicidal squirrels (dumbest creatures on the planet, by far) and a few fox squirrels.
I also saw something on the trail that was moving very “cat like”. It was too far ahead of me to make out what it was, and it moved off the trail as I approached.
Alligators, snakes, mystery cats… none of those things frighten me. What does scare me are those damned squirrels. Those stupid things run safely off the trail as I approach, then suddenly turn and run directly at my tire. Thank goodness I’ve never hit one, but there were some VERY close calls yesterday. The outcome of hitting a squirrel on a bike is one of two things: the thin skinny tires act as a pizza cutter, or the squirrel becomes tangled in the spokes. Either situation sucks if you’re a squirrel, but the later is obviously terrible if you’re on a bike doing 25 MPH.
Dumbass squirrels aside, I love riding at Van Fleet. Yeah, it’s flat and it’s straight, but that makes it a great place to ride fast. Also, I’ve never been there without seeing some incredible wildlife. Definitely check it out if you’re in the area.
I’ll sign off with a couple more photos from yesterday (click to enlarge)…