Saturday 10 March 2012

Testing time

I used to like tests. When I was in school, college, university, I enjoyed them. I was good at them. I could remember lots of information very effectively and regurgitate it at will. I didn't get stressed, I didn't panic, I generally finished early. I also had the uncanny ability to forget everything I'd revised pretty much on leaving the exam room, as if to make room for more information.

I don't like tests any more.

The tests I do now don't involve much memory, thinking or revision. The tests I do now involve grit, guts, determination, pain and nausea. The tests I do now are physical.

One of the main reasons for having a bike power meter is that you can measure your progress - power is power. It's not affected by wind, terrain, traffic, the bike or the tyres. 200w riding into a headwind is the same as 200w riding up a hill. A timed loop can be affected by many other things. Roadkill for example.

Before I owned a power meter I was tested by people who did have them. One key measure of cycling performance is "Functional Threshold Power", essentially how hard you can ride for 30 minutes or so. When I was tested they made me ride up a long hill as hard as I could. The first time I didn't quite put everything into it. The second time I couldn't talk for 5 minutes after finishing.

An FTP test involves finding a long, uninterrupted stretch of road and riding as hard as you can along it. It's a mental challenge as well as a physical as it's really quite unpleasant. Legs burn, lungs burn, eyes burn. The temptation to ease off slightly is always there, which is where the power meter helps - you can see any moment of relaxation. There are two good parts to a FTP test - you go really fast, and it's over in 30 minutes.

The first time I was tested, a few years ago, my FTP was 235w. The second time, two years later, it was 265w. Yesterday it was 270w, which considering it's just got to March, and I've not really started training at high power levels, I'm quite happy with.

I'm even happier with the average power I can generate for 60 minutes - 245w. The best I managed last year was 231w. How do I know all this? Good ol' Training Peaks has a newish feature called Fitness History which give me all my numbers in a handy table. I like handy tables. I like graphs too. I'm a geek at heart. So, 245w for 60 minutes means my endurance training over the winter has worked - I should be able to chug along fairly well for quite a while. This is good for riding up mountains. This is what I need.

The other thing that helps when riding up mountains is not weighing very much. Last year I hovered around the 68kg mark. This morning I was 66kg.

So, I have two targets for August - an FTP of 300w, and a weight of 65kg. Hit those numbers and I'll be a lean, mean, climbing machine.

I'll still get overtaken on the descents though.

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