Thursday, 23 May 2013

My first rubber glove


Oh, gee, thanks. That's a challenge. What could I say? I'd get a free training video and all I'd have to give in return was my dignity, a large puddle of sweat and the ability to talk for a few hours.

You see, an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test really means "pedal as hard as you can for 20 minutes, or until you fall off the turbo trainer". I've never done one indoors - they are notoriously difficult to do without some kind of external motivation, be it someone to chase, a man in a car throwing conkers at you or an angry hippo after your energy bars. Outside I generally fail to warm up properly, go off too hard and then run out of road after 18 minutes.

So yeah, I needed to do one.

Once you know your FTP you can calculate your training zones and train more effectively. That's the theory anyway - it doesn't actually make the training any easier. It's also a great measure of progress; if your FTP is going up over time, things are going well.

I replied to the evil geniuses behind The Sufferfest and they sarcastically sent me a code for a free download. I don't know how a simple download voucher code can murmur "mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaa" but this one did. After an hour I now had the video - The Rubber Glove. All that remained was to set up the pain cave.

The Orca in an unfamiliar position
This was one for the good bike - I needed everything to feel right and more importantly I needed a powermeter.

Powertap. This tells me how weak I am.
Sure I could have moved the powermeter wheel to my normal turbo bike, but I needed to save all the energy I could. Talking of energy, time to wake up.

Yum.
I'd had a coffee shortly before (triple ristretto, obviously) so no need for extra caffeine. Time to mount up and start the video. There was a frustrating ten minutes while I figured out how to play it - Windows Media Player didn't like it for some reason, and I had to download Quicktime - but that just added to the warm up.

The first part of the video explained what was going to happen, like detail driven dentist would before breaking out the big drill. The video had three main parts.

  • An initial warm up of slowing increasing intensity. This would be fine.
  • A series of low resistance, high leg-speed intervals. This would also be fine.
  • The test. This would not be fine.

I mentioned previously that I always, always fail to warm up adequately for tests. This time I was taken through a well designed, well-guided set of intervals as I gradually started to divert blood from my stomach, brain and eyes into my legs. Gotta divert that eye blood. Makes all the difference. The music was upbeat and joyful and the scenes of the early stages of a Belgian Classic race (Dwars Van Vlaanderen? Or something like that?) helped me get in the mood. Hey, this was fun! Easy riding, watching cycling videos, rhubarb and custard gel swimming around inside me... what could go wrong?

Then there was a rest period, intercut with some footage of Spartacus (who's on the wall of my downstairs bathroom) winning some race or other. I won't say much about the other footage used in this section, only that she should turn the heat up. This was the part with the high-cadence (leg speed) intervals - the hummingbird section.

Then... the test.  There were some tips - ride hard but not too hard for the first 5 minutes, then harder for the next ten, then even harder for the final five. There was a countdown. There was a noise. The noise may have been me.

Start. Change up a gear, another, another. Cadence steady, 95 or so. Glance at the Garmin. Hmm, that's quite a high power figure. I'd love to keep that going. Breathing getting heavy now, hope the neighbours are listening. I like to entertain.

Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. You know that high power figure? You know how you always go off too fast? Yeah that. Ease back a tad. Let the snot dribble, you can wipe it off later. Look at the video. People riding! They look... unhappy. There's some music, I think. I can't really hear it over that bloke having an asthma attack through a megaphone. Weird, I thought I was the only one in here. Close eyes. Open eyes. Look at the clock.

4 minutes gone.

4 minutes.

Arse.

So that's.... 16 left. You can ride for 16 minutes! Come on, one more minute and that's a quarter done, another quarter and that... um, half? Brain fading. Need more leg blood. Some of it seems to be in my mouth, at least that's what it tastes like. The gel was nicer.

10 down. Into the rhythm now. Come on, it's only a 20 minute interval - just like the ones you did in the winter whilst listening to Rammstein. Admittedly they weren't quite this hard and this music isn't Rammstein (note to self - play more Rammstein for next test).

5 left. Go harder? How the hell am I supposed to... oh, OK. Pedal faster. That works.

4.
3.
2.
1.
0.

Sweep the gears to minimum. Try and keep the legs moving, even slightly. Breathe. Don't forget to breathe. Recover. Look around, impressive sweat puddle on the floor. Spin. Focus. Done.

I wandered back upstairs, out of the cave and into the light. My girlfriend was asleep on the sofa. She opened an eye, shook her head disparagingly, and went back to sleep.

I hosed myself off in the garden, dried myself with sackcloth and plugged in the Garmin to look at the numbers. The result of my Functional Threshold Power test?

Not enough. You can never have enough.

The verdict
The Rubber Glove is a bad, bad thing. You won't like it, but you will appreciate it - like a good vomit after a heavy night or getting your genitals waxed. I was surprised how much more it was than just "ride hard for 20 minutes" and how well it managed to motivate me through the test.

Everyone should get probed now and then.
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