Sunday, September 21, 2008

Training - FTP Baby

Saturday night, for the first time since my Wednesday night track outing, I got on my bike.

I had to fiddle with my bike room set up a bit - I'd emphasized rollers the last time I used the room so the DVD player/screen was in front of the rollers, ditto the fan, the laptop with music. The trainer ended up cast off to one side. I fixed that in a reasonable amount of time, hooked up the bike, and got my kit. SRM heart rate strap, socks, shorts, jersey, shoes.


I looked for 40 minutes for my shoes - car, basement, garage, house... finally found it in my helmet cam bag in the missus's car. I'd been unpacking the car from its track day when we rushed off somewhere, and I'd placed the bag in her car to avoid any more outside exposure time (mosquitoes).

I have NOT found my front wheel block thing so I have a weight lifting plate on the floor to elevate the front of my bike. I found a bike DVD (LBL, 2003), stuck it in, started it up. Phil and Paul started talking about the spring classics. Things were good.

Finally, a bit late, I started pedaling my bike.

Unusually the saddle didn't feel foreign, nor did the pedals. My feet were too big for the shoes, but that's normal any time I get on the bike for the first time in a few days. It would take about fifteen minutes for that feeling to go away - I usually notice it when I suddenly feel like I'm swimming in my shoes.

My feet refused to shrink though, and my wattage refused to climb. I loped along at some inane low power when I realized that, oh, this "low" power is about 200 watts, which is about my threshold. Yeah, it's low for everyone else in the world, but for me it's pretty hard.

I decided to step it up a bit. My SRM told me it was exactly 30 minutes into my ride, and I decided, impromptu, to do a "20 minute threshold test".

Nothing like getting on the bike with a plan, right?

Actually I was contemplating such a self test anyway, in preparation for my upcoming special race. I'd reiterated my FTP and threshold at the track, and everyone (thankfully) doubted my reported numbers. 215 watts FTP based on a max average of 238 watts for 20 minutes isn't exactly world championship stuff - in fact, for my weight, it's considered "untrained".


I had doubts about doing the test when I started pedaling the bike, but the higher than normal wattage and the exact 30:00 time on the SRM (easy to keep track of time) decided it for me.


I started a 20 minute timed effort - I have to get to 50:00 on the SRM. I remember the first time I read about doing 20 minutes hard - it was in the "training book" that came with my RacerMate 2. It recommended two types of workouts - a 60 second all out effort at over 120 rpms, repeat 5-8 times, or a 20 minute slog effort, 60 rpms, do once. I did that 20 minute workout the day before my third race, anxious to burn off some nervous energy. Longest 20 minutes in my life, and I remember thinking afterwards that a 20 minute effort is about as tough as it gets. Short enough to go hard, long enough to be absolutely agonizing.

I've hated 20 minute efforts since.

Nevertheless, for a long, long time, I managed to comfortably hold about 280 watts. It seemed manageable, my heart rate stabilized at 161 BPM, and it felt, well, doable. I looked down.


I'd been pedaling for a minute twenty seconds. Eighteen forty to go.

I started struggling. I saw 275 watts sometimes, but if I ignored the SRM for a bit it would reward me with a 290 or 300 when I finally glanced at it.


I wasn't sure if this was doable anymore. My heart rate wouldn't elevate, still 161, but I was dying, breathing hard, pedaling like I do under pressure. I thought of Harlem, of Hartford, of the times I averaged 168 or 169BPM, and suffering for an hour while doing it. I willed my heart to beat faster, to relieve my starving muslces by supplying them with more oxygen. What a way to illustrate supply chain problems to an economics class. Make them ride an exercycle while breathing through a tube, and partially shut the flow of air when they make a mistake.


161 BPM seems so hard. I can't hear Phil or Paul over my breathing, and I can't reach the DVD player to crank it up (the remote has no volume controls). I want to switch my headphones to the laptop but that would mean stopping, or at least soft pedaling.

I thought of the upcoming race, how I don't want to get dropped. Would it be like Belgium? Or would it be like the Pro/1/2/3s at New Britain? Belgium was hard. New Britain, hard but manageable.


Time slows when you're suffering. Over fifteen minutes left. I thought positive thoughts about racing, of slyly sitting in, working at my threshold, counting down laps until the finish. I'd give everything to finish, I don't even care about the result.

I can say that because if I have anything left, I know I can dig it out in the last lap or two. I remembered a Somerville where, with seven or so laps to go, I decided I needed to move up. I killed myself to get 50 or 60 spots up, and I paid the price. I exploded and drifted back, my friend John (I told him I was working for him that day) motioning to me as I slid back, as if to say, "What happened?"


Ragged breathing. My elbows start to splay outwards, one of my "tells". 163 BPM. Someting is happening. I hope my body is just warming up. After it's warmed up, and when I'm motivated, I can sustain insane efforts. But in my basement, longing for music, hearing Phil and Paul talk about the Ardennes, I lack the motivation for a special effort.


I notice my power had dropped a bit. A fluke? Or is it a symptom of things to come? My body seems to have settled into a rhythm, extremely tough but seemingly sustainable. I think about the last East Hartford race, being aggressive enough to pull, weak enough to have to follow. How hard was I going? I don't know. I just know that if I sit up right now, tonight, I'll think I sat up too early.


It's hard. I tell myself to get to 10 minutes first, then worry about the second half. That first five minutes, as painful as it felt, seems like it took a millisecond. I can't remember too much about it except that after five minutes, I was fine. I tell myself that I can keep going, no matter how it feels at the moment, because afterwards it'll seem like it wasn't that hard.


Time is dragging once again. 163 BPM. Wattage is dropping, now I'm sometimes seeing 240, even the 230s. This is no better than my previous best, 238 watts for 20 minutes, maybe a 215 watt FTP, and I'm not looking to simply replicate that. I want to annihilate it. I race track for cryin' out loud, I've been training. I've got to be better than that paltry 215 watt number.


164 BPM. Before I realize what's happening, my legs stop pedaling. Then, force of habit got my legs going in circles again. Never just coast, always soft pedal. I didn't believe that until I experimented with either coasting or soft pedaling. Coasting made my legs feel like concrete. Soft pedaling, as uncomfortable as it might seem at the moment, made my legs feel, well, like they were tired. But not like concrete.


I spent the next minute or so plugging in the headphones into the laptop. Phil and Paul's still slow (the race wasn't exciting yet) droning suddenly came to a stop, replaced by some trusty standby 311 tunes. My heart rate dropped 30 beats, my power to zero. The timer kept going though, because my heart rate still registered on the SRM.


I start pedaling again. I figure I'll finish out the 20 minutes and see how it goes. I feel a lot better - my heart rate is basically recovered, I've taken a sip of Gatorade, and loud music is pounding into my ears.


My morale is drooping again. My heart rate is once again at 161 BPM, wattage about 250 watts. It doesn't seem worth it, this effort, especially with a minute off. Well, a minute at 44 watts, which, when trying to get my average up above 238 watts, might as well be zero. I know I can't do this again, though, and I keep going.


Horrors. 170 watts. I accelerate, in a panic. 170 doesn't help me get to 238. I don't want to stop now, I've done too much work. Even if the wattage drops a bit, I want to go. I'll try and make it up on the other side. I remember in 1987 when Stephen Roche lost all that time to Delgado on the last climb of a long, long day. Roche had attacked with two or three riders from a relatively unknown team. Those riders happened to have signed with Roche's new team for the following year, so they pulled their collective hearts out to get Roche some time. Alas, at the base of the last climb, Delgado, dragged along by his excellent lieutenants, caught an exhausted Roche. Delgado immediately went on the attack, quickly gaining a minute. Roche gambled by leaving his final effort until after the last time check, letting Delgado fall into a false sense of security. Roche went all out for the last kilometer in the climb, in the big ring, and finished only a few seconds down on Delgado. Roche would win the Tour.


My panic has pushed me into the mid 200s. I try and sustain 280 watts but it's unimaginable now, not like at the beginning when 290 or even 300 seemed realistic. In a moment of weakness I dip well into the 140s, but after a moment of respite, and a short self reprimand, the wattage went back up.


I'm down to 180 watts. My legs are like cement, not moving at all. A 78 RPM cadence seems like I'm trying to match a hamster in a running wheel. I hope I have something in the next few minutes. I know I must - my heart rate is down to 157 BPM.


I'm back to 220 watts but dying a slow death. Heart rate is even slower - 155 BPM. How can I be 6 beats lower and feeling like I've just finished climbing Palomar?


It's not that I feel like I just finished climbing Palomar. It's like I'm four miles up, and I don't know how many miles it is to the top. That's a lot worse than "just finishing Palomar".


I'm starting to feel like a racer. Two laps to go. 159 BPM. 295 watts. I slide forward on the saddle. Why does it work this time, and not five minutes ago?


I have to ease a bit. I pretend it's a corner.


I'm all over the place. 310 watts, 180 watts. 160 BPM. I just dig, try and go, try and keep the effort high. I start my last minute effort and realize that it's 48 minutes, not 49 minutes. I ease off a bit. That guy who just attacked won't make it, no way. The field will catch him and I'll have to have the legs to go with the field.


It's the last lap. I start an effort, just under 300 watts, sustain it for a good 20 or so seconds, but I realize I can't do it for a minute plus. I drop back to "only" 220 watts. Five minutes ago 220 seemed impossible, now it's a "break from pedaling".


Last minute. Heart rate is still 160 BPM, somehow I'm still cheating a bit and holding back.


My heart rate drops a beat, then bumps back up when I shift up a gear. I try and spin the gear. Spinning is different from pushing, somehow, and I feel like I can spin again.


85 RPM is spinning?


I start my last effort. If this was a race, I'd have no sprint. 160 BPM, legs fried, all I can do to hold 350 watts. I contemplate doing a big sprint but I have no desire to push myself like that, not today, not on the trainer surrounded by delicate electronic equipment that would hate to get knocked over if I bumped it during an all out, lactic acid hazed effort.


I stop pedaling a second early, my legs moving more from inertia than from muscles twitching. Pitiful 20 minute effort. A minute plus of rest, spent a bazillion minutes under 200 watts, never broke 90 RPM once I got going, heartrate never above 164 BPM. I call that an effort?

I went upstairs with my SRM and downloaded the data. Checked the Graph view, checked the numbers to the left.

Peak 20min (244 watts)

Well I'll be. I'm in the 240s. Only 6 more watts than before, but, hey, I'll take it.


Chris Bagg said...

Lovely post, as always, Aki. My favorite sentence: "What a way to illustrate supply chain problems to an economics class." True, true. I've felt this way SO MANY TIMES on my trainer/rollers. Like this morning.

Anonymous said...

Ugh - That was SOOOOO painful to read. You really conveyed what it feels like in the pain cave.

This was so NOT motivating - I think I'll go read a book! ;^)

Aki said...

Thanks both of you. I have thought a lot about this "20 minute effort" hate I have, and I'm pretty sure it dates back to that first ever hard effort. Incidentally I finished the race the following day, the first time I ever did. I attribute it to the fact that the race seemed pretty easy compared to my 20 minute effort.

The thing that gets me is that it's very probable that pros feel the same way. But they do it for a living. That's pain.