Advanced warning ….this is a bit of a geeky post; get a brew and settle-in for the long-run….

In my former life as a runner I was always keen to understand my training and how to get the best from my body (and mind); from other athletes to coaches and various (numerous) books, I always wanted to learn to understand how I could fast, further, longer etc.  Fast-forward several / many years and my recreational cycling has become, shall we say, just a little more focussed.  OK, so I’m not competing against anyone bar myself, but with the various endurance events I’ve set myself a target of not just achieving, but ‘doing well’, it’s given my training a little more focus.  Fortunately, this training is back in my comfort-zone – endurance, bordering on ultra, albeit single, one-day events.

When I ran, there were no on-line training platforms, Training Peaks, Sufferfest etc, not even Strava – my times and performance were written in a book and at best, shared with my coach.  Heart-rate monitors were just being introduced, so [my] training was built around that – pre HR, most athletes tended to go by ‘feel’.  Of course, there’s more to just ‘feel’; since the early ”80s the feel has been properly categorised and this measurements still very useful to us mere mortals today; further reading on the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) / The Borg Scale, HERE.   (As another aside, the RPE article is taken from an amazing website ‘Sports Coach‘ this has been one of my most useful websites/resources in the past 20yrs of my running career; it’s as applicable to us as cyclists as it was me as a runner – I absolutely commend it to you:

But back to the point; it’s all about FTP isn’t it?  Of course it is, we’re data-hungry and may of us are data-tarts, playing ‘Top Trumps’ with our mates – consciously or not.  And what’s our key metric?  FTP (and thus, Watts/kg) – the best cafe-stat available … but is it actually useful?

Indulge me as I step back a day or so to a conversation with a good friend; to paraphrase him: “I have a higher FTP than you, I’m 10kg lighter than you ….. so why do you drop me on climbs?”   Now of course, I’ve paraphrased for effect….but the bottom line is that the stats puzzled me too, but I also knew that over distance/time, I would just ride away from him….mainly because I’m a diesel engine with a history of endurance running.

So is FTP the be-all and end-all??  Many of the current on-line training platforms are based on FTP, so we’ve become fixed upon it…..but should we?

Time to turn to the internet then….but not to forums, they are just full of people with unfounded opinions, I want facts (and yes, I see the irony of what I just wrote).

Where to start; Googling ‘FTP vs endurance’ didn’t really bring up anything of substance, so some time and some Google re-phrasing later I discovered a research paper “The Importance of ‘Durability’ in the Physiological Profiling of Endurance Athletes” (Ed Maunder/29 Mar 2019) – HERE – since discovering the article, it does appear that the full article may only be available by subscription.  That said, I did manage to pluck some nuggets from it and offer further reading here:

–   The new science of ‘Fatigue resistance’. 

–   Fatigue Resistance and why it matters.

–   What’s so special about FTP?

So what does it all mean and how, if at all, should you train differently?   Well my friends, one thing is common through the articles….the conclusion is inconclusive (but at least I have proof that greater minds than me say so, not just ‘fat Barry from the internet’).

My musings:

If I cite my FTP as an example; when I first ‘tested’ on a Wattbike, maybe 5 years ago, my FTP was around 205W – I forget the actual figure; fast forward to a slightly more focussed plan last year and I measured it at 225W.  225W was the figure that then ‘guided’ my training sessions.  But what if I under-performed on the test; what if I could sustain that power for an hour, but not for 6?  What I didn’t factor in was ‘feel’.

I retested at the beginning of this year and I scored 250W – had I got more powerful, was I fresher than the last test, or had I learned to pace myself better?  Either way, after 10 day on a Wattbike programme, I would myself easily producing the power required, but not achieving the HR (level of exertion) that I suspected was required.  So, without testing, without a man in a white coat, I just arbitrarily up’ed my FTP to 265W and subsequent sessions ‘felt’ right.   Now that begs the question; would I have been better prepared for the Beast last year if I’d been training to the correct level, rather than ‘tied’ by my flawed FTP??

Will I be doing anything differently and will I (and my good friend) stop worrying about FTP; and if we do do anything differently, will it make a difference, or indeed, how will we know?   Proof will be in the Alpine and Pyrenean puddings….but first, I’m off for a lactate threshold and VO2 Max test and for reference, I’ll compare it with my results from almost 20 years ago when a 60-mile runs were common-place in my diary.  And remember, FTP is just one tool in the box.

Thoughts on HR and hopefully a report on the Lactate Testing session to follow.

Watch this space.