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  1. FTP - Functional (I'll come back to this) Threshold Power.

    I love FTP. What a metric. It took us out of the labs and onto the trails and roads to do our testing. We could do it any time, at our own convenience, we could check it regularly without having to count the cost of another trip to the nearest good sports lab to find out our lactate thresholds, and no one was going to stab holes in us and take our blood while we were testing for it.

    That's my perspective, it's skewed by bias of having to do it "old school" in order to identify an anchor point(s) in which to construct my training and get the desired outcomes from all the work I was putting in. I realise that this si not the same for a couple of generations who have come along since. Power is established and here to stay, and all the introductory pathways (Strava, Trainer Road, etc) and assorted internet "gurus" bang on about FTP long and hard. 

    As such it's become a bit of a problem for a great many athlete. Here's my perspective, I see some of the problem. Maybe I can help? Here are some of the common pitfalls with FTP that I find make this a tricky or sticky point for many individuals.

    1) It's not a badge of honour. This is perhaps the most important point to make. Lots of people get distracted by the size of the number. They set weird goals (for instance getting over 300w - like 299w is going to produce any different an outcome in a race) that are mostly irrelavant and of very little use in the real world. I see this all the time: "I just need to get over XXw and XX will happen to my cycling ability" sorry never seen it happen! Forget the number, and forget any notion of the number being a guarantee of anything. 

    2) Setting it too high/using a dubious test protocol and then not applying very obvious common sense to the situation. I won't hit you with quotes, or what FTP "is" or "isn't" all I want to offer here is what actually works out in the real world, and what Ive seen time and time again lead to zero results or zero physical improvement:

    If the test protocol is too short then we all get an elevated number that doesn't equate to any race scenario.

    Short ramp test? = Don't bother...

    8 minutes? = Don't bother!

    Seriously, just make it up, and save yourself the time testing. 

    20 minute power minus 5% doesn't work for most individuals, but does at least start to get closer. I've only seen it equate anywhere near this for very well conditioned pros or time trial racers who also regulalry perform as hard as they can in 25 and 50 miles time trials. For everyone else it's somewhere between 20 minute power minus 10% to 30%. 

    If you choose 20 minutes start with minus 5% and then see how you can perform in training. Most often people struggle on anything threshold based, particularly a session like 2 x 20 in zone 4. If this is the case just apply common sense (subtract another 5-10% until the sessions are actually possible) or do a longer test.

    1 hour... mmm... This is actually very diffeicult to do unless you are in a race or super committed and fit. Fitness is a factor. For this reason I always roll with the 20 minute test with most athletes but then keep tabs on RPE, heart rate and just how motivated or fearful they become of tempo and threshold work. If you struggle then FTP is set too high. It should be hard, but not hanging on for dear life every minute of the effort...

    Which brings me to point 3...

    3) Going too hard in a test. This is actually a thing. We are testing for maximum aerobic power. We are not testing for max power we can suatain whilst constantly going anaerobic and barely recovering. If you fear the FTP test then I'd suggest you are just going too hard into it. It's not a quest for a PB. It's clarity on where to pitch the rest of your training by creating training zones based on the FTP number. Horrible pukey, death FTP tesing is only about 10w higher than challenging but totally doable again in a dy or two FTP testing. 

    If death testing creates 300w, and Attainable testing creates 290w then the difference in training zones is next to nothing:

    290w FTP

    Zone 1:  0-162w

    Zone 2:  163-220w

    Zone 3:  221-263w

    Zone 4:  264-307w

    Zone 5:  308-350w

    Zone 6:  >351w

    300w FTP

    Zone 1:  0-167w

    Zone 2:  168-227w

    Zone 3:  228-272w

    Zone 4:  273-317w

    Zone 5:  318-362w

    Zone 6:  >363w

    Given that the best bang for your buck in any training session is to aim for the middle of the training zone or lower, there's absolutely no reason on earth to flog yourself to death going too hard in a 20 minute test. It makes no difference other than to your enjoyment of testing and the reluctance you'll develop to do the next test(s) to stay on track. 

    4) Applying all of the above logic and advice yet still setting FTP too high, or seeing the number has gone down and "forgetting" to update your FTP in the software.

    Too common.

    Don't do it!

    It's a complete waste of time training, following a training plan, trusting any of the charts in software like TrainingPeaks, if you FTP is set too high. What about too low? Well, the charts might be out, but the chances of overtraining go down considerable. The chances you'll train like a pro go up considerably. If I ask an amateur with the aformentioned 290w FTP to ride train in zone 2 (163-220w) and they will nearly always shoot for 219w. Ask a pro with the same numbers to train in zone 2 and more times than not they are going to shoot for 174w. There's a reason they all end faster than any of us. This is abig part of it. FTP set too high makes this situation even more profound because now riding at the top of zone 2 and probably not getting all the desired adaptations turns into riding entirely in zone 3 and getting even less of the desired adaptation. Set FTP realistically and train in the middle of the zones. 

    5) Ignoring Function (I said I'd come back to it)

    FTP where F = Function.

    Function changes with illness. With stress. With Dehydration. With Fatigue. With (endless list... choose one!)

    When it comes to training well for endurance we always want to consider that we are biological and constantly in flux. Heart rate is still a valid measure of performance even when we own a power meter. RPE is still a valid counter-balance to the tech. If power is constant and heart rate starts to climb then function is changing. If it feels harder than the numbers suggest then it probably is. Some days it's better to come home with lower power numbers but the desired physiological stress than to come home with a nice even power. Training is not a test or a race, it's not about a performance metric. Speed is not the benchmark. Accuracy of training is the benchmark of well performed training and to do this well we have to balance more than just the wattage number on a screen. How do I feel today? How are my legs? Is it easier/tougher than usual? What imy heart rate doing for this power return? Stay human and understand function and it's role in your training. 

    FTP. It's a beautiful thing. It's a tool. Learn to use. Learn to use it well and it will always serve you well in return.




  2. Marji23_600px

    When I first started mountain biking all I wanted to do was keep up with my mates (well, that and not puking into the bushes from trying to keep up, but that's another story...) but very soon that progressed into trying some races, broadening my competitive horisons and starting work with a coach (because we didn't use the internet back then and info on training was sparse)

    One of the first tasks he set me was to think of some goals for my performance; he asked me: what did I want to achieve from my cycling? My answer was, as I now know with the hindsight of coaching for a couple of decades, pretty standard: get faster, keep up with peers, do better. He got me to hone in on my goals, make them more specific, to attach timelines to them, and to think both short and long term.  

    The big, long term, goal was that I wanted to be elite National XCO champion. Short term we had gaining a licence in a category higher, losing bodyfat, improving skills, learning to train, and then this ultimately lead onto how to understand performance and coach others.

    My coach looked at the goals, looked at the time frames, and then we decided if they could be realistic. Some were, others were but only if we adjusted the timeline. Becoming elite, it turns out, takes a combination of training duration, training intensity, rest, recovery, and using a long enough timeline to allow the body to adapt at natures speed. I would say that I'm of middle-ground genetics. That is I've potential, but it has limitations, but with enough work, and a long enough timeline, a lot of goals and aspirations are possible. 

    This journey started when I was 20 years old. Next year I turn 50. I've still never been the National XCO champion! So maybe some goals will never be possible, or maybe my change of direction, into the longer races to win a world masters title at 24 solo, after 15 years of chasing the National XCO dream stopped that dream from finding fruition. 

    So how does this relate to the Marji Gesick and your goals and aspirations? As a coach and an endurance athlete of 3 decades what's my take on the Marji Gesick? I find the best way to consider this is to relate it to other mainstream sports people interested in the race may follow. It gives perspective. Allows for better understanding of the challenges and how we might fit into this sphere and carve out our own success. 

    The 50 mile is a round of the NUE Marathon series. Marathon being the UCI recognised distance/duration. In very basic laymans terms this makes it the equivalent of something like the NBA but for endurance mountain biking. It's the top level for the fastest competitors. Completion, is a big deal, and a worthy goal for anyone bar the elite. The elite are fighting it out for on the day and overall series glory. The 100 mile is the ultra version (and big bad brother) of the 50. In other sporting terms it doesn't really have a comparison. Maybe it's like going to the Olympics for endurance mountain biking? One thing is certain: it's BIG. 

    The beauty of cycling, and endurance mountain biking in particular, is that we can all play in the same arena with the big boys. In making our goals though we have to keep some perspective on what we are entering and set them appropriately. If I'm the MTB equivalent of a Jordan or a Bryant then maybe I'm going for a buckle. If I'm a retired Rob Lee then a buckle is going be a very tall order, and if I'm new to racing and have never tried Marji 100 before then I'm most likely setting myself up for a guaranteed failure if I can only see success as coming home in less than 12 hours next season.  

    To quote one of the top coaches in the world (Tim Grover, from his booking entitled "Winning") we need to consider 3 things when we set our Marji Gesick goals:

    • Do you want to do it? Is this your idea, or someone else's? Is it your dream, or are you doing it to please others? Because you can't just want it, you have to crave it enough to make it your obsession.
    • Can you do it? If you're not able, if you don't have the skill or means to make it happen, all the focus in the world isn't going to deliver the results. You must be realistic about what you're capable of achieving, so that you're focusing on something that has at least a chance of working.
    • Is it worth your time? I mean, really, really worth your time? Will it be worth the sacrifice and commitment and relentless grind? Because Winning wants all of your attention, not just spare moments when you have nothing else to do.


    In short, to find success at Marji 2023: Enter because you really want to, because you crave the long hard challenge, find purpose relating to the race that is specific to you. Do the distance that will stretch you, that you want to do, and don't let opinion sway that decision. Set a goal for that distance, that has a realistic chance of success based on who you are and where you are today and the time left until the next race. Set to work on a plan, stick to it, commit the time, do what it takes, and make it happen. When you finish the Marji, and your 2023 season, revisit you goal, check in with that original goal, judge your achievement on how far you've come and successfully hitting your goal.