Thursday, October 6, 2011

A New Season, A New Quest

There was a time where I dreaded Fall. Triathlon is a Summer sport. As a triathlete, I love summer. Fall, on the other hand, has only served to remind me of the impending onslaught of Winter. However, since last year, the arrival of Fall has come more to represent the start of a new season than the end of an old. The new season I'm referring to here being my training season.

My training season runs from Oct-Sep. Previously, it has been triathlon-focused. The advent of a new season has typically had me looking forward to the following summer. The winter running-season has typically been merely a vehicle to get me through the rigours of Winter. Last winter was made more interesting by a sub-three hour Boston marathon goal. I didn't achieve my goal but I gave it a pretty good shot and I did a lot of things right in my Winter training for that race. This year I have a new goal that has me excited about the upcoming Winter season.

Next year will have me venturing into cycle racing. To prepare for that, I need to get stronger on the bike. So, as my "off-season" quest, I challenge myself to raise my  Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is defined as "the highest mean average power or pace one can maintain for one hour" (see Joel Friel's blog for a more detailed discussion of FTP - By all accounts, it's regarded as the benchmark of one's cycling fitness; the higher the FTP, the stronger the cyclist (see Hunter Allen's blog for a discussion on why raising one's FTP makes one a faster cyclist - The prescription for raising one's FTP is a steady diet of 20, 30, and 60 minute intervals at close to one's current FTP. This is, no two ways about it, extremely hard work.

The first thing I have to do is measure my current Functional Threshold Power. There are several methods of estimating one's Functional Threshold Power (see Alex Simmons' cycle blod - But the best way to measure the highest mean average power I can maintain for one hour is to ride as hard as I can for one hour and see what my average watts is from that session. I can tell you right now, it's gonna hurt. I can derive a pretty good estimate of my FTP from my Tour De Hans file. My mean maximal 1 hour power from that ride was 262 watts which, given that this was measured somewhere within a 3 hour ride, is probably low. My mean maximal 20 min power was 291. Taking 95% of that value yields 276 watts which seems a bit high. So I'm going with 270 watts as my current FTP which seems about right. But my first real test in November should tell the real story.

So how much do I want to raise my Functional Threshold by? I'd like to reach for a 30 watt improvement which would have my FTP up in the 300 watt range. But increasing my FTP doesn't tell the whole story. Another important measure of bike power is one's watts per kilogram. At my current weight of 75 kg and current estimated FTP of 270, my watts per kilogram is 3.6 which is moderately good (somewhere in the mid cat 4 range by cycle racing standards). A 300 watt FTP at 70 kg would put me at about 4.3 watts per kilogram which is about on the border between cat 3 and cat 2. And that would be enough to make me competitive in the Masters 3 category. So a secondary goal is to knock 5 kg off my weight; this is at least as aggressive as a 30 watt increase in FTP.

My trainer-bound quest will begin about November 7 which is the day after the end of Daylight Savings Time and the clocks are adjusted back one hour. After this date, it becomes too cold and dark to ride outside during the week and the risk of snow makes scheduling unpredictable. Hopefully, I'll be back to riding outside by March 12, 2012 which is when Daylight Savings Time resumes for 2012. That leaves me with 18 weeks or three 6-week blocks to achieve my goal. Also, that's 4 tests of FTP, one the week before Nov 7 and one at the end of each 6-week block and three milestone dates on which to measure my progress. Until Nov 7, I'll ride outside as much as I can to give me a good base from which to begin my quest.

There is no room for swimming in my quest and, if I were completely focused, there should be no room for running either. But the Sunday long run with my friends is something I'm not prepared to give up. Also, my running partner, Leo, would not take too kindly to a cessation in running activity. So my running will continue, albeit at a maintenance level of three 30 minute runs and one long run per week. Four races will help get me through the winter:

  • Dec 11 - Egg Nog Jog
  • Dec 26 - Boxing Day 10 Miler
  • Jan 29 - Robbie Burns 8k
  • Mar 4 - Chilly Half Marathon
Bring on the new season and let the quest begin!

Leo, my running partner

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