I completed my first FTHR (Functional Threshold Heart Rate) test for the first time in six months today. The result wasn’t quite what I was expecting, or more optimistically hoping for, and it is has therefore left me feeling a little flat. Time I think for a little reflection and the importance of monitoring and testing as the only true and accurate ways of measuring one’s progress.
Six months ago I did the FTHR test and the result was a HR with a LT (lactate threshold) of 163bpm. In other words, beyond this HR my body would switch from aerobic to anaerobic energy generation which in turn triggers the production of lactic acid. The production of lactic acid is a major limiter of performance. Therefore, it is important to stay below the line or LT to extend one’s performance for as long as possible using the more enduring aerobic system. So, six months on what is my LT now? Is it 168, is it 170, is it slightly lower than this at perhaps 165-168. Why these expectations? Because I have been riding for extended periods at high HR typically 168-172. I’ve been climbing better as a result and I have been managing to stay on the club runs pretty much to the end. Reasonable expectations? So, what was the result. My FTHR test produced a LT of 163.5! What, how can this be? No, surely not. I can’t assimilate this and there is need for some serious self analysis. How can I have improved so much on my bike and not increased my LT? Let’s have a look:
Was I at my strongest today? Probably not feeling as strong as I was earlier in the week when I did a recovery ride (oops, endurance ride). Yup, I kidded myself on Tuesday that my LT was somewhere about 168-170 and I therefore calculated that my recovery zone was below 140. Sorry old boy, it turns out that your upper recovery limit is 111 and you completed your ride mainly in the endurance zone along with a bit of time in tempo thrown in for good measure. Lesson learnt? No guess work, keep to facts. Therefore, part of the bemusement on the outcome of the test can be laid firmly at the door of misplaced false expectation. Ah, OK but only a 0.5 increase – surely not. How could I feel like I have improved but not have this translated into higher LT?
Yes, I have improved but perhaps I have simply improved my endurance and my ride nutrition/hydration. That makes sense. I can ride for longer more comfortably now and I am way more conscious of the need to feed and whet my thirst far more conscientiously than before. I am a smarter rider and true I am a faster rider but am I a stronger rider? Well, on the evidence of todays test, yes I am a stronger rider but only slightly but certainly nowhere near as strong as I thought I was. Reality check. So, what is the lesson? The lesson is I need a training programme that specifically seeks to raise my LT. I am on the case.
As for training I could revert to Joe Friels ‘Cyclists Training Bible’ but this is a bit too advanced for where I am at. I need something a little more designed for me. I read an article on the Insight Zone (British Cycling web site) and it provided power weight ratios for different levels of cyclists starting at under three for novices and rising to 6.5 for Tour pro riders. Based on my current weight of 73.4kg and using the average power taken from Strava using todays test my average power at threshold is 210. Therefore, my power weight ratio is 2.86!! Oh no, another shock – that means I am at the level of a novice cyclist. Now, there is need for some perception adjustment here. I completed the Ride London-Surrey sportive (my first ever) in a time of 5h 30m – that is no novice’s time. Agreed, so how can the disparity between this time and the power weight ratio of 2.86 be explained?
Well, you don’t necessarily have to be a strong rider to complete a sportive in a reasonable time but you do need a good level of endurance. There it is, there is the answer, I have a good base level of endurance and that explains why i can complete a 100 mile sportive but still struggle to climb some hills or keep up on a more concerted effort for an extended period of time. Realistically, I have achieved what one would expect a cyclist to achieve after one year of more committed cycling. It is interesting that when I look back at my cycling year my average riders per week is 2. I have genuinely come a long way in one year and I have laid the foundation for further improvements but I have not had either the capacity or time to do the kind of training that increases strength on a bike. That my friend, is the focus of this years training and the improved strength it brings will take me over the Ride London-Surrey line in under 5 hours.
It is easy to get knocked back when relying on feeling as opposed to facts for a measure of progress. This test has really brought that home to me. I now need to:
- Continue losing weight but without losing muscle – my target is 69.5kg (153lbs) with 62.5kg muscle, 3.2kg bone, and 4kg fat (5.7% body fat)
- Monitor rigorously – food, performance, etc
- Adopt a training plan that increases weekly activities, builds strength and requires regular testing