No excuses

I have always dreaded them, ever since I learnt what doing one involved and what it was designed to show you. There is suffering and then there is FTP test suffering. A twenty minute maximum effort over which you measure power output. In short, the number at the end tells you whether or not your training has worked – it’s an excellent means by which to measure progress and can be very motivating, except when it all goes wrong. I had such an experience earlier in the week – I will admit to being highly disheartened upon seeing a number exactly the same as what I could manage this time last year. Worse still, my power to weight ratio is significantly lower. Oh dear.

On paper, it’s been a good winter. For once I have succeeded in coming up with a training program and following it almost to the letter. I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone and trained with weights, braved freezing cold weather on 5 hour rides, endured very dull indoor sessions aimed at improving technique and generally worked hard. Having now emerged from the frighteningly bad mood that came after the disappointment, I have had to take a long and hard look at my training and everything else relating to performance. It’s times like this when you have to be brutally honest, take the ego out of the equation to as greater extent as possible and try to figure out what went wrong. As a self-coached athlete, its a very hard skill to master.

Nutrition has been my first port of call. I suspect that oweing to fear of putting on weight whilst injured, my diet last winter was considerably better than that of the last few months. Far too much in the way of festive indulgence – inspite of having remained teetotal I allowed myself to slip back into old habits, those sugary snacks haven’t been kind. Unfortunately, 5kg of weight gain cannot all be muscle. A low carbohydrate diet plan worked wonders for all of three weeks, before I gave into the cravings and rediscovered the joy of chocolate biscuits.

Next it was time to look a bit more carefully at my training, last winter I was effectively forced to do most it indoors – that meant short and high intensity sessions, with endurance having to be built up later on. This time round, I vowed to stay off the turbo to as greater extent as possible – mostly doing LSD training (that’s long slow distance in case anyone raised an eyebrow) with just a few interval sessions thrown in. Endurance has improved but this has come at the cost of losing much of my top end power.  A trap that I really shouldn’t have fallen into, LSD training is only effective with a relatively high volume – clearly in my case it wasn’t high enough. Next winter, more intensity is called for.

What else could be responsible? Lack of sleep is one possibility, my tendency to binge watch the latest must-see television series well into the early hours won’t have been conducive to good recovery for workouts. I’ll also admit to not always planning as far ahead as I should have done. Not many training sessions were missed but judging by my FTP result it still had a negative effect.

It’s at times like this when I understand where those who say that the professionals have it easy are coming from. As it stands I have to be my own coach, nutritionist and psychologist – not to mention ride my bike from time to time. Luckily in this case I have come to a very simple conclusion, I need to give myself a big kick up the backside. Taking the obvious but often overlooked message of “You get out what you put in” to heart. Anyway enough of the negativity – beating myself up isn’t going to do any good, time instead to figure out how to fix the problem.

Sadly this means more FTP tests, from now on I’ll aim to complete one every two months as a pose to three. If the training isn’t working, I’d prefer to know about it sooner rather than later. I have revamped my training program, upping the number of high intensity sessions. My rule of thumb is simple – if you need to lie down afterwards, it’s been a truly hard ride.  I’ll need to be more disciplined with my diet, no more cake until after my A-priority race. Perhaps hardest of all to reconcile with being a student, early starts and early nights are called for. If nothing else my motivation is now sky-high, I’m writing this following my first ever 3 hour turbo session.

If I had any advice to give after having had this experience, it would be the following:

  1. Carry out regular tests. See this post for more info on how to do this (no, you don’t need a power meter).
  2. Don’t just do exactly what you did last season (assuming you want to improve year on year that is).
  3. A little winter indulgence is fine, but too much can be seriously detrimental.
  4. Never assume you know it all, and get complacent.
  5. Look carefully at all aspects of your performance when aiming to get better, try to be as objective as possible.
  6. Don’t make pointless excuses. Sometimes it isn’t your fault when things go wrong on the bike, unfortunately more often than not, it is.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up. Work out how to fix the problem, it’s far more productive than sitting around whilst worrying about it and feeling sorry for yourself.

For today, that’s all from me. Good luck to anyone doing FTP tests this week, hopefully it will go better than mine.

Stay tuned.



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