Racing Against Myself: Watts, Pounds, and the Threshold Test

If I have learned one thing about myself over the last four years and countless races, it’s that I am much more competitive with myself than anyone I race against. When my FTP is five watts higher (304 to 309) and my weight is five pounds lighter (185 to 180) than exactly a year ago, I’ll take it as a win. My racing age this year will read 39 on my USA Cycling License. Since my name is not Horner or Voigt, I am officially past my prime. However, I still love seeing gains in performance after pushing my body through weeks of basement workouts. As I have posted before, this is one reason I love

There are so many countless variables that determine the winner of a race. Teamwork, positioning, awareness, wind conditions, bike handling skills, willingness to take risks, knowing when to spend energy, etc. are just a few. These are some of the elements that make cycling one of the greatest sports to watch and participate in. However, during my off season from December to April all of these elements are gone. There is no drafting, cornering, wind, or strategy. It’s simply my stationary bike and my willingness to put in the time and effort to get as much power out of my 39 year old legs as I possibly can. Whether this time and effort leads to team or individual wins in May and June depends on so many more variables, but I love being able to control the things I can and reach new personal milestones before the chaos of the season begins.

The 20 minute threshold test is the standard measurement that helps gauge progress and adjust training intensity. It also hurts like hell.  I realize many races are won by the person who can put out the most watts over a minute or 30 seconds versus 20 minutes or an hour, but this is the measurement I use. Over the last three years I have probably taken more than 10 of these pain-fests. Oddly enough, my best test ever was last October (331 watts).

However, at this time I just want to compare two tests that were taken 366 days apart.

The first test was taken March 10, 2013 (Pretty Much One Year Ago):

The second test was taken March 11, 2014 (One Year Later):

Even though my power output was 6 watts higher (320 to 326) during the more recent 20 minute test, they are really two completely different tests and maybe I need to attribute some of my gains on just knowing how to pace myself and not go out like I am Superman during the first five minutes. However, the fact that my first 10 minutes on the more recent test is exactly the same as the last 10 minutes should count for something. I realize that not even a time trial could replicate these conditions (much less a crit), but somehow not dying during the last 10 minutes of a test (334 to 309 last year) makes me feel better about any of my sustained efforts going into the season. 

I realize that this is all just for fun and personal fulfillment, but that’s the way my brain works. I would love to hit an FTP of 4 Watts/kg at some point. However, that means I would need to increase my 20 minute test from 326 watts to 341.5 watts or would need to maintain my 326 watts while losing 10 lbs. Since I’m pretty sure I would never hear the end of it from my wife if I weighed 170 lbs., I’ll stick to focusing on increasing watts.

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