Riding down a Plateau

Easily, the most enjoyable plateau I've ever ridden up, stood upon, and descended: the Col du Tourmalet, Haute Pyrenees, France.

I started my 2nd training block of the base phase with an FTP test. I wasn't delighted with the result​, but I’m actually encouraged, nonetheless. 

If you’re using fancy software like WKO4 to track and interpret your training, you know it “models” your FTP for you. That's one of the big benefits of using such tools, especially if you’re coaching others; they don’t need to submit to soul-crashing tests as often. 

Pay attention to the last two words of the previous sentence. 

Put simply, if you're not inputting a steady stream of challenging rides, the software is going to model you based on those relatively low numbers. 

As I shared in last week’s entry, my modelled FTP was a mere 209. I knew innately that I was above that, but the only way to know for sure was to test. And that’s exactly where the 2nd training block of my base phase begins: an FTP test. 

Donning the Rubber Glove

Your FTP is a way of measuring, well ,how effective your aerobic endurance is over, say, 20 minutes, or, if you are a fan of the 8-minute protocol, you have a snapshot into your VO2 max. Either way, with some simple math, it helps provide a baseline from which you can build other forms of endurance. As a TrainerRoad user, I have a number of ways I can get to this baseline:

TrainerRoad has a well-designed 8-minute FTP test. If you're familiar with Chris Carmichael's point of view on testing, this will be familiar.

TrainerRoad also has a 20-minute FTP test for those who are more familiar with that protocol. I prefer this as a time trialist and road racer.

TrainerRoad will also allow you to import data from the Sufferfest “Rubber Glove” video.


As you know by now, Monday's are off-days. Tuesdays are one of your hard days, and since this is the first day of a new 6-week block, and the previous week has been mostly below threshold, it's time to test. Of the 3 options TrainerRoad serves up, my favorite is one many newcomers to their offering may not know about — the ability to utilize one of a number of previously-produced third-party videos as a workout, where TrainerRoad captures that data as part of your block. 

That's what I do for FTP tests: I load up my previously-downloaded copy of Rubber Glove, and assign that completed ride to my Tuesday. 

NOTE: The Sufferfest no longer offers Rubber Glove, as they are now utilizing a different methodology for baseline testing, something they're calling "4DP." If you're familiar with Joe Friel's methodology of testing, which involves baselines for short sprints, breakaway efforts, standard 20-minute blocks, and hour-power, then 4DP won't seem so new. If you're using software such as Golden Cheetah or WKO4, these baselines are gathered for you from your accumulated data. 

Nothing’s Changed…

Six weeks ago, my FTP was 228. On Tuesday of this week, I turned in a 225. Essentially, no net difference. (Despite starting too easy, as you can see, and having a few spikey surges there at the end, I have to say — I felt like I put in a good performance. You know that regretful feeling at the end of an assessment when you lament, “Aw, man… I so could’a gone harder?”

There was no such lament, here. I paced pretty well, and slogged it out, mentally, ‘til the end.  

But to me, the bigger story, is when I look back even further... here is a direct comparison to my FTP test (which was the one that TrainerRoad offers through their app) from almost exactly 6 months ago:

10 watt cumulative decline over 6 months…
Ladies and gentlemen, we've got a good old fashioned training plateau on our hands. 

Oh, sure…the nature of the work from last July until now has been a few final time trials and then an incredible European cycling vacation followed by a new base training block; there's only so much increase I could expect. But a decrease over 6 months that ultimately amounts to being stagnant? Hmm. What are we going to do about this? It's simple, really…

How to Beat a Plateau: Become an Extremist 
This all boils down to a hard-core commitment to training basics. And I'll admit that I've not been on top of my game now, for months. And part of that lack of focus is not having a ticket, aka a real training goal. Well, we know I have that, now. So what else do I need? Check it: 

Go Hard / Go Easy

Eat for the Bike

Go to Bed!

This is a very simple primciple to wrap your head around, but very difficult to be consistnet with in practice. Essentially, what theis means is, on training days when you have hard intervals to accomplish, give them every thing you have while maintaining proper form. And on rest days, really, genuinely rest. 

This concept also extends down into your training days on the bike: during intervals, hit your numbers, come what may, and learn to relax into the suffering. And then, when you’re recovering between intervals, recover!!!! GO EASY. Breathe, drink, spin quick and light; wrap your head around the mindset you need to get ready for the next interval — which you should treat as if it’s the one and only interval you’ll do all day. 

Your body builds adaptations during recovery — not during those hard intervals. You DO need to “damage” your muscles enough to make your body go into repair mode; that's what those hard intervals are for — but if you’re not going EASY when you’re supposed to be recovering, your body simply won't see gains.  

Eat for the Bike 
Nutrition is like saddle and handlebar selection: it’s very individualized. What works for one just won't work for the other. But here’s the thing: I really do believe that we all have internal “gauges” that let us know when we’re eating what we should be eating; trouble is, most of us squelch those inner voices and just do what we damn well please. 

For me, I've learned that: 

  • I absolutely cannot have alcohol — none, nip, zero — the night before a hard effort. No beer, not a small cocktail, no wine with dinner. It somehow always makes my whole effort on the bike the next day a sluggish struggle. 
  • My body struggles with processing animal proteins. I am an omnivore, but I've learned through lots of trial and error (and an especially helpful visit to a sports dietician) that I need to be plant-forward. Dairy is not my friend (I have no milk at all in the house despite it being a former “always on” food years ago. I do use butter, and I often have a little fruit and yogurt before bed, though) as well as very little meat other than seafood. As an endurance athlete, carbs are my primary fuel (as opposed to protein and fats) but I work conscientiously to get those carbs through nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. (I don't avoid gluten.) 
  • Sugar is “jet fuel,” and I don’t need high-octane power for my usual day-to-day. I enjoy raw honey on my english muffins or croissants, and I won't say no if someone offers me a slice of cake, but my sugar intake is reserved primarily for on-the-bike boosts. And as you might imagine, I take my coffee black and sugar-free. 

Go to Bed!
This has turned out to be one of the hardest things for me to do consistently. Just go to sleep a little earlier. Want some natural EPO? Go to bed — and get a full night’s sleep. A full night’s sleep is a night where you don’t need the alarm to wake you up. Now, before you shout, “Sam! I have a day job! I have a family! I have to work on a schedule, here!” Well, I'll be the last person to argue with you. But I’ll be the first to say that the number one thing you can do to start seeing more consistent workouts that lead to increases in your fitness is — GET MORE SLEEP. 

What changes do you need to do in your life to hit the hay 45 minutes sooner? I think if you’ll start looking at your evening routines, you’ll find that you can actually accomplish this. And once you start seeing the benefits, you’ll want to rearrange your life to keep it going. 

After my plateau-proving FTP test, I did just that this week: started making sure I was in the bed between 9:30pm and 10pm, so I could wake around 5:30am to hit the Pain Cave. I was hitting my numbers consistently, which is important because this second block starts working longer and closer to FTP. 

This Week’s Numbers 
If you scroll back up to the regularly-scheduled week from TrainerRoad, you'll see that I was set up for 398 TSS points. It turned out to be a bit more than that due to my modification to the Sunday ride: 

474 vs 398 
The extra points came from my final ride of the week, which was not TrainerRoad’s 90-minute Geiger +2, a series of undulating sweet spot efforts which was to be turned in at .83% of FTP. Instead, I worked on increasing my “Time To Exhaustion” (TTE) metric from WKO4. 

Since my main event coming up is a 6-hour affair that has a mountain climb at the end, endurance, time trialing, and climbing strength are on my to-do list. 

Tim Cusick of WKO4 has developed a protocol that has two phases to increase TTE. The first phase he calls FTP Aerobic Foundation, and doesn't that sound tailor-made for base building? 

TTE building
After a long warmup that builds from Zone 1 through Zone 2, you essentially ride at 85% of your FTP for 150% of WKO4's estimated Time to Exhaustion, which is an estimate of how long you can actually hold out at your stated FTP. For me, that's one hour and three minutes. 150% of that is 94 minutes. That's a lot of tempo work! But only a fraction of what I'll need to do if I expect to be competitive in May. 

Next Week: Block 2 / Week 2
VO2 intervals return after many months for me in this upcoming week. Next Sunday, we'll be working again on Time to Exhaustion. Hoo-boy!

Sweat your prayers in the pain cave

Coming Soon:
A brief video tour of the StartConfident Pain Cave

Ideas for inspiring your own indoor training space!

Trainer set-up|Media equipment and software|Creature comforts

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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