What's my FTP today? Mental strength vs fatigue.
Something a little bit different this week after a few weeks of documenting the Build phases I've been working through to get myself ready for "The Struggle" (and the summer of riding hopefully!). With 3 weeks until that event (at the start of this week), we are still working on a mix of volume, supplemented with increasingly intense intervals, however, the overall volume is tapering off somewhat to ensure arriving at the event without too much fatigue. Speaking of fatigue, that is going to be the main theme of this week's post.
Types of Fatigue
For me, fatigue comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, which can be broken down as:
- The fatigue felt after a workout
- "That workout really pushed me, but I'll be good to go tomorrow"
- The fatigue felt after a few days/week of training
- "Those 3 back to back days have left me tired, I'm not sure I could go again tomorrow, but I'll be ok the next day"
- The fatigue felt after a block of training
- "Those 3 weeks were great, but it's time to freshen up for a number of days to shed the accumulated fatigue."
- The fatigue felt after a number of contiguous blocks of training
- "I trained and peaked for my target event, it was great! It's now time to take some structured training down time to physically and mentally reset for the next one."
- The fatigue from daily stresses
- "Work was intense today, I need to make dinner tonight, the kids need to go to clubs, it's now 8pm, I'm not sure I've got anything left for training today."
- The fatigue from insufficient sleep
- "It's just one of those days where 7 coffees before breakfast hasn't worked, I can't see myself getting on that bike today..."
- The fatigue associated with under fuelling (this one will be the topic of a longer post in the future, but is included here for completeness)
- "I probably didn't eat enough yesterday, and felt a bit empty during that session"
There are no doubt many more, but from a training perspective, these are the ones I generally consider when interpreting my sensations.
So, nothing new in all that I'm sure, however, given that we accept there are so many different types of fatigue accumulation we can accrue, why do we think that the performances we are going to be able to achieve on any given day should be held to a relatively static benchmark (FTP).
Some might argue that we need to "Man up!", "Get on with it!" etc etc, and to be fair, there are some days where this is the case. However, there are the other days where the volume dial on the Rocky 4 Soundtrack can't go any higher and you still can't motivate yourself to face another interval. It's those days that I think we need to be wary of.
As someone who dedicates a large amount of time and thought to my training, and also no stranger to the 5-6 hour indoor trainer session, I think we can agree that I'm relatively "driven" to improve my cycling. So there must be an explanation as to why some days (or even weeks) you feel like you can't set the intensity bias on a workout high enough "Is that all you got workout!?", and other days, where the interval feels demoralizingly hard (if you can even complete them) "Where did all my gains go?! It was so easy last week...".
Over time, I've learned that for me, a lot of this comes down to fatigue accumulation. The fine line which is walked between sufficient stimulus to elicit adaptations, and too much that the fatigue build up becomes "chronic". Our physical ability to complete intense work on the bike is 9 times out of 10 more than sufficient to get the job done, but it's the mental side (particularly as the length of the interval increases) that leads to failure. I think the latter is fairly simply summarised by the fact that the longer we are suffering for, the more times we can ask ourselves the question "Is it time to stop?" (Perhaps bringing into question whether "Time to exhaustion" tests should actually be called "Time to mental exhaustion"?).
I thought a little discussion on fatigue and its effects were worth introducing in this post, as it is something which I feel directly impacted some workouts during the period since the last post. When training for longer (and eventually) multi day events, riding with fatigue is something which we need to get used to. However, identifying when we are training "functionally" vs "non functionally" (e.g. too much) is the trick.
One topic which logically extends the "fatigue" topic, is that of overreaching vs overtraining. It can be difficult to distinguish the two in the first instance, and as someone who trains a decent number of hours alongside a day job, it is something I have to be careful with. That however, is the topic for a dedicated post (which also delves into fitness vs health), which will be addressed in the future.
I deliberately waited for two weeks worth of training for this latest update, as it showcased particularly well days where interval sessions were conducted with both a negative, and a positive intensity bias.
The Training fortnight
The emphasis of this fortnight (before a taper on the week of the event) was to keep progressing up the intensity scale having already put a lot of work in the Tempo/SS bank. It is a good example of how the athlete/coach relationship is important to understand how/when to adapt the planned sessions in response to the sensations felt during the workouts.
The pre-work interval session for Tuesday was set to be 4 x 10 mins @FTP, followed by 6 x 1 min neuromuscular efforts (power on best endeavours after the FTP intervals).
The first two FTP reps were pretty strong in terms of position, cadence, pedal style and deployment of power, although the HR was quite high (when the HRM was actually working, new strap still in the post it seems), and the RPE was certainly approaching a 9 by the end of them.
At the start of the third rep I gave things a bit of a kick out of the saddle and when I sat back down I felt like the saddle may have dropped a cm or so (my big 65kg frame!). Didn't think too much of it though and carried on.
I had to drop the power on the third rep as RPE was quite a bit higher and legs were feeling it. Same was true for the fourth rep (where I wanted to try and at least "get through it" so I could try and attack the anaerobic segments with something left).
I hit the first few anaerobic efforts fairly well, but the fatigue had clearly built by this point, so turned off ERG after 3 of them, did the 4th on best endeavours and skipped the last two reps to save something in the legs for the rest of the week.
When I got off the bike, it turns out the saddle had dropped 5cm, and not the 1cm I had thought! Not saying I wouldn't have struggled with the later reps anyway, but I think this had a bit of an impact for sure. Having tightened the Kickr bike seat-post bolt things have been stable since, so I guess it just loosened over time with the changing in height when I use it compared to Laura.
Despite having reduced the intensity for the last two FTP reps and dropped a couple of the NM intervals, it was still a reasonable session in the bank, and we progress from here onwards this week.
Nothing too crazy on Wednesday, as recovery has felt a little lower (and my Whoop HRV reflected this fact). The legs did feel better at the end compared to the start, but I think it was sensible to just ride at lower z2 today and cap it to a few hours.
I did a little fuelling practice as if I were riding my target event too (e.g. just 2 bottles on the bike, and a simulated feed station after 1.5 hours). This worked well, and is something which I'll continue to incorporate into my longer rides leading up to the event.
The second pre-work interval session of the week, and this one was more work close to FTP. The "spice" in this one was a short burst every 2.5 minutes for each 10 minute segment.
Felt pretty solid at 310W, although as expected, it becomes quite hard to "settle" again after the burst effort (certainly in ERG mode, and in hindsight turning off ERG mode may have been a good option, at least for the burst sections). I did find that if I remained standing for around 30s after the burst, I was able to better recover and settle back down in the saddle again, so opted for that approach in the end.
Second interval felt tougher than the first (it's often the other way around for me as I get warmed into the efforts), but got through at about a 9 on RPE (again, dominated by the burst disruption to the rhythm). I decided to nudge down the bias on the third interval a few % to give myself a better chance, but lost a little mental appetite for the bursts I think, so just completed the straight 10 mins at what was essentially top end SS.
I'd already planned to add a little more fatigued tempo on to this session (partially as I had a bit more time this morning, and also I've found it really valuable for the glute strength and fatigue resistance). I got through that and the z2 remainder feeling fairly strong, confirming that the bursts disruption to the rhythm were the biggest contribution to the perceived exertion.
Once again, not a 100% session, but the week definitely felt a little like "best endeavours" on the intervals. Given this fact, I elected to adapt the weekend plans and stick to some lower intensity work to "reset" my body a bit.
I don't usually undertake "Active Recovery" rides on my days off, but I wanted to see how this would help my recovery after the first few days of the week. A little session with the Coco-Cadence pace partner in Watopia was a nice z1 refresher for the legs and the mind.
To mix up the usual z2 terrain I decided to jump on the Zwift NL event for the second Saturday running (although this week, not riding the climbs at Tempo/SS as I did last week). The beauty of riding on a course like this, is the ability to practice some power control at lower cadences, and match the cadence to the gradient requirements. Not only is this mentally stimulating, but it provides some strength and fatigue resistance training to the glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors.
Felt a bit more refreshed after yesterdays z2, but wanted to make sure I didn't put myself back, so kept it to some more easy riding today. The idea here being to feel refreshed and ready to hit the interval sessions with full gusto next week.
With that in mind, I picked an event that targeted lower z2 rather than mid-upper today, but one which was rather longer. The SAS 200km ride is one I've wanted to have a go at for some time, and although an early (0600) start, it meant I could have a large amount of the day to recover. It was also another good test of fuelling, and I think I've dialled that in pretty well now (at least at the lower intensities).
A little burst at the end of the group ride (for the dozen or so of us left) for bragging rights, but nothing crazy.
So I think it's fairly clear from the week above that recovery was somewhat diminished earlier in the week, and it impacted my interval sessions. I generally prefer to reduce the intensity bias instead of completely ceasing the reps (although I'm not against that if it really feels bad). I believe this comes back to the original topic of the post "What's my FTP today?", where the ability to adapt to what is "good pain" vs "putting yourself in a deep well" is important.
I felt physically and (more importantly for me) mentally refreshed for the first pre-work interval session of the next week. This session saw multiple, varying length SS intervals, with a short burst every 2 minutes.
Admittedly, this sort of workout is "in my wheelhouse", but it was good to approach it with confidence and execute it well after a couple of poorer recovery (and hence mental approach) days last week.
I kept the workout on 100% intensity bias until halfway, then nudged up by a couple of % for each of the next 2 intervals. Still felt solid, so put the bias to 110% to execute the last 4 minute rep at 100% FTP. Didn't want to push too early on the intensity bias as there was another above threshold session to come this week, and I wanted to be ready for that.
I worked hard on making the transitions as "comfortable" as I could, and certainly found myself "recovering" after the surges at 300W well, which is definitely a good feeling.
Solid start to the week.
As much as Tuesdays session felt solid, I knew I had some work in my legs come Wednesday morning. I decided that a similar approach to last week (where I kept the middle session between the two interval sessions easier) would be a good idea again. A nice lower zone 2 ride for a few hours to keep things ticking over. The heart rate was certainly a little lower for the average power (perhaps 5-8bpm compared to when fresh), which also backs up a little fatigue from the session the day before.
The second pre-work interval session of the week saw the infamous "Superman" workout from Coach Laverack. Named (I believe) for the "flowing cape" shape to the intervals (and corresponding heart rate curve), this workout sees decreasing duration interval repeats at increasing power. You build up a solid amount of time above threshold over the course of the workout, and it's a good test of VO2/NM repeatability, whilst keeping the HR largely in the VO2max zone (particularly as the recovery time diminishes)..
I was quite pleased with the execution of this one (bar the little blip on the final set where I got a bit bogged down in ERG mode, which prematurely ended the set halfway).
The thing I was particularly happy with was how long I was able to remain seated and engage the core and glutes compared to when I usually stand up. I completed everything seated up to the 8th 40/30 rep. The out-of-the-saddle 20/20s were solid, and I think a little fatigue, plus still being in ERG mode just caught up a little on the 10/10s as previously mentioned.
Definitely was a good idea to do an easier (lower z2 for 3 hours ride) yesterday in preparation for today. I think some previous Wednesdays have been longer and a bit tougher and have perhaps compromised the Thursday sessions a bit, so this was a decent lesson to learn.
A full recovery day on Friday, before tackling some more endurance work at the weekend to keep things ticking over, whilst not hammering the nervous system greatly.
The EVO 160km ride was the parcours for Saturday's endurance ride. This one was not as flat as the typical courses for this ride, and 8 times through Titan's Grove would certainly provide a nice break up of the monotony of Fuego Flats, as well as giving a prime time to get out of the saddle and break up the cadence over the 4 hours.
The first hour was a bit peppy (as is often the case on these longer group rides as some only join for an hour and "give it the beans"), but it settled down after that. I felt solid and energetic throughout the ride. I even allowed myself a little dash for the line at the end of the event.
Another steady ride was the order of the day for Sunday. A bit shorter and a little lower in z2 compared to Saturday's ride. The 3R endurance ride was a nice way to get Sunday started and my legs and energy levels felt good throughout.
Two weeks where the number of interval sessions were capped at two, and the overall TSS was lower than that of the recent build weeks. This has given the body a good chance to recover from the back to back build blocks, and yet by keeping some interval sessions in, has kept the spring in the legs.
Next week is event week, and with The Struggle Dales on the Sunday, we pray to the weather gods for favourable conditions! The preparation for this event will look somewhat similar to the last couple of weeks, with pre work interval sessions on Tuesday and Thursday (focusing on short high intensity intervals, but nothing to generate a lot of TSS/fatigue). Saturday will see a shorter ride with some leg openers before travelling to Harrogate.
With the current plan for next week I should be ready for the event with a solid "Fitness" (CTL) of 122, and a Form of 25. A lot of fatigued efforts have been undertaken in the last few months, and some long training sessions. With the "freshener" of this past week, and the taper week before the event, I should be in a good place on the day.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope this fortnight has given a bit of an insight into how I have come to adapt both individual sessions, and the weekly makeup, based on how I'm feeling. I look forward to the event next Sunday, and letting you all know how I got on!
Until then, enjoy your training, and... Ride On!