What I learned from "failing" an FTP test
This week I had an FTP Test. For those unfamiliar with the brutal process, it is a 20 minute all out effort on the bike. The results of the test give us an estimate for current functional threshold power, and from there, all workouts and race plans are based on percent of that threshold. The reason is simple: our threshold is simply the level of intensity we can sustain for a given period of time. Therefore, we can execute workouts that are designed to either:
A) Increase the total intensity (watts) we can handle
B) Increase how long we can sustain at a given intensity
As I coach I want my athletes to do a mix of both. Focusing on A) helps us get faster, while focusing on B) helps us dial in the race plan.
But no matter what we focus on, having an accurate estimation of FTP is important. After a big weekend of training, I scheduled mine for Monday morning. While this wasn’t ideal, I was traveling Tuesday so it would be my only opportunity. I got though the warm up intervals and put my game face on. The first 4 minutes hurt, but I felt confident. Another few minutes and I was still going strong while trying to hold on. At 13 minutes I was gassed and at 14:36 I stopped altogether.
At first I was disappointed. I hadn’t reached my target, I “failed” the test. However, the point of the test is to find out where our limit is, and sometimes the best way to find the edge of our ability is to accidentally go over it. This is where the art of coaching comes in. The 20 minute test is an estimate. It is important... it isn’t magical. In fact, FTP moves around from day to day, just not significantly, which is why we re-test around every 4-6 weeks. If we are training consistently, the test is just another data point we can collect and learn from. What did I learn? I learned that my FTP is probably somewhere between 310 (what I would have estimated had I sustained those final minutes) and 290 (what I could have held fairly easily and have held in some recent sweet spot / threshold workouts)...sometimes as a coach/athlete you have to read between the lines.
I also learned how to that it isn’t the outcome that is important. Although I didn’t complete the full 20 minutes, I still gave it my all. As Ghandi said, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, to the attainment. Full effort is fully victory.” When we can look ourselves in the mirror and know that we gave it our best, we can rest easy because tomorrow is another day. Reality won’t always match our expectations and progress isn’t always linear, so it’s important to find a way to paint a more complete picture instead of the black and white one of failure and success.