Experimenting with Power

Now that I have my power meter all set up, there's a matter of learning how to use it.  I recruited my knowledgeable friend Sean Clark for help; I've known him for years and he and his wife Tara Lee Marshall (yep, former pro triathlete) run a successful coaching business called Canwi Multisport.  Sean is super generous with his time and always happy to answer my questions (of course with some expletives thrown in... but this is to be expected if you know Sean!). I don't have a coach this year, but think I've learned enough over the past years that I can coach myself (and have great friends I can ask for advice when I need to).

He had me do a couple of tests to determine my "FTP", which stands for Functional Threshold Power. That's basically the power you could sustain for one hour.  I did one on the trainer and one outside... he told me the numbers would be lower on the trainer and of course I didn't believe him, and of course he was right. I guess that's why Sean runs the coaching business and not me.  I then sent him the power numbers, and he sent me back my power zones, along with a quick primer on what each zone is.

Basically, there are several zones, each corresponding to a percentage of your FTP.

  • Zone 1 is active recovery (aka easy spinning)
  • Zone 2 is endurance training
  • Zone 3 is tempo
  • Zone 4 is lactate threshold
  • Zone 5 is VO2 max
  • Zone 6 is anaerobic capacity

There is a zone 7, but doesn't really correspond with power as it's for super-short bursts.

I'm still figuring this all out, but at this point my understanding of all these zones is pretty basic: racing is done at the higher end of Zone 2 (Ironman), Zone 3 (Half Ironman), and Zone 4 (shorter races).  Really short TT's may even be done in Zones 5-6.

After Sean set up all my numbers, I did a 3:15 hour ride with a friend.  I didn't have the screen showing any power numbers on my Garmin, because I wanted to see where I was when I was riding in what I would have called the lower end of the endurance training zone.  We chatted as we rode, we weren't trying to hold a particular pace, and while we weren't just spinning, we weren't working hard.  When I got home I looked at the numbers, and they put me in the lower end of lactate threshold.  Whoops - guess I screwed up my FTP test and didn't go hard enough.  I definitely wasn't anywhere near lactate threshold chatting with Nicole the whole time!

Tonight I headed out after work to repeat my FTP test.  This time I kept the screen showing my power numbers the entire 20 minutes and tried to hit the highest numbers I could.  My legs were burning and I felt like I wanted to puke after the first 10 minutes, so hopefully I was going hard enough.  This 20 minute test wasn't fun at all... a crazy hard effort like that really isn't my style!  Anyway, the average was 45 watts higher than the first test, so hopefully I did it right this time.  Saturday I want to try a "blind" ride again where I don't look at the numbers until after, and my perceived pace will be endurance... maybe this time the numbers will match!


  1. you are going to crush it this year. feeling like you are going to puke, a certain German once told me if I wasn't feeling like that on his wheel I wasn't going hard enough and that I could slow down when I actually did puke.

    1. I don't plan to feel like I want to puke often... after all this is for fun!

  2. as you know FUN is not allowed in German!