It’s fun watching all the different numbers and how they change on the power meter. But what do they mean? I need some baseline data.
After another chat with Will I agree to do 5 sec, 1 min, 5 min, and 20 min tests. These are all out efforts for each time period. They will identify my weak points and form the starting line for a training programme.
The tests will take two days with a rest day inbetween. I pick a route, following instructions to ride slightly uphill and into a headwind, the opposite of a cyclist’s normal riding habit.
Day one does not start well. Rain turns from a slight drizzle to a downpour during my warm up period, and I feel wet and cold, my initial enthusiasm evaporating rapidly. My original plan goes out the window and I shorten the warm up that isn’t making me very warm.
The One Minute Power Test
The 1 min test is first. I spot a suitable section of road and go for it. Just 1 minute, how hard could it be? Awful! Very hard to pace, looked down at my Garmin when I started to see stars to find I had only covered 32 seconds! How could I keep going for the full minute? It’s hard to think straight, my legs refuse to move, why am I doing this? Finally one minute is up and I grind to a halt. How on earth can I do five minutes? I recover slowly for the next 20 minutes.
Getting harder, now 5 minutes
I get to my planned 5 minute section and the countdown begins. I remember it’s 5 minutes and try and pace myself. The headwind is strong and I have to change down a few gears to keep moving. What effect does that have on power readings? But I’m not looking at my power output, the Garmin page is set to time, and I’m concentrating too hard to take my hand away and change the screen. The road turns and the headwind eases slightly. Determined to show what I can really do, I accelerate, increasing my cadence. It’s getting hard now. I reach 4 mins, I still have another whole minute! I’m breathing rapidly through my mouth, strings of viscous saliva dripping down my chin, snot running into my mouth. But it’s no time to think about appearances. I ignore it all because I have a goal to reach.
Nearly there, put a bit more effort into it, and the clock ticks round. Yes! Done it! A few more turns of the pedals just to be sure. Legs grind to a halt, I pull over by a gate at the side of the road, heart hammering, still breathing like a beached fish. Eventually my heart beat slows and I can breathe more normally. I get back on the bike, balance still unsteady.
Two down one to go. I plan to do the 5 sec sprint towards the end of the ride but am impatient to finish. After 15 minutes of spinning in an easy gear I decide I’m rested enough to try it. The section ahead looks good. I stomp on the pedals and sprint as if a zombie hoard is chasing me. I count slowly in my head, 1, 2, 3, 4,....12. Yes, I count up to 12 as Will advised, to ensure I get a good 5 seconds. And it’s done! My legs feel good, that wasn’t bad! I scroll through and find the max power: 678. Surely I can get above 700? I have to try again.
More gentle spinning and another opportunity to sprint, a downhill section followed by a rolling uphill. I freewheel until I am almost at the bottom then stomp down hard again, hitting the hill with a pace that feels like I am flying. Max power 710! I fist pump myself, full of congratulations.
A day of rest then the 20 min test.
“It should feel easy at first, and very hard towards the end.” I hear Will’s voice in my head as I start. I’m on the A422 heading west as he recommended.
It’s a lovely day, blue sky and sunshine after the previous rain, the countryside a mix of optimistic spring green amongst muddy brown. The road is better than I thought, wide enough not to annoy drivers behind me and little draft from passing vehicles.
But what does “feel easy at first” actually mean? Surely not just coasting along. I put a bit of effort in and decide to go for it.
The long, constant uphill slopes have me pushing hard all the time. I sneek peeks at my power output: 240, 190, 223, 176. Can I make it over 200 for the 20 minutes? I keep at it, the hills seem endless. A flat section, slight downhill, then more uphill. I’m starting to get tired, I can feel it in my legs. My heart rate stays high, hovering at 180. Power output drops to 160. This spurs me on to try harder, my mouth hanging open, greedily sucking in air. Luckily, I seem to be avoiding the snot and saliva strings that plagued me on the 5 min test. It’s hard. I guess this is the “...and very hard towards the end” bit.
On the side of the road, a display of wooden statues catches my eye, as does the inviting layby next to it. But no, I must keep going. I look down at the time: only 1 minute left! This spurs me on up the next hill, pushing until nothing is left. That’s it! Finished! I keep moving. If I stop, I’m sure I would fall off. I make it to Chicheley and the turning towards North Crawley. It’s a lovely route back to Bedford, quiet roads and a chance to spin gently.
I feel euphoric, it’s all over!
But actually it’s just the beginning.
1 sec max power 710
5 sec power 678
1 min power 412
5 min power 231
20 min power 196
Heart rate max 185
(*FTP is functional threshold power, nominally the max power output for 1 hour. The accepted value is 95% of your 20 min power which saves having to do an all out 1 hour test.)