handle a hard workout

I got to venture into the land of FTP—functional  threshold power—again last week. Careful readers might remember that I struggled with FTP tests last spring. (I should qualify that: careful readers who haven’t been in a the middle of a pandemic for two years and/or are not perimenopausal. Which is to say: there’s no reason you should remember this.)

Careful readers might also remember Grant and I are headed to the Iron Horse in Durango, Colorado over Memorial Day. We’re taking on the Citizen’s Tour, an event the organizers describe as non-competitive and non-timed. That sounds lovely, but anything that has over with 6,000 feet of climbing in about 50 miles is not for the light of heart, the small of quads, or the undertrained.

Hence, the FTP test to make sure I’m in the right power and heart rate zones.

You may not have 20-minutes of all-out riding on your schedule, but you may have a heart rate test, a long run, a track workout or some other nail-biter of a workout.

Here’s how, after years of 2,000-meter erg tests and mile repeats and marathon training runs and yes, FTP tests, I have come to handle hard workouts.

1. Don’t overthink it.

When I settled on Thursday for the FTP test, I did my best to then to leave it just as another item on my Google calendar.

While it’s important think about hard and/or long workouts the day before so you eat enough carbs and your GPS is charged, it’s super easy to overthink it. The reality is, the earth is going to keep spinning and your workout day will arrive whether or not you fret about it. Give the workout attention it deserves—after all, it’s an important building block in your training—but remember it’s just one brick on one day.

If you find your mind fast forwarding and dreading, do I what I do: Gently remind yourself either vocally or mentally: “That workout is on Thursday morning. Right now, it’s Monday afternoon. Let’s be here now.”

One thing I would recommend: immediate pre-workout focus to put you in the right mindset. I opted for this Pre-Game/Pre-Race Meditation (free on Insight Timer). I was dressed for my workout and had my bike set up, then spent eight minutes thinking about the upcoming workout, and went right into my warm-up.

2. Mentally chunk it up.

The FTP test is 20 minutes long, and although I’m not as fly-as-die as I used to be, I’m still pretty good at my effort looking like an end-of-day report of a bear stock market. Going down, down, down.

This time, I decided I would chunk it up into 7 minutes + 7 minutes + 6 minutes. That’s longer than I typically like to slice and dice things—I’m the queen of 10 steps, 1 minute, to that stop sign—but I wanted to try something different. Plus, I really liked that the last section was the shortest. My effort would correspond accordingly: “ease” in to find my groove, then go hard, then give it your all. (The same applies nicely to nearly any road race, minus the marathon: break it into thirds.)

Each section was still plenty tough, but getting through the second 7-minute slice was surprisingly empowering. Just six minutes to go? I can do that! On the fly, I broke those down into 3 x 2 minute pieces, with 20 strong pedal strokes at the top of each chunk. The end doesn’t suddenly appear, but you do taste accomplishment with every piece you complete, making the end feel closer than it would otherwise.

3. Tune into both effort + numbers.

The numbers displayed on Zwift + GPS are like the Easter aisle at the grocery store: so many options + choices! Power, average power, heart rate, cadence, and on and on. And it’s so easy to get sucked into performing for and watching the numbers vs. tuning into how those numbers are feeling.

Certainly, when you’re doing a hard workout in the middle of a training block, you have an idea of roughly what your splits or other numbers will be, but just going for those is just one piece of the puzzle. What if you could go harder? What if you need to back off? As any sleep-deprived, stressed-out person likely knows, there are days when hitting any number is just not going to happen.

That’s when tuning into effort and your body/form comes into play. If your legs are feeling heavy, can you turn them over quicker? Do you need to adjust your posture? Where are you wasting energy?

The mantra Stay Engaged, which I picked up for the Aquabike National Championships last fall and has continued to pop up regularly for me. I stayed engaged with both my effort and my numbers; when the latter were going down, I realized that wasn’t a predetermined fate.

After I settled into the test, my average watts climbed from 197 to 198 to 199. I’m looking forward to the day they climb from, say, 204 to 205 to 206. I’m confident I’ll get there—and through the Iron Horse.

How you do handle hard workouts?