Can you fail your FTP Test?

I sure felt like I did, yesterday.

Let me back up, because I’ve already lost most of you. FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, and it’s basically a measure of fitness in a certain type of training, primarily, I believe, for cyclists and runners. Peloton offers Power Zone training, which is centered around increasing one’s FTP. I started Power Zone training just a few months into my Peloton journey, about two years ago. At that time, I took the FTP test to get my zones (basically levels of intensity to guide effort in PZ classes) and set a baseline for my training. I trained hard for awhile and got stronger and stronger- then I realized i was training too hard, and had to back off. It’s taken me since November 2018 to get to a place where I am ready to focus my training again, and I’d noticed in my last handful of PZ classes that my zones were a leeeeetle too easy overall. So, I thought, it was time to test.

I took the test yesterday (5/25/20), and it was, as it should be, the most grueling 20 minutes of exercise I’d ever experienced. I was crying during most of the second half, having to take breaks, frustrated beyond words, and SO discouraged, because as hard as I was working, the entire ride I was trending behind my previous number. I finished the test, crying, angry, defeated, but I did not quit. My final number on the test was identical to the one from two years ago. I sobbed through the entire ten minutes of my cool down ride. I felt like such a failure and humiliated, even though only Scott, Kristine, and myself knew about this.

And then I talked to both of them, and got some perspective.

Scott pointed out that I worked out harder last week than I had in probably close to two years, and only took Sunday to fully recover, and even Sunday night I was still pretty sore. Then I had a rough night of sleep, to the point where I was so foggy even after an hour of being awake, that I tried to go back to sleep-which didn’t work. Then, I did a core workout and arms workout before my ride- thinking that if I left my lower body alone I’d still be good for my ride. I looked back to see what my workout history surrounding my first FTP test looked like. Instead of it being a Monday with one day of recovery after six of hard work, it was a Friday, after not having worked out at all since Tuesday, only having ridden on Monday and Tuesday after having had Friday-Sunday off. To simplify: in the previous 7 days the first time I had ridden twice and done no other exercise. in the previous 7 days this time, I’d ridden 6 days, done four HIIT strength workouts, 5 hours of yoga, and done some strength training immediately before my ride. SO, all that said…I still performed as well as two years ago.

When I texted with Kristine, I’d already processed a lot of this, decided to just bump my FTP number up a few points to raise my zones, and test again in another six weeks or so, and she was 100% in support and agreement, and she said what I already knew but needed to be reminded of: “You know your body better than any test.”

I sat down then, knowing where I “went wrong” this time, and made a plan to train smarter and be better recovered for my next test. I won’t bore y’all with the details, but it includes a week of less intense training the week previous to when I plan to test, and an escape clause if I’m not well rested. I also have zero problem doing like am going to today and bumping up a few points instead of testing if I don’t feel up to the test. Like I told Kristine, I’m not testing again until I can win.

This made me think, though. In how many other situations do I make unfair comparisons or hold myself to a ridiculous standard? It’s Thursday (5/28/20) now, and even though I took my normal active recovery day yesterday, and even took a really long nap, I am fighting some real fatigue today. I woke at 6, intending to eat and work out, but every movement felt heavy and my mind felt incredibly foggy. I got back in bed to sleep more as soon as I had fed the kids breakfast (around eight AM) and slept ( with a few kid-terruptions) until eleven. Upon waking even then i felt about the same. I realized that this is a great opportunity for me to accept and live into the fact that there are many ingredients that create the cocktail of my wellness, and that all of them are entirely unique to me. I have multiple mental and physical conditions that contribute to my energy level in complex ways. I am deeply affected by my sleep quality, more than most people, even, and getting “caught up” after a bad night or two takes a lot for me. What I eat today might even impact my energy level tomorrow, as I am sensitive to inflammation in my body. Those are just a few of the factors that I need to take into account when I wake up feeling like I did this morning. I can’t compare my energy level with all these factors to anyone else’s because our cocktails are all unique. I can’t even compare to myself five or six years ago because the cocktail was different then too.

Now, it’s a little after two PM, and I’ve had an amazing burger and fries (sometimes you need that!) and a half caf coffee, and I feel like I am finally about ready to work out. I won’t accomplish all I wanted to today, but the day doesn’t have to be wasted, momentum toward a place of more consistent and higher energy doesn’t need to be lost, and I definitely don’t need to start beating myself up.

Note: there is always a way to modify without compromising. Today, even though I feel better now, I have to think bigger picture and know that what I do today will affect tomorrow, so I need not to fully gas myself out. It’s tricky, because today is my heaviest workout day this week. Here’s what I have on deck (and how I will modify to be wise and kind to myself):

  • level up on my strength/HIIT training to my favorite/a much tougher workout (go into it looking to set a baseline for what i want to improve on in coming weeks, not complete every possible rep today.)
  • an hour of yoga, 30 min of power yoga and 20 of slow flow plus transistions (have plenty of break time between strength and this. be willing to modify and take breaks in class- I have nothing to prove, and can take the class again on demand anytime.)
  • 45 minute class on bike (just show up, have fun, and work as hard as feels good. Today is not a day to try to PR. Today’s victory is showing up and finishing)
  • 20 minutes of foam rolling (this is the reward at the end. take breaks as needed for shoulders.)

I’m seeing tremendous improvement in what my body can do, and that’s so exciting, but I cannot drive it into the ground in order to see these results faster. If nothing else, it’s unfair and robs today of its own victories.

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