What is my FTP power anyway?

FTP stands for "functional threshhold power," and it's basically just one's 1-hour power. That is, the maximum power one can produce by pedalling one's bicycle for 1 hour without bursting into flames.

For cyclists this is interesting to know, because you can use a power meter (installed on your bike; not mine, though, because I can't afford one yet) to measure any change in your power... hopefully it will increase as you get more trained! You can also use your known power to predict mathematically how fast you can ride up any given hill. My friend Steve Rosen came up with a very cool online tool that allows you to estimate your power, based on any one of a number of well-known hill-climbs in the San Francisco Bay Area, and predict how fast you can climb other well-known hill-climbs:


According to this tool, which is more accurate than what I was using to develop my 2008 training goals, my current FTP power is actually 309.86 Watts, way higher than what I first caculated (265.9W). In the interest of truth and accuracy, I should add that just because I could ride at that power for 20 minutes doesn't mean I could ride at that power for 60 minutes, though I'd probably be pretty close.

That is all very nice, but it doesn't actually make me any faster! But it will allow me to predict my hill-climbing speeds and such better. And it will also force me to update my 2008 training goals.

One of my training goals is break the 19-minute barrier riding up very steep Old La Honda Road. To achieve that I could raise my FTP power to just 312W and lower my body weight to 148 pounds. I think finding another 2 Watts is entirely possible, even likely, assuming I can stick to my training plan. And I've already dropped my body weight by 4 pounds in about six weeks, so I will soon reach my goal weight of 148 pounds. Now I just have to actually gain those 2 Watts, lose 2 more pounds and ride the climb on a good day!

Now, back to my other training goal, involving a higher FTP power: What should my new goal power be? I now know I'll soon be about 4.6W/kg (Watts per kilogram of body weight, which is a commonly used indicator of one's climbing ability because your power and your weight determine your speed up a hill). I've also learned that the best climbers in the amateur ranks can have as much as 5W/kg (and the Pros can have as much as 6 or 7W/kg!). Realistically, I will probably never reach 5W/kg, so I will use another tack: raise my power by 5%. That seems pretty optimistic, but my coach, Mark Edwards, says 5% is not totally impossible. That would also raise me up to 4.84W/kg, which is still pretty good, though not great. Hey, I am a sprinter after all! :-)

So here are my updated 2008 training goals:
  • Raise my FTP power by 5%, from about 310 Watts to 325W. My legs hurt just thinking about that!
  • Break the 19-minute barrier up the Old La Honda Road climb.
If I accomplish my first goal I will not only achieve my second goal but blow it away, with a blistering fast 18:06 time up Old La Honda! I still think all of this may happen, but we'll know by no later than 12/31/2008!