Six and a half hours at Philly

Tom Soladay and the rest of the Mountain Khakis team lined up in Philly for the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championships this past weekend.  One of Tom’s major goals for the season was to be in a position to be able to go for a high placing in this landmark US event.

160 miles is a long way to go even if you did not have to climb the Manayunk Wall 10 times, so the challenges of getting to the end of over 6 hours in the saddle with the legs to be able to attack and/or follow attacks actually required more in the way of patience and trust than in big shows of effort.  Tom’s normal mindset in a race is to be an animator, launching attacks whenever he sees an opening, but for a race this long, with a field as stacked with talent as Philly always is, using his power only when needed was the key to being in the front group to the end of the race.

Here is Tom’s power file from his Quarq/Garmin. In this one I took the speed out and left in the GPS info as that shows us where the wall was each lap seen in orange on the image below with the yellow line showing us power.  

Tom Suladay Power File

The key thing to notice in this file is where Tom’s power stayed through most of the event. The horizontal dashed line marks his Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and you can see that most of the race was spent about 100 watts or more below that line.  Tom’s most important job in this race was to make sure he would have his muscle glycogen stores as topped up as possible so that when the time to attack or chase or whatever came along, his anaerobic system would have the fuel to get the job done.  That meant eating and drinking from the very start and using as little effort as possible to stay in position in the field.

If you ever wonder why we in the power-coaching world tend to put a lot of emphasis on power at threshold, this is a good example. Every time you are forced to raise your power over your threshold, you are tapping into that important glycogen stored in your muscles and liver. Eating early and often in a long event will help to spare those stores, but it is not really possible to replace everything that you are using, especially in a race, so the more you can avoid using that limited supply of glycogen the better. The higher your FTP, the harder you can ride and still avoid burning up your glycogen stores.

You may think, “so what”, just stay below FTP and you can go all day and still sprint. Unfortunately, when it comes to racing, you cannot always control how hard you need to go and still stay in position or even in the race. This power file shows that for Tom to just hold his position near the front of the field, he had to go over FTP for a few minutes every time they climbed the Wall. In fact if you look at the seventh trip up the wall, there was a split in the field and an even harder and longer effort was required to stay in the front group.

So how does all this tie into racing and training with your power meter? Well, we can see that Tom was able to stay below FTP for most of the race thereby conserving his fuel for when he might need it in the finishing circuits. What this file also shows us is the importance of training your anaerobic energy system to be efficient as well. Even though FTP is important to racing fitness, especially when the races get long, being able to go above FTP and not be completely blown is just as important. Tom spent over an hour well above his FTP and was able to hit nearly the same numbers every time up the wall with actually a general increase in power in the last 4 big laps.

When it comes to longer races, intelligent use of your aerobic and anaerobic system will help you to have the fuel to put in the big moves later in the day, or at the very least let you maintain your level of output as others fade. An efficient aerobic system will allow you to avoid burning your limited supply of glycogen, while a strong anaerobic system will keep you from having to use it all up too quickly when you do venture above your threshold.