Carmichael Training Systems Field Test

I’ve blogged over the last two weeks of my experiences with the Time-Crunched Cyclist training plan from Chris Carmichael. The plan is for the cyclist who wishes to be competitive, but has limited training time to reach that goal. A key element to the plan is to know your Functional Threshold Power and you arrive at that foundational number by performing the CTS Field Test.

The Time-Crunched Cyclist

The Time-Crunched Cyclist plan

Now, I have been following the plan for two weeks now. Why am I talking about the test now? It all comes down to I never felt that first test was an “honest” one.

All during the last two weeks I have pretty much exceeded the prescriptions for each workout. The reason being, I didn’t trust that my FTP was 252 watts and I also felt much better doing it. On a workout where my perceived effort was supposed to be 7 or 8 I was feeling like it was 4 or 5 when I followed the called for wattage. I found myself working more by perceived effort than the wattage numbers.

That isn’t a good thing. In order for the plan to work I need to work really hard, but also should not over exert myself. Sometimes training to go fast means you go a little slower than you think you should. To do this, I needed to be confident that I was falling in that sweet spot.

I asked my coach, Jim Cunningham (he is advising me as I go on my own with this plan), what he thought I should do. He knows me better than anyone else. His advice was to redo the test. He felt it was possible that my FTP could have dropped and the test was accurate, but it was important that I have trust in what I was doing. A new test could help remove the big question mark.

Last night I came home from work to give it a go. I had the test in mind throughout the day as I ate and tried to be adequately hydrated. Funny, but I was feeling a little nervous as though I was getting ready for a race.

Everything was set up and I climbed on the Felt (attached to my trainer) and started spinning to warm up. I looked down and noticed there was no wattage showing on my Garmin! This was not what I needed. I tried to get it to reconnect with my power meter, but it was no go.

I ended up having to get off the bike and drive down to Walgreens to get a new battery. After switching it out and confirming the two devices were pairing, I climbed back on the bike to start spinning again. It didn’t take long to put the frustrations of the situation behind me.

After getting my legs limbered up, I turned my attention to the first phase of the test… the warm up. You can try it yourself if you like. Just follow this workout flow.

  • Fast Pedal for 1 minute (for me that means a cadence of 130 – 140 rpm)
  • Easy Spin for 1 minute
  • Fast Pedal for 2 minutes
  • Easy Spin for 1 minute
  • Power Interval for 1 minute (not a sprint, but a hard effort – for me it was around 400 watts)
  • Easy Spin for 2 minutes
  • Power Interval for 1 minute
  • Easy Spin for 4 minutes

Now it is time for the test. You do this by coming to a stop and then bringing your pedal up to get a good push when the timer starts. When I did this on the trainer my wheel slipped a bit on the roller, but that was no big deal because you are supposed to work your way up over a 45 to 90 second period to a max wattage you believe you can hold for an 8 minute duration.

The plan calls for you to settle in at a 85 to 95 rpm average cadence. I found in the first effort that I was exceeding this pedaling at times around 100 rpm while putting out 300+ watts. I tried to find the gearing that would give me the most bang per stroke, but that also wouldn’t be too big a gear causing me to fatigue.

My wattage consistently and gradually declined as I neared the end. My cadence started getting a little irregular. I was tiring. However, I pushed through over the final minute and actually increased the wattage to average 315 watts. Frankly, I didn’t think I had that in me with the way I was feeling.

Perhaps that means I wasn’t going as hard as I actually could have, but with an average wattage of 296 watts for the 8 minute effort, I was satisfied. Really, that is about what I expected — and I will note what Jim Cunningham predicted. The rest of the test would give me more insight.

The test then calls for you to take a 10 minute easy spin break. It is funny, as you finish the first 8 minute effort, you question whether you will even be able to go another 8 minutes like you did earlier. However, after spinning easy and consuming was water, I was ready for the next effort. I also remembered that in my earlier test, that effort produced the highest average wattage.

The second 8 minute effort has the same instructions as the first. This time I lowered my cadence off the line and tried to use the whole 90 seconds to get up to speed. I could sense that things weren’t going as well as the first effort. I didn’t have the same rhythm of the first one. Rather than swinging through the effort — like I felt I was in the first effort — I felt as though I was chasing the average of the first test.

Indeed, I was. My average wattage for the second effort was 290 watts. I once again gave the final minute a push, but the wattage did not swell up like before. I finished the effort feeling nauseous. I figured that was a good thing. I didn’t leave anything.

So, what is the final analysis? Well, as Jim said earlier, either 1) the first test was correct and I have improved quickly, or 2) I had a bad day with the original test. The bottom line is that now I look at the training ahead and say, “Wow, those workouts are going to be pretty tough.” That is exactly what I wanted. I was nagged by the fact that the workouts just didn’t seem to match up with Chris Carmichael’s descriptions of what they would be like in his book.

It isn’t the case anymore! More details later on what the test means to my training going forward.