As we begin to inform our athletes of numbers for training and racing purposes, they will eventually fall down the rabbit hole of comparing their numbers to other individuals, or asking if “its good?”. If you want the cliff notes version of this blog, read this next line and then stop. Your numbers are specific to you and the demands of the race you are targeting. By focusing on numbers that are outside of our control or trying to constantly compare ourselves to others, we are taking mental focus away from our day-to-day training and creating un-needed stress. After reading this blog, I hope you can see that numbers begin to get very specific and should only serve one purpose, to get you ready for your race.
Functional Threshold Power (FTP)
I get it, this number is the biggest comparative number in all of cycling. How big is your…. threshold? While threshold does play a large factor in cycling performances, it isn’t the only number and its only specific to a handful of events. Will a 400 watt FTP be stronger than a 300 watt FTP? Yes, in terms of absolute numbers it will be. But if the 400 watt FTP cyclist weighs 180 lbs (81.81 kg… 4.88w/kg) and the 300 watt cyclist weighs 132 lbs (60kg… 5 w/kg) then then 300 watt FTP rider will destroy the higher power rider on any climb of significant distance.
The problem with this is that in todays athletic arena, everyone wants to to be faster, stronger, more athletic than everyone. The 300 watt FTP athlete would become discouraged if they only did flat time trials and compared themselves to the 400 watt FTP rider. However, if both of those athletes were to go ride a mountain, the 300 watt FTP rider would prove better. Instead of focusing on their numbers and how to maximize them, they have become obsessed with comparing themselves to others that are better on a certain type of race course.
Chronic Training Load (CTL)
– A rating of stress on the body which can be used to gauge fitness over time
The birds-eye view of general fitness that gets blown way out of proportion. What is your CTL? How fit are you? The problem I have with CTL is that athletes want to take it as an absolute of how fit you are, but really its only the size of the canvas you have in which you can begin to paint your picture.
The problem with CTL is that if it isn’t specific to your race demands, its only a false reporting of your readiness. For example, if you’re an Ironman athlete and you have a CTL of 110-125, you may feel like that is a great level of fitness. However, if you skewed the number by doing hard 30 second to 1 minute efforts, then your fitness isn’t specific to the demands of your race.
Therefore, whenever anyone starts comparing their CTL to anyone else, I often ask what type of specifics is that person using to get there, and what are the demands of the race that warrant that training. Secondly, are their parameters set correctly to allow for an accurate CTL? There are more pieces to the puzzle than just “how fit are you?”.
Training Time Per Week
This athlete is training a lot, why can’t I train that much? Or… This athlete hardly ever trains and is faster than I am, are we training correctly? The second question is fair to ask as a coach can be challenged from time to time, but again, understand that your specific race demands matched with your own physiology will create a plan for how to best maximize your odds of success. How athlete X trains may be completely different than how athlete Y trains because of these two factors. Then, even if you are targeting the same race, your training time may be completely different due to having different strengths and weaknesses. Someone that is severely lacking on the run may focus far more on building miles, but a lot of running for 1 week is 6-8 hours where as a lot of cycling for 1 week is 12-16 hours. The differences in time may be drastically different at several points of the year because of the plan to address weaknesses or training for specific demands you must meet for the event.
Mental Focus of Your Own Numbers
As I mentioned above, focusing on uncontrollable or “what everyone else is doing” is detrimental to your training and your overall ability to perform at a high level. High Performance Coach Craig Willard and your very own Jeremy Brown actually do a great job talking about focus, and what it really means, over on Performance on Demand. Check out episode 10 for a deep dive!
Non apple listeners
Each athlete has their own specific physiology that will need to be trained to meet specific demands of a race. By focusing on other individuals numbers and constantly chasing them, you could be diverting the focus you need to actually build your own. Beyond that, often times athletes have different strengths and weaknesses that can influence their training and what their numbers look like at any given time. It suits the reader to know that many different factors play a role in preparing for an event/race and by solely looking at any one number, you may find yourself tumbling down a rabbit hole of little significance.