Burning matches

In today’s PowerMax indoor cycling class, we did the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine’s standard time trail. 6.7 miles with some ups and downs. It was rather unpleasant, but it showed me where I am and taught me about pacing.

What to do
All us classmates have been doing workouts based on our threshold power (or Coach Lester Pardoe’s best guess). Threshold power is the amount of power you can sustain for an hour. For this test, Lester told us:

– On the the uphills, push 20 percent over your threshold power.

– On the downhills, maintain no lower than 20 percent under your threshold power. It’s OK to back off to recover, but not too much.

Burning matches
I know my sustainable power isn’t so impressive, but that I have decent burst power. I also know that sustained power and intense bursts use different energy systems. My strategy: Push the climbs extra hard, then recover on the downhills (Super D style!). I hoped everything would average out.

The issue is this:

If you’re at your sustainable max and you want to punch out some extra HPs, you can do it. But you must recover, and that recovery taxes your endurance system. Say you can maintain 250 watts. Well there Tough Guy, if you hammer 500 watts for a little while, your endurance system can’t maintain 250 watts while it’s recovering from your idiocy. While you’re recovering from your sprint adventure, your sustainable power will go way down.

That’s what happened to me today. I would cruise along at around 250 watts, which felt good. On the climbs I’d stand and hammer 300-350 watts, which was rad and impressive, but then I’d drop below 200 while I recovered. Oh yeah, and my stomach hurt.

As Lester said, every time you bust out an intense burst — especially if you’re already at your threshold — you burn a match. You can only burn so many matches.

So: If you’re rocking a time trial, it’s cool to push harder on the climbs, but not so hard you can’t keep hammering the downhills.

Taylor Phinney has the Center record, at 13-something minutes. Today I ran a 17:45. They will not be naming the Center after me.

I averaged about 265 watts, which correlates to a threshold power of about 240 watts (pretty much where Lester has me training). This is not Awesome, but it can be improved.

– Keep working on my sustainable power. Lester said I can theoretically increase my threshold power to around 290 watts, but it’ll take time — at least 18 months. And 290 till won’t scare Adam Craig at Super D nationals.

– Keep working on my burst power.

– Practice pushing harder without blowing up.

– Thank goodness I’m a mountain biker, and skills are more important than the genetic engine room.

Use my powers for good, not evil.

— Lee

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6 replies
  1. Michael says:

    Very interesting. I have trouble pacing myself in the local MTB races I enter. How would I go about increasing my power threshold? And how might I gauge it?

  2. Granpa says:

    [quote]Thank goodness I’m a mountain biker, and skills are more important than the genetic engine room.[/quote]

    I wish that this was true….I seem to burn a lot of matches on uphill techy trails…I definitely need more matches to keep up w/my buddies

  3. leelikesbikes says:

    Stronger is always better, but I’m learning that proper technique helps you get WAY more out of the power you have.

    I often coach way stronger XC types, and skill is the only thing that keeps me hanging.

  4. dblspeed says:

    great insight, thanks for sharing Lee! Is there a way to translate treshold power into something you can keep an eye on during a race, ie hearth rate?

  5. leelikesbikes says:


    With experience, you can learn what heart rate you can sustain.

    When I started racing Super D seriously, I knew from my training that I could hold 175 bpm for a long while, and that I started getting stupid around 177 bpm. I would push past 177 for short bursts. In extended pedaling sections, if I was at 175 and someone passed me, I would let him go (and see him in the next corner!). For me having the HRM eliminated the question of whether I was being a wimp. I knew exactly what I could sustain, and I only pushed passed red line when it made sense.

    In time, you’ll learn how red line *feels* – no HRM needed. I’m currently out of touch with that, but it’ll come back.


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