Words by Marcus Cook

I always believed that going longer was what was making me better. At first, it was, but towards the end of 2017, my fitness was starting to plateau. My FTP was sitting around 180 watts and putting in additional volume was not having an impact on my FTP. After Ironman Texas and two 70.3’s, I went back to the drawing table and made some necessary changes. 

Check out Marcus’s Story from Big to Little

Bringing in a Ben from Trifit- XT as my coach and adjusting my training protocol made all the difference. He had me do various test intervals to build my cycling power profile. These efforts ranged from a few seconds up to 40-60 minutes. After building the profile he determined we needed to put a strong focus on some VO2 max intervals. These intervals focussed on the areas of my power profile that needed the most work. By addressing these weak spots my overall fitness increased and my FTP began to rise. I was able to recover faster from the harder efforts meaning I was able to hold a higher power for longer. 

Key Workouts

One of the killer intervals he had me do was a basic 5-minute VO2 max interval.  At first, I saw the specified power as a recommended power and would only ride until it became a little bit challenging. Ben reported back after seeing those first workout results to inform me that the workout pretty much did not count. I was going and was not spending enough time in the specified power zone to elicit any benefit to my fitness. This is when I began using ERG Mode on my KICKR. I dialed in each interval at the prescribed intensity and would hang on for dear life. That first 4X4- minute VO2 max workout looked like this.  

  • 15-minute warm-up
  • 4-minute primer interval (80% of FTP)
  • 6 minutes recovery (take more time if needed)
  • 4 minutes in Zone 5 (Vo2 max)
  • 4 minutes at recovery power
  • repeat 4×4 five times
  • cool down for 15 minutes or longer if needed

My FTP didn’t move up much over the next month but I was feeling much stronger.  Ben reassured me this was all part of the process and to trust what we were doing.

“The first time I successfully completed this interval my wife had to check on me after the sounds she heard coming from the room to see if I was still alive.” 

We then began to focus on building my FTP.  There were several various FTP workouts but one of the more challenging workouts were the over-under intervals.

  • 15- minute warm- up
  • 4- minute primer interval (80% of FTP)
  • Main set: 5- minutes at FTP followed by 5- minutes at 10-15 watts below FTP.
  • repeat the main set four times or 40- minutes.

The first 10-15 minutes were not all that bad but towards the end even the lower intervals were tough.

After a week I could already see my FTP going up.  I kept asking Ben what he expected I could get to and if I was on track.  His answer was always…

“You are where you are. We will adjust as needed to improve your fitness as much as we safely can.  I’ve seen athletes gain 20-25 watts in a couple months and some 50-60 watts. Just keep workout hard.”

I was fortunate enough that Ben could join me in Hawaii my first weekend there.  We wanted to make most of that time and tackle the toughest parts of the course. Ben suggested we do a longer ride that would include the ascent to Hawi as well as descending from there and hopefully get a good feeling of what it is like especially with the winds.  The ride ended up having some moderate winds and even some rain on the way up to Hawi. While the climb wasn’t easy, I was very happy with my effort and that there was still plenty in the tank after the climb. I can’t imagine making that climb back in April earlier this year. 

Power profile set in 2-month increments.   You can see the shorter duration power increasing more in the beginning with the threshold power making the biggest increase in the past 2 months

My FTP was making small improvement early on but becoming stagnate.  My FTP took a small drop when I began the VO2 max workouts but then took off over the past 2 months.

The confidence gained from putting in the hard work, seeing the results and then putting them to a test on the course that I have been preparing to race on October 13th is the unmeasurable part of training. While my FTP has increased and that is noticeable, my confidence to take on the biggest challenge of my life is the part that others just can’t see, or can they.

See you in Kona Wahooligans!

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