Analyzing data to develop a pacing strategy

Had a ride this past weekend that wasn’t my longest but for sure my hardest when you factored in elevation (70 miles, 7500’). By 50 miles in my legs were cramp city, horrible pain and if I tried to get off the bike they immediately locked up…it was brutal. Still impressed I didn’t take a ride back.

Don’t want this to turn into a cramp conversation and I know a few areas I need to do better nutrition wise but I think overall I just went too hard too early for where my fitness level is (early in the year, busy with work/life so no long rides).

Problem I’m at now is finding that threshold. I do have a power meter so the data is there, I just don’t know what to do with it. If it was a TT it’d be easy to see with a flat power chart but with the hills this thing is all over the place (I also suck at consistent power).

So finally to my question…what do I look at in this data to see where I went wrong? Is it average power early on and I stay below that? Is it the spikes that I need to avoid (a couple Z5 spikes in there, some sustained Z4)? Basically what number(s) and what area(s) should I stay at/under next time to survive. I assume I can also use that number to push past in training to get better as well.

It does sound like you went too hard.

One type of easy to prescribe and execute workout I think has helped me with endurance/toughness is to build up time at high Z2 low Z3, e.g. 90min workout: 30min @ 60%, 30min @ ~75%, 30min @ 60. Increase the middle interval as you progress. There are lots of threads about LT1 and ISM (a coach) who prescribes this kind of work. But basically just ride your bike more!

For long rides that stretch you ability I would definitely be avoiding the threshold spikes and focus on keeping power under 75% max, and aiming for around 60-65% average. Fuelling is very important to how you feel and perform on these longer rides too.

Good info, thanks! By “max” do you mean vo2 or some other “max” value. Honestly with these hills it’d be hard to stay moving at 75% vo2 max however these spikes are more like 175% max (assuming we’re talking the same here) so I can back way off. Seems like not much time overall in them but I’m sure they add up.

And yeah, nutrition wise, it was a cold start so I didn’t drink as much as I should (also hindered by the climbing and sketchy descents). Another thing was some hike-a-bike sections where I was on and off a lot, I really should have taken them slower. The first time I felt a cramp/strain was when jogging down a pretty steep washout and I think that triggered something later on. Actually still feel some pretty noticable pain there when walking down stairs. Not sure if muscle strains can lead to cramps but clearly it didn’t help.

The percentages I am basing off of ‘FTP’ assuming you are comfortable with what that is (can you ride your FTP power for at least 30mins?). By 75% max I mean I would not exceed 75% FTP on a ride if the goal was purely endurance.

The issue with hills is you need to be geared to take them easy. If my goal is endurance then I pick a flat route or just go slow on the hills. If you cant go up the hills and you have no flat routes you are probably over-geared for your local area. Reading about hike-a-bike and jogging down descents sounds like you should probably take a closer look at route selection if you want to structure outdoor rides effectively.

Assuming you’re asking about during the ride, not training for it…

If you want a single number to check during the ride, normalized power is a reasonable approximation of effort. It does a better job of including those bursts of power to clear punchy hills than average power.

What that value should be will take some trial and error. But if you see NP >= FTP and you’re only an hour into a 3+ hour day, you probably need to back off.

Good info guys, let me throw out some numbers now that we’re digging in a bit…

My numbers are probably a bit lower than most on this forum even though I can hold my own on group rides. FTP is ~210 and I’m 70kg putting myself right at 3w/kg. I have held close to that for an hour on a few Zwift rides but as mentioned, my power is typically up and down on outdoor rides.

I ride a Diverge which has some rather generous 40/50 gearing so I can’t go much larger than that. This was a gravel event so I couldn’t pick the route (typically avoid the hike-a-bike) but from a gradient perspective this wasn’t out of the ordinary…lots of punchy climbs around here where you get 1/4 mile of 15+% grade. This ride had those but a solid 8% for a mile on either side of it…which probably didn’t help. Running ~150watts on a 20% grade typically leads to me falling over…gotta be able to handle those bursts and I typically can.

With that said, I pushed some larger powers than needed. There is a minute of averaging 320, a few others in the high 200’s. I probably could have made those around FTP with a few 125% ftp bursts. Should have took a clue when I was catching/passing too many people on climbs who were clearly better at pacing themselves.

Digging into and its looks like the first 1.5 hour of the ride I had a NP of 204 which clearly throws up a red flag. Adding that to my head unit screen now and going to experiment with that in training. What is a good NP target to make sure I don’t blow up?

There’s an interesting article here that looks at placing plans.

I have an ride stats page on the Garmin (and similar on my old Bolt) with IF and normalised power shown. For my up coming ultra I aim to keep IF around 0.65 to 0.7 on the way out, and then up it for the last quarter if I am feeling ok.

This is what jumps out to me. My best (in terms of cramp-free, and finishing reasonably strong) events have been those where the power curve shows sub-FTP from the 5 minute duration onward. Every punch early on is something I’ll dearly want back later in the race.

Here’s the hard part: you need to let people ride away from you in the early hills. This includes people that look far less fit than you. Stay below your FTP, but then keep that same effort when you crest the top and things flatten out and other people let up. Staying steady and avoiding above-FTP efforts (even short ones) has made a big difference for me.

I’ve looked at cramping for my own rides in the past, and the one common factor is that I was undertrained for the effort. I don’t think cramping is about electrolytes, or drinking, or nutrition, I think I was undertrained and overreaching.

That said, I would look at two things: first, a running NP. I think the 20ish minute running mean of NP is a reasonable place to start, but I don’t know of any software that does this automatically so I usually just calculate it myself. Then sometimes I’ve looked not at a running IF (which is NP/FTP) but something closer to running NP/MMP for that duration. Once again, this is something I usually have to calculate myself.

Second, I do something close to 20-minute running crank torque, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen a pattern yet. The idea I’ve been thinking about is whether my leg cramps are more related to force of muscular contraction or speed of muscular contraction.

But the main thing is, undertraining and overreaching are the most likely culprits so as the season goes on my cramps occur less and less frequently, and my need to figure out exactly why decreases.


Good info all around, thanks guys!

Looking at the data I was close to an IF of 1 for the first hour and a half and from there it was all downhill (feeling wise, not terrain). Looking at the whole ride my NP/IF was still a bit higher than the blog post above suggests even with the backend struggling at the end which also goes to show how the full picture looks.

Knowing the numbers is good and something I can play with going forward in training. There have been some training rides last year where I cramped but it was hot then so I blamed it on hydration but chances are my power numbers were ugly there too.

On the undertrained comment, you are spot on. Life has been crazy lately and this event didn’t come at a great time. The one longer ride I did have time to sneak in was pointless from a training perspective with a bunch of mechanicals (which was good to get sorted out). So yeah…with that I really should have taken it even easier than ideal and I just panicked and did the exact opposite. Lesson learned and won’t be forgotten next time. :slight_smile: