Race power vs "hard training" power

In follow up to my post about the awful cramps I got during a recent 50k MTB race… the consensus seems to be that this kind of cramping is likely due to going to hard/not being fit enough to handle the race effort. Which was my gut feeling.

Looking at Strava on the 3 big climbs in the first 20 miles my avg watts for were:
185W, 184 W, 175W (the climbs took 13-20 minutes and were pretty sustained 600-800 ft climbing each).

In a hard training ride which I thought was pretty close to race pace those climbs were:
171W, 175W and 161W.

On race day that 13 mile stretch took 1:02 vs 1:13 in the training ride.

I didn’t use my Garmin as effectively (as I have learned from my original post) so I don’t easily have NP or IF data for the climbs, so avg watts is the best I can do.

Is this too big of a difference between training and racing? TR had my FTP at 178 (think) before the race and bumped it up to 184 after the race. Clearly the race effort was too much which was why my legs totally seized up (though perceived exertion and even HR were NOT at all indicative this was going to happen - I felt amazing!). I’m fired up to add in some higher end training and would love some insight into how close to push training efforts compared to race efforts - especially from those prone to cramping!

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Average watts isn’t a great indicator sometimes, but if it’s the same course, probably fine. For reference, on the first climb there, my NP was 15W higher than Average.

If you’re a TR subscriber - you can see NP by section when looking in workout details. And, you can add “Normalized Watts” as a field in intervals.icu which is free. And, TrainingPeaks makes it easy to view this by segment too, although not sure about the free version.

I think it’d be good for you to look at what your NP was for those sections too and the resulting IF.

But, quick question, what’s your FTP? On a percentage basis, those differences could be significant. I personally am climbing at wattages that I have done in training so I know I can climb at that percentage for the time I’m doing. You’re probably looking at climbing in Sweet Spot (Training) vs. Threshold (Race)

I haven’t done an FTP test. After the race TR’s AI increased my FTP to 187. I only trained for 6 weeks for this race after not riding all winter and didn’t do an FTP test to start. TR thought it was in the 170s I think when I started riding again in April and I didn’t bother to test it since I figured 170s was close enough.

Oddly… TR has no power data even though I had a power meter?

You want the activity detail (screenshot below how it looks for me from the turn onto Styles brook to the top of Luke Glen)

Let’s say your FTP was 190. Here are the training / race percentages by climb based on averages

90%/97%, 92%/97%, 85%/92%

I think those differences are significant, and when looking at NP you could be climbing over threshold during the race. Which to me - you went too hard. My climbing targets for a race of that duration were 90% and below based on NP.

I think there is a benefit to having an accurate knowledge of your FTP, and then trying to keep your power largely below it (look at my power output as compared to the FTP line)

(Edit - side note, I finished with gas in the tank, so I personally could have gone harder. But, I’ve been training hard and doing a ton of volume with a whole bunch of rides longer than this race was for me)

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That is your answer. If you had done all those winter base miles you’d probably have a higher FTP and endurance.

You cramped up because you did 70 minutes at threshold in the middle of your 50km race. Your body wasn’t prepared for that.

Knowing your exact FTP might help you pace an hour of climbing better. Push the lap button on the bike computer and try to keep such a long sustained effort under 90% or so.

The great thing is that you have the ability to go deep.


Thanks for being my personal coach :slight_smile: I agree - I went too hard. But it was too hard because I didn’t know I could do it… My training always felt hard enough but then on race day it was like I had this whole other level of ability. But since I didn’t know it existed I hadn’t trained it. I think that is what I’m struggling with - I show up to these races and for about 90 minutes I can hold it together at power outputs way above my training. But in training those power outputs don’t seem to exist - the efforts I’m doing feel really tough. If TR had asked me to do the powers from the 3 climbs at the race for 13, 13, and 20 minutes respectively I literally would have just laughed and not even tried because I never would have thought I could hold `185W for more than a few minutes (and that is just the avg power, if like you said NP is more relevant that could be 190-195W). One of the last workouts I did was 2x 8 min at 178 and that was really, really tough for me.

I will do an FTP test though - in a week or so :slight_smile:


The way you build muscular endurance for that is to do long tempo / sweet spot intervals… work up to 3x20-min or 2x30 or 1x60 and longer.


Hey @Lorichka6, I am sorry you are experiencing cramping, it’s the worst!

First things first, I would consult this with your doctor if you haven’t done so already :slightly_smiling_face:

A race effort will almost always have a different impact on our bodies than training because these are the times we tend to push our bodies to the limit.

However, there are two primary theories when it comes to muscle cramping. One being that muscle cramping happens when we’re dehydrated and sodium depleted. The other theory being that cramps occur when our muscles have been overloaded with muscular and neuromuscular fatigue. This may be the case here.

By looking at your training history you have been consistently putting in big weeks with lots of activities but with little recovery in between. For example, this week is a Recovery Week, so I would encourage super easy light spin riding instead of going out for 3 hours (especially after your big effort on Sunday :muscle::skin-tone-2:). The idea is to let your muscles have time for healing and reconstruction before we can load them more.

A good way I’d like to think about it is, rather than thinking about how much time do I have available to train, it is better to think about how much training can I efficiently recover from.

If you are interested here is a nice article that talks about muscle cramping and how to alleviate it:

Lastly, since you’ve only been training for the past 6 weeks, this may be a factor as well. Moving forward, as you place more focus on structured interval training to work the correct energy systems needed for such efforts your body should start responding differently. But of course, always watching out for that recovery :yellow_heart:

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