When you are talking about getting the most out of your training program you should be incorporating a variety of training intensities from easy recovery paces all the way past normal race pace to all out efforts. One of the most crucial pace that you should be aware of though is your FTP or Functional Training Pace. Your FTP can also be loosely referred to as Lactate Threshold as it basically the pace that you are able to sustain for roughly an hour. This threshold is very important in canoe racing as if you are above this level it is only a matter of time before you will hit the wall. Also, if you are able to push this threshold up due to proper training you will be able to race faster for longer. More on that in later articles. Today we discuss a couple of ways that you can find your FTP or lactate threshold in the boat so that you can start incorporating this pacing into your training.
Some of these will be better than others and I will go into why some of these methods will work better for us water dependent sport enthusiasts than our land bound endurance counterparts.
Method 1 - Race Results
If you have a race that is around 1hr in length of time, this can be a way to find your FTP. The reason for this is that you will race at your ability level and the time frame would correspond with the effort that you could perform. However, In my opinion this will probably be the worst way to find FTP for the large majority of canoe racers. This can be a great way for runners to find their FTP but there are just too many variables that are going to affect pacing in a canoe race that will give you erratic results. Canoe races are primarily completed on rivers which brings in the element of current. Different rivers have different current and current can vary dramatically sometimes from day to day. For this reason alone your times and paces that come up with from racing are going to be extremely hard to extrapolate to your normal training unless the race was done on your normal river and training spot.
Method 2 - TIme Trial
This is the method that I suggest for the canoe racer. For this test, you will preform a warm up followed by a 30 minute time trial. I would do this on your normal training spot and go in the direction you normally go in training either upstream or down stream. Then you would go one direction for 15 -17minutes and then imaginary bouy turn and return for 13-15 mins and then stop your GPS. You will want to record your distance for future testing and your avg speed will be your FTP pace. You will then take your average HR for the last 20 mins of that effort will be your FTP HR. Ben Schlimmer and I did this test the other day and I can assure you that this will expose your current fitness level and if you test this semi-regularly throughout the season you should see improvements if your training program is structured correctly.
Method 3 - Conconi test/Step Test
For this method you complete a number of sets of roughly 2-3 mins (they stay the same for the test and should be repeated in the same fashion for subsequent tests) with increasing speed each set, after an appropriate warm up of course. Then your HR data is collected and you plot your results and look for the deflection point where your HR wont rise as much as in previous steps, that is going to be your FTP HR. This would be a great test for the canoe racer if we did not have the water as a variable in the equation. If your can perform this on a lake with no current this might be a better method as your could use the pace steps for FTP. I am betting however that most of us train on a river so this test would have to be completed either going entirely up or down stream which would skew the pace data to only be accurate for that direction on that river. If you are looking for a good read on this Shawn Burke did an excellent article on this on his Science of Paddling page that I have linked below.
All 3 methods have validity to them but none of them will do much good unless your use the knowledge gained from the tests to better inform your training decisions. Below are some useful links to more information on lactate threshold and FTP. Be on the lookout for follow up articles on how to use the information gained from these tests in your training program. Until then, keep up the good work and get those paddles wet!