So it turns out three really is the magic number. Well, 3.61 to be exact.
And it’s my magic number – no-one else’s. So hands off!
This figure will quickly become my biggest ally in the fight to complete my 205-mile charity challenge.
It will be the ever-present training partner who will help get me in the best shape possible for the epic circumnavigation of the South Downs on Sunday, June 8.
And it will help ensure I make the most of my opportunity to raise awareness of the Droxford-based Association for Glycogen Storage Disease (AGSD-UK).
Meet my lactate threshold.
More specifically, it is my lactate threshold power-to-weight – measured in watts per kg.
Cycling has rapidly become a numbers game and threshold is it’s buzzword.
Team Sky’s dominance of the Tour de France over the past two seasons – along with many other World Tour stage races – has highlighted that fact.
Scientific analysis of each rider’s capacity in the saddle has seen Sir David Brailsford & Co extract every last drop of power from their team in pursuit of glory.
And while it’s clinical nature may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the fact Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome have topped the podium on the Champs Elysees in the past two seasons has forced the rest of the pro peloton to take note.
It definitely is my cup of tea but then I’ve always been a bit of a geek.
So when I was offered an evening of number crunching with CPS In-Motion’s applied exercise physiologist – or cycling scientist – Simon Clark, I jumped at the chance.
Simon carries out mobile assessments on cyclists, giving each one a detailed insight into their unique physiology and then advising them on how to use it to make the most of their training.
And it was Simon who introduced me to my new training partner – you know, 3.61.
I had to endure a 30-minute, graded effort on a turbo trainer in AGSD-UK development director Allan Muir’s back garden first, though.
Simon took blood samples and recorded countless other data while the resistance was steadily ramped up until I waved the white flag!
And after careful analysis, he filed a comprehensive, nine-page assessment.
I’m not going to lie, when it arrived it felt like I was opening a school report.
My mind quickly rewound to the moment in the assessment Simon told me to stop talking (although very politely), face forward and concentrate on breathing. There is no pass or fail here, though.
And while the results were encouraging, apparently there is plenty of room for improvement. I’ve heard that somewhere before!
Now, I should explain that your lactate threshold is the workload you can sustain – for anywhere between 30 and 90 minutes – before the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA).
And OBLA refers to the moment when there is an abrupt increase in blood lactate levels which leads to the complete exhaustion in minutes.
So simply put, getting to know my lactate threshold will allow me to work at high intensity, without pushing myself too far into the red (to use cycling terminology).
And this will be crucial if I am going to pace myself for the 15-plus hours it will take to complete my 205-mile challenge.
I should also clarify, this is aerobic metabolism – that is using oxygen to release energy in the muscles.
Lactate concentration grows when oxygen is no longer enough to supply sufficient energy – hence OBLA.
But what does 3.61 mean in real terms?
Well, I tipped Simon’s scales at 69kg – so at 3.61watts/kg, that equates to a threshold power of 249watts.
He also recorded my threshold heart rate at 169bpm.
Not bad for someone who has only been turning pedals for the past 18 months, I’m told. But with Froome & Co boasting thresholds up to 6.4watts/kg – or around 450watts – I’m some way short of the pro peloton.
Still, I now know where I stand and Simon has given me some great pointers to help me begin to push my aerobic capacity up.
Among the many hints and tips, his assessment has provided me with personalised training zones – from active recovery, through endurance and tempo riding, right up to threshold and anaerobic work.
Working in these zones for his prescribed durations in each of my training rides will stress my body the perfect amount to prompt drastic adaptation.
He has also highlighted the need for me to hit the gym.
No, not simply because you could fit a racing pigeon’s ankle bracelet around my thigh – but because endurance athletes can benefit hugely from resistance training.
Adding muscle mass and density, which can be converted to oxidative fibres, will give a major boost to my aerobic capacity.
But that’s not the best bit. Simon recorded elevated levels of lactate in my blood at rest.
These remained high throughout the assessment and were off the scale – well, he’d never before seen a reading of 15.5mmol/L – when I threw in the towel.
And with lactate used as fuel in aerobic metabolism, it means I basically have huge reserves to tap into as my training develops.
So you see – encouraging but with plenty of room for improvement.
I’ll take that. And 3.61 and I will put it to the test when I embark on my first-ever 100-mile ride on Tuesday.
Tune in next week to see if the numbers add up!
Sponsor me in my 205-mile charity challenge at uk.virginmoneygiving.com. Simply click the link.
And if you fancy taking your cycling to the next level with a physiological assessment, contact Simon Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07729 729628.
Alternatively, log on to cpsinmotion.com to find out more.