My N1 challenge, 7 years in the making

Hi All,

I wanted to share an update on my N1 challenge (incoming book). For the last 7 years, I’ve been attempting to do a local hill climb in under an hour. After 5 failed attempts and 1 missed year due to covid, I finally accomplished my goal (59:37.7). My performance (346NP, 3.62w/kg) wasn’t as stellar as I was hoping for, but given that the previous month had limited training due to a knee issue, the morning of I awoke with a sore throat and afterward I was on my death bed for a day due to what was clearly me having done an all-out TT with a cold, I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish.

I wanted to thank the FastTalk team and the community for all the great articles and advice from the last year and I wanted to share some of the top things I learned.

  1. I had stagnated for years with a peak 60min power of 336w back in 2015. In 2019 I came to the realization that I had to slow down and I switched from spending 50% of my time in <=Z2 to 90%+. What I didn’t do until this year was polarize my training well in that my easy was too easy and my hard was too easy. This year I made sure my easy rides were appropriately pace (mostly z2) and my hard rides were HARD with some mouth puke-inducing VO2max efforts (the mouth rinse of champions!).

This is how I’ve distributed my training since I started riding (Strava HR, so not the most accurate, but close enough).

  1. It’s okay to take it easy… even right before a race! After I finished the Haute Route Alps in August, I was wrecked for 2 weeks when I got home. My Knee was sore right up until the week before my race due to bike fit issues while traveling (never had knee pain on a bike before!). So I kept my volume super low to keep the knee happy and with just 1 short/hard threshold session a week I was able to keep my fitness even though my CTL tanked. Thanks for the timely episode! 178 Fast Talk Episode 178: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Chronic Training Load (CTL)

  2. Insycd testing really helped. My biggest takeaway is how to convert my kind of fitness and how to really ride at the right intensities… Also that I could quickly convert my base fitness after riding so much the last couple of years. Also, I really needed to eat a LOT more in my training to be able to handle the load and recover.

Some key stats

  • VO2Max:
    • 3/18/2021: 55.6 ml/min/kg (5215 ml/min)
    • 7/27/2021: 63.8 ml/min/kg (5936 ml/min)
  • VLAMax:
    • 3/18/2021: 0.63
    • 7/27/2021: 0.59
  • Anaerobic Threshold:
    • 3/18/2021: 3.2w/kg - 304w (72.9% of VO2max)
    • 7/27/2021: 4w/kg - 367w (77.4% of VO2max)
  • FatMax:
    • 3/18/2021: 4.44 kcal/h/kg @ 195w
    • 7/27/2021: 5.89 kcal/h/kg @ 239w
  • CarbMax:
    • 3/18/2021: 2.2w/kg (266g/hr at threshold)
    • 7/27/2021: 2.6w/kg (322g/hr at threshold)

How did I get these gains?

What I still need to figure out… How to lower my VLAmax and bring up my Threshold as a percentage of VO2max. So far, I can’t quite find the right combination of training to bring that down. Curious if anyone else out there with a crazy high VLAmax has had any success in lowering theirs significantly? But that’s a plan for next year. Looking forward to seeing where I can go now that I have the right support!


Very nice to read your story.
Can you elaborate of the volume you used to put in and the volume last year?

Hey congrats on the improvements you’ve made this year, that’s really impressive!

Interested to hear how you distributed your hard sessions, did you do 1 or 2 every week or did you do blocks of intensity in-between blocks of Z2?

I’ve decided to concentrate on trying to lower my Vlamax over the coming months so also interested to hear if others have had success.

Starting 2018, I had added ~25%-50% more volume than years prior (excluding 2019 when my daughter was born). This year, I ramped up ~20% more volume than previous years.

I aimed for 2 every week. Starting March I was doing VLAmax sessions ~3x10 @ 95% @ ~60rpm working up to about 50min time-at-intensity. May/June I started adding a lot of volume while trying to focus on low cadence work. July I started a 4wk block of VO2max after which I recovered a couple of days, did my July Inscyd test, then went into recovery before I went off to the Haute Route Alps. During this block, week over week my volume dropped until the end of the block when I wasn’t doing much more than intensity.

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Thanks for sharing @smashsquatch !

Did you do VO2Max sessions in the years before too?
Your volume increase alone could be the key to your new PB.
How much (%) did you increase your hill climb time?

I have done VO2Max before, but not with a hard start + high cadence. I found that by doing that I had lower power, but higher HR. This seemed to be key in allowing for more recovery, and from what I understand is important in improving stroke volume.

Indeed, I think the volume increase played a pivotal role, but for me, the key was figuring out how to do that. With all the other stressors in my life, adding a couple of hours a week is actually quite challenging when it comes to making sure I’m recovered enough for the next sessions.

My previous Pr was 1:04:02. so ~7% improvement (and could have easily been 12-15% had I not been sick)

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Hi @smashsquatch,

These posts really make my day… thanks for sharing! I’m really happy that we were able to help at least in a small way in your success. Hitting your sub 1-hour goal while sick and putting out 346 watts for an hour is no small task for anyone!

It really sounds like you’ve made a lot of good changes to your training and are already seeing the results. The changes you are seeing are the changes that take time, so you should continue to see improvements for a while to come.

On that note, getting your threshold closer to your VO2max is one of those long-term adaptations. It’s something that was demonstrated in pros, but only when they were followed over the course of about five years. So, there’s no one workout that’s going to suddenly bring your LT up relative to your VO2max. It’s a case of continuing to do what you’re doing and be patient while it slowly improves. Probably not what you want to hear, but the way I see it is you have 4-5 years of improvement ahead of you!

Thanks again for sharing!

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I’m patient. I kept at this goal for 7 years. What I don’t want to do moving forward is do the WRONG thing for 5 years :smiley:

Am I interpreting the Inscyd results right in that having a lower VLAmax = higher threshold as a percentage of VO2max and that’s what takes years to lower/develop?

If so, I think I need to start a new thread on how to:

  • How to Lower your VLAmax on the bike? (low gear work + calcineurin pathway?
  • How not to increase your VLAmax on the bike?
  • How not to increase your VLAmax while weight training (e.g. this post from colby)

While it may take years to fully develop / reduce to the 0.25-0.3 range for riders with a naturally high Vlamax or those who’s previous training has resulted in high Vlamax, from what I’ve read and heard you should be able to see some gains in the 2-3 month time frame. I don’t know how large those gains may be as I don’t recall ever hearing values going from x to y. As lowering my Vlamax this off season is also a target I hope the initial gains are significant and reasonably quick to develop.

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HI @smashsquatch, based on the feedback we’ve been getting, I think it was over-emphasized in the show that in order to increase VO2max/threshold power you have to bring your VLamax down and vice-versa.

When you are a best-in-the-world athlete such as Cancellara or Peter Sagan, yes you are at a point where you’re going to have to sacrifice one for the other.

For most of the rest of us, it is possible to improve both simultaneously and maybe get a little extra boost in one by slightly lowering the other. But overall, my recommendation to you is to focus on the work that raises your VO2max/threshold and not worry too much about your VLamax. If it comes down a little because of the work you’re doing, it doesn’t sound like you’ll be too concerned, but I wouldn’t try to intentionally lower it. It’s more about focusing on the assets you want to build.

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@smashsquatch lots of great points already.

I will just add that I had one two athletes podium at a recent mtb stage race (BC bike race).

1st in plus, 3rd in 40 plus (51 and 44 respectively)

51 year old, .34 vlamax

44 year old, .6 vlamax

44 year was about 6-8m faster each day relative. Some of that is downhill though he is slighly better tech rider.

They start the races differently.

They eat differently.

Both did very well and had strong races with different vlamax.

Younger rider, slightly lighter, lower threshold (about 30 watts), higher vo2

Older rider, better pacer, races above his level with race IQ

I think that vlamax is a factor in nutrition and how an athlete strategizes to race their race.

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First off, thanks for all the responses. They’ve really gotten me thinking. I’m trying to put it all together with things I’ve heard from past podcasts and fasttalks articles.

However, I’m a bit confused about how to proceed now. I’ve heard in the past @trevor say don’t focus on VO2max but instead other adaptations. There’s something I’m not quite tying together here (and maybe it’s less science but more art of coaching)? For the sake of clarity of this post, let’s say at ~64 ml/min/kg and 10-12hr a week I’m close to the ceiling on my VO2max. What should I do next to improve?

With what Steve said in mind, stepping back a bit. My goals are to be a good time trialist (I think racing others and MTB has very different demands). While in this post I focused on a 1hr uphill time trial, at 6’9" ~205lbs I’m never destined to excel there. Flat TTs are where I’d do best. What I enjoy the most however is a multiday event or long course triathlon. In either case, I’d say my goal is the highest threshold power I can get while having the durability to allow me to deal with the fatigue that comes from a run after a long bike or performing well after back to back days. However, I don’t feel like I’m even closed to meeting these goals. Take for instance my week in the alps with Haute Route (one of the best times I’ve ever had on a bicycle), on Day 4, in 1h 14m up Alpe d’Huez I only managed 303w at 144hr (my threshold is ~168-172hr).

So talking less about the terms VLAmax, VO2max, (except knowing what’s in my Inscyd), how does a rider with a profile like mine improve their threshold (as a percentage of VO2max?), and improve their durability. I never intend to race others directly, so I’d imagine the approach for an athlete like me is very different than one who is trying to win against others in direct side-by-side competition.

The longer-term plan seems obvious. Focus on consistency. Looking back at my total time training year over year, I had consistently landed on ~300-400hr a year (only about 6-8hr a week). Moving up to ~10hr per week (which doesn’t seem unrealistic, I get another 100-200hr a year… 66% more!). Part of my challenge that I’m finally starting to nail with Inscyd and DFA1a is finding the right intensities that allow me to return week over week (which as someone with a higher VLAmax would suggest I need to make sure I keep my easy rides easier than a similar friend who has a 0.3 VLAmax).

However, it’s the weekly/monthly planning where I’m unclear how to tackle after reading the above. I was envisioning:


  • Extend: 4-6wk Block of Big gear @ 95% threshold
  • Increase: 3-4wk Block of VO2max work

then ~4 weeks race specificity (I only do 2-3 events a year)

HI @smashsquatch, I understand your confusion. I have an answer but I don’t know how satisfying it will be. VO2max does get confusing. Physiologically, it’s very hard for endurance athletes to further improve their VO2max after they’ve achieved a certain level (and that level isn’t very far into a cycling career.) That’s why I say not to focus too much on VO2max.

The problem is that the term “VO2max” has become synonymous with a particular type of training that focuses on efforts around the power you’d put out at your VO2max. That training doesn’t really improve VO2max. And we even had Sebastian on the show pointing out that issue. But, that training does improve other energy systems that are critical to bike racing. So it’s important to do what’s commonly called “VO2max training” but it’s not really about improving your VO2max.

I know, clear as mud…

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Thanks for the clarification even if it’s