updated 1st September 2019

How many matches are you burning when cycling these days. I overheard a conversation between two cyclists at the end of a race.

They were talking about how the race went for them and discussing various sections of the race.  Particularly the lead up to one of them getting dropped from the bunch.

They were talking about burning matches and running out of matches. It got me thinking about how this would have been described before power meters were in use.

I was

  • hanging on,
  • scrawbing at the back of the bunch,
  • seeing spots,
  • the lights were going on and off
  • f****d
  • Screwed
  • Bo******d
  • wrecked
  • Hadn’t a leg
  • Was using one euros worth of my 150 euros saddle

These are some of the more likely printable descriptions. So I suppose burning matches is not too bad a description. Although maybe not as colourful or descriptive as some of the above.

Burning matches and physiology of training

However the conversation also got me thinking. Is burning matches just a new term that a lot of people use but don’t really understand?

Also how I might approach a conversation with a cyclist about burning matches and where they fit into the coaching conversation.

My priority as a coach

Using the burning matches language. What would my priority be as a coach with the rider who was dropped?

Very simple.. I would tell them, you need to get more matches in your matchbox.

You also need to get more powerful matches that only burn quickly when you are cycling at high speed!.


You need to train more and smarter so that the matches are only burning at a low level at higher speeds.

Here’s a good example of a rider I coached. He was burning lots of matches  when first tested in January  .

Cycling Test Results

Big improvements in power

By September with dedication and good training he was burning less matches at each of the workloads.

Note how the 4 mmols lactate went from 270 watts to 330 watts.

Compare the watts at the bottom of graph to the lactate on right of graph.

You could describe the lactate as your matches burning.

The fitter you are the higher watts you should be able to produce at particular lactates. Heart rate is also lower at particular watts as the rider gets fitter

Extra 60 watts. How many matches?

A crucial area is around 3 to 4 mmols of lactate. I would consider this as a maximum cruising speed.

As you can see this rider made very good progress there increasing power by around 60 Watts.

So using the burning matches analogy he is now getting much more Watts / power for a similar amount of matches in September.

This improvement is usually gained by DISCIPLINED TRAINING a combination of mileage, intensity and planning races very well.

Training is about changing your physiology. Whether the terms used are burning matching, raising power or other terms, training has to be based on good training principles and physiology.

Paddy Doran Coach at www.peakendurancecoaching.ie  see testimonials here  Contact us here

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