Benchmarking is a lot easier to do when you train with power. I can pretty easily see how I'm progressing week to week and month to month. And since I've been doing it for a long time, I can also compare my fitness this year to the same time last year. To wit:
Here's a ride I did a few days ago - a short workout with a couple of 10-minute LT efforts:
My trainer rides are normally short and intense, but this was short even by my standards. My intent was to do 3x10 but I just couldn't pull it out. It was part physical discomfort (still struggling with back pain after car vs bike this summer), but most of it was mental fortitude. Body weakness nothwithstanding, I just don't have enough intervals in my system right now to have any sort of conditioning to suffer. The going gets tough and my synapses shut down. With me, training my psyche is at least half of the effort.
The efforts here were at 275 watts each, and the NP of the entire 40-minute ride was 239 watts.
By contrast, here's me from 1-9-10:
3 10-minute efforts instead of 2; coming in at 300, 312 and 316 watts instead of 275; and totaling a 50-minute workout at a NP of 278. This entire ride was at a greater intensity than my best 10 minutes this year. No small part of it is physiological, of course. I started doing structured interval work in early November last year. But you see also some evidence of an increased ability to suffer last year. Pink at the bottom of both files is Heart Rate. This year, when I start nosing 170 the wheels come off - cadence drops and my speed gets all choppy. Last year I was able to do most of the third interval averaging 172, getting up to 180 with speed to spare. The toughness, it alludes me this year.
It's 2 months before the season starts, and 4 months before any of the races where I normally like to perform well, so this benchmarking exercise may mean absolutely nothing. And it may also delay my first peak, which could prove to be a blessing. Don't know yet. What I do know is that I don't like being slower than last year, and I'm hella motivated to improve. Last year I got through the spring on momentum. It will be interesting to see how that compares to this year's speed-by-hunger.