Yesterday, Jeff and I headed downtown for the regular Thursday run from the John’s Run / Walk parking lot. This run is a great run due to the runners that we get to run with each Tuesday and Thursday. But I have to admit that Jeff and I talk quite a lot about the low self-esteem that we develop by making it to these runs. Why? The main reason is that we always run off the back and once the first mile warm-up is complete, we run way off the back of the group. It is hard on a guy’s ego knowing that you are not holding on with your training partners, especially for two competitive guys that view running as their strongest leg of triathlon.
How a fitness test can give your training some grounding:
Sometimes it is fun to compare yourself to your training partner’s ability, like Jeff and I have been, but this can also lead to many mistakes in your training program. When you compare your training to your training partner’s ability, you start comparing “apples to oranges”. You and your training partners are not on the same fitness journey, even if you are working towards the same end result or race. Every athlete handles training stress differently, therefore comparing yourself on a regular basis to the people you train with is not something I suggest.
Let’s compare “apples to apples”! This is where a fitness test can be valuable. If you develop a fitness test that you can repeat over time and repeat it on a regular basis, you will begin to see improvements within yourself. If you don’t see improvements from the tests, then you know that you should probably change your training stimulus (volume, intensity or amount of recovery).
What is a fitness test?
The fitness test doesn’t have to be anything too intimidating. What I mean is you don’t have to head to a lab and get a VO2 Max test or Lactate Threshold test done. You don’t even have to find a coach or trainer with a Lactate Pro and perform that test outside the lab. Keep it simple, yet informative.
The test that I am using this winter and spring is a 3 mile course that we marked out on the Thursday 6.3 mile run. It starts with a 2 mile warm-up and then I start my watch. During the 3 mile section I keep my heart rate at 150bpm (this might deserve another post). At the end of the 3 miles, I get my split for the 3 miles and finish the run.
I can monitor my fitness by noticing changes in the time to complete the 3 mile section, while maintaining a similar heart rate. In other words, I get more “output” for the “input” that I apply.
I have written about using heart rate to complete fitness test before. If you would like to read some of those ideas read the following:
I hope that this discussion will give you some ideas on how you can begin to monitor your own fitness achievements while training so you don’t get into a situation where you feel like you have to always compare yourself to how the people around you are training.
While this post has focused upon a fitness test for your running, it is also valuable to create similar workouts for the swim and bike. I’ll share some of my results from those two disciplines as the year progresses. (I just checked a swim “test set” from 2003 and compared to my current ability. I have a long ways to go in order to make it back to that level!)
How a “fitness test” gave me my mojo back!
So yesterday’s run was no different than the past couple months when I show up to the Thursday run. I ran way off the back. Feeling a little disheartened about the run I decided to not enter my data into my workoutlog. Later on, when I finally entered the workout, I decided to go back and review the Thursday run workouts from last year.
We moved to the current location for the Thursday run last year in March, so I reviewed four of the runs. What did I find? Here is a graph of my Thursday run last year up to the Runovia Triathlon:
(click on the image to see a bigger size)
So last year on the one run in March that I was willing and able to maintain a heart rate around 150bpm it took me 52.15 minutes to finish the run. Yesterday, It took me 51:11. I’m in better shape than I was last year! “But” you say, “Look at the run in September! You’ve lost fitness” That is true. My running fitness is not where it was in September of last year. But I was at a peak fitness level in September and it isn’t really practical to believe you can maintain a peak fitness year round. The other positive I saw upon drawing information from the data was that despite how the graph looks in the month of March (’06), I was still able to run a 3:08 marathon in April. Very encouraging!
So here’s how it broke down yesterday:
Comparing “apples to oranges”: I’m in last again today. I’m in terrible shape. Everyone that I run with is too fast for me to keep running with. I SUCK!
Comparing “apples to apples”: Wow, I have better fitness than I did last year! I may be able to put together some good training runs and races this year. Maybe I could run a marathon under 2:55 this year (hmmm?)!
The scenario that I just shared is strong evidence that sometimes the value of a “fitness test” is often invaluable.