The importance of “fitness tests”.

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:

1. Heart Rate Training Advice

2. Heart Rate Training – Graphical Display

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:

Heart Rate Data Chart

(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.

Gary Ditsch


8 responses to “The importance of “fitness tests”.

  1. Gary,
    Excellent and very informative post. Many of us get caught up with the competitive nature of some of our group runs, which makes it difficult because we have so many folks in our group who are really fast. However, since we are all training for different events (Jeff and you for Irons and Tri’s, me for 26.2, Colleen for everything from 5K’s to tri’s, Duane for 5 and 10K’s, etc.) and we are all at different points in our training cycles, it is great that we are all supportive and there are no real egos from our group. Plus, we all know that when Jeff and you are at peak running fitness, you both blow everyone of us away!

    I will be very interested in continuing to follow your journey to WI, both in person and through your posts.

  2. Jim – That is a good point. I tried to convey the idea by saying “don’t compare apples to oranges.” Our group is unique in that we have some good runners all getting together to workout, yet we do different races and events when we decide to “race”.

    It is still sucks to feel like I can’t run with a group of friends that I was used to running with.

    But here’s another side to this story. There are some people in our group that are running extremely well right now. Scary good. Scary!

  3. I have to agree with you two that the group can make for some immediate disappointment…..with long-term happiness. This year is a very different training cycle for me as Jim can attest to. I am used to leading the pack on the Tuesday/Thursday runs, but this year I wanted to build a solid base of endurance rather than speed (“speed” will come later in the cycle). I am trusting that with a more relaxed and solid base built this year, I won’t be worn down and burnt out come IMMOO time.

    These fitness tests will be key to marking my progress for this year and by adhearing to this type of schedule, hopefully lead to success during the target race.

    Here’s to feeling like crap now…… feel accomplishment later!!

  4. Gary, you mention a swimming fitness test. What do you use? Do you use Joe Friel’s 100yd repeats test?

    I agree with all the comments about comparing yourselves to others out on the road. It always drives me crazy when I’m out on a run and someone passes me… but then I have to remember, “Hey wait, I have no idea what that guy is training for… maybe he just started and is only running 3 miles, I’ve been out here for 12 miles already… pace your self, don’t get out of the zone”… It may seem silly, I guess I’m just that competitive, but I still have to remind myself of this almost every run.

  5. Zappo. I have used the 1000 yard TT that Friel suggest, taking splits (and heart rates sometimes) at each 100. What I have found is that the 1000yd TT is good to establish the “upper end” of where I will ever be in the pool. I believe that he does use it for determining your swim LTHR / pace too?

    One set that I have used over the years that seems to be more appropriate for people looking towards Ironman is a 10 x 200yard set. 10 seconds rest. Monitor what split you come in on.

    I actually do a longer set of 200’s each week anyway. At the training clinic I went to back in November, Monica Byrn had some swim test sets. Here’s the PDF of the workouts she gave

    Hope that helps. On the cycling side of things, I have never had a consistent “fitness test”. I will be establishing one soon as I have an 8 week cycling block coming up.

  6. Thanks so much for the comment on my blog.

    My concern has been that my zones are set based on a LT of 171. I know that based on my HM HR of 184, that the zones have to be set too low. Based on running formulas my long run should be 9:30-10:30 miles. Keeping with my old Zone 2 rules my runs were 11:00-12:00 and not getting any faster over time. So that’s why I wanted to do the test. However, I do believe that the test was flawed for me- My VO2 peaked before my Anaerbic threshold (which shouldn’t be possible). In addition, my anaerobic threshold has to be at least 184, since I can run for 2 hours at that HR… So I think the mask started leaking as soon as my respirations increased…

    I definitely know that I won’t be running my IM marathon at 168 bpm. But I do want to push myself in training to attempt to raise my fat burning percentage, and get faster. So I just want my zones to be accurate. Based on every field test I’ve done, my HR zones were off by 15 bpm or more. Which makes a HUGE difference (about 2 min/mile).

    We’ll see how this all comes out in the end. I’ve asked for a retest with a smaller mask. I paid a lot of money for it, so hopefully she will agree…


  7. Jodi – thanks for replying, I was kind of wondering how all those numbers came about.

    I’m still curious as to how they determined what point to call “anerobic threshold” during the test. Are they using lactate threshold and anerobic threshold interchangably.

    That being said, I’d ask if they were up for retesting too. Especially if it was costly. There is likely something going on…. as you noticed by the VO2 and Anerobic Threshold issue.

  8. Pingback: Gary’s Fitness Blog » Veterans Park Run - New Fitness Test » Sweat365 » Fitness Community

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