March 9, 2021
Racing is not the only way to track your progress. Here are three additional ways you can measure your run fitness and track your progress.
Most of the athletes we coach like to race. Racing is motivating, and it provides a way to test yourself and get feedback about how your training is progressing.
When racing is not an option, many athletes struggle and wonder how to validate whether their training is working and if they’re making progress.
Many athletes lose their way without clear race alternatives, and consistency goes out the window, significantly hurting their fitness and performance in the long term.
At Coached, we like our athletes to test regularly. Testing comes in various forms and can be structured into training, depending on the individual’s goals.
Here are three tests we prescribe most often to our athletes.
Warm-up for 10-minutes at MAF heart rate. If you have done a MAF test before and your second km was faster than your first, increase the warm-up by 10-minutes.
Next, and depending on your fitness level, run 4 – 8km at MAF heart rate (this is the actual test). For fitter athletes, we recommend 8km. For the less fit, it’s 4 – 5km. You’re aiming for around 40-minutes of testing.
As you run, your watch should capture your splits every kilometre. Your first kilometre will be the fastest, and you should see that each subsequent kilometre gets slower as fatigue sets in.
On completion of the run, do some light stretching to cool down.
MAF testing is most useful early in a training plan when the intensity is low. Because it’s run at low intensity, you can do MAF testing regularly. We’ll often prescribe this test on a fortnightly basis until the midpoint of the training plan.
Over time, you want to see an improvement in two areas.
To illustrate the progression, here is an example from one of our athletes.
As you can see, this athlete dropped his pace by 2-minutes at MAF HR between June and November, and the drop between the first and last km shrank from 43-seconds in June to 7-seconds in November.
Functional threshold pace (FTPa), is the best average pace you can currently sustain for around 60 minutes. It’s a measure of both your speed and endurance, and it provides useful feedback about your current fitness across all distances from 5km to marathon.
You can also use the average pace and heart rate obtained in the test to approximate your anaerobic threshold and determine training zones.
FTPa testing is run at high intensity. As such, an effective warm-up is essential to maximising your performance and minimising your injury-risk. Warm up for 10 – 20-minutes at an Easy heart rate followed by 2 – 4 Accelerations to put some spark in the legs.
Next, run a 20-minute time trial all by yourself (no training partners and not in a race). Run the test as if it was a race for the entire 20-minutes – that is, hard. You should run all 20-minutes at the maximum pace you can sustain for 20-minutes and at the end, you should be exhausted. Capture your average heart rate, pace and distance for the 20-minutes.
On completion of the hard 20-minute run, run easy for 10 – 20-minutes, followed by some light stretching to cool down.
Depending on your fitness level and physical condition, we’ll usually recommend someone test when starting our programme to benchmark their fitness and determine training zones, then every 8 – 10-weeks to check progress and refine zones.
Over time, you should see an increase in pace and the distance you cover, indicating an improvement in functional threshold pace.
Lactate testing is the most complex of the three testing methods because it requires equipment and an experienced sports scientist or coach to administer.
Lactate testing can be done in the field or a lab, using a small analyser to measure the lactate concentration in your blood. In the Coached Lab, we conduct lactate testing on either a bike or treadmill, depending on the sport the athlete is preparing for.
Before the test, we measure heart rate and take a pre-test blood sample to establish a baseline lactate reading. The athlete then completes a step test, with each stage increasing by 1km/h. We take RPE, heart rate, speed/power, and lactate readings at the end of each stage. We base the exact protocol on an athletes ability, and the test ends when the athlete has reached their lactate threshold.
We’ll usually recommend someone test when starting our programme to benchmark their fitness and determine training zones, then every 3 – 4-months to check progress and refine zones.
Over time, you should see a reduction in lactate produced and an increase in speed at threshold. These changes are indicated by a shift to the right of the curve.
If you’re not testing regularly, I encourage you to start. Testing can help keep you motivated, provide feedback, and help ensure your training zones are correct at all times.