Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Field Test Your Way to Faster Racing

The triathlon season is winding to a close and the brutal temperatures of the summer seem to be easing up. For many of Austin’s endurance athletes this means their ambitions start to lean towards running events. The fall and winter months afford great opportunities to set new PRs, run your first marathon or simply build on the fitness that you’ve been working on over the last few months. In order to achieve a new PR or run a marathon it’s important to take stock of where your current fitness is so that you can make sure you’re setting appropriate goals and doing workouts at realistic paces.

The best way to do this is by field testing. Field testing is basically an indicator workout used at the onset of a training program and throughout the season to measure your progression. It is also used to calculate the pacing range for your run workouts such as tempo, steady state, Fartlek, threshold and track workouts. To go out and do these kind of workouts without knowing where your pace should be is a recipe for injury and burnout. You should never begin a training program without establishing some sort of a benchmark for current fitness. If you don’t do that, there’s no way to know if you’re getting any better!

A short race can be used in a pinch for field testing but the problem with racing is that courses, terrain and actual distance often vary, so it’s tough to recreate the same conditions from test to test. This is a very important point for any type of testing, since you’ll be comparing your results from test to test, consistent environmental and preparatory conditions should exist to ensure accurate outcomes. When you field test your goal is to collect pacing data, heart rate data and perceived exertion notes as you will compare all of these points to subsequent testing.

A proper training program will yield single or a combination of changes. Ideally you should see yourself run a faster pace for the given field test after 6-8wks in a program, sometimes athletes will not run faster but their heart rate is lower for the same given effort. Assuming that environmental and preceding conditions are the same this suggests that you can do the same workload at a lower metabolic cost or stress to your body meaning you can run longer at that pace without fatigue!

Your training ranges will need to reflect your field test results. This means adjustments to pacing and heart rate ranges consistent with your higher level of fitness. You’ll want to work with your coach on how to incorporate this data as each athlete has different needs and different goals. Also note that when you do your testing on the track or a flat road that your pacing will be about 5-10 seconds/mi slower on Town Lake Trail or on rolling roads.

So how do you do a field test? There are several good protocols out there but over the years I’ve settled on a 2 mile time trail as the best one for myself and the clients I work with. I like the 2mi time trail because it’s short enough that all levels of fitness can complete it and it’s not so taxing that we have to take a lot of recovery days afterwards. Here’s how to complete and calculate your training paces.

Find a 2 mile stretch of flat road, trail or simply use the track. Make sure this is a place that you can easily get to in the future so that you can keep your tests consistent. Also make sure you keep the 2 days before the test fairly light so you have fresh legs, make sure you note this in your training log so that when you test again it’s with a similar approach. Get in an easy jog for ~15min to warm up and if you’d like do a few strides. Start your watch and begin your 2 mile effort. Use the first 400m to get up to speed, this will keep you from staring off too fast, once at about 400m settle into a pace that feels like the fastest pace that you can sustain, this should feel very hard and your breathing will begin to become shallow and labored, ask yourself while running, “Could I go a little harder and still finish this 2mi?” if the answer is “yes” then speed it up a bit, if “no” then keep the pace right there and focus on staying consistent. At the one mile mark take your split and charge on for mile 2. This is the hardest point, your breathing is rapid your legs are burning and you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. This is where you clear the mechanism in your head and go. Don’t be afraid of blowing up, it’s better to put it all out there than to have left something on the track. When you finish it will have felt like a race effort, be sure to get the split for the 2nd mile, the over all time and if using a heart rate monitor your average heart rate for the effort.

You now have a benchmark as to where your fitness is. Plan to repeat this field test again every 6-8weeks to see how you’ve progressed! If your training is structured appropriately you should see a faster 2mi field test and lower heart rates for the same given workloads in your training.

For more information on Field Testing and how to achieve greater results in your training and racing contact Derick Williamson of Durata Training at



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