Few things are more disappointing than putting in weeks and months of training only to have a dismal performance on race day. It's true that everyone has a bad day now and then, but was your performance just a bad day or was it an issue with your training?
When I work with athletes in a one-on-one situation, and in my ready-to-use training plans, I intentionally design workouts and training progressions to mark progress. I want to know well before race day if training is going in the right direction. Here are 10 markers I use to gauge training success:
1. Aerobic Time Trial (ATT)
I use this time trial as one means to know if aerobic fitness is improving. The time trial is best done on an indoor trainer with a power meter or on a trainer with a rear-wheel computer pick-up. In either case, you need a heart rate monitor as well.
After a warm up, ride five miles keeping your heart rate within a narrow range. I typically use the top three beats of Zone 2 or 9 to 11 beats below lactate threshold heart rate which is Zone 3. Use a single gear and do not shift during the test. Record the gear used, time, power output, your current weight and how you felt in your training journal.
The ATT can also be done on a flat section of road, but know that weather conditions will affect the results. Additionally, few athletes can hold a single gear outdoors and maintain heart rate in the narrow zone. If you do the test outdoors, shifting is okay.
Each time you repeat the test, try to make testing conditions the same. I prefer retesting every four to eight weeks at the end of a recovery week. As aerobic fitness improves, your time for the given distance should decrease. If you're using a power meter, your power to weight ratio (average power produced in watts divided by your weight in pounds or kilograms) should improve.
2. As-Fast-As-You-Can-Go Time Trial (TT)
After a 15- to 30-minute warm-up, complete a 5- to 8-mile time trial, as fast as you can possibly ride. If you are a novice, use 5 miles. You may need to use a distance somewhere between 5 and 8 miles because the available course dictates the exact length. Your course needs to be free of stop signs and heavy traffic. You can use a course with a turn-around point. Use any gear you wish and shift any time. Record the weather conditions, gears used, average heart rate produced, time, power output, your current weight and how you felt in your training journal.
As lactate threshold fitness improves, the time should decrease. If you're using a power meter, your power to weight ratio (average power produced in watts divided by your weight in pounds or kilograms) should increase.
Each time you repeat the test, try to make testing conditions as similar as possible--wind, temperature, subjective feelings and outside stressors.
3. Higher Average Speed or Power Output
You don't have to do a test to see if your training is working. If you have been doing a series of interval workouts, and you repeat one of the sessions several weeks later you should notice that your average speed or power for a given heart rate level should improve. If you use a power meter, you should notice that for a given power output your heart rate should be lower.