Does the idea of testing and timing your workouts sound tiresome when all you want to do is go out and run? Not all triathletes are addicted to numbers, and, if you're like a lot of triathletes, then the idea of performance testing is about as appealing as getting a root canal on your next vacation.
If you're a self-coached triathlete, testing is even more of a challenge because you aren't being prodded by your coach for the results. Besides, if you're doing triathlon for fun and fitness—versus sprinting for the win at your next race—do you really care what your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is on the bike?
Believe it or not, testing isn't just for improving performance; it can also help crank up the fun on race day.
How is that?
In short, tests help you determine your best race pace so that you don't crash and burn before the finish line.
Lots of triathletes experience what's called a "death march" during the run leg because they pushed too hard too early in the race.
Psychologists use the term "positive illusions" to describe having an optimistic outlook on future outcomes. We all do this in life and it's not all bad; actually it's quite healthy. Trouble occurs when being overly optimistic about your athletic ability makes you push too far beyond your limits, and slams up against an objective measure like a triathlon race course.
This is where testing can help.
Testing gives you objective feedback, something self-coached triathletes desperately need. This feedback helps you adjust your training and ultimately ensures you keep a sustainable pace out on the course.
Testing doesn't have to be overly complicated to be effective. In fact, the best tests are practice races, because there's no substitute for the real thing. You're more motivated in a race than at any other time.
If a practice race isn't an option then all you need are a couple of data points like heart rate and distance and you're good to go.
Here are three ways to perform your own tests:
Build some short local races into your training plan. 5K runs and sprint and international-distance triathlons are a great place to gather real time data under race conditions. If you keep them close to home they aren't a huge hit on your time or wallet either. Not only will these races let you gauge your swim, bike and run fitness, you can also get a feel for your speed in transitions, nutrition timing and the all-too-often-overlooked racing mindset.
Timed 600- to 2000-yard swim tests, cycling time trials on a measured course and track runs can provide the objective feedback you need to make progress without over-stressing your body and risking injury. It's really just a simple matter of timing yourself at intervals, say once a month, and seeing whether or not you're making any gains. If not, it's probably time to up the intensity, the volume or, more importantly, perhaps the consistency of your training.
Trainers and Treadmills
Indoor trainers and treadmills are some of the best and safest tools for testing your current fitness level. Whether it's a Vasa Trainer with an Ergo meter for swimming, a bike trainer or a treadmill, measure heart rate and distance or time and distance and you'll have the info you need for ongoing feedback. And that, of course, can lead to your best race yet.
Still wondering where the fun comes in? There's no greater fun in multi-sport, than turning in a solid performance on race day.
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