When I start to get cabin fever in the winter I think of warm weather, blue skies, the smell of sun block, and freedom from indoor bicycle trainer rides. But dreaming of it won't make it come faster. With race season still a few months away, and as you return to serious triathlon training, now would be a good time to set some training benchmarks for next year. Establishing benchmarks allows you to gauge progress, evaluate plateaus, and even set your baseline fitness for next winter.
I like to see athletes test in the pool weekly, rotating the test below every four weeks. All tests should include a 200-600 yard warm-up and then 8x50 at desired test pace with 20 seconds rest.
Example: If you want to swim a 1:30 pace for your test, your 50s should be done around 45 seconds. For a cool down I would recommend at least 200 yards of easy swimming.
Main Set #1: 8x100 on 1:00 rest.
A short set like this lets you go gang busters and helps you understand pacing. The idea is to keep the 100s within a second of each other without slowing down as the set progresses. Over time you should see your average for the 100s get faster.
Main Set #2: 4x500 on 20 seconds rest.
Try to descend (make each one faster) each 500. The pace of your last 500 is likely to be your Ironman pace when rested, tapered and wearing a wetsuit.
Main Set #3: 8x200 on 10 seconds rest.
Add up the total time on the 200s and this should be reasonably close to your 1500m time for an Olympic-Distance Triathlon.
Main Set #4: A long time trial (TT); should be at least 1,000; can also be 1,500, 2,000, or longer.
Long time trials like this are mentally tough and provide a realistic look into how fast you can swim. There is nothing like a reality check!
Results: Once you have done these tests you have a pretty good idea of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you can drill the 100s in Main Set #1 at 1:15 pace, but you fall off to 1:35 pace on the 200s, you know that endurance may be a limiter. If you can hold 1:35 pace in both the 200s and the 500s but can't muster anything faster than 1:29 pace on the 100s, then you know you are lacking speed. If you fall apart on the 1,000-yard TT then it could be lack of endurance or even lack of mental toughness. Either way, you'll know your limiter after doing all four tests and you'll know what you need to work on.
You should use a power meter or a CompuTrainer for these tests, but a heart rate monitor could be substituted. Warm up for at least 15 minutes and then throw in a few near-max effort sprints to get the heart rate up and ready for the test. Your cool down should be at least ten minutes of easy spinning with high rpms.
Test #1: 10-mile time trial.
The test results can be best utilized over a period of time if you can repeat the conditions month after month, and this is the reason I like to use the trainer or a 10 mile flat course on the CompuTrainer. The test can be done outside, but its best if it can be done clear of traffic, stop lights, stop signs and hills.