Now is a great time to evaluate your run fitness. I’m a strong advocate of testing often so you know if your training is working for you. Although this run test is designed with beginners in mind, it can and should be used for athletes of all abilities.
The best place to do this test is at a local track. You could use a flat trail or road that doesn’t have any hills, traffic, stop signs or red lights, but a track is always the best option. All you need is a basic watch with a lap button.
Warm up into your “conversational pace” (as in you could easily tell your friend your full address without having to pause to catch your breath), and keep it there for at least 5 minutes until you feel like your heart rate has stabilized. Your goal for the test is to run 3 miles or 12 laps of a track, keeping your heart rate and effort even the entire time. Your pace may drop off after mile 1 and it may drop off after mile 2 as well. That’s to be expected, so don’t feel the urge to speed up your pace to run a fast last mile. That’s not the point of this exercise. You will hit the lap button on your watch each mile so that you can compare lap to lap as well as compare to future tests.
The goal of this test is to keep the effort the same throughout and to see what happens to your pace. This test is at an aerobic effort and shouldn’t tire you, so recovery should be quick. Comparing paces each week will give you a strong indication if your fitness is improving and if your training is on the right path.
I recommend doing this test often—as much as once a week if you have an easy Zone 2 heart rate run on your schedule. During your early-season base building you’ll see improvements, but when you do plateau, add in some intensity such as hill repeats or even tempo or fartlek-type runs.
The heart rate that you run this workout at is also your long run heart rate—a strong aerobic effort where you don’t feel like you are working too hard. Over time you’ll come to appreciate the effectiveness of this test, no matter what level of racer you are.