Is Your Run Improving?

Do one of these repeatable tests every month to check the progress of your run fitness.

Photo: Erik Isakson

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Doing frequent 5Ks or 10Ks is one way to find out if you’ve gained run speed, but because of the inconvenient weekend timing—hey, we have to get on our bikes after all—cost and recovery needed, it’s not a realistic gauge during triathlon season.

By using a consistent, quantifiable test that doesn’t take long to recover from, you’ll have a more accurate measure of progress, plus a more realistic vision of your real race pace. “Age-group athletes often have a false impression of their racing fitness because they measure it based on volume, or speeds in fractionalized (interval) workouts,” says Bobby McGee, an acclaimed triathlon and running coach who has assisted athletes in every Olympic Games since 1998. “Then they’re perplexed when they blow up in races at these incorrectly determined paces.”

Every three to four weeks during your season, incorporate one of the tests at right to measure your fitness gains. Focus on consistent, controlled pacing. It’s important, especially if you’re a beginner, not to “race” in training. “I strongly advise athletes not to kick or finish strongly in these efforts, but to run smoothly throughout to assist with recovery. Save those juices for race day!” McGee says.

Test Yourself

Tests are ideally done on a track for repeatable results. Always incorporate a thorough 10–15-minute warm-up that includes strides and dynamic stretches. Don’t forget your watch!

Six minutes all out

Run at an even, high-intensity effort. This pace will be about your VO2max pace or maximum aerobic velocity, which directly impacts performance. “[1972 American Olympian] Jeff Galloway suggests that a good way to pace these shorter efforts is to feel that you can run no more than 100 to 200m more at the same pace,” McGee says.

Apply it: Translate your six minutes to an understandable pace, by taking (360 sec/ distance covered in meters) x 400m. For example, if you covered 1300 meters, that’s (360/1300) x 400 = 110 seconds or 1:50 per 400. That’s 7:20/mile.

1 mile

Run 1600m at a hard, controlled effort that you can maintain with good form. Keep each lap consistent and don’t go out too hard!

Although McGee says a longer effort at reduced intensity works well for long-course athletes, such as a 3–5-mile sub-maximal effort, “the mile is still a good enough indicator, even for Ironman.”

Apply it: Take your 1-mile test pace and add 30 seconds to get your predicted 5K pace per mile. Add 2-3 minutes to determine your long run or easy pace.

4x1600m with 90 sec recovery
McGee says this test is for the more advanced or “tougher types” and can be used to give precise 5K shape. Run 4x1600m, jogging 90 seconds after each interval at your best effort with even pacing.

Apply it: Your average pace for the whole 6400m is a good indicator of your current 5K ability, and can also be a lesson in pacing. Did you start out too hard and fade by the end? Is there a big time difference between your first and last 1600? Aim for even splits, like clockwork.

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