Once you’re into the winter mode it’s important to get regular information on how things are going performance-wise.
Rarely does this data contradict what your training diary and intuitive hunch would already suggest, but it’s still good practice to get a measure of how unfit you are, how much you’ve progressed or how on track you are. Data either proves you’re doing things correctly or will show that things must change.
If you use existing blocks of training time, regular routes, on-hand facilities and your own electronic tools, then it’s cheap to do this form of testing. It’s also easily repeatable and very easy to fathom out what the numbers actually mean.
Alternatively, you could pay for a multi-page lab report, which may be impressive (and relevant for a few) but how do you actually integrate that into your training, nutrition and recovery methods if it’s a one-off visit to such a facility?
Mind overpowers matter
The psychological benefit of coming back from a benchmark test happy in the knowledge you’re fitter-for-purpose should not be underestimated. But moving forwards shouldn’t nurture complacency, rather it gives you a tentative thumbs-up and a wink.
Progress in your test metrics shows that you’re doing things right and are therefore tweaking things correctly (e.g. training quantity, number of days off, sleep habits, nutrition intake, etc.).
This is incredibly tricky though, as elements out of your control such as your work level, family/relationship commitments, life events and health mean you probably can’t simply start in December, or most likely earlier, and follow a constantly upward-trending training programme of further, faster and fitter.
Measure you against you
The benchmark tests (see bottom) each have a number that you can measure (e.g. swim pace per 100m, hill climbing heart rate or run-loop pace) that will stay the same, improve or worsen. This is you, being honest with yourself about where you are.
If you’re good at kidding yourself then perhaps employ a coach or friend to test and assess where you’re at. There are only so many times when the result from your test is actually ‘outlier’ data.
Be honest and it will make you train smarter in order to see improvements. That said, never ever imagine that your competitors are always getting faster and never ignore/deny setbacks or being below par. Good times only happen if you acknowledge when you have bad ones.
The tests may be customised to your own preference, but it’s a planned session – it’s not just hammering training mates when you feel good (and they feel bad). Training, testing and racing are all distinctly different. Start now and use the information gleaned wisely.