When training for endurance events such as an Ironman , marathon etc and having a goal time in mind, you need to have the ability to quantify your progress, some sort of a benchmark test. The improvements in your benchmark tests keep you motivated and give you a reason to stay consistent and last but not the least let you know if something is not working. The benchmark tests are sort of a treat for your mind if you see an improvement , consider the benchmarks tests as mini goals and stepping stones towards your bigger goal, when I see an improvement in my benchmark test I am euphoric to see that my training , discipline, hard work is paying of. I get excited for the benchmark test a week before, just to see my hardwork payoff. It gives me reason to continue doing what I am doing. Usually people sign up for an Ironman a year in advance. Training aimlessly for a year isn’t fun and you will probably end up lacking motivation or the desire to even get to the start line. Measuring progress and seeing yourself progress is one of the best motivators to keep your head in the game. So how does one measure progress and what sort of benchmark tests does one do? Well an Ironman consists of 3 legs – the swim, the bike and the run and a bench mark test for each discipline is a good way to make sure you don’t drift away from your end goal. The benchmark tests also let you know if its time to scale your training zones so you are training efficiently.
You don’t need to complete the exact distance for each discipline (i.e. you do not need to swim 3800 yards or run a marathon every time as a benchmark test) and it’s just impractical and boring and monotonous to swim bike or run those distances just to test yourself . One of the benefits of training for such events is that there is a trickle down effect. So if you’ve been following a training plan which progressively increases in intensity and/or duration, your performances are GOING to improve over the shorter distances as well ( 500 yard swim, 8 min all out effort on the bike and a 10k on the run). These shorter distances are manageable by an everyday athlete, are not extremely toll taking on your body and just practical from a training point of view . These shorter benchmark tests are pretty good indicators of your actual race times
Benchmark test for the Swim – Swim a ~500 yard time trial every 8-12 weeks or do a 10 x 50/20 x 50 on the minute at the end of every 4 weeks and see what is the average pace you hold for the intervals. The 10 x 50 can be included as a part of your swim workout, you don’t need a separate day to this unlike your bike and runs. The 10*50’s/20 x 50’s are short and keep you engaged the entire time since you look at the clock every time you complete 50 yards/meters. The return on investment in the swim is probably the least when compared to the bike and the run, unless of course you are just really bad at swimming and are learning how to swim.
Benchmark test for the Bike – Do a modified FTP ( 2 x 8 minutes) test every 4-6 weeks on your indoor trainer. I do it at the end of every 4 weeks. The reason I use the indoor trainer is straightforward – its a controlled environment every time I take the test and outside variables are eliminated. Imagine an interruption in an all out balls to the wall effort outdoors and you get interrupted by a flat tire half way through? I would be mad and would want to smash something , its just annoying and risky in my opinion. I personally prefer taking an FTP test at the end of the 4th week, because if you follow the traditional training block of 3:1 ( train 3 weeks and recover 1 week), you are essentially fresh for your FTP test. I do not do a 1 hour FTP test. Instead I do 2 x 8 min all out efforts with recovery in between and then multiply the power average of the two tests by .90 to get your FTP ( well I don’t do the math, the app – Traineroad does it for me). The 8 min test is very manageable and practical, I don’t think the everyday recreational triathlete or cyclist has what it takes to suffer for one hour and the ability to pace yourself well for an hour without blowing up or going too slow. So for me my FTP test is always in the first week of every month. Taking an FTP test on the first of every month is sort of a monthly thing for me, the first week of every month I pay my credit card bills, pay my rent , pay my phone bills and take my FTP test. The FTP test ( 2 x 8 min in this scenario) is a workout in itself . The 2 x 8 min FTP test keeps you engaged because you get live feedback on power and you are always kept on the edge to make sure the power number doesn’t go below the number than previous test 4 weeks ago and 8 minutes of pain and agony is very manageable than 60 minutes.
This chart below shows that I improved every time I took my FTP test, hence I have a reason to keep training and get those numbers higher. Keeping a log of your benchmark tests and doing them consistently is a great way to measure progress and see what is working for you and what is not!
Benchmark test for the Run – I personally do not benchmark my runs myself in the sense I do not take the tests alone, instead I prefer to sign up for a race about 8-12 weeks out and I keep a realistic goal time and then include a shorter race as a benchmark test. So when I was training for Muncie 70.3, I signed up for the Pitts half marathon and kept a goal time of 1:45, but I signed up for a 10 miler about 6 weeks before the Pitts half ( goal within a goal within a goal which helps you achieve THE GOAL – sub 6 hour Muncie 70.3). If you are training for a marathon , a half marathon 4-6 weeks in is a good benchmark test, if training for a half marathon, a 10k and/or a 10 miler placed withing your training plan is a good way to benchmark your performance. You could do a time trial by yourself , but what I’ve found is that you can push your self further when you are racing because of the crowd support, volunteers and the availability of nutrition on the course.
So to sum it up – For swimming, a 500 yard time trial in the pool. For the bike 2 x 8 min efforts on the trainer and for the run , sign up for a shorter distance race. These are the benchmark test which I believe are practical and feasible for the everyday athlete to keep themselves consistent.
Happy training and happy bench marking!