Measuring Progress – The Benchmark Test

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!

FTP progress



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!



26.2 vs 70.3

Which one is harder ? 26.2 or a 70.3? I’ve got a marathon and a half Ironman under my belt and on my car:)

When training for the marathon I had joined this running group called Fleet Feet in Pittsburgh. They met every sunday at 7 AM and we ran with our respective pace groups . It was a 16 week program designed for the Pitts Marathon in May. The biggest hurdle by far was getting up at 5:30 AM to have breakfast and then drive down to the starting point.I just don’t have it in me to go for long runs all by myself. Its something I simply cannot do. There is way too much to worry about such as but not limited to nutrition and directions, and last but not the least safety. If you live in a cold area and have signed up for a spring/summer marathon you pretty much have to train through the winter. Getting in your long runs on sunday morning is not fun. If you’re training for a marathon , chances are you will spend more time running than cross training since more or less all training plans ask you to run at least 4 days a week. If you somehow do stick to the plan and since you pretty much run the entire time, you will be faster for sure than if you were training for the run leg in in an ironman distance event. The long runs on Sunday were taking a toll on me when training for the marathon. I could not walk on Monday , was always sore. Also I learnt it the hard way that running 4 days a week is hard if you’ve not been running consistently for a few years especially if your sunday runs are long runs. All i had was a half marathon under my belt about 7 months ago and I had pretty much winged the half. As a result of not too much experience running and running too much too soon I had shin splints the entire time. I tried ice, foam rolling, compression socks and even went down to a chiropractor twice. In the end what I could conclude was running is taking a toll and I need a break , my body just cannot handle so many long runs for whatever reason. Finally on race day I had a goal to break 4 hours and I missed it by 34 seconds! My official time was 4:00:34. The hardest part in the race were the last 6 miles and that’s where the real race is, the last effing 6 miles. I was trying to makeup some time since I was running a bit conservatively the first 10 miles.

and wanted to negative split my race. So what I can conclude from the race was and I still feel today that the marathon requires you to put in those long runs and you need to suck it up on the Sunday mornings. 26.2 is a totally different ball game. You can get away by not doing speed work and tempo runs, but you can not be running a marathon without pain and agony if you’ve not gone on those long runs.

Triathlon is an expensive sport. If you do not know how to swim , you need to get a swim coach. if you’ve been a swimmer all your life , you wont have to take swim lessons! A few open water swims with a group and you will be fine. In terms of the time and effort required. Assuming you know how to swim and how to ride a bike I personally think its easier to train for the 70.3, Again I said easier to train not necessarily easier to race.I pretty much just swam bike and ran whenever I could. The reason I say easier to train is, you can go to the pool even if its winter or summer , the pools are warm and you can go get your intervals in or whatever is is that you had planned.

As far as the bike goes, you can go down to your local gym and attend one of those spin classes for an hour or so and you should be good. Again it’s in a controlled environment , you have music , booties, hopefully a hot instructor and you’re golden. If for whatever reason you don’t wanna drive down for that, you can setup your bike on one of those indoor trainers and whip out an interval workout from youtube or just simply bike and watch a movie. The only thing you need to be concerned about is a sweat puddle. When training on an indoor trainer make sure you have at least a fan facing you or else you’re gonna be drenched in sweat. As far as the run goes, you don’t have to put in 13 miles . Your longest run can be at 6-8 miles and you will be fine. You dont have to spend 3-4 hours on your long runs. The variety breaks the monotony. You can swim easy or swim in intervals , you can bike watching a movie or just do an intense circuit. Long runs are not the bread and butter. I personally never biked 56 prior to my 70.3 race and the bike leg was just fine for me. What i did not train for was run of the bike. I felt I should have included a few more run of the bike sessions just to get used to it. In my opinion you can get away without spending too much time on one sport, if you can dedicate 2 sessions a week for each sport, you will be able to complete a 70.3. You don’t have to put in crazy 3 hour long workouts on a Sunday.  On race day I did struggle during the run, but at the end I wasn’t exhausted to a point where I did not want to walk or could not walk. I was relatively injury free during the entire training . I guess overuse wasn’t the name of the game here.

Training for a 70.3 is easier than training for a 26.2. Racing a 70.3 might be harder than a 26.2 simply because of the weather. Chances are your triathlon is during the summer because you need to swim, duh! As a result your
run leg  will be around 11 AM which means its gonna be  hot. For anyone who has run in the heat, you know the  risk of dehydration , cramping and what not. if you have to run in the heat after a 56 mile bike leg, its pretty tough. On the contrary your marathons start at 7 AM and you’re pretty much done covered majority of the course before it gets really warm.  In the end one should respect both the distances. Accomplishing one or both is a major achievement for a lot of people.

As far as race day goes, if you go out too fast too soon in a marathon, you will pay for it in the last 6 miles for sure or maybe even earlier.

If you go out too hard on the bike in a 70.3 , you will pay for it on the run . In the end you reap what you sow. The marathon requires you to put in those long runs. The 70.3 is slightly more forgiving in the sense, you don’t have to worry about the weather too much. You can pretty much swim bike and run indoors. But try getting a long run(16-20 miles) on a treadmill and you will know why its called a DREADMILL!