What are your plans for your upcoming running year? Whether you’re looking to run a new race distance, achieve a personal best, or just stay injury-free, accurately gauging your current fitness level will help you set challenging but reasonable goals. “Your baseline gives you a jumping-off point to begin a strong, successful training season that will culminate with you achieving your goal,” says Brandon T. Vallair, a coach at Run for Speed. The following techniques will reveal where you are now so you know what to aim for three to six months down the road.
This test is useful for runners of every level. Newbies and novice racers will get a feel for their capabilities, while more advanced folks can use it to establish the beginning of a new training cycle, says Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of The Running Centre.
Run It: The length and effort level of your time trial depends on your experience and your target distance. Beginners and 5K runners should run 1K (1000m) – preferably on a track – making each lap progressively faster so you end with little left in the tank. Add 20 to 30 seconds to your kilometre time – that’s your goal pace per kilometre for your upcoming race. So, for example, if you ran a kilometre in 5:30, you should aim to complete a 5K in 29:30 (a 5:36 pace) after about three months of training, says Vallair. Experienced runners gunning for longer distances should do a time trial that’s one-third the distance of their goal race (so 3.2 kilometres for a 10K or eight kilometres for a half-marathon) at about a 60 per cent effort (you can talk in phrases), says Vallair. If your average pace per kilometre is your goal speed for a half-marathon; add 15 to 30 seconds per kilometre to that average if you’re running a marathon. Repeat the time trial every three months to track your progress and reset your goal.
4 X 800’S
For newcomers and intermediate runners, 800m repeats help you gauge your speed without worrying about pacing yourself over a longer distance, says Kevin Semanick, a former running coach. They’re particularly useful for setting a goal for your first 5K (or your first in a while).
Run It: After a three- to five-minute warm-up, run 800m (twice around a track) at the pace you ran your last 5K (or at a comfortably hard pace). Adjust your pace up or down on the following repeats depending on how you feel, and recover between each with a five-minute walk or jog. After the workout, take the average pace of your repeats to determine your goal 5K pace. Repeat this workout once a week. Over three months, gradually increase the number of repeats (to five or six) or decrease the recovery period. Once you’ve nailed your goal pace in a 5K, give yourself three to six additional months to shed seconds per kilometre from your race pace – or run a 10K at your 5K speed.
Regular racers and runners who have been running three to four times a week for about four months can judge their baseline on a racecourse. Choose one that’s relatively flat and has a small field so you get an accurate reading of your fitness, not your ability to dodge hundreds of participants, says Vallair.
Run It: Aim to hit your most recent 5K speed; those who haven’t run a 5K recently (or at all) can target a comfortable pace. You can use your finish time in several ways: if you’re gunning for a 5K three months or so down the road, aim to run your goal race up to three minutes faster (the less experienced you are, the greater gains you can expect); if your target is a 10K, run it at your practice 5K pace. You can also use practice 5Ks to stay on track for longer distances. “It’s perfect for half-marathon and marathon training,” says Semanick. “Begin your training in January by doing a 5K. Every three months, run another one to see where you’re at and how you’ve improved. You’ll get confidence going into your race.”