Sunday, September 11, 2011

Training Schedules and Goals Part IV - Benchmarking

To determine where to best focus your training, you will need to decide on a set of benchmarks with which you can measure your progress.  I suggest that you use time trials from at least three separate standard racing distances. More is better, but three is probably going to be enough for a typical runner.  Although there is no reason you have to use standard racing distances for your bench marks, I suggest that you do, because then it will be easier for you make direct comparisons between your performance and the performances of the athletes you are trying to emulate.

Now let’s assume that you want to be a “balanced runner” meaning that you are as good at shorter distances as you are at longer distances.  One bench mark should be a short distance like the 200 meter or 400 meter runs, one bench mark should be a middle distance like the 800 meter or 1500 meter runs, and the third benchmark should be a longer run like 5K or 10K.  These are just suggestions, but choose three specific distances and stick with them.  One should be 400 meter or below, one should be a middle distance 800 meter to 3200 meters and the last one should be a logger run or 5k or more.

The next step is to run a time trial for each of these distances preferably on three separate days and when you are well rested.  Record the results, and on a regular basis repeat the process of running these time trials. If you are a novice runner, and can’t finish all of your benchmark distances, run the ones you can finish, and make increasing your mileage the top training priority of your training until you can complete all of your benchmark distances.

How will you use this data? You will use this data in two ways.
  • You will use it to track your progress as you train.  Hopefully you will improve on all your bench marks as you train. 
  • You will graph your results and compare the curve of your graph against the same curve of runners you are trying to emulate.  If you are marathon runner, then compare your curve against the curves of elite marathon runners.  If you are a sprinter, then compare your curve against sprinters.

In the simple example I chose of being a well rounded runner, the athlete can compare his or her results to curve of world records for those distances.

Here I have the curves of two runners and the curve of the world records for the 400 meter, 1500 meter and the 5k. The Y axis is speed in Kilometers/Hour and the X axis is the distance in Kilometers of the specific benchmarks. Note that these examples are completely made up, and are not realistic.
  • Runner  1 clearly has his curve skewed toward towards the endurance end. In fact, in my very unrealistic example here, he runs the 400 meters at a slower speed than 1500 meters.  Oh well, it’s just an example to make a point.
  • Runner 2 clearly has his graph skewed toward the sprinting end of the spectrum.
So given the object of becoming a well-rounded runner, Runner 1 should emphasis speed when he trains, and Runner 2 should emphasize endurance and stamina in his training. Over time, if they train correctly, their curves will begin to match the curve of world records.  Remember I’m talking about matching curves, not actual speeds!

In my next post, I’ll go into how to program your training. Which is as much art as it is science.

More Information:

For more information on this method of benchmarking. I recommend reading Chapter 11 of The Endurance Paradox: Bone Health For the Endurance Athlete by Thomas J. Whipple and Robert Eckhardt.

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