I’m starting week four of marathon training for the Steamtown marathon.
Even though it’s early in training, it’s nice to have ways to measure progress every 4 weeks or so. Training runs can feel harder as training progresses, due to the accumulated fatigue of training, which can make it difficult to assess how you’re responding to training.
There are many ways you can evaluate your training mid-cycle:
Tune up Races: This is probably my favorite way to test out my training. For a marathon, ideally you want to test your fitness with a half marathon. For a 10k, a 5k tune up race is perfect. The downside of tune up races is allowing sufficient recovery before and after cuts into your training plan, but if you skip the extra rest you won’t race to your full potential
Lactate Threshold: Testing your lactate threshold measures the running speed at which lactate starts to rapidly accumulate in your muscles and blood. Lactate threshold typically correlates to your half marathon pace or a little faster. You can re-test in 4-6 weeks to track improvements. I was able to do this test several years ago in Houston and it’s interesting information to have, but probably unnecessary unless you have a really big goal or are an elite athlete.
Time Trials: Time trials are an easy way to test fitness any time that works for you, and ideally can be done for the same distance on the same route. The downside is that changes may not always point to improved fitness. Pay attention to other factors like weather- cooler temperatures can lead to improved times, just as warmer temperatures or fatigued legs from training may lead to slower times even if your fitness has improved.
Steady state race pace runs: A good marathon training plan includes tempo runs, with increasing distances at goal marathon pace. It’s typical for the first few marathon paced runs to feel challenging but they should begin to feel easier as training progresses and as your legs get more comfortable holding those paces.
Heart rate: I rarely use heart rate training, but it’s a fantastic way to evaluate fitness. As you get stronger, you can track a particular pace for a particular distance, such as a 2 or 3 mile run at marathon + 30 second pace. As fitness improves, your heart rate at the same pace should decrease by a few beats (again, assuming temperatures and conditions are equal.)
So far, I’ve seen a slight improvement in my 6 x 800m workout from a few months ago, and will repeat a tempo run next week to compare time as well.
I also see my easy pace dropping on my long runs, little by little. Any little sign of progress is great motivation for me to keep pushing ahead!
And I always throw a tune up race in. I’m running a half in September, about 5 weeks before race day.
Do you track progress mid-cycle?
Have you used any of the above forms – time trials, lactate threshold or heart rate tracking?