• Sal

HTC Efficient Runner Blog 7

Why you need to do some performance testing

How do you know if you are getting nearer your performance goal? There is an old story of a cyclist on a touring holiday. He wanted to stick to the lanes and backwaters to avoid traffic and crowds. As his route became more and more rural the internet signal disappeared and our intrepid bikerdiscovered he was lost. He resolved to ask for directions from the first person he met. Several miles later he met a local. After much gazing at the sky and contemplating his advice, the chap spoke. He said,” Well, if I were going there, I certainly wouldn’t start from here”.

Where are you now?

What is your level of swim, bike, run performance? You may have an app which informs you of a new threshold heart rate or functional threshold power. What does it mean and is this useful? My Garmin recently told me I had a new threshold heart rate of 220 which is brilliant because it means I’m getting younger! A 12 year old could expect this level whereas a 65 year old would expect an ambulance ride at this heart rate! Apps are sometimes wrong. Always use a heart rate chest strap. The watch-based heart rate function is often inaccurate.

Field test v lab test

A lab test costs money and is brilliant if you are racing and training in a lab. A field test is nearly as accurate, cost nothing but effort and can be done in a field if you wish.

The following are a selection of field tests you may finduseful.

Threshold Herat Rate

Swim, bike and run numbers will be different.

I’ll not bother you with science of lactate turning points and the like. This is a test which helps you set your heart rate training zones. Different coaches make claims for why their zones are better than others which suggests none are that important otherwise they would all agree. This is why Garmin, Strava, and others calculate similar but different scores. They are all based on a 20-point Borg scale named after the person who discovered these levels of intensity. 20 points are impossible to use which is why we simplify to 5 points. More useful is 3 points – Easy, Tempo and Hard. I’ll explain this in a different blog.

The heart rate threshold test for run and bike

Warm up

Run or bike ‘like stink’ for 30 minutes and find you average heart rate. This is very strenuous so easier is to run or bike ‘eyeballs out’ for 20 minutes and take 95% of your average heart rate. Its the same result but the maths is more difficult.

Alternatively run a Park Run as hard as possible for over 20 minutes and work it out from this. Do a 10 mile bike TT as hard as possible for the same calculation. Bike and run thresholds will be slightly different but not by much


220 – you age will be pretty close. DB (220 – 65 years = 155) After tests my bike threshold Hr is 148 and run threshold Hr is 157. Your heart rate thresholds go down as you age. Logically when you are 220 years old it will be 0 and you will be dead.

Heart rate is useful for setting training zones but you will find temperature, fitness level, hydration, stress levels, menstrual cycle, illness and recovery from illness will cause fluctuations.


If you are luck enough to have a rich benefactor or a bank account your partner never looks at, you may have a bike power meter. You power zones are not affected by the above. Power is power. It’s how they measure the output of machines. Your power will change as your train so needs to be tested more regularly. Probably every 6 weeks.

Functional Threshold Power

Find a turbo trainer or flat ish stretch of road and after a warm up pedal like a ‘bat out of hell’. After 30 minutes take your average power or after 20 minutes take 95% average power. This is your current Functional Threshold Power (FTP). Or do a 10 mile TT and extract a 20 minute selection to find 95% average heart rate.

Run power can be discovered using various gadgets. However, running in a power zone is hard to monitor because it’s difficult to read your watch as it swings around at the end of your arm. This is Interesting data for geeks.


Strava buffs are interested in W/Kg. This is your power/weight ratio. As a coach I’m always interested in this data because it helps me train athletes who are different sizes.A light female athlete won’t produce as much power as a chunky bloke. However, they will leave the male in their wake once they get to the first hill. They may have a much better power/weight ratio. This means you can get faster on a bike simply by losing weight. Unfortunately, there will be a limit to this gain as soon as you have lost fat and start to losemuscle. Your most powerful weight is unique to you and trial and error will get you close to optimum. That said, if you know you’ve been eating too many pies recently this might be an incentive to take the salad option for a while.

Swim measures

Even though you can get a heart rate chest strap that will work in water they are notoriously fickle. You can’t really use Hr accurately while swimming. Plus your watch is spinning around at the end of your arm which make it hard to read. For those who have been successful on the lottery there are some rather nice swim goggles that give a heads-up display of your moving data. They are quite accurate. My affluent clients love them especially in open water.

Critical Swim Speed Test

Swim 400m flat out and take your time. Rest for at least 10 minutes. Swim 200m even more flat out and record your time. Go to the internet and find a CSS calculator. This will give you a time / 100m which is your threshold swim pace.


Swim a distance of your choice and time yourself

Run a distance of your choice and time yourself

Bike a distance of your choice and time yourself

My preferred test for run

Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) test.

MAF is your zone 2 pace. It is where you can run and talk at the same time. You can keep going without stress for a long time. Technically, your muscles are burning fat rather than sugar for fuel. You can run efficiently at this pace. The true MAF test is done on a track or level ground. Run at zone 2, easy pace for 60 minutes and record how far you’ve run. However, you can do 45 minutes. Just do the same duration each time you do the test.

If you can’t run for 45 minutes, then run / walk. Once your heart rate elevates to the point where you are breathing heavily then walk for a while. Record your distance travelled.

As you become more efficient through training and develop better technique you will clock up a greater distance.

Just do something to record your current baseline level of fitness

If you know your performance level now you can work at improving and know you’ve got better. If you’ve changed your training you will know if this is working for you.

Without knowing where you are starting from, you will never find your goal.


You will read a great deal of nonsense on the internet. The science is complicated and often not useful for a normal triathlete. Keep it simple. I’ll write a blog on training zones soon.

Dave Bradley

HTC Coach

British Triathlon Level 3 Coach. Training Peaks Level 2 Coach

Efficient Runners Programme is on at Leeds road Athletics Track every Wednesday evening 6:30 – 7:30. All welcome. You don’t need to be an accomplished runner. It’s free. Just turn up you never know, possibly, just possibly, you may become an efficient runner.

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

A runner’s mindset Last weekend I went running with two friends who I trained with when I was a student over 40 years ago. We ran a hilly 8 km in the Shropshire hills often at 5 min / km. We talked