Stroll through any transition area and you are sure to see a virtual “showroom” of heart rate monitors, Garmins and power meters dangling off pricey bikes. Unfortunately, many triathletes are not getting the most from these tools by skipping a simple yet critical step: the early-season field test.
The primary reason for a field test is to reveal your current fitness level in order to enhance the quality of upcoming training and racing. You will use heart rate, wattage and/or level of perceived exertion, depending on the tools you own, to establish a few simple and effective training and racing effort zones. There are many different types and definitions of “zones” out there, defined by complex physiology terms such as lactate threshold and VO2max. It’s not critical that you understand all of this jargon to get started. Just establish and embrace your own personal numbers.
Let’s get started: Select a road with a modest incline, or at least a fairly flat road that requires you to pedal the entire time and not coast. (An indoor trainer is OK if necessary.):
Warm up for 20 minutes: 10 minutes easy, then 3×1 minute fast pedal (<100 rpm’s) with 1 minute easy between, then another 4 minutes easy.
20-minute test: Your goal is to ride your best effort and go as far as possible. You will best achieve this by starting off conservatively, then building to a “comfortably uncomfortable” level, and then striving to maintain this focus to the finish as you “empty the tank.” Try to keep your cadence between 85 and 95 rpm.
Collect as much of the following data as you can during the 20-minute effort:
• Average heart rate
• Average power in watts
• Average rate of perceived exertion (RPE ) 1=very easy, 10=very, very hard. Mental notes will suffice.
Distance: To be used for future testing and to gauge improvement.
Cool down: At least 20 minutes of easy riding.
Write down or enter your data to start formulating your zones. You can use the free Tri Zone Calculator at Fastforwardsports.net (Trainingpeaks.com and 2Peak.com also have their own versions). Enter your average HR and/or average watts and select “20 minutes” for your test duration. Next, you will see a section with your personalised training zones to help guide you to the proper intensity level for achieving the following goals:
Zone 1: Fat-burning, aerobic development, recovery, Ironman (novice) pace
Zone 2: Tempo, steady state, Ironman (experienced) up to 70.3 pace
Zone 3: Lactate threshold, anaerobic threshold, functional threshold, Olympic up to sprint pace
Zone 4: VO2max, intervals, neuromuscular training, faster than triathlon race pace.
The racing zones section is meant to be used as a preliminary tool for pacing assorted distances, but you’ll likely make micro-adjustments based on past race experience, recent training data and conditions. Aim to re-test on the same course every four to six weeks in order to keep your training zones accurate and celebrate your progress!