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Coaching Running

How Run Fit Are You?

As an Endurance Runner (you participate in in distances longer than 3,000m) you are likely to have a keen interest in measuring and improving your run specific fitness. You also already know that comparing yourself to others in not the way to go! You will probably have your favourite way to measure your performance. This post offers you a couple of workouts you can use as key ways to measure your fitness and some basics around fitness measurement.

Repeatability is Kind

Whichever workout you use as your go to benchmark, ensuring you can reproduce the same environmental conditions is vital if the results are to mean anything and be valid comparisons. In the ideal world you would perform all testing on a treadmill, at a similar time of day having consumed similar nutrition and be fully rested. Of course we don’t all live in the ideal world!

If you are going to run outdoors, try and always use the same location in the same direction such that you are using a consistent terrain.

Again if outdoors be mindful of the weather (and keep a note in your training diary). It is highly unlikely that you will have two identical days, but at least try to avoid extreme conditions (wind and temperature being the main factors of interest).

Beware of which variables you can control (how tired you are going into the test, time of day, what you ate, location), and then exercise control to try and provide consistent training environment.

Easy Low Intensity Testing

A popular misconception is that any testing must be / should be hard and at your extreme limit. Whilst some testing protocols do call for maximal effort, these are not appropriate or necessary for everyone. Even a well trained athlete will increase their risk of injury whilst running maximally and that a lone can be a reason to not do it.

You can learn a lot using this Low Intensity 60 minute protocol, and because it is low intensity you can repeat it often. If you are looking for a 60 minute run then this could become your go-to low intensity test:

  • Warm up progressively for 15 minutes using your favourite method of warming up
  • 2 x 20 minutes at mid zone 2 heart rate with 5 minutes easy (zone 1 type easy!) between them
  • a short cool down to finish the hour (or if you are like me as long as it takes to get back to the car).

You can use this protocol regardless of where you are in your training cycle and the result will still be valid. Having done the running part you then need to evaluate the data. You are looking for two things:

  • Firstly is there any sign of “cardiac drift”. If you are seeing cardiac drift then this is an indicator of poor fitness or a poorly executed test. Cardiac drift is a progressive increase in heart rate whilst maintaining a constant pace on level ground. In this test, because we are holding a constant heart rate for 20 minutes, I would expect to see a constant pace (assuming level ground) and not a slowing down towards the end.
  • Secondly (and assuming the above checked out fine) then if there has been an improvement in running fitness I would expect to see a faster pace for the same heart rate when compared to previous attempts.

Simple as that. This “easy” test gives you a meaningful measure and insight to the vital question of ‘are you becoming a more efficient running machine or not’.

60 Minute Ramp test

Another way to spend 60 minutes, but in a slightly more stressful way and you perhaps have to have a clearer idea what your event performance goals are to make this test work for you.

  • 20 minutes as easy pace running, this includes your warm up time. Key point here is to warm up but, whilst fresh, don’t be tempted to stray into tempo pace. KEEP IT EASY & LIGHT AND FLUFFY.
  • 20 minutes at a pace that is just below your target event pace. This will test your ability to control and manage your running paces, which in itself is certainly no bad thing!
  • 20 minutes at a pace just above your target event pace. This is not a sprint or maximal effort for the duration. This is a sustainable and manageable effort but you should be able to hold a pace faster than your event pace for 20 minutes.

When analysing your data, you are quite simply looking for a reasonably constant heart rate. There is bound to be a small increase during the first block as you warm up but only into low range zone 2. Then, depending on your fitness, you should be able to execute the rest of the set without your heart rate materially increasing. For many runners this will be a struggle. Pacing will prove a challenge (I am being polite!!) and their heart rate will drift… or even rocket.

Reality is that sometimes we have to go back to (unglamorous) basics in order to build a strong foundation for our running. These two simple protocols will give you an objective measure of how fit you really are; as opposed to how much pain you can endure, how much your ego has to believe you are ‘fit’ or indeed that you are fitter than you think but maybe just need to spike your top end speed a bit.

Have fun with these and if you have any question just drop me an email and I will help if I can.


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Ed Stivala

Coach & Founder

Founder BitFitter, an innovative easy to use Training App. 
L3 Personal Trainer, British Cycling Coach, England Athletic Run Coach & Swim England L2 Instructor
When not Coaching, he competes in Duathlon and plays golf very badly!