Monday, May 11, 2009


Completely hallucinating and sick, still sleepless after 50 nonstop hours during the 2008 Baja Travesia. With 20 hours to go until we reached the finish line, we wouldn't sleep a wink until nearly 65 hours into the race

How do you use benchmarks in your training?

When I was in the Navy it was easy: how many pushups can you do in 2 minutes? Situps? Pullups? 1.5 mile run? 500 meter swim?

My friends and training partners knew that "FIT" meant 100 pushups, 100 situps, around 20 pullups, around 8 minutes for the run, or under 8:00 for the swim (sidestroke!)...

As endurance athletes who spend so many hours running, biking, swimming, and paddling every week, how do we track our progress outside of racing? How do we gauge our fitness at the aerobic level and "race pace"?

Repeatable Benchmarks are how I monitor and quantify my fitness leading up to a specific event. Here in Southern California I have a few favorites: The "store to store" ride up Mt. Palomar, running the quad-thrashing "El Moro Loop", climbing Newport Coast, climbing Modjeska, climbing Blackstar on the mountain bike, The Five Fingers of DEATH at Aliso/Wood Canyon or climbing any of the Santa Monica mountains roads.

On a day-to-day basis I watch my Maximum Aerobic Fitness running pace, or MAF pace. My MAF pace is around 152 beats per minute, and also corresponds to my "aerobic threshold" or first deepening of breath when exercising. This happens to fall about 15 beats per minute under the Lactate Threshold.

The actual heart rate can vary slightly due to dehydration of severe overtraining, so I temper the MAF with AeT to give me a good idea of a heart-rate cap for daily training. Of course on hard days this goes out the window and I blow the lid off completely. But when you are training 15-25 hours per week, over 90% of your training time is likely to fall under this MAF cap if you are to remain healthy and continue to build fitness without nuking yourself.

I personally use and rely on a Suunto T6 heart rate monitor which not only gives splits with current and average heart rate, but also elevation gain/loss. I have had the same Suunto T6 since last spring, and it has lasted through 8 adventure races and over 1,000 hours of training. In the same time, I have had THREE Garmin watches fail: one ForeRunner and two "305" models. Additionally, I have had over 10 Polar heart rate monitors since 1992. Each has failed either due to water leaks, lens cracks, or just plain crapping out. Suunto is a sponsor, but if I were to make a buying purchase today with my own hard-earned cash it's easy to guess which I would buy.

Over the last several months, I have been able to lower my MAF pace to around 6:49/mile on a flat course. For a 6'2, 180lb guy with the biomechanics of a wounded water buffalo, that's not too shabby. Last weekend I was able to knock off a 20 mile run in 2:17, or a 6:50 per mile, the day after a relatively strenuous 100 mile bike ride with 7,000' of climbing in 4hrs48 minutes.

In two weeks I will repeat both of these workouts and hopefully see a bump in fitness (speed at the same heart rate). For swimming, I have entered several 1 mile ocean swims that should give me a good idea of how my swim training is coming along. With 6 weeks until Ironman Couer d'Alene, my goal is to show up on race day HEALTHY and fit enough to qualify for the Hawaii Ironman at my "training pace". It will all boil down to hydration and fueling...which I will talk about next time!

What are your benchmarks?

1 comment:

Slater Fletcher said...

Until this year I never had a benchmark for anything . . . I owe a lot of progress this year to establishing some benchmarks!

I am also on my 3rd Garmin and it is fading fast. I have yet to get a Suunto but sounds like it should be the keeper for my next purchase.