During the off season the typical training focus is base work and therefore its tough for most to get a gage on how their speed is or how they would actually do in a race. I feel its important to have a gage on this throughout the season since it gives you much more focus in your workouts and overall life style. Its analogus to someone trying to lose weight and using the scale as a means to track progress. Typically those dieters who hide the scale in the closet for months because they are afraid to get on it, gain the most weight over time. This is also true of athletes who don’t get an objective check on progress throughout the year. When the spring comes, they are almost always disappointed with how slow they are compared to what they had thought and wish they had trained more/harder. Its important to have that objective look at progress for a reality check. This reality check can be a slap in the face that motivates you to be more consistent over time and therefore make more progress. Here’s what I suggest as a means to track progress during the off season and even compare to where you were racing during the previous season:
1) Use short efforts to look at your speed potential (I call these performance indicators). Its a 400 TT in the pool, a 5k race, and/or a 20 power test on the bike. These efforts are short enough to not derail your base training and provide a great glimpse to what your current race potential is. Each of these should be completed once every 4-8 weeks. I favor a monthly 5k and 400TT, as well as a 20 minute power test once every 12 weeks. Once armed with these performance indicators, and body weight, the triathlon calculator can be used to assess current race potential.
2) Use your zone R or zone 1 pace as a daily check of progress. That is, constantly check your pace or power at a specific low intensity heartrate. You should see consistent progress over time with these paces and have an idea as to how they compare to what they were during the previous race season. These zone 1 paces can even be used to estimate the performance indicators in #1 above through the triathlon calculator.
In summary, the use of performance tests and aerobic zone paces, can be a tool to get an objective look at current race potential and can be used to estimate expected improvements for the current season such that when race season comes, there are very few surprises. This is a good thing…