Ramblings of a Self-coached Sport Scientist
Over the course of a year I repeat the FT Test on several occasions so as to recalibrate my training zones and track my training progress. In today’s post I’m going to be analyzing two independent FT tests done on the same course and at similar ambient temperatures, but spaced approximately 14 weeks apart. The first test I did in early April, while the second I did in mid-July. For beginner runners, I recommend doing this test every 6 – 8 weeks to gauge progress accurately. But for someone with a few years of training behind them (such as myself) this time between tests needs to be slightly longer (approximately 10 – 16 weeks) owing to the marginal gains effect (a post for another time maybe?). On a sidebar, I am busy investigating whether the FT Test is indeed the best field test for setting training zones for trail runners – I have reason to believe that in the coming years we may find a test more appropriate for trail runners – and for now we are going to assume that the Garmin watch I use is valid and reliable (presently researching this too, and will be sure to let you all know what I find!).
The results of the two FT Tests are the crux of what I want to share with you in today’s post, along with the practical implications thereof, so without further ado, here are they are:
FT Test 1 Route: April 2018
FT Test 2 Route: July 2018
The reason I’ve included the two pictures above is to illustrate two things; a) that I used the same route for each test, and b) that the ambient temperatures were relatively similar for both tests (within one-degree Celsius of one another). It’s super important when doing FT tests or time trials etc. that we use the same route each time we do it, and that we try and replicate the external environment as much as possible – this means that we can trust that the change in performance is not due to some other effect other than the training we have done!
FT Test 1 Intensity Graphs: April 2018
FT Test 2 Intensity Graphs: July 2018
When comparing the intensity graphs above, you’ll notice that for both tests I managed to maintain a nice, constant pace for the entirety of the work portion of the test (ignore the warm-up and cool down). Additionally, you’ll notice that the elevation level was constant (as it should be running around a grass track) and that there is cardiac drift occurring (it might seem that the heart rate data is plateaued, but in actual fact, it is slowly getting higher – more about that another time). Once again, it’s super important that the test takes place on a flat surface (trail runners I promise I’m investigating this), and that your pace is constant throughout tests.
FT Test 1 Splits Chart: April 2018
FT Test 2 Splits Chart: July 2018
So here’s where we really get down to business – analyzing the results of the two different tests that took place about 14 weeks apart from one another. We’ll be ignoring splits (or laps) 1 and 4 for now as they are the respective warm-ups and cooldowns. What I want you to focus on first is that after 14 weeks of training, I managed to cover a whopping (can you pick up my sarcasm in text?) one hundred metres more in FT Test 2 (7,13km) compared to FT Test 1 (7,03km). This equates to my FT Pace being 4min16sec/km for Test 1, and 4min13sec/km for Test 2. A 3-second improvement over 14 weeks you say? Well I have to say I was pretty disappointed in those results myself. I decided to delve a little deeper to try and understand what had happened over the past 14 weeks of training, and…click! Lightbulb! I want to draw your attention to the heart rate data column for each test. You’ll notice that for Test 1, my average heart rate is 186.33 beats per minute over the 30-minute test…well for Test 2 it is a staggering 174.67 beats per minute! That is almost 12 beats per minute less on Test 2 compared to Test 1. The interesting finding here is that although I was running essentially the same speed (even slightly faster), my heart rate had come down considerably during the second test…ok great…so what does that mean?
Once again if we dive a little deeper into the results, you’ll notice that my average cadence (steps per minute) improved by almost 6 steps per minute from Test 1 (170.67) to Test 2 (176.00). Additionally, the increase in cadence in test 2 resulted in a slightly decreased average stride length (1.35m) compared to Test 1 (1.36m). All of this points to one thing → I am becoming a more efficient runner. It’s funny how your initial feelings of, “What the hell have I been doing the past two-and-a-half months?” can quickly turn into, “I’m not half upset with my training over the past two-and-a-half months!). The truth is that there are a few lessons to learn from this little training period:
- Running performance is multi-faceted. Yes we want to go faster, but we also want to go longer.
- Define your goals for your training period. My goals for this training period were to set myself with a solid base of training for a year that included my first marathon (September) and ultra-marathon (December).
- Don’t get upset about not achieving things you didn’t train for. Aah yes…there it is…I said it…The real question is how could I have gotten upset with myself in the first place? Not once over this training period did I train for speed…in fact, I was doing almost the opposite. So why did I expect to get faster over the course of that training block? If you think about it, I improved my performance exactly where and how I was supposed to.
- Related to point 1, endurance runners need to be both metabolically and mechanically efficient. Mechanically efficient runners are able to transfer energy consumed by external work (pounding tar) more efficiently which can result in increased speed. Metabolically efficient runners are able to produce more energy for the same relative cost and can run for longer. These adaptation pathways are interlinked but can be trained independently of one another too.
The concept of mechanical and metabolic efficiency in runners is going to be the focus of my next blog post (or two). For now, let’s keep it simple: train slow, race slow…but sometimes getting better at running slowly is still a positive training adaptation! Until next time – I’m off to work on my speed!
Featured Image by Mark Sampson – check out @marksampsonct on Instagram.