How do we know we are improving?

  • Creator
  • #23636

    Since reading your new book (fantastic job BTW) I have been spending essentially all of my time training at or below AeT. I have been adhering to the program for roughly the last 4 weeks. I have a rather significant aerobic and endurance sports base before entering the program outlined in your book. I guess I would call myself an enthusiastic and committed 48 year old, Cat 1.5 athlete ( per your definitions at the end of the book), as I’m not a professional athlete, have a full time job, and a family. But I do pretty well in age-class, and I’m actively trying to get better. Prior to starting I tested the AeT and AnT the best I could, and there was roughly a 10-11% ( 15 beat HR difference) between the two…not perfect but also not fulminantly aerobically deficient. OF course, these are estimates, based off what I believe were reasonable tests.

    I have been focusing on mountain running as we are now out of skimo season. I am handling runs at a very easy, up to AeT pace, and I am increasing distance and tolerating vertical. I have done essentially no speed/high intensity work-outs the last 4 weeks ( which I normally would have done heading into race season). I jump into a handful of mountain/skyraces each season generally ranging 13-26 miles (most in the 2-4 hour range), which all have significant vertical gain/loss. While these races are not super fast, they do require a faster pace than ultras to be competitive.

    How do I know my AeT is improving, thus allowing myself to train to an increased AeT HR? Pace improvements are difficult to gauge when running in the mountains and not on a track. When is it reasonable to retest of AeT and AnT? Is there a time or way of knowing when intensity should be incorporated into the training plan, as it seems rather clear in your book to not overdo Zone 3-4 workouts until at least the AeT/AnT difference is well below 10%?


  • Participant
    briguy on #23643

    Good question, I’ve pondered the same thing with regard to climbing/trails/etc.

    I’ve always done a “ramp test” (which I got from Jack Daniels or Joe Friel I can’t remember which), where you perform a series of 3min speed increases on a treadmill and capture the HR for each, then stop and stand still for 1min, capturing both the average and the final BPM at the end of that minute. Add up all the averages and you get a “ramp score.” It’s applicable only to yourself of course but you can gauge improvement that way at least as the number drops over the course of training.

    When I was doing a ton of climbing races I even converted it into what I called the “Ramp Ramp Test” where I did all the same speed-increments but I did them at 12% grade on the treadmill.

    I’d be curious what the experts here suggest for tracking progress.

    jtrachtenberg99 on #23650

    Thanks for your thoughts and the “ramp test” protocol. I wonder if the only way to identify improvement is with formal testing and if there is any data as to the frequency such testing should be done. Physiologic adaptations to stress and training vary considerably. Altitude acclimatization takes days to start seeing improvements, strength can be seen in a matter of a few weeks and is easily measurable. But AeT improvement may be difficult to identify (for trail runners as opposed to cyclists with power meters, or track runners with pace) as we are not really stressing our bodies when we exercise below AeT. Should we be formally testing every month? 3 months? Year? Or maybe we don’t retest. As our AeT increases, the authors want us to do more Zone 1 work. So maybe our Zone 2 HR/pace will organically morph into Zone 1 workouts. But when/how do we know we are ready for intensity work outs and not “short-changing” ourselves by not focusing enough on AeT? If there is a theme to this book this is it!

    Anonymous on #23652

    The best gauge of improvement is some sort of test or time trial. I use an aerobic threshold time trial for this. You find a course that models the demands of your sport that is about 1 hour long. Run this at your assumed AeT and get a time. A few weeks or 2 months later time this again. You will see gains in this AeT pace until your aerobic deficiency disappears.

    REMEMBER: This aerobic base by itself is NOT what makes you faster in race. It only provides a base of support for the high intensity training which is what improves endurance support. The bigger this aerobic base of support the more potential for endurance performance improvement. This is why during the base period, for the aerobically deficient, they will not see much endurance performance improvement. They have to add the race specific training to see those gains.

    This basic aerobic capacity we are trying to improve with a high volume of low intensity training is slow to improve and will not manifest much change in 4 weeks. Four months, yes. Four weeks…not likely to measurable. To perform your best in races you need two things. 1) A big base both aerobic and strength. We call this capacity building training and 2) Plenty of race specific training. We call this utilization training.

    You cannot build capacity and utilize it at the same time. This is why periodization of training focus works. In this process you have a prolonged base period in which you are increasing your work capacity in the fundamental qualities that make up your event. Then with these fundamental qualities are high, and you come close to needing to race fast you begin to add in the race specific utilization workouts that model the specific demands of the event you are preparing for.

    If you just want to race a lot then there will not be much time for base building and eventually all the utilization training will cause the wheels to come off. For maximum performance gains you need to prioritize a base period at some stage during the year’s training.


    jtrachtenberg99 on #23654

    Thanks Scott. Eloquently explained. For a less than elite athlete who is not perfectly trained (but has a lifetime of consistent base…albeit without a formal training plan), and who has 1-2 goal races in the upcoming months, do you feel that strategic “tune-up” races generally improve performance for later “goal” races, or do they hinder performance (due to time taken away from proper periodization)?

    briguy on #23661

    I completely forgot about the MAF test.

    What is the MAF Test?

    I think this is closer to what scott was describing in his aerobic threshold test. Maffetone’s version simply has you run a warmup and then 3m as close to your MAF limit. Test every 3-4 weeks and you’ll find that your pace splits for each mile continually drop. Once the improvement plateaus, then and only then consider adding in some High Intensity work.

    Maffetone is much more extreme in his application of “base” work than Scott and the UA guys here, but it’s pretty similar. I do the MAF protocol when I am base building and recovering from injury.

    I’m learning from Scott’s TFtUA book now though that MAF won’t quite cut it. With a mild case of ADS, I need more Zone 2 work which MAF strictly forbids.

    jtrachtenberg99 on #23689

    Thanks briguy. Interesting article…

Viewing 6 replies - 1 through 6 (of 6 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.