Amy Kilpin dis­cov­ers how you can mea­sure your per­for­mance when you don’t per­form

Triathlon Plus - - Contents -

Colum­nist Amy Kilpin looks at bench­mark­ing and mar­ginal gains.

How do you know if you’re im­prov­ing? It’s the golden ques­tion and one I ask my­self (and my coach) fairly reg­u­larly, but some­times it can be a bit of an un­known, un­less there are reg­u­lar and con­sis­tent mea­sure­ment prac­tices in place.

In case you hadn’t no­ticed, we’re in the depths of winter. For most triath­letes, that means ei­ther we’re brav­ing it in Velom­i­nati’s rule num­ber nine style, sweat­ing it out in our pain caves, or for­get­ting the con­cept of train­ing in favour of the sofa, Net­flix and a left­over Christ­mas se­lec­tion box.

Sum­mer is eas­ier. Let’s not deny it; you can rock up at your lo­cal 10-mile time trial or Parkrun and try to beat last week’s time. Over a few months, that will give you some pretty good mea­sur­ables. Then there’s the rac­ing. Re­mem­ber what that is? Those days seem like a dis­tant, faded mem­ory, and af­ter a long winter of train­ing, some­times you just have no idea where you are at in terms of what you can ac­tu­ally achieve. That’s where race day comes in.

Of course, it doesn’t al­ways go the right way, but that’s all part of the game. Ul­ti­mately it’s a good test of your en­durance and speed, and some­times you can sur­prise your­self with what you’re ac­tu­ally ca­pa­ble of. Bet­ter still, you can use that as a bench­mark; a new per­sonal best to beat, or a new dis­tance to step up to. It all helps us to feel like we are ac­com­plish­ing some­thing and get­ting bet­ter at it in the process.

Winter is a dif­fer­ent beast for so many rea­sons. You’re grind­ing out hours of train­ing, while try­ing, and of­ten fail­ing, to fend off the off-sea­son temptations of com­fort food and too much ex­cess. How then, can you pos­si­bly mea­sure your per­for­mance when you don’t re­ally per­form?

This is where some of you may be fa­mil­iar with what can only be de­scribed as sheer, unadul­ter­ated hell: the dreaded FTP test. It’s a coach’s dream, and an ath­lete’s night­mare. A flat-out 20 min­utes of sus­tained, max­i­mum out­put on the bike usu­ally on a turbo or Wat­tbike to work out your Func­tional Thresh­old Power (FTP), which is ba­si­cally the op­ti­mum power out­put you can sus­tain over a pro­longed du­ra­tion (a race). Sounds tech­ni­cal? It isn’t re­ally; it’s just ut­terly un­pleas­ant.

It re­minded me, just a few weeks back into train­ing af­ter my end-of-sea­son break, why bench­mark­ing is ac­tu­ally im­por­tant. De­spite hav­ing had a month off, the ex­tremely un­pleas­ant 20 min­utes of my life recorded as the third best ever, only beaten by a sum­mer time trial and an FTP train­ing ses­sion at the peak of my sea­son. I was an­tic­i­pat­ing much, much worse.

A week later, I ran a 10k race with a two-minute im­prove­ment on last year at the same race, af­ter a 23-hour train­ing week, and hav­ing run no high-in­ten­sity ses­sions since be­ing back in train­ing.

It’s not about the re­sults – they were hardly spec­tac­u­lar – it’s just about the bench­mark­ing. If, af­ter a month off, and in the depths of the off-sea­son, I’m in al­most as good shape as I was in my peak in the sum­mer, that amounts to year-on-year im­prove­ments.

Some­times it’s so easy to for­get that you’re im­prov­ing, for the sim­ple rea­son that the in­cre­ments are of­ten too small to ac­knowl­edge.

The more year-on-year im­prove­ments you can log, the more you will progress as a triath­lete – what­ever your aims are. If you can add in a lit­tle bench­mark­ing, it’s a great way to mea­sure your progress, how­ever painful it is at the time, plus it’s a con­stant re­minder of why you’re putting in all that hard work in the first place.

My ad­vice? Take the small gains where you can, be­cause I can guar­an­tee you that they will add up to much larger gains later down the line. Don’t for­get, 2017 is a new year, a new race sea­son, so hope­fully there’ll be a few new per­sonal bests com­ing as well.

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