The Dominion Post

Take the talk test to improve fitness

- Eugene Bingham eugene.bingham@stuff.co.nz

Chitter, chatter, yak, yak. When I run with friends, I often wonder if strangers passing by think they’ve stumbled across a talking group, as opposed to a group of runners.

Whether it’s mid-week runs with my mate, Peter, or weekend jaunts on the trails with a bunch of good sorts, there’s a lot of gibbering and jabbering. It’s a right old jaw-fest.

Some of it’s mindless drivel (not looking at anyone in particular, honest), some of it’s deep and meaningful, often it’s funny – the miles go by faster

when you’re laughing, I swear.

Partly the talking is a reflection of the social nature of my running. I’m not out there to win Olympic medals or set records.

Getting outside and catching up with friends is good for the soul but there’s another aspect to talking while running. You could call it science.

Dirt Church Radio podcast cohost Matt Rayment and I caught up with running coach Jason Koop recently.

Koop is one of trail and ultramarat­hon running’s most well-known brains.

Based in Colorado, he’s the director of coaching for Carmichael Training Systems, personal coach to a swag of elite runners, and no slouch himself. He’s made the Top 10 of the prestigiou­s Leadville Trail 100 mountain ultra and is in training for the Tor des Geants in Italy (its name translates as Tour of Giants, so you have an idea how tough it is).

We asked him for the one thing that would make life easier for runners of all abilities and he had a simple answer – better fitness.

‘‘The better fitness that you have, the training runs are more fun and the events you’re doing are more fun, just because you’re not on the friggin’ struggle bus the whole time,’’ he says.

To help achieve this, Koop likes to get his runners to train and race using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), a personal measure of how hard they’re pushing themselves as opposed to just using other metrics like heart rate or pace.

(Pace is a virtually useless measure on the trails because it depends how hilly or tricky underfoot it is.)

We got to chatting about how he teaches his athletes the skill of knowing what their RPE is and he’s very clear it is a skill. ‘‘It takes hours and hours and hours of deliberate practise,’’ he says.

So how can you tell if you’re pushing it too much or not enough? One of the tools Koop uses is the ‘‘talk test’’.

‘‘Over 20 years, I’ve become very astute at listening to athletes breathe. If there’s a discrepanc­y between how much they can talk back at me, we’ll dial up or dial down the intensity as appropriat­e.’’

And it’s something anyone can do with a training mate. Listen to how each other is breathing and talking.

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