Creating Baseline Tests for the Triathlon Season

When I start getting cabin fever during winter I think of warm weather, blue skies, the smell of sun block, and the freedom from indoor bicycle training rides.



With the race season fast approaching, while currently returning to serious training, thisis the best time to set some training benchmarks for 2007. Establishing benchmarks allow you to see progress, evaluate plateaus and even set a reference point for next winter.


It’s a joy to see athletes test in the pool weekly, having a routine of rotating the test listed below each week, for four weeks. All tests should include 200-600 yds. warm up,with 8×50 desired test pace, and 20 seconds rest. For example if you want to swim 1:30 pace for your test, you should be able to get your 50s roughly within 45 seconds. And for a cool down I would recommend at least 200 yards of relaxed swimming.

Main Set No.1:
8×100 with 1:00 rest. A short set like this lets you go ‘gang busters’ and helps you understand the importance of pacing. The idea is to maintain the 100 intervals without slowing down as the set progresses. Over time you will be able to see your average for the 100s as it gets faster.

Main Set No.2:
4×500 with 20 seconds rest. Try to descend (make each one faster) each 500. The pace of your last 500 is likely to be your Ironman pace when relaxed, tapered and when wearing a wetsuit.

Main Set No.3:
8×200 on 10 seconds rest. Add up the total time of your 200s and this should be realistically close to your 1500m time for an Olympic Distance Triathlon.

Main Set No.4:
A long time trial (TT); be it 1,000; 1,500; 2,000; or even longer. These long time trials are mentally tough and provide a realistic look into how fast you can swim. There‘s nothing like a reality check!


Once you have done these sets of tests, you have now a good overview of where your strengths and weaknesses lie. If you can drill the 100s in Main Set No.1 at 1:15 pace, but you drop to 1:35 pace on the 200s, you know that you need to train more to increase your endurance.

If you can hold 1:35 pace in both the 200s and the 500s but can’t master anything faster than 1:29 pace on the 100s, then you know you are lacking in speed. If you fail on the 1,000 TT then it could be lack of endurance or even lack of mental toughness.

Either way, you’ll know your limitations after doing all four tests; you’ll have a good grasp of the things that you need to work on.


Preferably using a power meter or a Compu Trainer, but a Heart Rate Monitor can be a substitute: Warm up for at least 15 minutes and then make a few near-maximum effort sprints to get the heart rate up and ready for the test. Your cool down phase should be at least ten minutes of easy spinning with high RPMS.

Test #1:
10 mile Time Trial. The test results can be a good reference over a period of time if you plan and train month after month.This is the reason why I like to use the trainer or to be specific, a 10 mile flat course on the Compu Trainer. The test can be done in an open area, but its best if it can be done in a place clear of traffic, stop lights, stop signs and hills.

Test #2:
2×6 miles all out. With 2 minute mental recoveries incorporated in between. With same procedure stated above.


Both of these tests are tough, although the 2x 6 mile is slightly easier with its short breaks in between. But what I like about Test No.2 is that if you take the bull by the horns on the first 6 miles, you can re-adjust on the seconds 6 miles and you’ll be able to maintain your enthusiasm.

With Test No.1, the test is psychologically tougher and longer, where you can find yourself blown to bits after ten minutes. But both tests are good for benchmarking and I often have my athletes alternate the tests every month. You can make use of your average heart rate during the tests, or even a power meter to determine average power at threshold. Once you have these numbers you can calculate the numbers into a reliable formula to determine training zones in the future.


Running tests can be done at an open 5k or 10k, a cadence run around a favorite course, or it can be done on a treadmill.

The warm up for any running event should be at least ten to fifteen minutes run, and then a few fast pick ups of fifteen to thirty seconds with full recovery in between. Cool down should consist of at least ten minutes of easy running and some stretching.

Test #1:
5k or 10k race.The toughest part of these tests is having oneself intact for the first two miles. The trick is to learn how to pick up pacing as the race gets longer, it is an art which can be developed through experience. Try to run the race in a negative split, in other words run the second half of the race faster than the first.

Test #2:
Another option is to find a local course or loop where you can run while testing your ground. Same as the 5k or 10k take the pace out and try to negative split the run.

Test #3:
Although treadmills are a bad trap, they are great for hill running and for testing. Setting out to run a 5k or10k on the treadmill is a great way to test baseline fitness. The test can be easily repeated withoutdisrupting factors, such as heat or wind, which affects your performance.


Like the cycling tests, you can use your average heart rate during the duration of these tests to determine training zones. If you decide to use a 5k race as your benchmark, or anything less than 30 minutes, you should probably use 95% of the average heart rate for your LT as it’s easier to increase your heart rate knowing well that the tiredness that you will feel is just for a short period of time.


Using a maximum strength test each season is a great way to see the improvements that you make, especially your strengths. Knowing that you can leg press 2.5 times your body weight this season versus 2.3 times your body weight last season can boost your confidence. Other max strength tests that can be done are squats, seated rows, and step-ups.

Keep track of your testing results so you can compare your performance month after month or year after year. These tests can be use all season long to determine current fitness levels and can help you become mentally tougher in a race.

Good Luck!


Free Triathlon Training Guide
Free 7 Step Plan Design