How To Consistently Improve Your Running

The simple running test that’ll help you train smart for years to come…

If you want to keep getting faster at distance running you’ll need to get smart with your training. And to get smart you need to know what your current fitness levels are and which training intensities you should be training at. Thankfully there’s a really simple way to work this out. In some cases you don’t even have to step foot out the door.

Before I introduce this particular method, let me explain the advantages of run-fitness testing so you can decide if it’s something you’re interested in:

5 Benefits of Testing Your Run Fitness

  1. You can set yourself up-to-date training zones, so you can always run at the optimal intensity
  2. Enables you to predict an accurate pacing strategy for upcoming events, increasing your chances of a great result.
  3. Gives you a wake up call when you’re not training as effectively as you could be
  4. Stops you from over analysing your training for clues about your current form. Helps you avoid the day to day psychological ups and downs that follow good and bad workouts.
  5. Gives you a clear sense of progress and reward for all your hard work. This can be very motivational.

The Method​

The simple test I’m talking about is known as the VDOT method. It was developed by coach and author Jack Daniels as a way of estimating your current VO2max – the optimal rate at which your heart, lungs and muscles can use oxygen during exercise.

A VDOT test involves a maximal 3km time trial (see below for details). Once you know your best current time for a 3km test, you can enter the results into an online calculator or consult a VDOT chart (see below). These will help you calculate your personalised training zones and predict your race times over a variety of distances from 800 metres to marathon.

In fact, you may not even have to do a 3km time trial. Some online calculators allow you to enter a recent race time (for example, 5km) to estimate your VDOT, current race times and training zones.

The beauty of the VDOT method is that it’s a quick and easy test that you can perform every 6 to 10 weeks. It gives you an up-to-date idea of the paces you should be holding in training, as well as a good idea of the optimal pace strategy for your next race.

The Test

Warm Up:
15 mins easy run, including 4x100m accelerating from easy to hard.

Main Set:
Run a 3km timed maximal effort.

Warm Down:
5mins easy run

3 Sample Workouts

NOTE: Make sure you include a 15 minute warm up and a 5 minute warm down for all of these sessions:

Session 1:
2 x 10 mins at Threshold Pace, with 60 secs rests

Session 2:
9 x 400m at Interval Pace, with 90 secs rests.

Session 3:
Two sets of 7 x 200m at Repetition Pace, with 3 mins rest between sets and 30 seconds rest between reps.

5 Top Testing Tips

  1. Test yourself every 6 to 10 weeks, even if you’ve not trained much during that period. This allows enough time to see a positive or negative difference. If you’ve had some time off training, your new test results can act as a useful benchmark for future improvement.
  2. Test yourself in similar circumstances each time. External factors like temperature and equipment need to be consistent between tests. Similarly, internal factors like fatigue need to be consistent too, so it’s a good idea to always test yourself towards the end of a recovery week so that you’re fresh.
  3. Test yourself a couple of weeks before a key-event, so that you have a good idea of what to expect on race day and how to deliver it.  Testing can actually help reduce race nerves, as it gives you more confidence in your pacing strategy and helps you avoid setting yourself unrealistic targets.
  4. Try not to feel too elated or deflated about each test result. It is not feasible to be in peak shape throughout an entire calendar year, so there will inevitably be periods of gain, loss and plateau. Your aim is to see a general upward trend in your performance levels over time, but that does not mean every single test has to be better than the previous one.
  5. Don’t start off too fast – this is the most common error people make when conducting testing. Your results will likely be better if you can adopt a more even pacing strategy. And it won’t feel so unpleasant either.

VDOT Running Chart

VDOT Running Pace Chart
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Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)
Phil Mosley (Coach & Founder)

Phil is a recognised expert in the field, having featured on many endurance sports publications. He founded MyProCoach in 2010 to sell premium training plans complete with email coach support for triathlons, duathlons, running & cycling.

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