B Strong. B Fast. Just Fit.

Time Trial Testing

Published March 27th, 2009 in BAMFing, Endurance, Just B

In my previous article on Training Intensity Zones I talked a little about how to determine your Lactate Threshold heart rate. As I mentioned, if you have access to a sports center or university lab, you can get a maximum aerobic capacity test which analyzes your carbon dioxide to oxygen gas exchange difference to help determine your LT, or you can take a different max test in which blood samples are taken, usually from your finger, to determine your blood lactate level at different intensities. You must be willing to let someone take blood samples.

Most people do not have the access, or the money to spend in order to perform these tests. However, there is another way, which is not quite as technical, whereby you can estimate your LT for running or cycling, and your pace for swimming. These are called time trial tests. They are not 100% accurate, but they will give you a good sense of where your LT approximately is, and will go a long way in helping you set your training zones.

*Take note that these tests should be performed when you are rested, not after a hard workout day. You would also be well advised to wear a heart rate monitor for the run and bike to help make the results easier to get, and more accurate.

Run Test:

This test is to be performed on a track. The local High School is a good place to look. Before beginning the test, you need to do a proper warm up. This is important to prevent any injuries during the test. Dynamic stretching and some light jogging and striders for about 10 – 15 minutes will suffice.

Once you are ready, you will run 3 miles at your 5k race pace. If you’ve never run a 5k, you want to run fast, but at a pace that you will be able to maintain evenly throughout each mile. If you go out too fast and drastically slow down before finishing, your test will be inaccurate and have to be redone on another day.
Mile splits should be within 15 seconds of each other. (For example, if mile 1 = 8:00 min. and mile 2 = 8:05 min., mile 3 should not be slower than 8:15 min., or faster than 7:50 min.)

Take note of your split time and heart rate after each mile. At the end of the test, your average heart rate will determine your estimated LT give or take 5 beats per minute. Thankfully, most heart rate monitors have an average heart rate function built into the unit, so this will have already been done for you. For those of you who do not have a heart rate monitor, you can still take your heart rate by counting the pulse on your neck. If you go that route, you should have someone there to help record your results after each mile. Just take your pulse for 10 or 15 seconds and call it out. You can calculate when the test is finished.

Run Test Breakdown:
1. find a track
2. do proper warm up
3. run 3 miles at race pace effort
4. record mile splits and heart rate
5. determine average heart rate
6. add or subtract 5 beats to determine LT

Bike Test:

This test can be performed on the road, or on a trainer. If you are testing outside, make sure you find 8-10 miles of either a flat or a slightly rolling stretch of road. It can be an out and back course if you don’thave any long stretches of relatively flat road in your area.

As with the run test, you’llwant to perform a good warm up before beginning the time trial.
Once you are ready to begin, you will ride for 30 minutes at race pace effort, making sure to record your average heart rate. Please make sure that your pacing is fairly even throughout the entire effort, otherwise your results will be inaccurate, and the test must be redone another day. A good way to monitor your pacing is with your bike computer keeping track of your miles per hour, or your power output if you have that feature on your bike.

Record your average heart rate for the 30 minute time trial and that will estimate your LT.
I, personally, like to do this test indoors on a trainer where I can control the course and the wind, as well as monitor my power output through my computer.

Bike Test Breakdown:
1. use an indoor trainer, or 8-10 miles of flat road
2. do a proper warm up 10-15 minutes
3. ride 30 minutes at race pace effort
4. record heart rate
5. determine average heart rate and use as estimated LT

When you have the results from either test, you can use the Heart Rate Zone Calculator to figure out your proper training zones.

Swim Test:

Unlike the run or the bike, it’s not easy to wear a heart rate monitor in the pool and have the strap stay on during flip turns or powerful push offs.  So the time trial in the pool is geared toward establishing a Target Pace for 100m.  I use two different distances depending on whether you’re training for a sprint distance or a longer distance triathlon.  For a Sprint,  the test will be to swim 3 x 100m with a 20 second Rest Interval between each one.  The goal is to swim at the fastest speed you can sustain in order to achieve the lowest average time per 100m.  It is important for each 100m to be within 5 seconds of eachother to achieve the most accurate assessment.  That average time will be your Target Pace for future swim workouts.  Your pace for specific workouts will be your Target Pace + or – seconds depending on the goal of the workout.  For a Longer Distance event, the test will be to swim 3 x 300m with a 30 second RI between each.  An accurate assessment will be if all 300m are with 15 seconds of eachother.  Divide your average 300m time by 3 in order to get your Target Pace.

Swim Test Breakdown:
1. Do a proper warm up
2. Swim 3 x 100m w/20 sec. RI
3. Record 100m splits
4. Average time equal 100m target Pace


1. Do proper warm up
2. Swim 3 x 300m w/30 sec RI
3. Record 300m splits
4. Average time divided by 3 equals 100m Target Pace

Typically your Swim Training Zones will be approximately as follows:

Zone 1 – real easy not really watching the clock
Zone 2 – approx. 10 seconds slower than Target Pace
Zone 3 – approx. 5 seconds slower than Target Pace
Zone 4 – approx. 5 seconds faster – right at Target Pace
Zone 5a –  approx. 5-10 seconds faster than Target Pace
Zone 5b+ – more than 10seconds faster than Target Pace