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Trail Running Fitness Test 100831 (13:54)

Posted Aug 31 2010 10:41am
I performed a baseline fitness test today on the Northshore Trail . I have been thinking about developing some method to test my fitness level so I can watch it improve (hopefully) over time. I realize that my trail running fitness test is anything but scientific. I also realize that certain factors can affect the results of the test. However, I figure tracking something is still better than tracking nothing! Time will tell if this is of any value. In this baseline report I will briefly discuss the factors, the concept, and the results of my first test.

The Factors

Following is a list of some of the factors that I believe will impact my test results (leave me a comment if you can think of others)
  • Fitness level--this is ultimately what I am trying to measure, so I will try each time to minimize the variance of the other factors.
  • Weight--More weight will increase heart rate. So as I continue on my goal to lose 50 lbs, I expect this will positively affect the results.
  • Temperature and humidity--Heart rate will increase on hotter days. I can expect better results as the Texas heat subsides.
  • Hydration level--Heart rate will increase as hydration level decreases. I think I have more control here.
  • The course--Unless I run the same course, I can't expect to get the same results. I will run the same course each time.
  • Time of day--Heart rates are lower earlier in the day. I will try to run at approximately the same time of day.
  • Running efficiency--Heart rates are lower with a more efficient running style. As I continue to run, I am getting better at it. So I expect I will improve efficiency over time which will reduce heart rate.
  • Distance--The longer I run the harder your heart must work. I will keep the distance consistent for each test by running the same loop on the trail.
As you can see, there are many factors that can affect the test.

The Concept and Setup

I will run the same course ( Northshore Trail , MADD to Murrell and back, clockwise), once per month, and measure my heart rate and pace. I will seek to complete the loop as quickly as possible (to minimize my average pace). Any time my heart rate exceeds 150 bps, I will stop running and walk until my heart rate drops below 150 bps. I will use my average pace in minutes per mile as my measure of fitness.

My thinking behind this approach is that as my fitness and running efficiency increases, I should see a reduction in my pace, all other factors being equal. However, I realize there is no way to make all the other factors exactly equal, so I will just use this as a general benchmark. 

Following is the setup for today's test.
  • Max heart rate target: 150 bps
  • Temperature: 90F, feels like 100F
  • Humidity: 53%
  • Start time: 9:18 am CST
  • Course: Northshore Trail, MADD to Murrell and back, clockwise
  • Distance: 3.12 miles

The Results: 13:54 mpm

My average pace for my baseline trail running fitness test was 13:54 minutes per mile. I found during this test that I was quickly bumping up against the 150 bps maximum heart rate. As a result, I had to stop and walk frequently throughout the test. Here's a graphic that shows my speed fluctuations
Trail Running Fitness Test--Speed Fluctuations
Each time my heart rate hit 150 bps I would stop running and walk until my rate dropped below 150 bps. As you can see by the graphic, I spiked numerous times. I realized that by the nature of the trails, due to inclines and such, I can expect the spikes. The point is that if I run the same trail and I am in better condition and/or my efficiency improves, I should be able to move through the test loop at a faster pace.

Anyway, that's my test. I will repeat the test about once per month and compare the results. If you have any thoughts on this approach, please let me know.
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