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Building a Benchmark Session | Boddicker Performance

Filed under: Program Design, Running

Building a Benchmark Session

by on Aug 28th, 2009

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Throughout a training cycle, it is important to have a way to gauge improvement.  For the many athletes who compete in cross country, this benchmark session is simply the weekly or biweekly cross country race.  For those who choose to work around cross country, however, it is necessary to establish some sort of benchmarking training session to be executed relatively regularly.

Why work around cross country?

The 800 meter runner often does not exhibit the skill set to be an optimally successful cross country runner.  While many would argue that this is clearly a weakness that needs to be addressed, I disagree for a few reasons.  One, I’m not fond of putting a person into a situation where his likelihood of success is low.  I see no point in racing an 800 meter runner who doesn’t even contribute a score to the team as I can offer a much greater, more motivating experience in training sessions.  Secondly, the longer nature of a 5-10k race can lead to a pre-mature breakdown of mechanical efficiency.  Sure, you could say that the athlete needs to improve upon his ability to maintain form, but if it starts to progressively fail with 40% of the race remaining, we only got 60% of an optimal training stress and 40% of conflicting stressors.  In training, however, it is much easier for the coach to shut down a session upon signs that the athlete is falling apart.  You won’t necessarily reach the same total volume that you would if you had the athlete race a cross country event, but it’s not implausible to do so, while also ensuring that the athlete completes much greater than 40% of a training session while still in good control.  Lastly, while 5k pace is correlated with VO2max, I find this not to be the case in the shorter middle distance runner.  For the most part, the pace it which the strike VO2max is probably much closer to current 3k pace.  I ask you, then, what is the sense in running a workout too slow to make a huge impact on VO2, yet likely too fast to have the body really work on lactate management?

Building a benchmarking session.

To be honest, nearly any session can be used as a benchmarking session provided adequate records are made, kept, and compared to later sessions.  In building a benchmarking session, you need to consider several things including the time of year, your emphasis for the phase, what you are going to measure, training age of your athlete, and how it will effect the other training sessions within the week.  If your athlete is in a pre-competition phase, your benchmarking sessions will be different (and likely races) than the would be in the fall, as will your measures (speed versus HR), the distances you run will change based on the ability of an athlete to maintain solid form, and the frequency or volume of the session needs to be adjusted so as not to put the other training sessions in jeopardy.

One that I’m using lately (note that it is fall, with few competitions in site until early next year) with good success is sets of 200 meter runs at about 3k pace with heart rate recovery to 75-80% and 55-60% of MHR between reps and sets.  Total volume of the session is determined by athlete preparedness.  I record the time it takes to recover between repetitions as well as between sets and then determine an average as well as take both the shortest time and the longest time to achieve the heart rate recovery.  Right now, I plan to progress the workout by adding distance to the repetition run when an athlete demonstrates improved speed of recovery for two consecutive weeks and once he gets a one week deloading period.  Ultimately, the goal is to build the athlete to as high as possible without reaching technical failure too early in the session. For an athlete who competes over a longer distance, it may be wise to start the reps at a longer distance, and less intense pace.

An example would be this:

2x6x200m with heart rate recovery to 80% of max between repetitions and recovery to 60% of max between sets.  Because the reps are fatiguing, but by no means exhausting, we can keep the heart rate at 80% or better for an extended time.  If this athlete is running 35 second 200m reps and recovers to 80% after an average of 40 seconds, we are effectively keeping the heart rate elevated in an aerobic power/VO2max zone for 7:30 per set and 15:00 per session without experiencing technical failure.  For someone who’s not going to race for a continuous 15 minutes, I think that’s pretty strong stimulus.

Train hard,

Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »1 Comment
  • Patrick Ward August 28, 2009

    Excellent post Carson. I think it is extremely important to get objective information like this (or as you say, “a bench mark session”). Many coaches chart what their athletes do in the weight room, but monitor very little, if at all, what happens in their running workouts. I find this a lot in marathon/half marathon coaches who preach that their athletes should just “do miles” and not worry about times, heart rate, etc. It is critical to determine this information for future planning and to know if the next workout will be a back off workout, a moderate session or a potential push for a PR (or near PR) session.


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