Common Triathlon Training Metrics



Over the past two weeks I have outlined how to conduct a heart rate test and a functional threshold power test; but, I realized that I should have started from the beginning. What are the various training metrics that a triathlete should use?

Coaches, athletes, and endurance sport authors love to talk training metrics and terminology. Lactate threshold. VO2max. Cardiac output. Heart rate. Power. Rate of perceived effort. The list can go on and on…

Let’s look at a few key metrics that any triathlete or endurance sport athlete should understand, or at least a basic understanding.

  • Heart Rate – The very basic definition of a heart rate is the number of heartbeats per unit of time. Heartbeats are created when blood flows through the heart and the values open and close creating an audible sound. The normal human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute (bpm). This, of course, depends on various factors such as fitness, age, stress, etc. Heart rate in fitness is an important metric because it can measure an athlete’s fitness. Through regular endurance training, the heart becomes stronger and thus can pump more blood with each beat. As a result, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard, and the athlete’s heart rate at rest and during exercise will be lower. Measuring an athlete’s heart rate over time is a good way to measure improvement in an athlete’s endurance fitness. See how to conduct a heart rate test for more information on heart rate-based training.
  • Cardiac Output – Cardiac output is measured as the amount of blood that the heart pumps through the body at a single minute. An increase in cardiac output is important because more blood is delivered to the important organs, such as the brain and liver. Cardiac output increases with regular endurance training. During endurance sports, cardiac output is an important metric because it means that more blood is delivered to the working skeletal muscles during a workout. As a result, more oxygen is transported to the muscle cells to produce energy and other metabolic waste by-products are removed from the working muscles more rapidly.
  • VO2max – Endurance training not only improves cardiovascular fitness, but also improves lung capacity during exercise. Endurance training generally improves an athlete’s respiratory rate (breathes per minute) and tidal volume (amount of air per breath). Improvements in respiratory rate and tidal volume can contribute to an increase in maximal oxygen uptake, also known as VO2max. VO2max is defined as the highest volume of oxygen that a person’s body is capable of taking in and using during aerobic energy production. An improvement in VO2max is important for endurance athletes because it means more oxygen is available to working muscles for energy production during exercise.
  • Lactate Threshold – Lactate threshold represents the point at which the athlete’s body requires a greater contribution from the glycolysis energy system (anaerobic system) and a smaller contribution from the oxidative phosphorylation energy system (aerobic system). At this point, lactate production exceeds the lactate removal rate and blood lactate levels increase. One of the primary goals of endurance training should be to increase an athlete’s lactate threshold.
  • Power – Power is primarily a cycling metric. It is simply defined as the rate of doing work, where work is equal to force times distance. Power is measured via a power meter on a bike. See How to Conduct a Functional Threshold Power test for more information on power-based training.
  • Rate of Perceived Effort – Rate of Perceived Effort, or RPE, is a psychophysiological scale, meaning that it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort. The traditional scale called the Borg Scale is based on a scale of 6-20, where a score of 6 is equivalent of no exertion and a score of 20 is equivalent of maximum exertion. Many coaches and trainers, myself included, will use a scale of 1-10 for easier understanding by the athlete/client.

Above are several common exercise physiology and training metrics terminology that are often thrown around by athletes, coaches, and endurance sport authors. Of course, there are many more that we could discuss.

~ Happy Training! 

How to Conduct a Heart Rate Test


Why do a majority of endurance sport coaches want/require you to train with a Heart Rate (HR) monitor?

It’s a great question! I know a lot of athletes who have fancy Garmin watches who don’t wear their straps. Personally, I think they are making a big mistake here. Now, HR isn’t a 100% accurate and there is certainly some day-to-day variability (i.e., heat, stress, time of day, etc.); but, overall, HR training is effectivearv

Why should you wear that annoying little strap that is probably chafing your skin? Here are some good reasons:

  • Wearing a HR strap ensures that your easy days are easy and your hard days are hard. Most athletes (myself included) have a tendency to work too hard on easy days and not hard enough on hard days. By knowing your HR zones you can ensure that you are working at the correct intensity levels to ensure the best physiological adaptations in your body.
  • Wearing a HR strap will aid you in determining what level of intensity you should be working at during exercise. We’ll discuss HR zones later below, but each HR zone specializes and trains different physiological adaptations and metabolic pathways in the body. For example, if you want to improve aerobic or endurance fitness then you should train primarily in Zone 2 (at or below aerobic threshold).
  • Wearing a HR strap can help you lose weight and “teach” your body to utilize fat for fuel. Now, we should emphasize the word “can.” Everyone’s metabolism is slightly different and not everyone will have the same results. While working at a lower intensity, HR between 55-65% of maximal HR, the body will utilize more fat molecules to fuel the body instead of glycogen. This is important for long-course triathletes. Staying in lower intensities will allow the body to use more fat vs glycogen (carbs) since fat is essentially an infinite fuel source vs. glycogen, which is a finite fuel source. Note: If you are not an endurance athlete and looking to lose weight, then you want to utilize a different method. We’ll discuss that another time.

As I mentioned above, there are HR zones. Depending who you ask, there may be slightly different versions of the HR Zones. Below is what I use with my athletes:

  • Zone 1 – Active Recovery (aerobic) or 50-60% of Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)
  • Zone 2 – Aerobic Endurance or 60-70% of MHR
  • Zone 3 – Aerobic Stamina/Tempo Pace or 70-80% of MHR
  • Zone 4 – Economy (anaerobic) or 80-90% of MHR
  • Zone 5 – Speed (anaerobic) or 90-100% of MHR

You might also see zones broken down by lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is the point in training intensity where lactic acid (or commonly called lactate) starts to accumulate in the bloodstream. In a nutshell, lactic acid is a by-product of metabolism at certain exercise intensities.

In order to determine an athlete’s HR zones, an athlete must undergo a Maximal Heart Rate Test. These, of course, can be done in the laboratory setting, but most athletes don’t have the time or money to do so. A field test works for most people.

You’ve probably read in a billion books and magazines that you can calculate your HR using a simple mathematical formula. You can, but, it’s not the most accurate, because the results can vary due to genetic differences between individuals and also between different activities. However, if you’re interested you can calculate your MHR using Karvonen’s Formula:

MHR = 220 – age or

The newer gender specific calculation:

Male = 214 – (0.8xage)

Female = 209 – (0.9xage)

For a more accurate test, I suggest conducting a Maximal Heart Rate Test for each running and cycling. Generally, your MHR will be about 5 beats per minute (bpm) higher during running than cycling.

Disclaimer: Heart rate tests are very stressful on the body. PLEASE get cleared by your medical provider before attempting any HR testing. This is especially important if you have any known heart conditions. Attempt at your own risk.

Here is the below protocol I generally use with my athletes for both cycling and running.

  • 5 minutes – warm up slowly to a pace where at the end you breathe a little hard, but are able to complete a full sentence without grasping for air
  • 5 minutes – maintain pace, but increase a bit during the less 60-90 seconds
  • 5 minutes – increase pace to labored breathing
  • 5 minutes – on a gradual incline, increase your pace from breathing hard to breathing very hard
  • 2 minutes – all out sprint on incline to maximum pace you can hold for 2 minutes
  • 1 minute – push absolute maximum speed (this should feel like hell)
  • 10-15 minutes – cool down at an easy pace to bring HR down and breathing should return to normal

This could be done on a flat surface or a treadmill, but I find that a gradual hill works best because my own personal HR increases higher when running on a hill.

The same protocol above can also be utilized on the bike. I recommend using an indoor trainer, but certainly it can be completed outside as well. It is important to maintain a consistent cadence, usually between 85-95rpm (aiming for 90rpm), throughout the test. As you progress through the test protocol, increase your gearing to a harder gear.

Once you have completed your test, download your data. If you have a coach, give the data file to your coach for analysis. If you use TrainingPeaks then you can easily figure out your HR zones through their software. If not, you can do it the manual way. Take your MHR value and multiple it by each zones’ percentage. For example:

MHR = 190


Minimum   Zone

Maximum   Zone

Zone 1 (50-60%) 190*0.5 = 95bpm 190*0.6 = 114bpm
Zone 2 (60-70%) 190*0.6 = 114bpm 190*0.7 = 133bpm
Zone 3 (70-80%) 190*0.7 = 133bpm 190*0.8 = 152bpm
Zone 4 (80-90%) 190*0.8 = 152bpm 190*0.9 = 171bpm
Zone 5 (90-100%) 190*0.9 = 171bpm 190*1.0 = 190bpm

Your zones may vary slightly depending on what HR zone calculations are used. Some zone calculations will break Zone 5 into Zone 5a, 5b, and 5c. If you work with a coach, your coach will help you with this. The above is just one method you can use. Once you know your HR zones, you can begin training. Now, if you have a power meter on your bike, then you will probably train using power metrics and thus you must complete a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) test. More on that later this week!

~ Happy Training!

I have the POWER!

Yes, I know I don’t have pedals on Azul. They are on my road bike (perhaps someday I will actually buy a second set of pedals!)

Two weeks ago Azul (my tri bike) got an upgrade, a SRAM S975 Quarq powermeter! A powermeter is something I’ve always wanted, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen earlier this year due to extensive car repairs, but I received an unexpected (well, maybe not really so unexpected) bonus at work and I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the powermeter. What also catalyzed the purchase was my need to switch from a standard crank (which came with my bike) to a compact crank due to my cadence issues and also I ride a lot of hills. BEST DECISION EVER! I feel much more comfortable and stronger on my bike now that it has a compact crank!

So, I got my Quarq about two weeks ago and my awesome bike shop put it on Azul for me. I got her home and put her on the trainer and tried syncing the Quarq with my Garmin computer. FAIL! No connection. Would not read at all! So, on Saturday I brought Azul back to the shop for troubleshooting. No bueno. Then I thought why not change the battery, even though this is a brand new powermeter and the battery should be fine, why not? I went to the store purchased the battery, replaced it in the Quarq, and BEEP “powermeter detected.” Seriously?! A new battery? Urgh, why did it have to be so simple!

Once Azul and I were home I put her on the trainer for my pre-long run easy spin. I made it 45 minutes before the new battery in the Quarq died. WTF?! Next morning I went out and purchased two new batteries at the grocery store. I put a new one in, the powermeter was detected for about 5 seconds, my Garmin succeeded to tell me that the battery in the powermeter was low and then finally died. Awesome! My Quarq was clearly defective and I was super upset. I tried calling Quarq, but of course, they are not open on Sunday. So, I emailed their customer service department to tell them about the issue and that I will be calling first thing on Monday morning! Later that afternoon I got an email back from Quarq (on a Sunday!)! On Monday they called my bike shop and decided to send me a new spider (the electronics part of the Quarq) because a Quarq that does not hold a battery charge is clearly not normal. I got the new spider in a couple of days and my bike shop put it on Azul by the end of the week. The new Quarq works flawlessly! I was very impressed with the Quarq/SRAM customer service. They were very professional and super fast! Thank you!

I’ve only ridden with my powermeter a handful of times so far, but I really like it. I’ve been reading various articles and watching webinars from TrainingPeaks about training with power. It is extremely effective to train with power on the bike and I know I will become a much stronger rider over time. My coach will now start giving my bike workouts in terms of power intervals compared to heart rate. This past weekend on my long ride I had some tempo and VO2 max intervals that were all written pre-powermeter and thus set to HR. I finally learned how to input my workouts into my Garmin Edge 800 so as I ride it just tells me what I’m doing so I don’t have to memorize my workouts. I set all my intervals for my HR zones, which turned out to be rather annoying because my Garmin would beep about every 5 seconds to tell me my HR was too high. Well, no shit, I just climbed a hill! But, I must admit, that I really love when I end a workout. My Garmin will “sing” a tune to let me know it’s over! It was rather amusing I thought.

I have my season opener triathlon on Saturday! I’ve decided to forgo my graduation ceremony to race the Tri for the Y in Freeport. It’s only a 325 yard pool swim, 13 mile bike, and a 3 mile run. It’s a short one, but my coach told me to go all out. I’m interested to see my performance. I have not done a sprint tri in almost a year and most of my training has been focused on long course, but I feel ready and I’m definitely itching to race. Two weeks from this Sunday is Mooseman 70.3! I’m still super nervous about this race. I think the main reason I’m nervous about this race is because I have high expectations for myself. I want to do well and I want to PR; however, from everything I’ve read and heard, this is not the race to PR on. At this point, my goal will be to finish in one piece and have fun. I definitely plan to push myself during this race, but my real “A” race is going to be REV3 OOB.

In other more exciting news, I have officially signed up to volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid this summer! You know what that means… 🙂

Happy Training!

A Wash of a Week

I finished last week’s training with a pretty solid weekend worth of training and had a solid run and swim on Monday. And then “BANG!” I woke up Tuesday feeling like crap. My head felt like it wanted to explode from the pressure, my ears were ringing and I wasn’t hungry. I had to go to work at least for half a day to finish up an experiment I had scheduled in the morning. I went home at noon and slept for most of the afternoon. I emailed my coach to let her know I felt like crap, but I still wanted to at least attempt to ride my bicycle lightly. She told me to go to bed.

I’m the person that will totally tell you to skip your workout and rest if your sick; however, I don’t like to follow my own advice. I HATE missing workouts. It makes me feel lazy and I get restless. BUT I do know that if I miss a couple of days it won’t mean much in the long run. However, I have a 10 mile race on Sunday. Not the week to get sick! I kept having flashbacks to my first half marathon I did in November 2010. I trained for it and I paid the $50 entry fee so I was ready. It was one of my goals for the year so I had to do the damn race. Then two weeks before the race I got a really nasty cold. Like one of those colds that completely knocks you off your feet. I’m the type of person who hates to miss work or school because they don’t feel well. If I do miss a day it’s because I’m really sick. I missed several days of work that week because frankly I just couldn’t breathe. My father woke me up one morning and I seriously thought I was going to suffocate because both my nose and throat was so full of shit that I couldn’t breathe. I started feeling better a couple days before the half, but I was far from 100%, but I did that damn race. One of my friends ran as my pacer during the race. She wasn’t really pacing me because I’m sure a turtle was faster than me. She more or less kept me moving. I’m pretty sure if she didn’t run with me I would still be on the side of a road in a ditch in York. There were a few times I just wanted to punch her in the face because she was annoying me with her encouragement. I was miserable! But, I finished! In retrospective I should not have done that race, but I stuck through it and finished! I’m stubbornly determined!
Anyway, I felt a little better on Wednesday. I still only worked a half day and finally decided to suck it up and buy some sinus medication. I’ve felt pretty good the past couple days but I have been taking it easy and resting. The 10 miler on Sunday is not only going to be a race, but also my HR re-test. My coach gave me a goal pace for the race. At first when I saw it on Training Peaks I thought she was nuts! I have had a few really good runs, including a long run on the course last Saturday, so I feel pretty good at obtaining my goal pace. That was before getting sick, but I still think I can do it. I need to channel my inner running goddess and feel the power. I don’t like running and I have a hard time pushing myself during running. When it starts to hurt I like to stop because it’s not fun. I can push myself hard during the bike and swim parts because I enjoy that, but when it comes to running I start telling myself negative things and give up. I’m working on forgetting those negatives and pushing myself to break the barrier. But… more on that at another time.
My training this week has been pretty much a wash, but I did get some good news. I filed my tax returns last night! Yay for big tax returns! I also found out I get to walk at graduation in May because I will be finished with my Masters in December! I also get “hooded” too! Exciting!

Base Training: Week Three & Four (aka Slacker Roundup)

Ok, so I’ve been totally slacking on the whole blogging thing. I haven’t posted in 10 days! Yikes! However, this week was very hectic with work and my schedule got slightly off and I felt a little under the weather about mid-week.

Week 3 was mostly heart rate testing. I posted previously about my bike HR test and I did my run HR test on the Saturday in a blizzard that completely shut down Portland! Just kidding! BUT, it was snowing and there was about 2 inches of snow on the Eastern Trail where I had planned to run on so I ditched that idea and ran laps on Marginal Way. I’ve never seen traffic on Marginal Way before, but apparently it is a busy road, at least midday on a Saturday. There was also about an inch of snow of the side of the road so it made running anything fast hard. I attempted my 15 minutes of running with all I had, but it was rather hard to get up to speed without a) slipping on snow/ice, b) completely trashing my already messed up calves, and c) getting hit by a car. Before is my lovely HR test data/story! I am running the Cape Mid-Winter Classic 10 miles next Sunday so we are going to do my re-test during the race. It should be a fun time. I ran 7 miles of the course yesterday in the sunny 50 degree weather and had an awesome run! My calves have been super super tight lately and my chiropractor worked the crap out of them last Monday. I’ve been stretching extra and rolling my calves with my little massage ball and it has helped tremendously! I have absolutely NO problems with them yesterday! Yay! As Charlie Sheen would say “winning!”

Today was a busy day. I had 4 workouts (plus homework, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, etc). I started my morning with a 1:20 trainer ride followed by a 15 min transition run on the treadmill. I got lectured earlier this week about having a low cadence so I’ve been really working on keeping my cadence around 90rpm. I know that I should be pedaling around 90-95rpm, but for some reason I prefer to grind heavy gears. I was actually lectured by two people this week about it so I think it’s a sign that I need to work on my bike skills! I’m really happy that I purchased the Garmin Edge 800 because I can easily track cadence on my rides!
This afternoon I decided I should probably register for my two “A” races before they sell out. Well, apparently one of them did. The women’s age group category was full in the Patriot’s Half. F@#K! That’s what I get for putting it off. I emailed my coach to let her know that the race was full and that I would now be doing Ironman 70.3 Mooseman on June 3rd. We had talked about it earlier when I was figuring out my race schedule, but I didn’t really want to do it because it has a crazy steep descending section on the bike course and I’m afraid I might piss my pants, especially since I should have my tri bike then! I plan on doing for training rides on some hilly terrain to get ready for this race. Anyone know of any scary steep descending roads in Maine I can ride?
Week 3 Totals:
Swim: 2200 yards + ~2000 meters (So. Po kicked me out early 🙁 )
Bike: 45.2 miles
Run: 7. miles
Strength: 45 min core + 1 bootcamp + 1 trainer workout
Week 4 Totals:
Swim: 6600 yards
Bike: 70.9
Run: 17 miles
Strength: 45 min core + 1 trainer workout
First race of 2012 is next Sunday! Wahoo!

Heart Rate Testing! Oh My!

Last night was my first official heart rate test on the trainer to determine my heart rate zones for training. It involved a 15 minute time trial (TT) at an all out effort. The only other time I did something similar to this was a few weeks ago at the Sustainable Athlete’s Friday Night Fight on a 10km rolling hills course. Honestly, it’s not about the HR so much as it is a lesson in pacing. Go out too fast and you’ll blow up half way. Go out and continue to slow and you won’t reach your maximum effort and will probably lose. As you’ll see below in my graph my pacing isn’t the best, but it’s something that I will learn to perfect in the future. This year’s training plan is much different than ways I’ve trained in the past. HR training, power (soon-to-be), 2-a-day workouts, etc. I’ve finally put my big girl pants on and stepped up to the big leagues! I’m excited to see the differences in my performance as my training continues to progress.

Now let’s talk about this HR test! I went into dreading it slightly because I knew it would hurt. After the last TT I was very light-hearted and considered puking. I was sure I was going to feel the same way after this one! I made sure I had a bucket ready next to my bike in case I couldn’t un-clip fast enough. I also informed my father as he was walking out the door that I might be dead on the floor from a heart attack when he comes home. He succeed to ask me if I paid my life insurance. Well, no, I don’t have life insurance because I’m 24, not married and no kids. What’s the point? He said he would just sell my bike to pay for my funeral. Thanks, Dad. My workout looked like this:

15 min warm up at endurance pace (~65% effort)

3×1 min (1 min rest btw interval) of fast pedaling (100+ rpm)

5 min easy spin

2 min all out effort

10 min easy spin

15 min TT (start slightly below threshold, build speed, and finish the last 2 mins at all out effort)

spin easy till 1:10 total time

Let’s talk a little bit about HR training. HR training is useful for many endurance athletes because it teaches your body to use fat as it’s main source of fuel instead of carbohydrates. Now, I can certainly explain cellular metabolism to you because I love biochemistry, but I’m not because you probably don’t care. Your body creates energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) through several complex biochemical reactions from the nutrients (i.e. foods) you consume. However, each nutrient (i.e. carbohydrates, fat, and protein) is processed differently during metabolism. Carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for exercise of medium to high intensity, while fats fuel low intensity exercise for longer periods of time. Protein can be processed for fuel, but is mainly used by the body for repair and maintenance of your tissues. Your body converts nutrients to fuel by two different methods: aerobic (with oxygen) metabolism and anaerobic (without oxygen) metabolism. There are two forms of anaerobic metabolism: ATP-creatine phosphate and glycolysis. I will not bore you with the details, but the overall outcome is energy for short, intense bursts of exercise (i.e. 100 meter dash). In case your wondering, lactic acid is a by-product from the glycolysis cycle of metabolism.

Aerobic metabolism is the focus of most endurance athletes. Aerobic metabolism requires oxygen that is transported through your circulatory system. Cells (or most precisely, mitochrodria in cells) use nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and oxygen molecules to produce ATP for energy. Fat is a great source of nutrients for endurance training. We all have fat storage in our bodies. Some of us, including myself, probably have too much of it! If you are training at low intensity, generally at or below 50% of your max HR, you have enough stored fat to last for hours or even days. However, if your intensity picks up, your body will switch to carbohydrates as your main source of fuel since it is more efficient. The downfall is that carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your body and it is a finite source. A typical person’s glycogen source lasts for about 2 hours before they reach the “bonk.”

Now let’s get back to HR training. There are several ways to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) and your heart rate zones. One is the traditional calculation of 220- your age. This as it’s limitations, especially because it’s inaccurate for women. A better calculation for females is 209 – (0.7 x age). According to this calculation my MHR should be 191.5. Joe Friel suggests doing a 30 TT on your bike. Everyone has there own methods.

Now let’s look at my graph from my HR test. I even added commentary to it for you! (Let’s hope it’s big enough for you to read!) This was my thought process throughout the whole ordeal.

It was a good time. I didn’t puke at the end, but I definitely saw stars during the last two minutes where I pushed it hard. My max rate was 191 with an average of about 184 during the 15 min TT. From this and what I imputed into’s HR Zone calculator we get this for my zones:

Zone 1 – low intensity (50-60% of MHR): 125-138

Zone 2 – weight control (60-70% of MHR): 138-151

Zone 3 – aerobic zone (70-80% of MHR): 151-164

Zone 4 – anaerobic zone (80-90% of MHR): 164-177

Zone 5 – maximal zone (90-100% of MHR): 177-190 (aka puke)

Now this is my intrepretion of my data. My coach might tell me otherwise. Plus I have to do a HR test on Saturday for running. I seriously might actually puke on that one. We’ll see what happens!

After completing my test, I logged into facebook to see this awesome picture pop up. I wish I saw this beforehand. It’s now my background on my work computer because I love it so much!

And because my artistic skills are not up to par. This is what my dog did while I sweated gallons of sweat all over my poor little bike. I told her to call 911 if I passed out, but I think she would have left me for dead. Thanks Reagan!