A Simple Way to Assess Your Running Fitness

Assessing your fitness is a great way to start a fitness program as well as evaluate your progress to stay on track. Here is an easy to follow running fitness assessment you can perform on a treadmill.

The goal of this assessment is to find what I call your redline, which is also known as lactate threshold, and the intensity at which you go from using a combination of fat and carbs to only carbs, and the effort at which you go from using only aerobic metabolism to a combination of aerobic and oxygen-independent metabolism.

The value in this assessment is you can base your training zones (yellow, orange, red) on this threshold and thereby begin to train and race based on what is going on metabolically in your body. It takes the guess work out of training and allows you to train below it for your easy to moderate runs, and at or above it for high intensity intervals.

There are many ways to find your redline. I happen to like this method because it guides you into learning what it feels like, is easy to perform, and is great for newbies who may be unfit and unable to perform the more standard 20-minute hard-effort protocol.

  1. Warm up by walking easy for three minutes. Begin to tune into your breath and watch your pace.
  2. Pick up the walking pace for two minutes, again tuning into your breath.
  3. Recite the words of any 2-3 sentences you know by heart (a prayer, quote, the Pledge of Allegiance…)out loud, paying close attention to your breath and how easily you are able to speak the words.
  4. Increase the speed to a very easy run (very easy) for two minutes and recite the 2-3 sentences again at the end of the two minute set.
  5. If you can recite it easily, increase the speed very gradually, run for two minutes at that speed, then recite the sentences again to assess your effort level. If it’s still easy, repeat this step.
  6. When you reach the point at which you can no longer say the words out loud easily, and can only get out one or two word responses, you are at, near, or close to your red line. This is also the point many describe as “comfortably hard,” an effort where you can hear your breathing but you’re not gasping for air.
  7. Along the way make note of your pace, heart rate, and, most importantly, how it feels at each set of two minute intervals.
  8. Once you find your redline, you can determine three effort zones for training. The easy Yellow Effort Zone is well below your redline and an effort where you can easily talk out loud without reaching for air. This zone is for easy or longer runs. The Orange Effort Zone is at or below your redline, and an effort that is outside your comfort zone, and one that you can talk only in a word or two word response. And the Red Effort Zone is the effort that is above your redline, and one where you can’t speak at all, and your breathing is vigorous and labored.
  9. Re-assess your threshold every four-to-six weeks.


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