A marker set is defined as a very precise workout that can be repeated over time to track an athlete's performance improvement. These workouts are done periodically and in a controlled environment otherwise the environment can impact the results - we'll get to that later. A triathlete's training plan typically includes these workouts in each of the disciplines but these workouts can often be disguised as regular workouts. Sometimes the athlete will know that they are being "tested" and other times they will just be following the plan.
All of these "workouts" would include proper warm up and cool down but some examples of marker sets could be:
- For cycling, on a bike with a power meter go as hard as possible for a set period of time and note the average power (my coach uses 2x20 minutes with short rest in between). Another option is a time trial on a known course (pick one where speed wouldn't be impacted by traffic or lights).
- For a swim, 3x300m with 30 second rest in between. Another option is a workout where one would do 200m hard (to simulate a race start) and then a time trial 800m.
- For running, a timed 5k. On one hand doing this on a track could be viewed as better than elsewhere since it will remove the variability of altitude changes (ie hills) but it will work as long as the route and distance is consistent. Another option is 3x1600 hard with ample rest in between (note that these two have very high correlations in pace).
Every athlete is different. Some training methods provide improvement for certain individuals while the same workouts could cause some athletes to not improve as much as expected (if at all). Market sets are best used to see "if the training is working." If so, great. If not, try another approach.
Now, I'll put on my incompetent athlete hat.
I've been doing a lot of marker set type workouts recently. The first was a cycling workout and the second was a running workout. The problem with doing the cycling tests (ok, I admit that there is many more than one problem), is going out too hard. I had failed in a earlier test but this time I decided to go out a little easier than I would imagine. The next result of this 2x20 minute workout is that my average power for the first 20' was 235 watts and the average power for my second 20' was 239 watts. These numbers were lower than what I expected but since I do this workout as a marker set periodically I was able to find the exact same workout in the history file from January 2010 where the results were 252/251. While I am no where near my peaks of in the 280s, the numbers shows that I am just a little behind last year at about the same date. Last year I was in much better shape and further along in training that I am now so this is overall OK.
On to running. I signed up for the New York State Parks Winter Run Series 5ks. This series is a 5k in four consecutive Sundays in a different park in the region. You only get one shirt if you sign up for the series and it is only $40 registration for all four races. The first race was held Sunday at Heckscher State Park. Heckscher is flat course, right on the Great South Bay, and is ALWAYS windy. These races start at 11AM in order to give the daylight some opportunity to warm the air up a little but there was still some ice on the ground . When I left my house it was 26 degrees. When I got to the race site it was much warmer at 29 degrees (maybe not so much). I saw the flags standing at attention and called my sister on the cell phone to see where we were going to meet. She offered her car as she wanted to stay in the car until the last minute to keep out of the cold wind (later they said the wind chill today was about 10 with the 20mph winds).
I has been a long time since I ran hard. I wanted to shoot for about 11:00/miles but then decided to mix in a walk break at each mile mark for a minute since the worst thing would be to get hurt by going too hard. I was hoping for about 34:00 5k but I wound up crossing the line at 34:54 (splits were 10:33, 11:22 (with a minute walk), and 11:32 (with a minute walk). Again, not where I'd hope to be but a number to work with. Afterwards my coach told me the weather and wind impacted most athlete's time by 4-5%. The wind made this less than an optimal marker set. Even so, it was a good workout and I got it done.
That's a recipe for success. Let's see what next week brings.
PS: Swim marker sets are happening soon. Stay tuned.