Small effort – great insight

15. February 2019

If you want to check your current performance capability, you don’t necessarily need to do a laborious test in the lab. With a simple 30-minute run you can exploit versatile training to the full.

Runners wanting to skilfully combine the different levels of intensity and thus training zones first need to have a launching pad from which they can start. Or in other words: they need to know their current fitness level.

A 30-minute tempo run is a simple yet extremely efficient way to find this out. The task is very simple: after a 10-minute warm up run, run for 30 minutes as consistently and quickly as possible and measure how many kilometres you run.

The easiest way to accomplish this is on a 400-m running track. Run for half an hour, count the laps and you’re done! Or run for 30 minutes with a GPS watch on a preferably flat route or track and measure the distance with your watch. All the better if you can measure your average heart rate at the same time.

Test pace = threshold pace

If you can keep up the pace non-stop to the end, you can set the result as 100 percent of your current performance capability. And you can simply calculate your average kilometre based on the distance (see box). Your pace per kilometre more or less corresponds to your anaerobic threshold. The aerobic/anaerobic threshold refers to the flowing transition in which sufficient oxygen is no longer available to maintain the metabolic processes of the body. If you train for longer at an intensity above the threshold, you will thus experience an abrupt reduction in performance. Endurance athletes do versatile training to try to push their threshold heart rate ever closer to their maximum heart rate to either delay this slump or achieve a higher performance capability at the same heart rate.


But what exactly does versatile training mean? Beginners can already achieve a lot when they divide the intensity ranges into three levels (e.g., easy, arduous, very arduous). This can be differentiated further by dividing them into five levels. As a guideline: healthy runners train at levels 1-3, amateur athletes at levels 1-4, and ambitious athletes at levels 1-5. How exactly the levels should be combined depends on your objective as well as your training volume. Generally speaking, at least half of your training should be done in the low-intensity zones. And another basic rule: an intensive training unit should be followed by a less intensive one and intensive training units should generally be shorter than low-intensity units. The threshold zone lies at level 4. With the aid of the 30-minute test, you can calculate the individual pace zones or intensity levels based on the following percentages:

Intensity level 1 = feels very easy
Pace zone = very slow = 130-150%*

Intensity level 2 = feels somewhat arduous
Pace zone = slow = 120-130%*

Intensity level 3 = feels arduous
Pace zone = medium to fast = 110-115%*

Intensity level 4 = feels very arduous
Pace zone = fast = 100-110%*

Intensity level 5 = feels completely exhausting
Pace zone = very fast = 97-100%*

* The percentages are based on your personal average kilometre time in the 30-minute test.

Include the heart rate values

It is beneficial in the long-term if you also assign your personal heart rate values as well as your feeling to the pace parameters. Which heart rate corresponds to level 1, which to level 2 and 3? If you determined your average heart rate in the 30-minute test, then you know your threshold heart rate and can assign this to level 4.

And how do the heart rate values or pace parameters feel? Easy, medium, hard? With a bit of practice and routine, not only can you do tempo running (which may be misleading in hilly terrain because the pace parameters do not apply), but you can also define the intensity levels using your heart rate values or simply by the way your body feels.

Pace parameter in minutes/kilometres

Calculation example of the current performance capability

Let’s say you run 6 kilometres in 30 minutes. Your average kilometre at the threshold is thus 5 minutes. This gives rise to the following pace parameters for the individual intensity levels along with the associated forms of running training:

Intensity level 1
6:30–7:30 min/km = Long and very slow continuous run

Intensity level 2
6:00–6:30 min/km = Light continuous run

Intensity level 3
5:30–5:45 min/km = Moderate (swift) continuous run, light speed variations

Intensity level 4
5:00–5:30 min/km = Fast continuous run, speed variations fast/long, swift/fast intervals, slopes

Intensity level 5
4:51–5:00 min/km = Intensive, very tough interval, short competition