As you go through the tests, pay attention to the following elements. Once you’re finished, jot down your findings on each to compare.
1. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE)
RPE is a numeric value on a scale of 0 to 10 that’s used to rate how hard you feel you’re working. It starts at zero (when you’re sitting on your couch) and caps off at 10 (when you’re at your absolute max). These tests will likely fall in the moderate-to-hard range—the easiest shouldn’t be much below a 5—and it’s important to recognize there’s no “right” level of RPE to reach. Instead, you’re mainly comparing your relative RPEs to see which drills feel more difficult than the others. It’s perfectly normal if these feel difficult, especially if you’re not used to specific speed or endurance workouts!
Consider how you feel breath-wise during these routines. Can you do these workouts while maintaining a controlled breath pattern? Or do you feel like you are gasping for air? You can also consider the talk test: Can you talk easily in full sentences, only get out a few words, or barely speak at all? These tests will likely leave you out of breath at some point. When that happens, pay attention to how hard it is for you to recover a steady breathing pattern.
3. Heart rate
If you have a fitness tracker that measures heart rate during your workouts, fire it up to measure throughout the entire duration of the test and afterward. Your average heart rate during your test is a good indicator of how hard you’re working. Also look at it during specific times; in addition to what your heart rate registers at the end of your workout, pay attention to both its peak and how long it takes to recover after intervals. Heart rate recovery refers to how much your heart rate drops after you stop peak exercise, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine. For most people, it’s usually between 15-25 beats per minute.
If you don’t have a heart rate monitor or fitness watch, no worries! Just skip this one.
4. Your mental state
Your feelings contribute to performance—and how likely you are to want to lace up again. Check in with yourself at the beginning, middle, and end of each drill. Write down two to three words that describe how you felt going into the drill, completing the exercise, and how you feel about it overall. You might feel “determined” and “joyful” or “exhausted” and “annoyed.”
Recovery refers to how you feel 12 to 24 hours after you complete the test. “Some people may be able to recover faster from a short distance or middle distance, but they may take longer to recover from a long distance or vice versa,” says Peralta. On the day after the test, jot down your resting heart rate, your level of fatigue, and if any muscles ache.
When you’ve completed your final running drill, you should have a better understanding of how your body and mind react to different types of running. For instance, if a certain type of running is your strength, you’ll generally see it in the metrics you jotted down above—say, a lower RPE, fewer comments about losing your breath, better recovery, and maybe less colorful adjectives describing your in-workout struggle.
Test #1: Speed
This drill is all about fast repeats, or a set time or distance that you repeat for a certain number of reps with rest in between. Your sprint should leave you out of breath at 30 seconds, but you should not be so tired that you can’t do another round.