The Truth Test – Triathlon Testing for Data not Results

I am a huge fan of testing. 

In my ideal coaching world, we would test every athlete across all aspects of their chosen sports, every six weeks. Maybe eight weeks for those that are in an early prep phase, but generally I like every six. 

There is so much value to be gained, so many insights we can find from frequently testing. The most obvious is progress. It’s the question of development that regularly haunts an athlete – especially one who is self-coached, and even more so if they aren’t testing in some way. 

Testing frequently removes the ambiguity of “am I doing enough?” and shifts it onto the firmer ground of “this is where I am at right now, so now we can plan what needs to happen to get me where I want to be”. You take the knowledge gained from each test – good or bad or both (essential), and you use it to adjust your training structure to ensure you are on the right track. It really is that simple. 

Well, sort of. That’s the white-coat mindset of testing athletes. 

It ignores the other very large, crucial and prevalent aspect of testing — the mental workload.

Not of the work required to test. That’s generally pretty much an extension of what you would do in your regular training, with maybe a bit more concentrated intensity. Even the dreaded FTP test is (now) designed to extract as much information as possible with as little physiological (and psychological) stress as possible.

What causes the most mental anguish with testing is the fear of failure. The “what if I do worse than last time?”. As a coach, that mindset is equally alarming and telling.

I have seen well-conditioned athletes, with seemingly robust mental armour, completely crumble at the prospect that the looming test may be one that exposes a dent in their fortitude. That they will fail, and therefore that failure will extend immediately and absolutely to all of their ability. The idea is so utterly ridiculous.

But it happens — a lot.

You can’t try and rig a test, or cherry pick just for the “right results”. That is very unscientific and fills an athlete with a very dangerous mindset. 

So it comes as no surprise that I like frequent testing because it exposes more than just power, heart rate or pace data. It shows me exactly how healthy someone’s mind is. It lifts the lid one where they might need to improve before they line up on race day. That’s the real power of testing, in my opinion.

And just as with the other metrics that we look for, it has to be taken with the context in mind. Just as Your HR might be a bit off because you haven’t slept well that week, you headspace may be in a crappy place because you have a big work project on, or you are overthinking your abilities. That all has to be taken into context, but should never negate the requirement for testing.

As I said, there should be no cherry-picking or favourable selection. You test when needed, regardless of what you ‘want’ the outcomes to be. From there, you shape your future sessions to suit the progressions you desire. Ultimately, this requires removing emotion from the equation (easy for the coach, not so much for the athlete – but still an essential component). 

The reason why this is is so critical, is this. When things get prickly during your race – and they will – you would rather be armoured by the knowledge that you know you have dug deeper before, really deep, and come out ok on the other side. More, you have done that a few times, so it feels familiar. Better, you start to relish that – not in an “I want it to always suck” kind of way. But in an “I know this, I understand what it is. I can do this” kind of way.

So, if you have been avoiding testing, maybe start to think about it from a different angle; change your perspective.