Updated: Apr 21, 2022
I have found that there is a fear or anxious feeling whenever a test set* or outcome testing comes up on an athlete’s training program. I understand this feeling as I have been there. Thoughts of, “what if I don’t make the set” or “if I don’t do better than last time then I haven't made any improvement” are very common thoughts. As humans, we don’t like to deal with anxiety or the possibility of failure so the typical response is avoidance. If you are reading this and feel like this blog is directed at you, take a deep breath and relax because you are not alone. We all have these thoughts and we all want to stay in our comfortable box.
My hope is for athletes to look at Test Sets with a wider lens. The benefits of Test Sets stretch far beyond the wattage, splits or finishing time. More importantly, these Test Sets test our preparation and ability to race. Test Sets spur on the competitive spirit and mental fortitude that we need during races. Regularly challenging this mindset will keep us fresh for a great race day performance. Because Test Sets often require us to exert maximum effort, it is a great chance to discover where we can or cannot push our body in one discipline to prevent absolute bonking in the next discipline. This is also where we need to learn that failure in these sets is often good because it provides a chance to learn for what to do or not to do for next time. Test sets are also a great time to test out different foods or fuel to see what works and doesn't work for our body.
As I have spoken about in past blogs, the mental aspect of training and competing is as important or more than the physical aspects. Test sets challenge our mental strength and our ability to be mindful of discomfort, and allow us to practice blocking the negative aspect of this discomfort and instead using it to focus on our breathing and our form. Test Sets are our opportunity to fail so that we can win when it really counts.
We learn about the competitive edge and strategies to overcome adversity during our training in Test Sets rather than expecting it to magically appear on race day. How we mentally and physically prepare for our training is how we will perform on race day. We have all heard the sayings like, "Perfect practice makes perfect performance." In the case of endurance sports, sessions with Test Sets are probably the most instrumental in solidifying "perfect performance" on race day.
With that said, we should embrace these Test Sets and look at them more as an opportunity to learn and grow. Our athletic journey is a process. There will be ups and downs, successes and failures. Test Sets are a major part of the process so next time you have one be more like a tiger, be hungry and attack it!
*Test Set: This is a session that is meant to test your maximum limits of fitness. Often, these sessions are made at an intensity that may or may not be achievable depending on the conditions or the day. Coaches use these sessions to help in writing future planned workouts. For short distance athletes these sets are usually at threshold or above. For long course athletes they are typically below threshold but increase up to threshold and occasionally above.