The 30-minute time trial test was developed by coach Joe Friel and research by James McGehee and colleagues has demonstrated its effectiveness in approximating running threshold values for heart rate and pace.
This field test can be used to collect data for pace, heart rate, and/or power for endurance activities that include running, cycling, cross country skiing, and uphill skimo (swimming uses a different test). So you can use the same 30-minute time trial results for a given sport to set your pace, heart rate, and power training zones.
Time Trial Protocol
This is a solo time trial to do on your own, not with training partners. You should go into the test rested, not after a hard training day. Find a course for this time trial that you can return to throughout your training to compare results over time. The course can be flat or on a slight grade, but avoid a course with rolling hills. Each time you do the time trial, use a consistent warmup protocol, as described below.
The objective is to perform the 30-minute time trial at the fastest effort you feel you can consistently maintain for that duration without slowing down. Avoid starting out too fast and then slowing. You want a consistent effort over the 30 minutes. You will need to capture data over the full 30 minutes, as well as over the last 20 minutes. So you can either use the lap button on your watch after the first 10 minutes or isolate the last 20 minutes on TrainingPeaks after you’re done.
Warm up for 15-20 minutes at an easy pace. Do some short striders or pick-ups to raise your heart rate and prepare for the time trial. After you’re warmed up, gradually ramp up your pace to the start of the 30-minute time trial.
Start the time trial at the fastest pace you feel you can consistently maintain for the full 30 minutes. This means going out fast, but not so fast that you’ll need to slow. After 10 minutes, click the lap button on your watch. Continue over the last 20 minutes at your maximal effort for this time trial without slowing down or fluctuating your effort. The best time trial results come from a consistent, hard effort across the full 30 minutes.
After you’re done, warm down for 10-20 minutes. When you get home, upload the workout to your TrainingPeaks training log. In your post-workout comments, record the conditions (temperature, wind, etc.) and other contextual factors that impacted how you felt (sleep, eating, etc.).
Interpreting the Results for Pace (FTPa)
The average pace over the full solo 30-minute time trial is a good indication of your functional threshold pace (FTPa). This works for endurance activities that include running, cross country skiing, and uphill skimo — swimming uses a different test (explained later) and cycling typically does not use pace (or speed) zones.
Divide the distance covered by 30 minutes to find the average pace for the time trial. For running and cross country skiing, you can use the Alp Fitness pace calculator.
Once you know your FTPa for the given activity, go to the section, “Setting Your Pace Zones,” to use that number to set your pace zones.
Interpreting the Results for Heart Rate (LTHR)
The average heart rate over the last 20 minutes of the solo 30-minute time trial is a good indication of your threshold heart rate (LTHR). This works for endurance activities that include running, cycling, cross country skiing, and uphill skimo — swimming uses a different test (explained later).
The reason you take the last 20 minutes is because your heart rate is still climbing to its maximal sustainable level over the beginning of the time trial, so including that would give you a number lower than your threshold heart rate.
You can find your average heart rate for the last 20 minutes when you look at the workout file in TrainingPeaks — or other dashboards associated with your training device.
Once you know your LTHR for the given activity, go to the section, “Setting Your Heart Rate Zones,” to use that number to set your heart rate zones.
Interpreting the Results for Power (FTPw)
The average power over the full solo 30-minute time trial is a good indication of your functional threshold power (FTPw). This works for endurance activities that include running, cycling, and cross country skiing — swimming uses a different test (explained later).
You can find your average power for the 30-minute time trial when you look at the workout file in TrainingPeaks — or other dashboards associated with your training device.
Once you know your FTPw for the given activity, go to the section, “Setting Your Power Zones,” to use that number to set your power zones.
Assessing Test Quality
The test doesn’t need to be perfect, but it will provide the best results when the output over the 30 minutes is consistent. A graph that shows large spikes in power or heart rate near the beginning and end with a drop in the middle is a sign of an inconsistent test. Similarly, a graph that shows a gradual downhill slide in power or heart rate is a sign of an inconsistent test. Pace data will show the opposite trends for an inconsistent test.
The more practice you gain with the test, the more consistent you’ll be. Remember, the point of the 30-minute time trial is that you can repeat it frequently throughout your training year. So, if you post an inconsistent test, don’t sweat it. Just work to make it more consistent next time.
Adjusting for Efforts Closer to Race Level
Using the average heart rate and average power from this time trial as estimates of your threshold values is based on the assumption that the effort during a solo time trial approximates a full hour effort at lactate threshold. This is because most athletes do not reach race-level efforts on their own in a workout setting.
However, if you feel you do replicate a near race-level effort over 30 minutes; then your heart rate and power would be a few percentage points higher than your threshold values. In that case, you can multiply those numbers by .95 or .98 to arrive at your threshold estimates. I find that 98% works well for athletes in this situation, but you could adjust that up or down as needed based on your experience with the test and what it produces for you.
For example, let’s say you knock out a near race-level effort beyond your LT for the time trial and your average heart rate is 173. Then multiply 173 by .98 to arrive at an LTHR of 170. This means your LTHR is 98% of your heart rate over that shorter race-level duration.