"What gets measured, matters." This holds true for most things in life, from your performance in grade school (no one wanted an 'f' on their report card!) to being held accountable for your sales numbers at the end of the month at the workplace. It's even true for competitive athletes as they strive for higher levels of speed and endurance ... measuring progress and reassessing training parameters periodically is important!
Measurements pertaining to fitness can be taken by simple means or done in complex, hi-tech laboratory settings... it's up to the athlete. I recommend finding a reputable Human Performance Lab nearby (Life Time Fitness has them) and subjecting yourself to a little bit of torture at the hands of the guy or girl in the lab coat, at least once a year. If that's not feasible, consider a simple 'field test' or 'time trial' on the roads or indoors (Trainer or Treadmill) to give you some type of idea of where your fitness now stands. (We have a great bike test, Spinervals 27.0, as well as some training zone calculators available for your use by clicking HERE). And last but certainly not least, a good hard race on a familiar course always gives you the best indication of how you're progressing, as well as 'real life' training zone data! (for example, a local 5K or 10K).
One little caveat... remember that all of the fancy V02max testing, hi-tech measuring devices and data crunching in the world can't take the place of your gut and the need to listen to your body. Occasional testing and using the data is just another useful tool in the tool box, if used effectively.
In any case, test yourself (and record results) consistently every 4-8 weeks throughout the season in order to monitor your progress and maximize your performance on the race course!
A former pro triathlete and now competing as an elite Masters, Coach Troy has been coaching triathletes since 1992, is the head Tri-Coach of Life Time Fitness and the Official Coach of IRONMAN. Learn more at www.coachtroy.com