If I told you that you had to do a short and hard run, or a long steady ride would you know if you are hitting the right intensity?
If it is your first time preparing for an endurance event the first thing that you need to do is decide if you can actually keep moving for that long. Once you have learnt to pace yourself well, got strong enough to hold yourself together and learnt a bit about your nutrition you can tick that box.
Secondary to going long is to increase the intensity that you can cope with. Increasing your intensity makes sessions time efficient, works to improve your fitness, and gets you race ready while decreasing the chance of cramp.
But do you know the intensity that you should be going at? How hard is hard and what is steady – steady might feel easy in hour one but it might get tougher in the second and third hour? It feels hard, but could I actually go harder? Or are you going too hard and will you be able to do your key session properly tomorrow?
There are a number of ways to measure how hard that you are going such as power, heart rate, pace, rating of perceived exertion, breathing rate (the talk test) and speed. Some are more useful ways than others depending on how subjective the score is or how many other factors affect it. For example if you are going downhill with the wind at your back is your result affected or if you had a stressful day at work does it change?
Power is the gold standard for measuring intensity as it is an objective measurement of your effort but you still have to be careful not to go hard in every session. Power metres have been around for a while in cycling and are becoming more cost effective but are also now available for running and kayaking. GPS devices such as your Garmin or your phone are great for measuring your pace which is really useful for running on the flat and performing intervals. Heart Rate is also useful especially if you do a lactate test to get an accurate measure of your zones (get in touch if you want to know more about using pace or heart rate to measure intensity). Breathing rate or the talk test is really simple and effective measure as long as you are honest with yourself about how hard you are actually going.
So before you head out on your next session make sure that you know what intensity that you are aiming for, have a clear way to measure it and why you want to hit it and you will be on fire!