Self Assessments Part 2: the VO2max self test

In the first part of this series, we really discussed more subjective parameters. How you feel you train and recover, and what you think your strength and weaknesses are. In this second part, I’d like to discuss more measurable variables- like what your VO2max is, how fast you can run at your VO2max, your running specific strength and flexibility, and even your current running form. I don’t want to take away from the data that we collected in the first part, as that serves a very useful purpose. This is just serving a different purpose. The first set of data shows us how we may need to plan for your training. The data in this part of the assessment gives us baseline values, as well as a clear starting point to what we should spend extra time on to help make us a better and less injury prone runner.

vo2 Max zones
vo2 Max zones


If you can get your VO2max tested in a lab type setting, then it’s not a bad idea. You can collect a lot of useful data. However, from my experience, it’s fairly tough to find a good place to have one conducted with fairly decent equipment. If you can find one, it’s probably going to be a couple hundred bucks. So, if you an alternative to a treadmill test, then we have something that may be of use. The following test is from Dr. Joe Vigil, distance coach guru. It is interpretation of the Balke-Ware test.

Modified Balke-Ware

The best place to perform this test is a local track on a decent day (light wind/moderate temps). You want to be fairly warmed up for this test, so do your normal warmup routine. You are essentially turning this into a 15 minute race. Then you will be solving for this equation:

VO2max = 0.178 × ([m ÷ 15] – 150) + 33.3

  1. On the track, run as fast as you can for 15 minutes, covering as much distance as possible.
    1. You have to plan accordingly for this, as there is definitely some strategy. The goal is to be running the fastest over the last few minutes of the test.
    2. For runners that are over 25 minute 5k runners, I would start out at about 10k pace for the first 7 minutes, then 5k pace for the next 5 minutes and then as hard as you can for the last 3 minutes.
    3. For runners under that are under 25 minute 5k runners, I would start out at a pace between 5k and 10k pace for the first 8- minutes. From 8-13 minutes at about 5k pace, and then finish the last two minutes all out.
    4. There is definitely a learning curve to this. You may do a trial run and then try it again a week later.
  2. The main reason we are using your local track as our testing spot is for a couple reasons.
    1. It’s easier to pace throughout the test.
    2. It’s a lot easier to track and convert your distance. Although if you are using a GPS unit and on a flat surface, you can manage this too.

In any case, we want to convert the distance to meters. A mile is equal to 1609 m. If you’ve run 2.5 miles, multiply 2.5 by 1609 to get 4022 m. On the track, each lap is equal to 400 meters, which makes it nice to simply count your laps and add your remaining distance of your last lap started.

  1. Take the number in meters and convert it to meters per minute by dividing it by 15. In our scenario, 4022 ÷ 15 = 268 m/min.
  2. From that 268 m/min, the first 150 m = 33.3 ml/kg/min. This is our baseline VO2.
  3. The remaining 118 m (in our example) is then multiplied by 178 and added to the base of 33.3. Note: If you don’t have a speed of greater than 150 m/min, then take the difference between your speed and 150, multiply by 0.178, and subtract that number from the base of 33.3.

Using our example:

4022 m run in 15 minutes = 268 m/min.

118 × 0.178 = 21.0

21.0 + 33.3 = 54.3 ml/kg/min or VO2 max

This means that your current aerobic fitness is 54.3. What we really want to do here is compare our value to both our running peers, as well as the numbers of non-athletes. This will show us where we stand, not only, from a fitness standpoint, but also give us a baseline to gauge how we respond to training and if our training is being effective.




60-85 ml/kg/min50-75 ml/kg/min
40-7540-60 ml/kg/min

35-60 ml/kg/min

Normative VO2max values for runners.

20-2947-55 ml/kg/min30-46 ml/kg/min
30-3943-52 ml/kg/min33-42 ml/kg/min
40-4938-42 ml/kg/min30-38 ml/kg/min
50-5936-44 ml/kg/min26-35 ml/kg/min
60-6931-38 ml/kg/min24-33 ml/kg/min
70-7928-35 ml/kg/min20-27 ml/kg/min

Normative VO2max levels for non-athletes (Sedentary)

After determining your baseline VO max, you can repeat this test in the middle of your training to check your progress. Keep in mind that the more advanced the runner, the fewer changes are seen. Also, some folks are called “non-responders” which simply means that they don’t respond very fast to training. What can always change, however, even if only slightly, is the pace you can run at your VO2 max. That’s what really matters in the end. We can use this test to calculate those numbers as well.

Let’s refer to our example above:

  1. Remember our subject covered 4022 meters in 15 minutes. We divided by 15, to convert to meters per minute, which gave us 268 meters/minute. This is our velocity at VO2max (vVO2max). From here we can calculate a number of things. In your case take your total amount in meters and divide by 15 to get your vVO2max.
  2. To calculate what the pace per mile, take the number of meters in a mile (1609) and divide by your vVO2max. In our example, it’s 268 m/min. Giving us: 1609/268 = 6.00 minutes. So, what this is saying is that at 100% of your VO2max, you can run 6:00 miles. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can hold your VO2max pace for 6 minutes.
  3. Knowing that vVO2max can help us set current training paces.
    1. Beginner marathon pace= 60% of vVO2max
    2. Advanced marathon pace = 70-80% of vVO2max
    3. Strength paces = 10 seconds per mile slower than calculated marathon pace
    4. Speed= 85-95% of vVO2max
      1. Beginners should use 85%
      2. Advanced can use 90-95%

Example: 268 m/min is our example vVO2max. Let’s calculate for a beginner marathoner. You can use this same setup to calculate any of the paces.

268 m/min x .60% = 160.8 m/min

1609 / 160.8 = 10.00 minute/mile (10:00 miles)

This would be theoretical marathon pace.

This test is great to do periodically to see how you are progressing. Remember, adjusting to a workload can take 4-6 weeks at a minimum, so don’t bother doing the test more regularly than that. Personally, I would maybe do one at the beginning of the training segment, another just before the start of your heavy race specific training, and possibly a third after you have begun your taper. This last one could possibly serve as your last intense workout. That is the max I would do this test, The more advanced you are, the less often you would need to perform this test because the data is going to change very little. For advanced athletes, the best time for this is after a long layoff and you need to establish a baseline. Or, I would possibly do it if you have switched your training methods and want to see how your fitness compares to previous methods. Ok, this already got pretty long! Next time we will talk about running specific strength and mobility tests that you can do on your own. We may dabble a little with form stuff, too!

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