Friday, February 11, 2011

VO2 Max Testing

With some time off between jobs, I decided to indulge my curiosity and head to Seattle Performance Medicine (SPM) to have my VO2 max and lactate threshold tested. I had recently read Heidi Dietrich's report of her experience with the testing and being a scientist and a runner I couldn't resist getting tested myself. The test started with collecting baseline data. I was fitted with a mask and the air I was breathing out was measured for 15 minutes to analyze resting metabolism. Then I switched to the treadmill, keeping the mask on, for the VO2 max test which consisted of running at a slow pace (6 mph) as they gradually increased the incline. They will continue to increase the incline until you beg for mercy. At least hopefully they let you off at that point. At a 10% incline they also increased the speed to 6.4 mph which surprised me a bit. I am used to running uphill at slow speeds but I guess it made more sense not to draw the test out too long. I called it quits at a 15% incline. After a short break, it was time to get back on the treadmill and perform the lactate threshold test. This time the treadmill was held at a 1% incline and the speed was gradually increased and the test ended when they detected that I had crossed the lactate threshold which I think happened at a speed 9f 9.5 mph.

Analysis of the data collected showed that:

VO2max = 69 ml/kg/min
HRmax = 188 bpm
lactate threshold: HR = 176 bpm, %VO2max = 83%

The explanation provided was that these numbers were all good. I was surprised in particular that the lactate threshold occurred at 83% of VO2max which is a balanced ratio according to SPM. I would have expected a recommendation to try to increase the lactate threshold due to the preponderance of endurance training compared to interval training that I do, but according to SPM it is at the right place relative to VO2max.

The number that didn't make sense was that I reached the lactate threshold at a relatively slow pace. So despite the high number for VO2max, I was very inefficient in converting oxygen/aerobic energy into running speed.

An additional problem was identified from several of the tests. The resting metabolic test showed that I was burning excessive protein and that essentially my body was in a catabolic state. When I was running at low intensities, I was burning excessive fat relative to carbohydrate. Finally, although my maximum HR was good, my heart rate recovery was excessive (I didn't realize that could be bad!). All three of these results suggested that my muscles were depleted of carbohydrates.

Specific recommendations:

1) Increase post-workout carbohydrate fueling: 1.5 g carbohydrate/kg of body weight within 30 minutes of finishing workout, plus an additional 1.5 g carb/kg weight before 2 hours are up.
2) Perform a sprint lactate test to measure anaerobic capacity.
3) Perform blood tests for hormonal/nutritional markers.
4) Begin high intensity sprint and strength workouts to improve anaerobic system.

Final impressions:

I really decided to have the testing done on a whim and had not thought through what it would mean to get the results. The results really are just numbers. If you want to know how good a runner you are, do a few races and you will know where you stack up. But now that I have the numbers and the recommendations, I am very optimistic that I can use the results to significantly improve my training. I would not have realized I was under-fueling without the testing results. And my general approach to training has been to train more. I think the results of these tests suggest that adding more mileage is much less likely to be beneficial than will be increased strength and speed training. I would highly recommend the staff at Seattle Performance Medicine if you are interested in being tested. I will post a follow up in a few months with the results of the blood tests and my initial assessment of the sprint/strength workouts. Does anyone else have experience with this kind of testing that they are willing to share in the comments?

Links to other VO2 max testing reports:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Orcas Island 50K

The 50K on Orcas Island is the first running event I have ever done in two successive years and I plan to continue to enter every year. It is like summer camp for runners even though it is not summer and I never liked summer camp. Most people take the ferry over on Friday and make a weekend of the event and I plan to do that next year, but this year I got up at 3am and drove to catch the 5:35am ferry arriving on the island just before 7. The shuttle got us to the starting area just before 7:30am so I decided to jump in with the early start rather than sit around for an hour waiting for the race to start.

My goal going into this race was to take it easy and use it as a long training run for next month's 100 mile event at Coyote Two Moon. I hoped that the combination of having already done high mileage the week of the race combined with the smaller crowd of the early start would reduce the chances that I would get caught up in race adrenaline and go out too fast. I think this strategy worked for the most part. Scotty and I were actually late for the early start and started after everyone else had gone through so we did do a bit of catch up passing people at the beginning, but surprisingly quickly the runners had spread out and we were working up the first major climb, Mt. Pickett. I walked a lot of this climb and definitely took it easier than last year.

After coming back down and running into the field of 25K runners who were headed out towards Mt. Constitution, I arrived at a trail junction with a sign, 50K, 2nd time pointing to the right. I was sure that I had not been to this intersection before, but there was no sign for which way to go the 1st time through. Baffled, I stopped and pulled out the 3 page detailed description of the course from the race website which I had brought along just for situations like this. Unfortunately, I could not find any reference to an intersection we were to go through 2 times at this point in the race. Carsten, whom I had met earlier on the way up Mt. Pickett, arrived having backtracked to the confusing intersection. He said he came to a paved road, and I found in the course description that we should come to a paved road next, so we decided to proceed straight. As we continued, the route seemed to match the course description, but we didn't see any course marking. We were pretty sure something was wrong, but we knew we were near the aid station so continued on. We reached the aid station, which was back at the starting line, but when we explained that we thought we were lost, James Varner, the race director said we should have turned right at the intersection and we would need to backtrack and run the correct course to be credited with a finish. I was a little surprised given that we had run an equivalent if not longer distance, but it was for the best since we encountered several groups of additional runners who had taken the same wrong turn we had and we got them turned around. Gary Robbins was fixing the sign at the confusing intersection when we got back and we proceeded to the aid station for the second time. Note to race directors/people marking course: if you are going to have a sign marked "2nd time" at an intersection, make sure there is also a sign saying "first time". Otherwise our poor oxygen starved brains can't make sense of it!

The next section of the race, the power line trail, freaked me out last year because it so steep as you can see in the picture below. I was mentally prepared for the hike this year and it didn't seem so bad.

Runners hiking up power line trail.

View looking back during the power line hike.

After running a fairly level trail around Mountain Lake, we headed back up Mt. Constitution but this second route is much more runnable than the power line trail. I was hoping for some good pictures from the summit, but the clouds/mist pretty had rolled in by this time pretty much obliterating the view.

Mountain Lake

I finished in 7 hr, 6 min over an hour slower than last year. Despite wanting to take it easier than last year, I was little surprised at how much slower I was since it still felt like I was working pretty hard. The Garmin totals for this year's race were 34 miles and 7800 feet of elevation gain compared to 30 miles and 6800 feet last year. There were some course changes this year which seemed minor to me, so I am not sure if the differences in mileage and elevation are real, just a result of getting lost, or reflect course changes. Did anyone else record greater elevation gain for the course this year?? You can see the whole course route on the island in Google Earth view below.

I spent the afternoon hanging around the finish line chatting, drinking beer and watching dogs misbehave. One dog managed to leap up and grab a giant cookie out of a small child's hand. The child thought he was holding the cookie up out of the way but it was really at perfect height for the dog. The cookies were definitely worth jumping for, but fortunately there were plenty to go around. Scott Krell took hospitality to a new level by setting up a burrito bar out of his van in the ferry parking lot and feeding lots of hungry runners including me! This is really a must do race, I can't recommend it enough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

2011 Running plans

I'm a bit late getting around to posting this. I finished up 2010 with higher mileage in December than any other month which boosted my confidence to sign up for an early season 100 miler, the Coyote Two Moon. I signed up on Christmas Day as a present (we'll see?) to myself and promptly earned bonus minutes for being the only person crazy enough to sign up on Christmas. Having a 100 miler in March will require some high mileage in January and February. At this point I am trying to keep my schedule free from races in August and September to maximize the opportunity to do some adventure runs (think complete Wonderland trail) during the snow free time in the high country.

I finished off December running in Arizona. My in-laws live adjacent to the Peralta Trailhead into the Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix and I love running there in the winter. The trails are not well maintained once you get a few miles from the trail head, so you have to be willing to endure some torture from nasty desert plant life ripping your legs to shreds, but it is worth it for the scenery. This year the weather was sunny and in the 60s and the views are endless as you can see in the pictures below.