Saturday, March 22, 2008

Testing and Training Camp

Last week my group of coached athletes completed our testing on the treadmill to evaluate our running zones and VO2. Matt Carnal, pictured above with his six pack abs, kicked all our asses and blew a 70.2 VO2 max. The rest of us were in the mid 60’s.

I was surprised how my lactate levels stayed steady in the 3.4 range until I was 2 minutes into the 5:30 pace of the protocol. What’s cool about this testing, is that your perceived exertion matches what the lab results are spitting out. David stopped the test for me at the end of the protocol but I felt I could have kept going much longer and harder. My lactate level only went to 5.6, whereas the other athletes got much higher. What this told me was that I was in pretty good shape, and I can tolerate exercise above my lactate threshold for quite a long time. My body seems to be efficient in metabolizing the lactate better than those who were lesser trained.

Going forward, we will be retesting in 12 weeks to see how the fitness levels improve by training in our laboratory measured zones.

After the test, Matt and I had a big weekend of training. We had a hard bike interval hill repeat session and ran the 13.4 mile hilly Thunder foot course. Last year I did all my training alone, this year, with my coaching group; I am teaching and producing some fast young guys to train with, it turning out to be beneficial to all of us.

I was on vacation last week and my wife, Dana, went to Henderson, Nevada to do a training camp with some of her gal pals, Jennifer Johnson, and Lisa Wei-Haas. The only photos they took were postcards like shots. However, I did happen to find the photo above which bears a stunning resemblance to all three of them. Anyway, I was Mr. Mom for a week which was nice.

Much of the girls’ training was done in the mountains on the Silverman course. They got in some epic swim bike and run training to assist in bumping up the fitness levels. Dana is in preparation for Ironman Brazil. She closed the camp with a half marathon race which included running through six tunnels blown through mountains. She did pretty well in the race despite having a week of volume and fatigue in her legs.

At the end of the week, I got a babysitter to watch the kids while Matt and I did our big ride. This was a big mistake, I should have just taken it easy and enjoyed the time at home with the kidos, but hindsight is 20/20 and I continue to make huge mistakes.

Our garage door angles 90 degrees. It is a bit tricky to maneuver the van into the garage. My babysitter took the kids out for ice cream and didn’t quite make the tricky turn into the garage. Result: A smashed van with $2000 damage and a damaged entry way into the garage. Ouch!!
I picked Dana up from the airport that night and she wasn’t too happy with the new look to her Honda Odyssey. That ended up being a pretty expensive ride I took. Luckily, insurance will take care of some of the expense.

Just for laughs, here’s a link some one sent us picturing what celebrities would look like if they were from Oklahoma.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ironmen Can't Sprint

I looked at the temperature on my iphone and then looked at the icy fountain outside my house. It was 19 degrees (-7 for those of you in using the Celsius scale). Crap, I hate cold as much as Indiana Jones hates snakes. I despise the cold. I hate numb fingers, toes, frozen bottles, and the bulky feeling of all the clothes you have to wear keep some modicum of warmth in your body. My nervous system feels like it short circuits when the temperatures plummet, everything moves in slow motion. The hot and humid days suit me so much better. So I told myself I need to gut it out. This year it’s about being able to toughen up and push through barriers, so just live with it. On a positive note, at least it was sunny.

This year my plan is to improve my limiters and weaknesses. My bike strength is poor and my power curve is a little flat. Last year in triathlons, I would get a lead on the swim only to relinquish it later on in the bike. I was able to make that ground back on the run, but why not build the ability to take it wire to wire. Epic camp exposed me for what I was: A piss poor cyclist. I needed to change some things up. I want to be a complete triathlete, solid all around in all three sports. I needed to ride with bike specialists.

So, after Epic camp, I joined the one of the local bike racing teams, The Tulsa Wheelmen.
It’s been a while since I did a bike race. I think the last one I did was the VP fair in St. Louis in July of 1985. That’s around the same time that the movie “American Flyers” was made because a team mate of mine did some riding in the St. Louis scenes. Greg Lemond was one of Bernard Hinault’s domestiques, and Lance was probably some punk kid riding a Schwinn with a sissy bar, in Plano, TX at the time.Cycling just wasn’t that popular a sport in the US yet.

I drove out to the race site expecting a poor turnout. I was surprised that there were quite a few folks there. I signed up and got my license. I was now a Cat 5. In the eighty’s I had achieved a Cat 2 level. Cat 5 didn’t even exist. The starting level back then was 4. I guess with cycling’s popularity; they had to start a new level. I was aware of the beginning levels bike handling skills, so my goal was to stay in the front and stay out of trouble.

Most of the guys were warming up on stationary trainers. Meanwhile, I went out to the highway and hit it hard. As expected, the wind chill was awful. My fingers were numb in 5 minutes even wearing my thick gloves. I went back to the car and put on a pair of neoprene Blue Seventy webbed gloves that Gordo Byrn gave me at Epic Camp. I froze coming down the Crown Range and became severely hypothermic. At the end of the camp several prizes were awarded, I got the gloves so I wouldn’t ever have to freeze again. Today, I used these as a bottom layer glove and they worked really well except the webbing between the fingers didn‘t allow me to pull the other set of gloves on very tight. Thanks anyway Gordo. My hands stayed warm.

It’s a different element at bike races. Everyone seems very fit and they are there to RACE just not to finish. The level of seriousness in the sport seems higher.

The race was a 3 mile looped rolling criterium. 30 riders were at the starting line. We got off to a slow start. I knew this wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t, at the first hill one guy took off and I bolted out right behind him. The pack covered us and I sunk back into it. I was just to testing the strength of the riders there and how I felt. I didn’t feel too nimble or quick, but I was strong. I felt yesterday’s workout in my legs. It was best just to sit back and cover the surges so that’s what I did. At one point in the race a guy crossed wheels with another and almost went down beside me. After that, I made an effort to stay at the front.

A surge for a prime occurred two laps from the finish and I found myself with 3 other riders and the pack lingering back. I made a surge to see if they all would go with me. It was a good opportunity to get away. No one would pull through so I just slowed down and waited for the next surge. The only way I was going to win was to get in a breakaway and TT for a while. I don’t think anybody else was willing to do that.

The crits I used to do 20 + years ago were hard all the time and then surges would occur when you were about to explode already. It was downright painful. This race wasn’t so bad. Everyone would recover after a surge. I guess that’s the difference between the 5’s and the 2’s.

On the last lap, I moved to the front to cover any potential flyers who might want to try and go 1 mile from the finish on the last big hill. One guy did and I stayed close as he blew up. In the1/ 2’s this guy would have been hell to catch, and most likely that move would have stuck.

In the last half mile I had moved into a great position and was 4th, close to the leaders for the final sprint. But wait, I don’t have a sprint. Ironmen don’t need to sprint. Two guys passed me in the last 20 yards. I felt like such a slug. It’s definitely not a skill I have honed recently.

I was satisfied, 7th Overall. It was the type of training I was looking for and it got my heart rate up to close to max levels. I find that very hard to do on the bike alone by myself.

I looked at the results and everyone except one guy was 21 or 22 years old. These guys weren’t even born the last time I raced. Man I feel old.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Getting Into The Lab

As an Anesthesiologist I deal with human physiology on a daily basis. I can manipulate any vital parameter with a push of a syringe or a dial on my machine. I guess you could call me an applied physiologist. It’s a job that I love and seldom become bored with.

Last summer, I decided to take this knowledge and my undergraduate education in exercise physiology to begin coaching a few athletes. When I was in college, my career goal was to be an exercise physiologist but somehow I ended up in medicine. This latest foray into coaching seems to satisfy that latent desire.

I limited the number of athletes I coached to five so that I would not over stretch myself, and provide the individual attention necessary to do a good job. The athletes on the squad have different levels athletic and triathlon experience. They have goals ranging from performing at a personal best to going to Kona. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are willing to put in the work necessary to get there.

After a few months of base training and letting the athletes get familiar with the system, I arranged some baseline testing at the University of Oklahoma’s Human Performance Lab and Exercise Physiologist, David Brennan. Here, I would accurately determine my athletes VO2 max, aerobic threshold, anaerobic threshold, and heart rate training zones, to base their upcoming workout sessions and training prescriptions. David is an Aussie, and former 4:04 miler. He is a great resource for me to consult and has personal contact with Alan Lim, who was a consultant for Floyd Landis’ power training program.

With this testing my guys would also get the opportunity to learn more about how their bodies handled stress and why they needed to stay in their “own” training zones. They would be able to see that “their hard” may be someone else’s easy. I think most folks overestimate the lactate threshold and the easy recovery sessions are often too hard. A lot of athletes end up training in the midrange area which yields poor results. Having this data is precise, black and white, and easy to understand.

Last week, we were tested on the bike. This type of testing used to be a luxury and only available to just elite athletes, but now the general public can be tested. Fortunately, I was tested years ago in college in an exercise physiology class, and my VO2 max at that time was in the 70’s. I can recall that I was in pretty good shape, and riding my bike a lot back then. VO2 max declines with age so it would be interesting to see the results I could put up 25 years later.

Steve Scace and I tested on the same day and we were able to encourage each other throughout the procedure. Steve is pictured putting in his effort above. Our weight and body fat percentage with skin calipers was measured first. Mine was up to 11%; I guess I have been porking out this winter, because I was 5% at Kona. That’s ok, because it’s not healthy to be at race weight all year long. I like to periodize my weight for big races. As a big race approaches, I take action to lean up.

The test involved the use of a metabolic analyzer. Your nose is clipped and you breathe into the analyzer which measures the volume and percentage of carbon dioxide in the expired gas. A heart rate monitor is also worn so this is correlated into the results as well. A Borg effort level is used by the athlete to rate the level of perceived exertion. The test itself is a graded exercise which starts off very easy and is increased to a new, more difficult, level every 3 minutes. The heart rate, rate of perceived exertion, and VO2 were recorded every minute with blood lactate levels taken at 3 minute intervals. We started at a very easy 100 watts and eventually ended up in the mid 300 to 400 watt levels at max.

From the data, we would be able to determine the heart rate and wattages of the Aerobic Threshold; an intensity and heart rate at which the body burns the most fat and fat is used for fuel, and Anaerobic Threshold: the highest intensity at which the body can remove lactate as quickly as it is produced. Knowing this level is invaluable to achieve conditioning without incurring muscle damage associated with lactic acid buildup.

At the end of the test we went for our max. The VO2 max is a measure of athletic potential. In a nutshell, it is the amount of oxygen that your body can utilize in one minute of maximal exercise. This is expressed in liters of oxygen/ kilogram of body weight/ minute. David made the statement that it doesn’t matter what your VO2 max is; it’s what you do with it that counts. I read somewhere that Rob de Castella had a VO2 in the 60’s and went on to run a 2:07 marathon, a world record at the time. His running efficiency must have been flawless, and he must have trained himself to run at close to max for the entire race.

Steve Scace is a relative beginner to the sport and his VO2max was measured at 49L/kg/min. With training, it is possible to increase this level by up to 20%. His body fat level is also higher that most elite athletes, so by adding more fat burning workouts and decreasing his weight, improving his overall aerobic endurance, and then sharpening, this value can improve significantly. I feel it is possible that he can reach the low to mid 60’s. I have told Steve from the start, that he has the potential to improve the most.

That day my value was 64L/kg/min. It wasn’t bad for winter, and that most of the bike riding only came from Epic Camp a few weeks ago. I recalculated the results to my race weight and found them to be around 71L/kg/min. It will be interesting to see how it improves at key race time. I was surprised to find that the value hadn’t declined much since my college days. It typically declines 5% per decade.

Aside, it is nice to have this data as we move forward and get closer to the season and the training paces start to pick up.

We will test the run on the treadmill in a week or so, then possibly do some field testing with my portable lactate tester in a few months, and then we’ll get back to the lab for retesting in 3 to 6 months. A swimming video analysis is another thing I have planned for the future. I hope to see some good results from the crew this year and I will update the progress as they progress with their seasons.

Anyway, I am enjoying this little science project and I hope I can get the same results that my son had at the school science fair a few weeks ago;)