Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

So here’s a bit of a progress update on my Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids training program.

My (our) annual charity swim has been planned for April 15th at the Port Colborne YMCA and Aquatic’s Complex and my training has been going well.  On the average I am swimming anywhere between 15,000 to 17,000 meters a week with my long consecutive swims on Saturday’s (after riding 20k out to the pool on my mountain bike no less) so far stretching to 5,000 to 6,000 meters without any breaks.

And it feels good.

Also, I have just recently just set a bench mark personal best at the 100m  distance by finally getting my time down under a 1:30.  Probably not a big deal for other swimmers but for me, this is HUGE progress.  My daily core workouts are inevitably helping to make all this possible and all things considered, right now I’m feeling very strong in the water…more so than where I have been in previous years at this point with my 10k program.

In other words, things are going great.

What is different this year, is that I have enlisted some help in a friend who will be joining me in this whole 10k swim madness, Stephen Apps.  Steve was one of the first people I met through the TryForce club years ago and was one of the big motivators and inspirations to train for and complete my first Half Ironman distance triathlon in Welland (click HERE), culminating with my competing in Cancun (click HERE) the following year and eventually the full Iron distance Wales (click HERE).  So, although he may be surprised to hear it, Steve has been a major influence on my life over the past 8 years or so.

Now, we usually just bond over beers with is significantly more fun.

Anyway, this year Steve has graciously offered to join me for the Frank & Friends swim and has jumped back into the pool and launched into his own training plan for the April 15th event date.  However, this week he has been taking a bit of a much-needed break from the program and relaxing somewhere in Costa Rica.

(lucky bastard)

I’m envious.

Of course, I figured the only training he’d be doing this week might be the one arm curls he performs every time he hoists a tequila shot to his lips, but then this video pops up in my Facebook feed suggesting that Steve isn’t actually relaxing at all:

I just don’t know what to say.

Here I am up at stupid o’clock every morning suffering through endless intervals and grueling paddle workouts, and here is Steve doing obscene things to a floating crocodile in a tropical paradise.

Clearly, he has the better training program.

Good on ya, bud.

You might remember that one year ago that I was participating as a guinea pig (I prefer the term “suffer Bunny”) in an Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’ series of testing at the Brock University kinesiology lab (click HERE).

Basically, I allowed myself to be heated up like a baked potato in their “oven” while clad in full on fire-fighters gear and then ran the gauntlet to see the effects of heat on my overall performance.  The theory being that if I were allowed to temporarily cool off between exercise protocols using a “cooling hood“ that my performance might improve, or in some way become easier.

It didn’t.

It sucked…each and every  time.

And that’s no exaggeration, believe me.

So as a result, nobody really paid this study any notice.

Maybe they should have published the study along with a sexy type calendar.  I mean, after all, who wouldn’t want to gaze on this at their cubicle wall?

Am I making you hot, baby?

Am I making you hot, baby?

Here's some more sexy shit.

Here’s some more sexy shit.

I mean, we didn’t really prove anything did we?   No.  This particularly sucks because I (we) suffered apparently to only prove what everybody already knows, that getting roasted alive is not fun. It’s torturous actually.  This is completely the opposite of the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) I did the year before which ended up turning the athletic and endurance world on its ear in regard to its rethinking of popular hydration strategies.  Plus, I officially got referred to as an “athlete”.

THAT  was some cool shit.

This?

Not so much.

But, hey, ‘c’est la vie’.

Anyway, here we are a year later and the official paper has finally been published.  So did we actually learn anything from this experiment?  I mean, if I suffered like a champ for this, surely, something  had to come from it right?

Thankfully, something did.

It isn’t much, true, but it’s something  at least.

However, a little background first. Studies were conducted in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s that suggested that head cooling strategies were effective in improving performance in hot and humid conditions.  New evidence from 2008+ shows that if we wear a neck cooling collar we can exercise longer, harder, and to a higher core temperature.  Plus we ‘feel’ much cooler while using it. Such strategies include forearm immersion, facial misting (no, it’s nothing kinky I assure you) and neck cooling collars were all suggested and proven to be beneficial.  The problem is, for fire fighters anyway, is that for forearm immersion to take place one would have to remove their jacket which isn’t practical when fighting fires and facial misting is less effective in highly humid environments because of the decreased water vapor pressure gradient (meaning we lose the ability to evaporate the sweat and thus fail to cool ourselves).   So, would a “cooling hood”, which is easier to apply during a fire-fighters recovery period since it does not require one to remove their jacket, actually help? It makes sense given that there is lots of blood flow in the head. In fact, 25% of our metabolism is centered in the brain, even though it only weighs 2 lbs.. Furthermore, the blood flow is closer to the surface so its effect would be quicker to cool the blood and feel cooler, than say cooling the foot or arms…theoretically, of course.

And that’s where I come in.

Through this testing we (I mean the researchers, of course) were aiming to see if fire fighters could benefit from the cooling effect provided by the hood in “uncompensable” heat stress and, ultimately, perform better.  Specifically, would it:

  1. Drop the body’s core temperature?
  2. Allow them to last longer?
  3. Enable them to use less air, allowing them to perform longer?
  4. Allow them to feel better?

I know, I know, you’re on pins and needles here right?

Well, let me fill you in on the findings.

First, the cooling hood had absolutely no effect on the core temperature at all…like, none.

Core Temp

See? Nada.

And I can definitely vouch for this: it was fucking hot no matter what.  Even after resting for 20 minutes (the standard recovery period for active fire fighters) with the cooling head, my core temperature continued to climb into the second exercise protocol.  Okay, there was a marginal difference in temperature as the graph above shows but it was nothing to get excited about.

However, perception wise, the cooling hood did make me feel a bit cooler even though, physiologically, there was no difference in my core temperature whatsoever.  This was reflected in the ‘Perceived Thermal Stress’ (PTS) ranking where I was asked to give my perception on the heat stress I was enduring at time.

It is interesting to note afterwards, however, that while the perception of heat stress improved overall, the actual perception of the exercises difficulty did not as recorded in my ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion’ (RPE).

No sir.

It blew.

There’s a problem with this though in that both the PTS and RPE are highly subjective.  I mean, when all you have to look at and dwell on during the torture session are those two charts in front of you, you begin to consider your next answer long before the question is even asked.  So do I choose to appear as a tough guy and say it’s easier or less hot that it really is, or do I answer honestly in that it’s hotter than Hades and this is complete torture?

I dunno.

What I can tell you from my recollection is that during the first 4-8 minutes of the second protocol, everything felt…tolerable. But that quickly changed.  And after that initial period, once again, it was like leaping into an active volcano.

And this was for both the Passive recovery (the first session without the cooling hood) and the Active recovery (the second session with the cooling hood).

Seriously, can you tell which one looks like it might have felt better?

Phil runs the gauntlet.

Phil runs the gauntlet.

Fuck no.

So whether or not this total and complete feeling of HOT and SHITTY (think of that doomed marshmallow that falls into the bonfire kinda hot) both times is reflected accurately in my responses, I can’t say for sure.

Likewise, there was no major difference in my heart rate either.  During the second protocol, my heart rate only decreased by a mere 10 beats per minute which, in the grand scheme of things, is insignificant.

Lastly, there was no difference in the air intake whatsoever so, no, working for longer periods was not likely going to be an option either.

So what does this all mean then?

Well, the overall conclusion is that the cooling hood provided no physiological differences whatsoever.  However, perceptually, there was an improvement in our thermal perception even though there was no actual change in the perception of the exercise itself.  So while we might have felt  better, it did absolutely buckus to improve our overall performance.

What it all boils down to is that the test or, rather, the ability to endure the second protocol was unequivocally mental.   What else is there?  Hey, if there was no change in the core temperature, air consumption or heart rate, any differences to our protocol times really came down to our mental fortitude, or our ability to ultimately endure.  What else is there?  In essence, given the extreme difficulty of the task, how long were we willing  to allow ourselves to suffer?

And believe me again, we suffered.

Hence my preference for the term “Suffer Bunny”.

So if this is a mental thing, how do we improve that?  And that  very question is the premise for the next series of experimentation’s that I was involved in at the Brock lab later and which, as they say, is another story.

More to come on that in the very near future.

(If you wish read the full paper in all it’s scientific glory, you can click on the attachment below)

Wallace-et-al.-2015-Cranial-Head-Cooling-Firefighters

As I have alluded to in the past, I had another opportunity to step back into the Brock Kinesiology lab to participate in another series of tests and, consequentially, further develop my overall ‘mental toughness’ this year.  This time around the research dealt with the effects of heating and cooling on firefighters.  Yup, this means I got to dress up as a firefighter and live out the dream of every little boy on the entire planet including myself.  Seriously, who didn’t  want to be a firefighter growing up?

I got the email from Matt a few months ago inquiring if I was up to the challenge.  I like to think that he remembered me on account of my God like level of uber-fitness and total domination on the bike, but as I disclosed in my previous blog post during the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) that, well, sadly, this wasn’t necessarily the case.  It was probably more along the lines of ‘who else would be stupid enough to do it?’, but I digress…

Whatever is was, I agreed immediately.  What can I say?  I like testing my mental fortitude in interesting and challenging ways; I’m a sucker for data and information about my current level of fitness; and maybe…just maybe…I missed having something stuck up my ass.  Who knows?  But, hey, they promised me a t-shirt…so how could I say no?

Anyway, this particular study went by the rather spiffy title of Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’  (say that  three times fast).  The purpose of the research was to study the effects of cranial cooling during recovery on temperature and breathing responses during exercise with fire protective clothing ensemble.

When we exercise, our muscles produce heat.  If the heat can be released to the environment the body can “thermoregulate” itself and, theoretically, remain somewhat comfortable and functioning adequately.  The protective clothing used by firefighters traps the heat, which often results in a condition called “Uncompensable Heat Stress” (UHS).  In UHS, body temperature is elevated and work capacity can be severely impaired.  In order to reduce the effects of UHS, the study is seeking to explore countermeasures that help to cool the body either during exercise or during recovery periods.  This particular study was designed to evaluate the effects of a cooling strategy that pumps cool water through aspecial green balaclava-like hood that can be easily worn during recovery periods.  The testing for the study involves periods of hard exercise followed by recovery periods aimed at monitoring how this cooling strategy might affect body temperature and breathing.

What this meant for me in the long run (or short walk, if you will), is four separate parts scheduled over approximately two to four weeks.  The duration of each part will vary between 1.5 and 3 hours.  The first includes a ‘Graded Exercise Test’ (GXT) which measures my peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) while walking on a treadmill wearing the full fire protective ensemble (FPE) and breathing with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); the second part is a practice familiarization session of two 20 minute periods of exercise and two 20 minute periods of recovery, complete with measurements on my core temperature (yes, this means the probe), skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, perceptions of effort, breathing and temperature stress, respiratory muscle strength, body weight, and urine specific gravity.  Sounds like fun, amiright?    Fortunately there was no need for blood samples so I wouldn’t have to undergo the whole IV insertion unpleasantness, so that’s good.  The next two parts consist of the actual study sessions identical to the practice trial; one trial will use the cranial cooling technique during recovery. The initial explanation and consent form said this about the study:

“The exercise and heat stress experienced in this experiment will be challenging.”

This could quite well be the understatement of the century, but more on that later.

Day 1: The Graded Exercise Test

The GXT involved about 15 minutes of exercise on a treadmill where the exercise gets slightly harder every two minutes or so.  The treadmill speed is set at a normal walking pace and will not change throughout the test.  At the start the treadmill will be level but the grade will increase slightly every two minutes.  As the test proceeds the exercise gets more and more challenging until, eventually, I can’t go any further due to the extreme exhaustion.  At this point, they can determine my highest rate of oxygen consumption, or my VO2peak.

Here is a snippet from the consent form:

“The graded exercise test requires maximal effort in order to keep exercising until exhaustion. There may be some health risk with this type of exercise. During and following test, it is possible that you may experience symptoms such as abnormal blood pressure, fainting, lightheadedness, muscle cramps or strain, nausea and, in very rare cases, heart rhythm disturbances or heart attack.”

Basically, nothing I mightn’t experience on a typical Friday night anyway so, yeah baby, let’s get it on.

Getting to play dress up.

Getting to play dress up.

During the test, I was expected to be dressed in the full FPE and breathe through a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  I will admit to being really excited for this part as, like I mentioned above, I had that typical firefighter fantasy as a child.  With some assistance, I was fitted into the rather heavy outfit complete with cotton shirt and pants, jacket, overalls, hood, tank, helmet and gloves.  In all, the entire ensemble adds an additional 22.5 kg (50 lbs.) of weight and therefore resistance to the workout.

Once I was successfully ensconced in my suit, I kind of felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but, still, it was pretty cool.  Complete with the inhaling and exhaling sound through the SCBA gear, the whole getup reminded me of that classic horror B-movie scene where you see the psycho killer approaching the unsuspecting victim from the vantage point of looking through the eye holes of their mask.  The breathing especially is a bit challenging at first and the minimal visibility of the visor makes things rather claustrophobic.  Now I know how Anakin Skywalker must have felt behind the Darth Vader mask.

First all the usual body fat and weight measurements were taken.  If I ever see another pair of calipers again it’ll be too soon, let me tell you.  However, making things a little more awkward this time around was the PhD student in charge of the study was a girl named Maz and another assistant, Tyce, was from Brazil.  So, yeah, just what every insecure, aging, fat triathlete wannabe enjoys: having his folds of body fat scrutinized and recorded with attractive females in the room. “Oh boy, can we?!”

Not.

Eventually, we were ready to begin.  Before the test started I was allowed to warm-up on the treadmill to get accustomed to being in my suit. Imagine walking normally on a treadmill.  No big deal, right?  Now imagine doing it while dressed in a 50 lb.  clown suit complete with head; the SCBA apparatus was particularly awkward and definitely took some getting used to.  Now imagine that while walking in that clown suit, somebody keeps increasing the grade on the treadmill every two minutes.  Still sound like fun? It’s not.

Trying to stay positive.

Trying to stay positive.

Motivated by my meager “Good” result last time around, I was determined to do better.  I spent the first few minutes, 10 or so, focusing on my breathing and simply trying to get ‘in the zone’.  I focused on maintaining a strong and relaxed breathing pattern through my nose as I’ve learned to do when I start to get uncomfortable.  Every few minutes I was asked to give my rating on a series of scales posted to the wall in front of the treadmill including ‘RPE’  rating my physical exertion, ‘Breathing Stress’, how labored my breathing feels, and ‘Thermal Comfort’, or how my body was actually feeling in relation to the heat stress being placed upon it.  Other than those stimulating visuals to focus on, there was only the hand that would magically appear out of my peripheral to increase the treadmill grade one agonizing percent level at a time; there was none of the usual motivation stimuli to give you that added push.  Sure, the research assistants would offer the occasional praise or motivation but, truthfully, you couldn’t really hear them above the sound of my own labored breathing and the loud din of the oven’s fans overheard.  All you really had to egg you along was your own mental fortitude to keep going at all costs and this was fine for, say, the first 10 minutes or so.

By the 13-14 minute mark, I felt my composure begin to break down.  My breathing became labored through the SCBA gear and I had to break my steady walking pace into that of a light run against the ever-increasing grade while carrying all that gear.  By now it was a matter of survival and simply hanging on and my mental fortitude was beginning to wane.

Not too shabby this time around.

Exhausted but pleased.

Now, I’d love to tell you here that I had lots of inspirational thoughts going through my head as I did on the bike previously but, well, this was an altogether different feeling.  The only thing I really remember towards the end was simply counting the seconds down in my mind until I collapsed (or died) as I was definitely reaching critical mass.

At approximately the 17 minute mark, I had officially reached my ultimate end game for the test and I tapped out for good.  I collapsed into a chair while my overall results were calculated.  Turns out, my original VO2peak score of 41.51 ml/kg/min.  during November’s test had improved drastically to a 47.75 ml/kg/min.  now, which, is still 10-15% lower than what it would have been had I not been wearing that heavy firefighting gear.  That means my VO2peak score might have scored as high as 52-53 ml/kg/min.,  classifying me as almost “Superior” on the general VO2-Max classification for men my age (40-49); just a tad bit better than “Good”, huh.

Here’s the official results: firefighter2

Yeah. Who’s your daddy? That’s right, bitches. Me. ”Almost Superior”…sweet.  How fucking awesome is that?  I found it extremely reaffirming to know that the past months of training were paying off. So despite my present battered condition, I felt…well, pretty fucking awesome actually. I won’t lie.

Day 2: The Familiarization

After the previous weeks GXT I can honestly tell you that I was less than excited for this trial session.  The novelty of getting to dress up in a firefighters outfit had long since passed and I more dreading having to get back into it, anticipating that this session was going to be much worse, like, way worse.  Remember, the exact term the PhD students used was “challenging”.

Now, the word ‘challenging’ itself isn’t very scary, nor does it ever phase me anymore, Lord knows I’ve done ‘challenging’ things, but the look in their eye when they used it actually sent chills down my spine.  As it turns out, this was the only ‘chill’ I would ever really experience the entire time I was in the lab (with the exception of the cold shower afterwards).  The look was like what you might get from a veteran when they talk about their experiences during the war.  They may say ‘bad’, but it’s almost spooky the way they say it.  You just know it was much worse than they are willing to say so you don’t press for specifics.  The way the lab assistants used the word ‘challenging’ was exactly like that; you just knew it was going to be much worse than they were able to say, except I didn’t know by how much…yet.

I did however take one piece of advice to heart from Phil (one of the PhD students) to make sure I was adequately hydrated so, for the next three days, I hydrated like it was my fucking job.  In fact, it was seldom I ever went more than 90 minutes without having to go to the bathroom.  In fact, I barely made the drive from my office to the Brock lab – a mere 20 minute commute – without pissing myself.  So mission accomplished there.

Getting ready...

Getting suited up…

The first 30 minutes or so in the lab were spent getting prepared and dressed.  This process included (among frequent trips to the bathroom of course) such things as being weighed, providing a urine sample (no problem there) to determine my hydration status, strapping on a heart rate monitor, attaching heat sensors to my body,and, yes, inserting that damn core thermometer (not to mention the dreaded ‘Shuffle of Shame’  from the change room afterwards).  I am pleased to announce though that the term ‘Shuffle of Shame’  has now been adopted by the kinesiology department as standard terminology for this short walk between the change room and the lab with a probe up your ass.

Again, from the consent form (just in case you missed it the first time):

“Core temperature will be monitored continuously during all practice and experimental trials. The system used for monitoring core temperature requires that you insert a small diameter, flexible plastic probe to a depth of 15 cm into your rectum.”

If ever a single sentence could strike fear into the hearts of men, this would be it.  Well, most men anyway.

For me, however, this whole insertion process was old hat and was more like getting reacquainted with an old friend (click HERE).  Well, maybe not an old friend so much as someone who used to bully you as a child perhaps, but you get the idea.   Let’s just say that this definitely wasn’t my first rodeo and if anyone needs any information or clarification on the proper procedure for shoving a probe up their ass – I’m your guy.

Probe?  OH BOY!

Probe? OH BOY!

All this was accomplished rather quickly and soon it was time to begin the trial and really open the floodgates…literally.

The first time I stepped into the environmental chamber (or the ‘oven’ as I likened to call it) back in November, the climate was set at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45% and bearing in mind that I was only wearing a typical cycling kit made of light, breathable materials.  Today’s session was about as far from that as you could possible get, like, eons apart.  Not only had the Velotron bike been substituted with a treadmill inside the oven itself, but while the temperature remained at35°C as it did before, the humidity had now been cranked way up to 65%.  Oh, let;s not forget to mention the added  50 lbs. of FPE.  Yeah, this was going to make my first foray into a hot yoga class years ago (click HERE) seem like a day at the beach by comparison.

Here’s how it was described in the consent form:

“The protocol will last approximately 100 minutes, and during this time you will walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, recover for 20 minutes and then repeat the cycle. At certain times during the exercise and recovery we will measure heart rate, blood pressure, skin and core temperature, oxygen consumption, and breathing. We will also ask you to provide your perceptions of exercise, temperature and breathing stress using simple scales that are graded from “0” (no stress) to “10” (maximal stress).”

Sounds easy enough right?  Where’s the ‘challenge’ right? The fuck.

Think happy thoughts.

Not so sure about this. Just think happy thoughts.

Prior to beginning the first 20 minute session I was asked to walk on the treadmill for 3 minutes at an easy 3.5km/h  pace at a 1% grade (2) which was approximately the equivalent to my grandmother walking to market.  It was just an opportunity to get moving comfortably, well, as comfortable as possible with all that FPR and SCBA gear anyway and get used to breathing through the SCBA.  Immediately following the warm up, it was the ‘ol familiar “THREE…TWO…ONE….”

and the gates of Hell were opened once again.

Each of the actual 20 minute trials were programmed into the treadmill at 5.6km/h  for a 4% grade (5.6) incline. It’s work, but barely.  What was making it difficult (as you might expect) was carrying that50 lbs. worth of added weight and those preset hotter than fuck atmospheric conditions.  Soon, I was sweating like the pig who knows he’s dinner.  Every 2 or 3 minutes the research assistant (Bryan) asked me for my subjective perceptions based on those scales posted the wall in front of me, just as I had done during the GXT test the previous week.

I have to say, the first 20 minutes wasn’t bad.  Sure it was hot, yes I sweated my bag off but, really, it wasn’t overly difficult.  Following the first session I was allowed off the treadmill and cool down passively in a chair.  By ‘passively’ they simply mean remove my helmet, hood and gloves.  That’s it.  Big deal.  I was hoping for maybe a cold beer or a margarita, a Slip n’ Slide maybe, anything that might offer me some relief from the intense heat and humidity.  The good news was that I was half way done and just beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be too bad.  Yeah, right.

Following the 20 minutes cool down I stood up and immediately, things got ‘challenging’.  Oh shit.  My neck was sore from supporting the helmet and I felt lightheaded and disorientated and not at all like putting all that shit back on and climbing back on the treadmill.  Furthermore, while I was a bit more comfortable, it was clear that my body was still very hot and the thought of putting the hood, helmet and gloves back on was not a happy one.  About this time, Phil had a conversation with me about their expectations to only ‘do as much as I can’; but there was that faraway look in his eye again.  Determined to make a go of it, however, I staggered back on the treadmill and allowed the researchers to put all that shit back on.

Maz takes a selfie while I'm suffering in the background.  Can't you just feel the love?

Maz takes a selfie while I’m suffering in the background. Can’t you just feel the love? She may be happy with my progress but, clearly, I am not.

The second session began with the same 3 minute warm up, except that by the time the second 20 minute trial was ready to start it was like my body was on fire.  So this is what a pot roast feels like? I can’t say I liked it…like, at all.  I tried as best as I could to regularize my breathing and clear my mind of negative thoughts but, seriously, there’s little one can do to calm themselves when they’re being roasted alive.  My mask started to fill with perspiration so that each time I exhaled I was splattering the inside of my face mask with droplets of sweat and my hands felt like somebody was applying a blowtorch to them inside the gloves.

Seriously, this  is what firefighters have to deal with?  Hol-lee fuck!  It was all I could do at this point to trudge on as best I could and wait for the sweet release of death to rescue me from this agonizing torment.

It’s safe to say that I have never experienced anything like this before…and I have done some crazy ass shit.  This, however, was completely different.  If my initial goal for this study was to find a new way to test my mental toughness, well, I need look no further as this was about as tough as its ever going to get.  It was excruciating; words simply cannot express.  The only way I could ever communicate my perceptions of stress levels was by holding up fingers and even then, that was effort. Phil’s words ‘you can quit whenever you want’  were resonating in my brain but I trudged on.  I knew at this point that making the whole second 20 minute session was slim to none as I was feeling faint, my vision was beginning to blur and I was getting sick to my stomach.  It was hard to breathe and my organs were cooking.  I almost tapped out 2 or 3 times but, somehow, I managed to carry on with my Death March.  ‘One more minute…one more minute…one more minute…’ was the only think I could think of.

Am I looking glamorous or what?

“Hello, dum dum’s”. Am I looking glamorous or what?

When Bryan counted out the 10 minute mark I knew I was 99.9% spent.  By eleven minutes I was done and finally tapped out.  By this point I was ready to chew through my helmet in panic and they couldn’t get it off fast enough.  They quickly ripped it off (albeit not quick enough for my liking) and a tidal wave of sweat was instantly released out of the helmet and onto the treadmill; so much so it splashed my running shoes.  It was like a water balloon had been dropped out of the helmet.  I was allowed to sit again, this time with a green cooling hood that kind of made me look like the Great Kazoo…not that I gave a shit mind you.  It was bliss.

Including the initial 3 minute warm up I lasted a total of 14 minutes.  Now that may not seem like a lot of time but, I assure you, it’s an eternity in those fucked up conditions – or so it felt anyway.  It was a while before I felt comfortable enough to stand up again and disrobe and it wasn’t without a great deal of help that I managed to get out of my FPE and SCBA gear; I might as well have been a newborn infant for all the assistance I could provide.  My cotton shirt and pants were completely saturated with sweat.  It looked like I had jumped into a pool and they made the same sound that a wet towel makes when it hits the ground after being dropped from a height…SLOP!

Feeling lucky to still be alive.

S Feeling lucky to still be alive.

To put it all in proper perspective, before the trial started I weighed in at 88.16 kg, afterwards… 85.96 kg., which represents a total loss of 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs.) in a mere 37 minutes.  Yeah.  That’s insane.  I do believe that’s a new lab record for sweat loss.  And since I’m seldom ever setting ‘records’, per se, I’m choosing to take it and run with it.

Here’s the evidence:

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

Gross, right?

Anyway, all the sensors were then removed which, I might add, is much easier to do when you’re completely dripping with sweat.  The tape practically leapt off my body in protest.  I was asked to provide another urine sample (I’m actually surprised I had any fluids left) before I was allowed to remove the probe (which, is much worse than putting it in – go figure) and cut loose with an earth-shattering fart, or ‘fartgasm’ as I will now call it (let’s see if that term catches on at the lab).  Oh, and I had what might very well be the best cold shower I’ve ever had. Not that I care to relive it any, but here’s a brief glimpse for you of the trial itself in progress (pardon the shitty sound of being in the oven):

Day 3 – Experimental Protocol 1

To say I wasn’t looking forward to the next days experimental protocol would be an extremely accurate statement; so would ‘I’m as excited to get back in the oven as I am to get a root canal’.  Truthfully, I’d rather just be hogtied to the treadmill and have the research students take turns kicking me in the junk but, hey, I’m going to persevere and get this done just as I agreed to come Hell or high water, which, in my case, are almost practically guaranteed.

After the last weeks’ familiarization session, the first thing I recall is having one serious appetite…like, ravenous.  Seriously, on top of the leftover sandwiches I was offered in the lab, I could have easily made short work of any buffet table I might have encountered had I been given the opportunity.  I mean there’s ‘hungry’ and then there’s HUNGRY, and I was definitely HUNGRY.  Secondly, I was probably more tired than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Not just the typical kind of fatigue I experience after my other workouts and events, but the ‘holy shit, I can barely remember my name’  kind of fatigue; I could have slept for weeks and I was practically useless at work the next day.  I didn’t really work so much as I just stared blankly into the computer screen.

The good news is that I know now what they mean when they say ‘challenging’.  String Theory is ‘challenging’; following the plot to Inception  was ‘challenging’; running a marathon is definitely ‘challenging’.  This was torture…pure and simple.  So while I was still nervous about the days protocol, I felt I was more mentally prepared than I was the week before and I was determined to give ‘er, even if for only one minute longer.

For that particular protocol the girls took over applying the blood pressure cuff and all the heat sensors to my pudgy body with tape, and afterwards helping me to get dressed; definitely not one of the finer moments in my life.  I guess they have to learn somehow by talk about awkward!   The indignities we lab rats subject ourselves to.  Within minutes, however, I was all fixed up, attached to all my bodily devices, dressed in the FPR and SCBA gear and ready to get my sweat on.  It’s evident how nervous I was when my first blood pressure reading came in at 155/91.

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Although I had been through all this once before, it was almost worse this time around knowing what was going to unfold.  Ignorance is definitely bliss.  During the previous week’s familiarization session it had all been revealed how incredibly difficult today’s protocol was going to be; Pandora’s Box had been indelibly open.  I knew now how challenging that days session was going to be.  It was going to suck on a proportionately epic scale.

Whatever fun we might have had last week with the joking and humorous back and forth banter was now tossed directly out the window and I was beginning to focus myself on the task at hand…survival.  It was go time.  It was really no different than the moments before any major triathlon events, all is silent as the participants ready themselves mentally and put their game faces on.  The mood in the environmental chamber got serious…fast.  After getting squared away on the treadmill I was asked if I was ready to begin and I gave a very nervous thumbs up and within seconds the countdown started, “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and my return to Hell started.

Much like the previous week, the first 20 minutes were manageable and were completed fairly quickly.  I mean, it was hot and it sucked but it was doable.  Unfortunately, today’s protocol was passive cooling (no cooling hood), so my subsequent 20 minute “cool down” (and I use that term extremely loosely) was going to be passive (i.e. no hood).  My body was so hot and uncomfortable.  As part of the cool down I was offered a water bottle with only 200 ml  of water to sip on; in impossibly small amount given the nature of what I had just completed.  It’s like offering someone who’s just crossed the Sahara Dessert a Dixie cup.  But I made due by rationing my meager portion accordingly and resisting the urge to dump the entire contents over my head.

Simply hanging on...

Just hanging on…

While sitting, my blood pressure was retaken a few more times which was extremely unpleasant given my current state.  Each time the blood cuff was inflated, I could feel my heart beating in my teeth.  My fingers tingled to the point of extreme discomfort and I felt like crying out in pain.  I just can’t articulate how discomforting it is to have your blood pressure taken when you’re hotter than Hades and feeling cranky and uncomfortable.  It’s brutal.

I also have to say that sitting idly for 20 minutes is almost as unpleasant as walking on that damn treadmill.  You become keenly aware of all the sweat dripping down your body and pooling into your shoes.  Within the first five minute the towel I was given was completely saturated.  Likewise, knowing how intensely shitty the second 20 minutes is going to be its rather like waiting to be executed by a firing squad.  Not fun.  You just want to get up and get it over with, but you don’t.  It’s a total mixed bag of emotions.

Once the cool down session is over, the next two minutes are also particularly ‘challenging’ (insert faraway look in the eye here).  Immediately upon standing, all the blood that has been running to your legs immediately rushes back up to your head and you become extremely disorientated and dizzy.  You almost want to quit altogether at this point as it’s hard to imagine continuing doing, like, anything.  All you want to do is lie down, preferably in a Turtle Pool full of beer…ice cold beer.  But what choice do you have?  So you allow yourself to get suited up again, slip that fucking mask over your face and before you can protest it’s “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and you’re off.  Let the Big Suck commence.

Eventually, the queasiness passes and after the initial 3 minute “warm up” (I guess it goes without saying that this is another understatement of supernova-like proportions) on the treadmill we begin the second 20 minute session.  At first, it’s not so bad.  I’m still hot and uncomfortable but, again, it was manageable.  I was beginning to think that I might be able to make the distance this time so I tried to focus on anything but the burning sensation in my gloves, the sweat pooling in my mask, the soreness in my neck from supporting the helmet and the ever rising temperature rising inside the suit. Remember, this is all I have to look at for the entire session:

The view from within.

The view from within.

Not very stimulating is it? Fuck no.

After, say, the first 10 minutes into the second session what little confidence that had started to build suddenly began to crumble…rapidly.  It’s incredible to me how fast your mental and physical state can deteriorate in the oven.  I actually started to pray.  It’s true.  I would have happily converted to just about any world religion at the time had it provided me with any actual relief.  Shit, I would have sacrificed my firstborn to the Dark Lord himself had someone offered to save me from this torment.  As the heat and discomfort continued to escalate and my breathing became more difficult I asked my mom for strength, I continued to recite what few verses of prayer I actually know and genuinely tried to convince myself that I only had another 10 minutes left…I can do anything for only 10 minutes right?  How wrong I was.

A single minute later (which still felt like an eternity), Maz reminded me that I had reached last week’s tap out time (11 minutes) and to keep it going.  She reminded that I still had lots of oxygen and to try and breath comfortably but by that point it was all to no avail…I was cooked.  Quite literally!  I was growing desperate.

By 12 minutes I was reaching my critical mass again.  My breathing was extremely labored and I had that pot roast feeling again.  Just…hang…on…

At the 14 minute mark (17 minutes including the warm up) I tapped out.  Same as the familiarization session, the researchers scramble to get me out of the gear.  It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of deal, all scrambling simultaneously to release me from my confines as if my life depended on it which, truthfully, it certainly felt like.  I didn’t even make it through the next 20 minute “cool down” session, after my blood pressure was taken (which I’m surprised didn’t explode off my arm) I begged to get out…like, begged.  It was right out of Oliver Twist, pleading eyes and all.

“Get me…out…of…here…like, NOW!”

I was nice about it, of course, but still very insistent I’m sure.  I just wanted out badly as I’m sure you could tell from this video:

Taking off the tank and jacket might just be the most joyous thing I have ever experienced; I swear, angels sang.  I stripped out of my drenched clothes down to my skivvies (running shorts) in what must have been the unsexiest striptease ever attempted.  I’m sure the girls are probably scarred for life now and I couldn’t care less. Oh, and yeah:  Mental Note to Self: NEVER step on the core probe wire as you’re trying to undress.

Ouch.

The final measurements were then taken and consistent with the previous week I had expunged a complete tsunami of bodily fluid; this time exactly 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat during the 40 minutes of testing.  Yay me!  Not quite the achievement I had been looking for originally but I’ll take ‘em wherever I can get ‘em.

Day 4 – Experimental Protocol 2

It is with mixed emotions that I begin the next  protocol session.  Where I wasn’t at all thrilled to go back into the oven (never mind the core probe, heat sensors, FPE, etc.), I was extremely pleased that this would be the last time I had to do it.  Likewise, knowing I was also going to be allowed to wear the cooling hood this time around that that will make things in the oven marginally more comfortable and (dare I say it) less ‘challenging’.

By then I had the whole pee, weight and probe routine down pat.  I’m certainly beyond the embarrassment and indignity of having my chubby frame taped up and affixed with sensors and what have you, so with little difficulty I was all dressed rather quickly and ready to roll.  You could say I was pretty eager to get this last torture session over with…pronto!  I guess my mindset was similar to the common philosophy for removing a band-aid…STRAIGHT OFF!

I was determined to make the distance this time, well, I’d be happy with one minute longer anyway.  To help, I decided to take matters into my own hands and provide my own motivation aside from those damn scales taped to the wall:

I give you:  Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Of course, Maz wasn’t too impressed.

So much for that!

Boo! So much for that.

Similar to before the first 20 minutes went by pretty smoothly.  There was a little complaining from Thunder n’ Lightning given I ran 17k the day before but, other than that, things went pretty uneventfully.  Helping matters along, of course, was knowing that I was going to spend the next 20 minutes during the cool down session wearing the cooling hood. So upon finishing the first test session, I took a seat and allowed the hood to be applied and just reveled in the instant relief it offered against the roasting feeling in my body. I also took the advice from another peer who is also doing the test, to raise my legs on an incline against the treadmill to help prevent the blood running to my feet and then back to my head afterwards when I stood back up and, hopefully, avoid the whole nauseous light-headed feeling again. So there I sat, legs raised, Nalgene bottle in hand, and pretending I was looking at this:

Awesome right?

Awesome right?

Of course, this is what I was actually looking at:

Yeah, not so much...

Yeah, not so much…

Once again…quite the let down.  But what can you do?

Truthfully, the cooling hood really helped improve my recovery and I definitely felt more comfortable for the first cooling session.  If my body was still roasting (and apparently it was) I couldn’t really notice.  I was beginning to think that maybe my next 20 minute test session was going to be a bit easier, then Maz explained to me that, physiologically speaking, while I might feel better now, the test was rigged in that ergonomically it was still going to be ‘as challenging’ during the second test session.  My positive can-do attitude began to shatter around me like breaking glass. Thanks Maz.

Making matters a bit worse is that the cooling hood started to fail.  I felt completely ripped off.  For 4-5 minutes it lost its cooling properties and my normal sense of heat discomfort began to return.  Thanks Christ Phil got it all sorted out pretty quickly and I had the remaining time of my cool down in relative comfort, but then it was back to the grindstone I’m afraid.

Fortunately, my legs up strategy worked and when I stood up I felt relatively good and I didn’t need that extra moment to collect myself.  I had the hood, helmet and gloves put back on and began the process of mentally preparing myself for the complete Suckfest to come. Eventually Bryan counted me down: “Exercise to begin in THREE…TWO…ONE…

…and here we go again.  God help me.

Just as Maz explained, the heat returned rather instantly; so much for my whole physiological argument.  Don’t you just hate it when girls are right?

Just...keep...going...

Just…keep…going…

Anyway, I labored on just as I had before and the suck factor ramped up quickly to nearly unbearable.  After the 12 minute mark my breathing started to become labored through the SCBA gear and I heard Maz whisper to Bryan that it probably wouldn’t be long now.  How I ever heard that I’m not sure; maybe some super natural presence wanted me to hear it.  I gave her a look and shook my head…whether she had understood or not that I had overheard her I’m not sure.  I wasn’t angry exactly, but I definitely more determined than ever to suffer.  14 minutes was my benchmark to aim for and as it approached I was trying to mentally assess how much longer I could go.  At exactly the 16 minute mark, I made the mental choice I was going to go for broke and shoot for the 20 minutes, if anything to prove Maz wrong.  Hey, in this kind of experiment you simply take your inspiration wherever you can get it.

Now, I know what she mentioned to Bryan was not intended for me to hear, nor was it a challenge or pre-determination on my ability.  She was only basing it on her past experiences and observations with us lab rats in the oven under these circumstances, as any significant increase in breathing difficultly typically spells out the beginning to the end.  I get it. In fact, by the 18 minute mark I was beyond suffering.  The torment was almost surreal and I almost tapped out twice.  My ‘RPE’  was 19, my ‘Breathing Stress’  was maxed out, and my ‘Thermal Comfort’  was definitely a 9 to boot, or ‘The heat is unbearable’  according to the rating system. In other words, I had pretty much maxed out across the board and it sucked.  It sucked bad.  This was making my whole experience with the heat and humidity during the Cancun 70.3  competition seem like a walk at the water park. For whatever reason, I thought about this from the consent form:

“If you become ill or injured as a result of participating in this study, necessary medical treatment will be available at no additional cost to you.”

It did considerable little to comfort me.

By this point, however, Bryan was counting down my time in 30 second intervals and I was simply taking it one painful interval at a time.  The last two minutes were brutal and were far beyond any realm of discomfort I have subjected myself to in any of my previous training or competitions. In fact, simply being flogged for an hour would have been infinitely more pleasurable and preferable.  Words simply cannot express.

Eventually, I reached the 20 minute mark and there was an all out panic to get me out of my FTE and SCBA gear.  I swear, I could not get those gloves off fast enough.  The feeling of air, regardless of how hot and humid it was, was still an immediate relief once the mask came off.  I was spent. I was pleased to have finally made the entire 20 minutes but I was barely cognizant of that fact at that exact moment.  It was rather like being rescued from a bad dream in that everything was still very surreal.  The consequence however was that I was 100% broken mentally, physically and emotionally.  It was a few minutes before I could really stand or communicate effectively.  All I could really do was bury my face in my hands and thank Christ it was finally all over.  Luckily, when you’re that sweaty nobody can instantly tell if you’ve been crying or not.  I’m confident that sweat was not the only liquid that poured from my helmet, believe me.

I think the end results tell the true tale: another 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat lost during the testing.  Now, how much of that was actually lost in tears will forever remain a mystery.  I have never been so happy to be finished anything in all my life.  This was definitely harder than anything I’ve ever subjected myself to.  Shit, even the 35 kilometer mark of the Ironman Wales marathon was more bearable than this.  I could probably spend a month in a Turkish prison at the height of their summer season and say, ‘Hey, at least it’s not the oven at the Brock University kinesiology lab.’

See how happy I am?

See how happy I am?

So, that’s that.  My time in Hell is finally over.  Based on my time in the oven (as well as others), the lab researchers were able to determine that…well, I’ll have to blog that when the results get officially published.

In the meantime, I’m back focused on my training and preparing myself for September’s competition. What about future testing you ask?  Well, I’ve already volunteered for the next two series of lab experiments beginning in July and November respectively.  Maybe I lost a little a few marbles through this experience, but I really do enjoy testing my limits and seeing the quantifiable results afterwards.  Plus, by now I’ve developed a rapport with the researchers and I take great pride in having some part in them completing their studies (however small a part suffering on a treadmill provides I guess).

So while I won’t say I’m necessarily excited to get back in the lab, I will do so happily when the time comes. Besides, after this total horror show, how bad could it really be?

P.S.> I am also happy to report that I got my promised t-shirt.  Yes, it might be for the Edmonton Fire Department but, shit, I’m thrilled nonetheless.  After all, a well-earned trophy is a well-earned trophy.

A few months ago, I was offered a unique opportunity to participate in an athletic performance study taking place at Brock University by a training peer of mine.  Now, first, let me get something perfectly straight…I’m not accustomed to hearing myself being referenced (even in the most general of terms such as this) to being an “athlete”, so the initial request really took me as much by surprise as it was flatteringly.  So, hey, how do you turn down a request like that?  I’m in!  Of course, it might have helped to have read the fine print first but hindsight is 20/20 right?  As it was, I was totally in taken by the rose-tinted lens of being considered as some sort of athlete.  What followed over the next six weeks could only be described as my own epic journey to stretch both my physical and mental capacities, all in the name of science.

The particular study that I was invited to participate in was being hosted by the university’s Kinesiology department called the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’ ; that doesn’t sound so bad does it?  The whole purpose of this study was to test the parameters of athletic performance in regards to determining the real limiters to athletic performance as being either the actual physical state of dehydration, or the perception of thirst.  Considering I’ve pondered exactly the same thing during my own Ironman training back when my long workouts tended to fall in the middle of a scorching heat wave, I thought this would be a great way to learn more.  Here’s a short video (by the actual PhD students conducting my own test) discussing the effects of heat on athletic performance:

I’m so in.

So after a few initial conversations with the professor leading the study, I was forwarded both a ‘Screening Form’ complete with questions regarding my health (I have no issues so I passed with flying colors), and a ‘Consent Form’ providing all the details required by and of interest to the participants.  The primary ‘Invitation’ segment of the consent form sounds rather, well, fun.

“You are invited to participate in a study that involves research.  The purpose of this study is to examine the separate and combined effects of thirst and hydration status on performance during a 20-km time trial. You may participate if you are 18-50 years old, a cyclist or triathlete, and comfortable with a “hard” two hour bike ride and time trial type efforts or competitions.”

Sounds like a piece of cake, right?  Hey, I can’t remember the last time I’ve cycled only 20k so it was hardly perceived as being any real challenge on my part.  How wrong I was.  But I’ll get to that part shortly.

The study was divided into 6 different segments.  The first being the anthropometric measurements and maximal aerobic capacity testing; which is fancy lab talk for taking my height, weight, and body fat content with a pair of calipers.  Oh goodie.  What person doesn’t look forward to having all his fat folds scrutinized in a laboratory setting, right?  Anyway, the consent form also made mention that these tests would be performed by a “member of the same sex” so at least it would come with minimal embarrassment.  The real benefit as I saw it was the ‘maximal aerobic capacity testing’ part which would be determined through what’s known as a V02-Max test.  Basically, this test was my opportunity to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means.  What triathlete-wannabe is ever going to pass that up, right?  Not this guy.  The entire session took approximately an hour, with the actual V02-Max taking up about 15 minutes or so.  I could further break that 15 minutes up into approximately 8-9 minutes of relatively comfortable cycling, followed by 2-3 minutes of flat out torture of Herculean proportions.  Coupled with this bitch of a workout, was the fact that I was also connected up to about a thousand electrodes and required to breathe through a soft silicone face mask until exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate.  Yeah, like I said…torture.  It was like trying to breathe through a toilet paper tube; not comfortable in the slightest.

Seriously, how much fun does this look?

How happy do I look right now?

How happy do I look right now?

But survive I did.  Here are the results:

V02MaxSo, based on this information I am, apparently, get ready for it…”Good”.  Whoopee shit.  Yeah, three years of intense Ironman training and I’m – *sigh* – Good.  I could offer the excuse at this point that when I conducted this test, I hadn’t even begun my bike training and was primarily focused in the pool, nor had I done any cycling as a matter of fact for at least a month prior.  I could also mention that I was still in the grip of suffering “hot spots” on both my feet, leading for a very unpleasant cycling experience throughout the test but, regardless, it is was it is.  I’m confident that if I were to conduct the test again now at the point where I currently am in my 2014 training plan, they would be very different, but ‘c’est la vie’  suppose.  It is was it is.

The next week’s session was the ‘familiarization session’, where I would be required to conduct the entire test, including the 20k time trial, under the normal conditions to “ensure that (I was) able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol”.  Hmm.  Should I be worried?  Nah.

The familiarization session was conducted in the environmental chamber at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45%.  The chamber has the ability to adjust the heat (or cold), humidity, or even simulate a desired altitude.  Whatever, its basic functionality is to make things as unpleasant as possible, no matter what end of the spectrum you wish to suffer at.  Couple that with the fact that I’m also not permitted to have any fluids whatsoever, or even so much as rinse my mouth, I think they should call it the ‘Suffer-o-Matic’.

When I first arrived, I was met by the research assistants with whom I would work with closely over the next months’ worth of sessions.  Matt, Greg, and Phil (the research assistants) were extremely nice and pretty non-assuming guys; too nice maybe.  Their friendly and accommodating manner immediately got me to suspect that all may not be what it appears to be, in the same way that it’s always the character you least suspect in your typical who-done-it movie that ends up being the axe murderer.  Considering what was going to unfold over the next few hours, it might have been more appropriate had they met me in the lab wearing devil horns and furiously rubbing their palms together while cackling all evil-like.  Just sayin’.

Wires anyone?

Wires anyone?

Similar to the first session, I was required to be hooked up approximately a thousand different electrodes (forehead, abdomen, forearm, hand, quads, shin and foot) to calculate a mean skin temperature and heat flow, heat flow sensors (chest, upper thigh and abdomen) to quantify evaporative heat exchange, and one particularly intimidating devise, the “core thermometer”.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like…a rectal probe.  Umm, pardon?  I think I might have skipped over that part in the consent form but I was already in too deep (no pun intended) to back out now.  Upon rereading the form, this procedure was described as thusly:

“Insertion of the flexible rectal probe may cause slight discomfort. You will be given instruction about how to prepare the probe, and will self-insert the probe in a private room.”

DSCF0674

Ummm…

Discomfort?  Really?  No shit Sherlock.  My first thought was ‘do I really need instruction on how to shove something up my own ass?’   Well, as it turns out, I did.  As Greg put it to me as he handed me the impossibly long and menacing looking device and a packet of lube: ‘less is definitely more’, meaning don’t lube too much.  Again?  Really?  Because the miniature packet he handed me seemed impossibly inefficient for the task.  If left to figure it out myself, I would have emptied an entire barrel of the stuff onto the probe prior to insertion but, as it turns out, he was right.  Too much and it just slips and slides all over the place; everywhere but where it’s intended to go that is.  So, hey, what’ya know?  Just a little dab will do ya.  Who knew such wisdom could come from a 60’s Brylcream commercial?  It was still not without a whole lot of struggling and finagling on my part however.  It should also not go without mention that the listed risks in the consent form included – *ahem* – and I quote:

  • Insertion of the rectal probe can stimulate the vagus nerve which can cause slowing of the heart rate which may lead to fainting. This is more likely to happen if you have a low resting heart rate.
  • Perforation of the bowel can lead to peritonitis, a serious infection of the abdominal cavity.
  • You should not participate in this research if you are pregnant, are under the influence of alcohol or other sedating substances (tranquilizers, sleeping pills, street drugs) or have any history of fainting or heart disease.

To so say I was uber-careful and concerned mid-insertion would be the understatement of the century.  Wait, ‘vagus nerve’?  I have no idea what that is but I sure don’t want to find out the hard way.  But, regardless, eventually I managed to get it in there successfully and shuffle-stepped my way back down the hall from the change room to the lab (something I would later dub the ‘Shuffle of Shame’) in order to begin the madness.

Before we began, it must be said that they take into account absolutely everything.  Absolutely nothing passes through my pours or bodily orifices’ that isn’t officially accounted for.  Sweat, blood, pee, tears…you name it.  If I even so much as had a juicy thought pass through my brain, I’m sure they knew about it.  I was weighed about a zillion times not only before, but several time throughout the entire session; during and after.  Eventually, after a base sample of VO2 was taken, we were ready to begin.  Finally!

DSCF0646

and it only gets worse from here…

The first part of the session is easy enough, pedal at 50% of my VO2-Max for 90 minutes while having my weight and VO2 tested again by breathing into that damn tube and having my heart rate taken every 30 minutes.  At other times, I was required to provide subjective information on how I was feeling during the session as based on scales posted on four paper charts taped to the wall: ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)’ or, how hard I was working, the ‘Thirst Sensation Scale’, how thirsty I felt, the ‘Thermal Comfort Scale’, how comfortable I felt under the circumstances, and the ‘Thermal Sensation Scale’  or, how I felt temperature wise.  Usually, they just pointed to the chart every fifteen minutes and I grunted out a number.  And so it goes for 90 very tedious, unstimulating, stab-a-fork-into-my-brain minutes of total boredom.  Afterwards, I was weighed again and asked to empty my bladder before being given a brief minute to brace myself for the all-out torture that was to follow.  By the way, ever try to piss into an orange container while wearing bib shorts and even then, only after sitting on a bike in a hot chamber for 90 minutes?  Talk about frustrating, it was like trying to masturbate with a catcher’s mitt.  Certainly not a high point on my short list of athletic endeavors, that’s for sure.

Then came the time trial and with it, the open gates of Hell.  And, no, that’s not exaggerating in the slightest.  Now, 20k may not seem like a whole lot but, when you’re already hot, thirsty and have absolutely no mental or visual stimulus to motivate you like – you know – scenery, like other riders, or a bike computer to display your pace, distance, wattage, cadence and what have you, that 20k tends to feel like an eternity.  And eternity is a long as time, I assure you.  Remember, this is what I look at not only for the time trial, but for the whole session.

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly stimulating, is it?  I’m sure this what Lance Armstrong will have to stare at in Hell.

The only queues I get during the time trial are the kilometers being counted off one at a time.  So, it kinda goes like this:

“ONE!…TWO!…THREE!…”

“And, he’s off!”

And then it begins to feel like time stands still.  Shit, it goes backwards.  I swear that from the third kilometer to the fourth, an entire day must have passed, with each progressive kilometer taking longer and longer to achieve.  And so it went for the entire 20 kilometers with every five minutes the need for another V02 sample by breathing through that damn tube as well as more information from the scales on the wall.  By the time it was over, it felt like weeks had passed.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

What I remember most is coming off that bike nearly cross-eyed.  Seldom have I ever brought myself to the point of collapse and that’s about as close as I ever care to get, thank you very much!  All I wanted to do was plop my sweaty ass down again which is exactly what I did.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be finished something in my entire life.  I was so wobbly on my legs from extreme exhaustion and dehydration that when I shuffled across the lab to take a seat, I’m sure I won a dance completion of some sort.  I remember that drive home from the university campus (in St. Catharines) back to my home here in Ridgeway as being the longest drive of my entire life.  I felt abused…violated…and fatigued beyond anything I had ever felt before.  I felt almost empty…except for the sensation of still having a huge space occupying my asshole where the probe had been for the past 2+ hours.  But I digress.  Of course, this was just the familiarization session…I still had four more actual sessions to complete.  Little did I know that this was only the beginning (click HERE for an appropriate response).

DSCF0576When the next week rolled around I can honestly say I was less than excited to begin the official sessions.  I knew I could withstand the spin, the chamber, the probe, the time trial, etc. and so forth, but there was going to be a very notable difference, namely, the need to be infused with fluids (or not), as well as 20ml blood samples to be taken before periodically through the testing.  This required, on top of the multiple gadgets and gizmos that I was already hooked up to, the need for two IV catheters to be inserted (one in each arm).

Oh joy.

To such an end, I was introduced to another member of the team who had been so far absent from the other sessions, Vaughn, a local Advanced Care EMT paramedic who would literally be what I would come to think of as my guardian during the next three weeks’ worth of testing.  Fortunately, it has to be said, that Vaughn turned out to be just about the nicest, easiest going guy I have ever met.  I’m sure he could calm tropical storms simply by looking at them.  It was his responsibility to insert the catheters in each of my antecubital veins located in my forearms prior to being weighed, sampled, hooked up, lubed up, etc., and then oversee the drawing of blood and monitoring of fluids should I be getting them.  Based on his familiarity with my bodily fluids, Vaughn is probably more knowledgeable about me now than, say, my own girlfriend.  In fact, I think we might even be engaged.

Now, to my knowledge, whenever any is presented with the need to be perforated with an IV, they typically won’t respond with: “Oh boy!  Needles!”  Clearly, I am certainly not of this mindset myself as the thought of being hooked up to two IV’s simultaneously was, well, not ideal.  Needless to say, I stressed about this.  A lot.  However, Vaughn made this whole process as painless as possible by talking me calmly through the procedure and by the third session, I didn’t even mind this part so much.  Well, okay, I still hated it but I was a lot better at hiding it.  But in the beginning, well, not so much.  I labored over it and stressed about it and whined throughout the entire thing.  I hated it as was evident by the sky high blood pressure reading immediately afterwards before I hopped off the examining table to get into the chamber.  Regardless, I recovered well (I’m a trooper if nothing else) and we were always able to proceed as planned.

Yeah.  Fun?  Hells no!

Yeah. Fun? Hells no!

Blood samples were taken at the beginning of every session (as a baseline) and then every 30 minutes from the offset and every so often, he would fiddle with the IV bag that I was hooked up to.  Now, whether or not I was actually being infused with anything I have no idea as they put this big menacing black bag around it, again, to prevent from know, well, anything.  The idea for these tests was to manipulate my hydration status and thirst perception in a randomized fashion:

1) EU-NT. Euhydrated, or “normal fluid balance” (± 0.5% baseline body mass) and absence of thirst (based on subjective thirst sensation scale)

2) EU-T. Euhydrated and presence of thirst

3) HY-NT. Hypohydrated (~ -2% from baseline body mass) and absence of thirst

4) HY-T. Hypohydrated and presence of thirst.

DSCF0720

The ominous black bag

Now, the only real difference on my end regarding these states was my being able to rinse my mouth out with water to simulate the absence of thirst.  Not swallow, mind you, but RINSE.   But if I was receiving actual fluids at the time to aid me along in my suffering, God only knows; it all sucked equally and unequivocally.  And so it went for the next four sucktastic weeks.  While I can’t say my fitness or bike prowess improved at all over the course of these sessions, what I can say is that my mental toughness conditioning improved by spades.  I mean, cycling for two hours at a go (including the balls out time trial) while attached to a series of wires, electrodes and other scientific instruments was, well, medieval in nature.  If I can endure that, then I can endure anything and I still reflect back to these tests while suffering in my current spin workouts.

So what were the official results you ask?  Are they in?  Well, yes they are!  But I’ve been asked to keep them confidential for the time being until they are properly published and officially released to the athletic world, so I will follow up later once that has been accomplished.  I mean, I could tell you now, but then I’d have to run you over with my bike.  So you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I have another opportunity in the very near future to participate in another unique series of tests and, while not being directly triathlon-related (or bike for that matter), I’m sure they are guaranteed to boost my mental toughness capabilities.  After all, that’s the theme for this year, right?  Besides, I’m sure it’ll make for a great resulting story and more than enough unflattering photos; the essence of any successful blog post.

UPDATE (May 6th, 2015):  Here is the official published document to validate this study; not to mention that this actually happened at all.  Please click on the link below.

Cheung-2015-Hydration

  • Long Run (click to see stats & route)
  • 25k (2:26:05)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 150 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 168 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:51 /km
  • Max. Pace = 4:18 /km
  • Calories = 2671
  • Temp = -16 º (w/ 90 kph gusts of wind)
  • SOTD: ‘Truckin’’ by The Grateful Dead

When it comes to winter running, sometimes I think ‘whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’, and then sometimes I think ‘you’re an idiot’.  But, hey, training schedules are training schedules and if I changed the plan every time the weather changed for the worse, I’d get nowhere…fast…especially these days.  So when the weather turns really shitty, I bundle up, load up the iPod with good tunes, put on my best brave face, think the happiest of thoughts, and head out anyway; time to get ‘er done.

I’ve discussed before the merits of braving the elements versus playing it safe (click HERE), but things have changed significantly for me since then.  First, I’ve moved into a more rural area.  Once I’m out…I’m pretty much committed as there are no short cuts home.  In fact, sometimes the way back might prove to be even more treacherous than sticking to the planned route.  Furthermore, sometimes the weather takes a turn for the nasty while  you’re out and now you have no choice but to ‘embrace the suck’ and continue on.  Secondly, I’m infinitely tougher, both mentally and physically, than I was back when I first contemplated this dilemma so I’m less likely to pack it in or abandon my run altogether if it’s not, like, 100% impossible outside (think: tornadoes, volcanoes, lightning storms, real ‘End of the World’ type stuff).  But that’s not necessarily a good thing either.

Anyway, I have noticed one peculiar thing lately while out braving the winter weather and, honestly, it doesn’t really have much to do with me, like, at all.  Living out here in Ridgeway, I have found most people – motorists I’m talking about – to be very be respectful of runners.  I chalk it up to being out more in the rural countryside versus the normal rat race lifestyle of the city.  For the most part, drivers slow down, move over and otherwise let me pass safely.  That’s awesome.  I typically offer a friendly wave as a thank you as I like to propagate that kind of behavior and, more often than not, that gesture is returned with a smile and a similar wave.  But, when the weather turns shitty, those return waves are not always given quite so willy-nilly anymore.  No, suddenly, there is a chill in the air and I don’t just mean in the air temperature either.  In fact, my friendly gesture of thanks is now typically returned by a vigorous shaking of the head as if to say ‘what an idiot’  or – quite often – that universally recognized one-finger salute; yup, by those same people.  So, besides the weather, what’s changed to orchestrate such a turnaround in attitude?

While I will agree from time to time that I am, in fact, an idiot for being out in the conditions I am sometimes, does that really deserve such an angry 360° response by motorists?  Hey, I pay city taxes like everybody else and – last I heard anyway – I have every right to use those same roads that motorists do, whether I’m driving, running, or cycling for that matter.  Shit, I can crawl through the streets if I chose to.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to be a problem when the weather is nice, so what’s their beef all of a sudden when the weather is not so nice?  It is ‘all bets are off’ and we assume a ‘survival of the fittest’, or ‘every man for himself’  kind of mentality?  Surely that can’t be the case is it?

Is it because I have to sometimes run a little further out in the road since typically the roadsides are either covered in 2ft. snow drifts or coated in 2 inches of icy slop?  Is that the issue?  Or is it because the motorists are suddenly, for whatever reason, in a huge hurry to get somewhere that they otherwise wouldn’t have to be when it’s nice out and having to slow down a wee bit for me is some enormous inconvenience?  And why is it that motorists seem to be driving faster than usual on shitty weather days?  I mean, it slippery as fuck out, shouldn’t you be slowing down anyway?  That’s the SMART thing to do.  Seriously, I had a pick-up truck pass by so close to me today going at least 30km/h  faster than the speed limit allows.  Where’s the sense in that?  And I get the big ‘fuck you’  thrown in my face?  Huh?  Really?

Once, I even had a passing driver stop altogether, roll down the window and proceed to scream at me for even being out in the first place.  I guess when it snows, unless you have a vehicle, you’re not allowed to leave the home.  His logic seemed to stem that I shouldn’t be running against traffic but on the other side with the traffic.  Yeah, right!  Hey, asshole, given there are morons out there like you with no respect for my safety, I tend to prefer having you well in my sights as you approach rather than take the chance of you sneaking up behind me and mowing me down.  Capeesh?  Your behavior actually validates that I made the right choice about which side of the road to run on.  And it’s not like there are sidewalks out here 95% of the time so, yes, I run on the road against traffic and I do make every attempt to get onto the side of the road for passing motorists, but sometimes that’s just not possible when the weather is shitty.  Hey, blame Mother Nature…not me.

I guess their argument is that it’s not safe to be out at all.  Maybe that’s it?  But I look at it like this now, if it’s so unsafe to be out…why are they?  Am I supposed to curb my activity so everyone else can carry on with theirs without the inconvenience of my (seemingly) getting in their way?  Maybe, they’re in my way?  It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  What I do know, is that taking hairpin corners on country roads in excess of the speed limit isn’t particularly safe either is it?  No.  Likewise, if I took to assuming that logic of not leaving the house because it was “unsafe”, I’d never leave the house.  ‘Fitness’, after all, is not just acquired in the nice weather.

Let’s get something straight, you don’t have to agree with me on this – like at all – that’s okay.  But, hey, that also doesn’t give you (the driver) the right to suddenly turn into the Grim Reaper and throw caution to the wind in regards to my safety.  Don’t be a jack ass.  Think.

Personally, I just don’t see why we all can’t all just agree to slow down when the weather turns foul, be safe, and get to and from wherever we’re going, despite how we might choose to get there, and simply arrive alive?  Why the winter rage?

  • Long Run (click to see stats)
  • 21.1k (1:53:33)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 153 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 165 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:23 min/km
  • Best Pace = 4:15 min/km
  • Calories = 2254
  • Temp-9°C
  • SOFD = First Tube  by Phish

The new year is just about upon us and my Facebook feed – as well as just about every other social media medium I suspect – is already a buzz with all the latest inspirational and motivational videos and sound bites, all serving to gear us up for a productive and successful 2014.  So as I’m beginning to think of and plan out my next 2014 competition season, and being as much of a sucker for a well-made Nike video as anyone, I am trying to rehash what happened over this past 2013 year to determine how I can use these lessons to propel me successfully into 2014.  My dream of eventually qualifying for Kona is still alive, it may have just deviated from the initial plan a little bit, that’s all; in other words, the elephant is still there, but the strategy on how to go forward has now changed somewhat.  So, to paraphrase an old parable: how does one eat an elephant?

The answer, you ask?  Piece by fucking piece…that’s how.

First, let’s start at the beginning.  What did I learn this year?  Well, upon finishing Ironman Wales back in September of 2012 and the subsequent Ironfunk that followed, I still had some lofty goals to either maintain my long distance endurance, or become a short-course speed demon (neither of which really transpired successfully as I was still blindly riding that wave of accomplishment) leading up to another run at Ironman in 2014.  Instead, I fell victim to injury upon injury, became frustrated with my seemingly backward progress, and ultimately came to the conclusion that I needed to take a year off from serious competition altogether.  So a new plan was born during a less than stellar run back in April where 2013 would instead become the year to have some fun.  This new ‘fun’ strategy seemed smart in that I felt I needed time to regain my confidence as well as my physical abilities, and ultimate, spend some time to reflect on what my plan for eating that elephant needed to be realistically.

So the 2013 year was not an entire write off – far from actually.  In fact, it might have just been the smartest thing I’ve ever done.  While I let my running injuries heal, I spent lots of time in the pool working on my stroke and swim technique instead.  As a result, I am now bi-lateral breathing comfortably as well as finally getting a handle on those damn elusive flip-turns.  The results being that even though my running form may have suffered, my swim times improved significantly.  I completed my first “endurance swim” at the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids in 2:35:30 – not too shabby for a first outing and largely unplanned event.  At the Welland Triathlon Weekend, I shaved off nearly a minute off my previous best effort during the sprint on Day One exiting the water in 11:47, and then a full 2 minutes off my 2k swim best the next day as part of the Half Iron relay in 31:48.  My biggest success, however, came in August at the ‘1000 Island Olympic Triathlon’ in Brockville, Ontario where I exited – get this – in second place overall in 26:55 (this also takes into account the ridiculously long run from the swim finish to the bike start, AND, swimming off course in a stupidly laid out swim course).  It was my first real taste of “leading” a field of triathletes in the water and it felt, well, it felt freakin’ awesome to be honest.  I’ve used this success then to kick start my current off-season training program and am already swimming longer, faster and I am even planning a few open water swims into my race schedule for 2014 to maintain this developing swim form.

My bike, while still experiencing some setbacks as far as comfort is concerned, was also successful in that Kelly and I completed our epic 1000k ‘Tour du Lac’ journey around Lake Ontario in July, which, hands down, was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  We rode together for at least 2/3 of the entire route, with me having the opportunity to ride off alone on the fourth day through the challenging 151k worth of hills, heat, humidity and torrential downpours en route to Oswego, NY.  In many ways, this ride was every bit as challenging as the extremely difficult Ironman Wales ride itself.  I was also fortunate enough to get more cycling done away from home in Brockville and the surrounding rural townships and, likewise, completed my fourth sweep ride as a volunteer for the Big Move.  My lingering comfort issues, namely ‘hot spots’ in my feet, will hopefully get straightened out soon given I have a new pair of properly fitting spin shoes thanks to my sweetie for Christmas.  So, all in all, the bike is also good and I’ve already started my Masters Spin classes, and have just begun to initiate a more detailed bike strengthening strategy for the New Year.

I’ve already mentioned the troubles I’ve had with my running last year. However, I am coming through into the light at the end of tunnel now and am once again running comfortably, today being my first official half marathon distance run in nearly a year.  In order to do this, I launched myself headfirst into a ‘We Can Rebuild Him plan beginning in September to address those injuries and the weaknesses from which they stemmed.  I’ve changed my diet to that of gluten free and started a functional strength and core program, all designed to turn me into a lean, mean, running machine and, so far so good.  Improving my run this year will be what I consider to be key to my improvement in this sport and, ultimately, paramount with me ever making it to Kona.

However, my absolutely favorite memories of 2013 will be in getting to see and be a part of our eight-year-olds first foray into triathlon.  We went from doing a few laps in the pool, to a few laps around the track at the gym, to a few – sometimes unsuccessful – bike rides.   All in all, her first SunRype Tri-Kids event was a smashing success with her enjoying every second of it.  Best of all, I think she may have just found a little more appreciation for my own triathlon passion and, quite possibly, is looking forward to a completing few more events herself in 2014.

So how does this all translate to the New Year?  What’s the plan?  What are my goals?  Where do I go from here?  What the fuck is with that elephant?  Well, in short, it’s onward and upward.

First and foremost, my primary goal this year is to reacquire my pre-Ironman ‘mental toughness’ that I’ve since lost in lieu of these more personal fun goals this year.  Yup, it’s time to begin refocusing on getting hard again anticipating another run at the Big Show (Ironman) in 2015.  To do this, my strategy is to break that elephant into specific events in 2014 whose sole purpose will be to ultimately cater to this overall objective, including another crack at achieving a personal best at both ‘Around the Bay 30k’ (March) and ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim’ (April), plus a return to the half-iron distance triathlon in Welland and – get this – back-to-back triathlons (including a Spring on Day One, and a Half-Iron on Day Two).  Yes, I’m truly a special kind of crazy – it’s true.  Oh, and I may even contemplate attempting my first ever stand-alone marathon.  So, yeah, everything from this point on is aimed at getting my long distance chops back, both physical and mental.  You can view my tentative race schedule above in the ‘Events’ tab.

But there’s another component that equally important and, potentially, much more challenging.  When I first entered into the Ironman arena two years ago, it was all about me; the total “Terry Show”.  But now it’s different.  It’s not about just me anymore – it’s about “us”.  So instead of simply being a better triathlete, I’m also striving to be a better person; a better boyfriend, a better step-dad, and subsequently, a better partner and triathlete as a result of successfully accomplishing these things – and none of my 2014 aspiration will be possible without the support of my family.  End of story.  Full stop.  That’s the biggest piece of the elephant right there, requiring a pretty big fork I might add.  But I’m up for this.  In fact, it already started this morning with a cold, long run out to Sherkston and back (my longest run since the ‘fit hit the shan’ last February).  Likewise, I have begun to surround myself with those positive (and inspirational) influences that I believe will help me choke this puppy down, including the good people at Legacy Health & Performance, Liberty Bicycles!, my TryForce group, the Kiwanis Aquatic Center Masters Swim group, the Fort Erie Masters Spin group and, yes, my ever-present coach and close friend (a special thank you Saskia for all you do!).

So stay tuned readers and tie a king-size napkin around your neck, as there’s plenty of elephant to go around.

Bring.  It.  On.

  • Long Swim (click to see stats)
  • 5850m (1:55:18)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 148 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 123 bpm
  • Calories = 1420

Over the past few years of training for and competing in triathlon, I have established a few holiday workout traditions, besides eating my own bodyweight in treats that is.  For example, on Christmas morning I like to go for a long run (or row, depending on the year) and enjoy the solitude as families are waking up to discover what Santa has left under the tree for them.  Later, I usually go to the gym for a light stretch or workout with the weights a little.  And while this year’s run was as awesome as ever (I failed to make it to the gym however), I also wanted to resurrect another holiday tradition that has fallen by the wayside in recent year, namely, the ‘Twelve Days of Pool Christmas’.

Yes, I know it’s already four days past Christmas but, hey, better late than never, right?  Besides, this year’s ‘Twelve Days’ workout exceeds the last time I did this routine by nearly 2275m, so that has to count for something.  Likewise, it takes a bit of a different route than the previous years.  Instead of unique drills or measures for each day, this year each ‘day’ is divided into 75m sets (w/ 5-8 second rest) adding on one more set each day, before descending back down to day one again; the exception being day 12 being a flat out continuous swim, totaling a distance of 5850m in all.  Yeah, that’ll burn me some calories for sure!

So without further ado, I give you the newly reformed ’Twelve Days of Pool Christmas’:

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (freestyle)

“On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….”
1 x 75m (freestyle/catch-up drill/freestyle)

“On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….”
1 x 75m (hypoxic; breathe every 3/5/3)

“On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (backstroke/freestyle/backstroke)

“On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (choice)

“On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75 (one-arm drill/freestyle/one-arm drill)

“On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75 (hypoxic; breathe every 5/7/5)

“On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (breaststroke/freestyle/breaststroke)

“On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (freestyle)

“On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (breaststroke/backstroke/breaststroke)

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
1 x 75m (
choice)

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”
900m (pull)

Days 1 through 7 were typically business as usual with no real worry or concern but, by Day 8, I was beginning to get that “Oh Christ, what have I gotten myself into?”  going through my head.  By Day 10 and 11, I was more or less just willing myself through the water and I’m sure my stroke was anything but efficient.  Day 12 was simply an exercise in pure stubbornness and persistence.  All in all, aside form the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim‘ last year, this was the longest I’ve swam so for that accomplishment, I am proud.  Likewise, it is my intention to do that same swim again in April, so this workout serves as a mere taste of the long workouts that are going to come in the very near New Year.

Now, time for some more of that leftover turkey and stuffing…