Posts Tagged ‘Testing’

“Won’t you step into the freezer
Tease her with a tweezer
It’s gonna be cold, cold, cold, cold, cold…”

It’s been almost two years since I last stepped back into the Brock University Kinesiology Department headed by Dr. Stephen Cheung.  I figured that either they didn’t have anything particularly interesting going on since my last trip into the over (click HERE) or they had simply run out of ideas on how to adequately make my life mentally and physically miserable.

Well, for whatever time it is that I’m spending in the lab anyway.

But as it turns out, they were apparently biding their time in a two year brainstorming session on the next best way to torture me and, boy, did they come up with a doozy this time.

This time around the oven is being converted into a meat locker, so instead of being roasted alive, I’m going to be turned into a human Popsicle in the latest and greatest “Effects of Hyperpoxia on Exercise Performance in the Cold” study.

Sounds like fun right?

The study is aimed at determining whether or not Hyperpoxia can improve exercise performance in the cold.  And seeing as how I typically do the bulk of my long distance Ironman training in the winter, hey, this might be a great learning opportunity (as I’m choosing to tell myself anyway).    At the very least I figured, “hey, I already run in -stupid° temperatures until I can’t feel my feet, face, or hands, so how bad could this really be?”  Not that it ever takes me any time at all to decide whether or not to volunteer for these crazy experiments but, honestly, in this case, I actually begged to be a part of it.

Once again, my lunacy knows no bounds.

Anyway, to begin with, let’s first review what in the sweet Sam Hell this “Hyperpoxia” beast is.

Hyperoxia occurs when the body’s tissues and organs are exposed to an excess supply of oxygen (O2) or higher than normal partial pressure of oxygen.  In medicine, it refers to excess oxygen in the lungs or other body tissues, which can be caused by breathing air or oxygen at pressures greater than normal atmospheric pressure. This kind of hyperoxia can lead to oxygen toxicity, caused from the harmful effects of breathing molecular oxygen at elevated partial pressures.  Hyperoxia differs from hypoxia in that hyperoxia refers to a state in which oxygen supply is too much, whereas hypoxia refers to the state in which oxygen supply is insufficient (a feeling of which I am very familiar with from swimming endless laps in the pool).  In a properly regulated doses however, that extra oxygen in the blood can give the body that extra ‘umpf’ in performance (ie. blood doping in cycling).

Now, in the extreme cold it has been proved that the body’s blood flow is significantly decelerated in its ability to feed oxygen rich blood to the muscles to sustain performance; hence the overall performance declines.  Makes sense right?  Anyone who’s ever tried to run in polar vortex temperatures, such as I have, will already know that it’s a significantly harder effort.  But what would happen if you “super-oxygenate” that blood beforehand?  In other words, what if what little blood – decelerated in delivery as it is – was enhanced with above normal oxygen levels to fuel the muscles once it got there.  Would that then counter-effect that decrease in performance?  While this super-oxygenating blood to improve performance has been widely known in the sporting world already resulting in some pretty clever scandals to cheat the odds, no one has thus far attempted this same principle in an extremely cold environment where the blood flow has also been slowed down.

Enter yours truly (along with a few other willing “suffer bunnies”); let the chips fall where they may.

Session 1: VO2-Max and Familiarization

As I have come to learn and understand, before I can look at the bike I have to first run the gauntlet of having my fatness measured, scrutinized, and recorded.  It’s not a very dignified process, believe me.

Here’s how the consent form describes the process:

“Body fat testing will be performed using skinfold calipers, which might cause a slight pinching sensation.”

Slight?

Ha! 

It was like being goosed over and over again by a giant mechanical lobster.

Let it be known now that Steve, the new Principle Student Investigator (PSI), has absolutely no caliper skills whatsoever.   Sorry, buddy, I still love you and all but you definitely need some practice; not that grabbing ahold of and pinching another man’s body fat ranks up there on your resume of skills, I get it, but still…

Ouch!

aMaybe there is something to say about having a few cute female undergrads girls do it like a few years ago.  Whatever the case, if I had any misgivings about it before, I’m definitely not cut out for the hardcore S&M lifestyle.

Fortunately, after a minutes of poking, pulling and pinching, not to mention not much eye contact, it was all over with and we could hook me up to the censors and move into the chamber to get down to business beginning with the dreaded V02-max test to determine my overall level of aerobic fitness.  And considering that I have been spending ample time on the bike doing some tempo and interval workouts, I was hoping for something a bit better than the ‘Good’ status I received last time.

Seriously, it is worthy pausing here to note that had I not fared better this time around with my V02-max, I likely would have thrown the Velotron bike through the wall of the Kinesiology lab in a fit of anger that would have made Bruce Banner cower in the corner like a little nancy girl.

Seriously.

Anyway, on goes the silicon mask to measure my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and immediately I feel like this:

bane

So, you think the bike is your friend?

Of course, I didn’t look quite so badass.

self-portrait

The test began shortly afterwards where I am required to warm up at 100 watts for 5 minutes before 25 watts were added each minute until the point of total burnout.  Everything felt pretty good for the first 11 or 12 minutes or so, as I have been training at this 80-85% threshold level for some weeks now.  I was feeling strong and confident.  But once that over all fatigue begins to set in, boy, it’s a quickly spiraling slope downward into total agony.  But by the 13 minute mark (350 watts) I was suffering and this is where I tapped out last time.  Damned if I was going to give in at this point this time around, so I synched up the apple sack and made it another minute or so more well into the 375 watt mark and then ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning imploded in on themselves and I slouch over the handlebars wheezing into the silicon mask like an asthmatic orangutan.

Thank Christ.

Here’s what all this data looks like on the screen:

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Of course, this could be the EKG results performed on a rutabaga for all I know, but here is what all those squiggly lines and graphs really boil down to:

results

So these results can be broken out into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The obvious good news – scratch that, make it GREAT news – is that my relative VO2peak improved to 61 ml/kg/min, representing a 19 ml/kg/min  improvement over my last crack at the bad two years ago.  This places me squarely – FINALLY I might add – in the “Superior” classification for my age group.  In fact, I tested as “Superior” for a male in the 19-25 age range.  So I am extremely happy with this.

The bad news is that I’m only marginally lighter than I was at this time two years ago, weighing in at 96.06kg  which is only 0.3kg  lighter.  It’s not a lot, but I’ll take it.  I’m chalking this up to all my newfound core muscles and recent weight training.  After all, muscle is heavier than fat but, regardless, that’s what I’m choosing to roll (no pun intended) with.

The ugly news is that my body fat percentage rose to 26.2%, an increase of 4.2% over two years ago meaning I’m lighter, but also flabbier.

The fuck?

bApparently, fat is my new secret weapon as it would seem on paper that the larger I get the fitter I become, so it’s ‘Goodbye kale salads, Hello bacon double cheeseburgers!’

How or why this is beats the living shit out of me as I’ve been working hard on my core (click HERE) daily, and doing lots of tempo and hill intervals on the bike in recent weeks.  How I got bigger when I feel that I’ve actually been losing weight absolutely baffles me.  I’m counting this up to Steve being a little overly aggressive into digging those calipers into my body fat.

Thanks Steve.

Regardless, the bottom line is that I’m stronger so that’s the ultimate positive here in all this kerfuffle.  Maybe all those weekend pints courtesy of my sponsor Brimstone Brewery (click HERE) have given me some kind of super powers?

Who knows.

Onto Phase 2, the familiarization time trial.

After being allowed to spin idly for another few minutes, be began the official 15k time trail that I will have to perform at the end of each protocol in the following weeks, complete with silicon mask just to simulate what it will be like in the actual protocol sessions.  This familiarization is more of a formality really as I’ve done this in the lab on numerous occasions already but, hey, how often do you get to time trial on a real Velotron so, yeah, strap me in boys let’s go for it; 13 minutes or so of blocking out all the weeks worth of media bullshit on Lady Gaga’s belly fat and whatever the hell it is that Donald Trump is currently waging a Twitter war against and simply…giv ‘er.

Basically, I’m wired up and hooked into to a computer which displays a virtual me as it tracks my effort and progress through a virtual 15k course.  The computer tracks all the important details of my time trial performance including my gear setting, speed, heart rate, average wattage, peak wattage, RPM, average RPM and, apparently, that I am a pink-clad female cyclist.

img_1477

WTF?

Luckily, I have no gender status issues so I’m terribly bothered as long as I’m still kicking ass and taking names.  The only distraction is to provide the PSI with 2.5k with my perceived ‘Rate of Exertion’ (RPE) as represented on a traditional Borg scale, as well as my ‘Thermal Comfort’ (otherwise known as a Bedford Scale) and ‘Thermal Sensation’.   So, essentially, there you are wallowing in your self-induced pain cave as you focus on applying power to the pedals at pretty much your 90% threshold until the time trial is complete.

Here’s but a small sample of it:

When it was all said and done, I covered the distance in 25:39 with an average wattage of 235 and at an average speed of just over 35kpm.

Not bad for a fat chick, eh?

Of course, this was all completed in a neutral temperature with normal doses of precious oxygen and lots of encouragement.

In other words, this was about as easy as it was ever going to get.

Session 2 – Exercise Protocol

By the time a week had rolled by, I had more or less racked myself into quite a fright about this whole cold thing.  I mean, when I first started doing these testing protocols at Brock years ago I had no idea what I was getting into so I really had no expectations about how bad it would suck.

I was ignorant.

But now that I have a reference point or benchmark on how bad things can really get, well, you begin to wonder “will this be as bad as that?”  Sure this study is is different in that I’m not begin roasted alive but that doesn’t exactly mean it’s going to be any less tedious.  And truthfully, I’d rather shit in my hands and clap than have to ever endure that firefighters protocol again (click HERE for a little reminder on how bad that was).

However, this time around I was to be sitting in a cooler at exactly 0° until my core temperature had dropped exactly 0.5°, or essentially, had gone hypothermic. 

Ever been hypothermic before?

Me neither.

Basically, I was going from this:

hot

An oldie but a goodie

To this:

freezer2

See why I was a bit worried?

Upon arriving in the lab I have to run the gauntlet of getting prepared by having my urine tested for adequate hydration levels and then getting hooked up to a whole battery or wires, sensors, electrodes and, oh yes, let’s not forget:

It’s real glamorous business this suffer bunny stuff.

Everything is being 100% monitored, my hear rate, my rectal temperature, my skin temperature/heat flow, the amount of oxygen in my blood and even my brain activity through a near infrared spectroscopy sensor (NIRS), so that by the time I was done having all these instruments successfully fished through my cycle attire and  attached to my body you kind of begin to feel a bit like this:

borg_2366

And only marginally less menacing.

img_1516

See how happy I look?

img_1518

Just ecstatic I tells ya.

Anyway, from there it’s onto business and you couldn’t help but notice a slight chill in the air as Steve the lab guy begins to describe exactly what’s about to go down.

To begin with, I’m to get cozy in the freezer where they already have a nice, comfy lawn chair already set up for me and it’s a few minutes before all my sensors are then fed through a small hole in the freezer wall to the outside and hooked up to all that fancy shit outside so they can get their accurate reads on my suffering inside.

When they’re finished, they take a blood lactate sample with a lancet device (which, fortunately, looks nothing like the huge ass sword variety) from my ear lobe to get a base read of my lactate concentration prior to the anticipated madness.  Immediately after that, I am asked to sit quietly with no stimulus (music, talking, etc.) so they can get another base read on all my internal systems before they officially open the Gates to Hell.

Usually when they begin the actual protocol you begin doing something.  Cycling, running, walking, whatever.

But not this time.

Nope.

This time I’m simply sitting in a lawn chair connected to about a thousand wires and seated across from me is a guy (Gary) in a snow suit.

And it begins to get cold.

Very fucking cold.

Almost immediately I began to shiver as the fan in the freezer pumps in air at around -4° to get the temperature to drop to the required 0° as quickly as possible before it stabilizes. It was clear from the get go that this was going to be a completely different kind of suffering.  On my previous trips into the “oven” my butt crack more or less turned into Splash Mountain for all the sweat that began to pour, now you couldn’t slide a credit card between my ass cheeks if you had to for all the clenching that was going on thanks to the cold.

Keeping in mind, they were anticipating my having to be in here for anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes in order for my core temperature to drop to the necessary 0.5°, yup, this was going to sure suck.

Prior to beginning this whole freezing thing, I chatted with Gary (the guy in the snow suit) who has had the fortunate – or unfortunate, depending on how you want to look at it – task of keeping all the study volunteers such as myself company through this freezing protocol.  He mentioned that what he really found interesting was how each test subject dealt with their suffering.  Some plugged into their music on their iPod’s, or played on their cell phones in an effort to forget the fact that their bodies were being frozen into Popcicles, while others simply zoned out and willed themselves through it.  Others still spewed out random obscenities and pithy expletives for the entire duration as a way of coping with the stress.

Me?

Figuring that given my 26.2% body fat that I was going to be in this for the long haul, well, let’s just say I came prepared to stay a while.  I brought a book, my iPod with a per-established playlist of “hot” themed tracks, a notebook to record my thoughts; everything but a picnic basket, a collection of the New York Times crosswords and the entire 8 seasons worth of Dexter  really.  So once the shivering began I plugged into my playlist, cracked my book and….

Nope!

That wasn’t going to work.

Apparently, I needed to forget that I was there altogether and reading simply wasn’t going to do it.  And, honestly, my body was shivering so badly that even had I wanted to, the book which I had resting in my lap was shaking so bad that it probably could have phased right through my body altogether and into the chair had I allowed it.

Snoop Dogg had nothing on me what he says he’s “chillun'”, believe me.

So, instead, I struck up a conversation with Gary and talked about, geez, everything under the stars really.  Anything and everything was on the conversational menu; work, travel; politics and, yes, at times even the current situation.  What I can assure you though is that despite my efforts to block out the cold, it absolutely sucked and I was shivering like a chihuahua at the Arctic Circle.

Shivering is your bodies unconscious way of fending off the cold and trying to keep itself warm  and, apparently, my body was putting in some serious overtime.  In fact, at exactly the 30 minute mark my core temperature had actually risen by 1° as this process was taking place.

Not that I ever felt warm or comfortable mind you.  This simply not the case.  On the outside you’re fucking cold but, inside, your body is working hard to protect itself by regulating it’s temperature and therefore protecting you from serious harm, despite how you feel on the outside.  Gary assured me that this increase in core temperature was normal and that all the other test subjects had experienced the same thing.

At the 60 minute mark my core temperature had rose another 2°, or 3° over in total from my normal body temperature.

Fuck.

It’s a curious thing to actually want your body to fail.  Under any other “normal” (and I use that word loosely) circumstances, you want your body to endure, to overcome and to triumph.  In all the other research experiments I have been a part of this was certainly the case; how long can I go?  Now, here I was in the rather unique situation where I was actually wanted my body to pack it in, throw in the towel and traipse off gaily into the light at the end of the tunnel!

“Go into the light, dammit!”

The quicker my body started to fail, the quicker my core temperature would drop, and the quicker I could get on the bike to begin the time trail and to generate some heat.

But, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

Not my body.

Apparently, my body is extremely good at regulating it’s internal temperature – too good in fact.

So there I sat…shivering…suffering.

img_1532

Not exactly a relaxing day at the beach is it?

By the 90 minute mark (the longest point at which any other test subjects had taken), my core temperature was back to 0°, or where I had originally started from exactly 1 hour and 30 minutes ago meaning all this suffering and freezing had simply gotten me back to the starting point again.

Do you have any idea how defeating that feels?

A lot.

I was determined to make this work.  I mean, after you have suffered for that long why not go whole hog and see it through to the end.  Such is the life of a “suffer bunny” after all, right?   Gary had also mentioned at some point as well that once the body begins to actually drop it’s core temperature, it’s typically a gradual slide downward so, yeah, maybe I just had to hang on a  little longer.

Again, remember, I am actually willing myself to fail  here as I am pretty miserable by this point.

The real question now was, how much longer was this whole failing process going to take?

At 100 minutes, my core temperature had only dropped a mere 0.1°.

Big fucking deal.

By 120 minutes (2 hours) it as the same, so the decision was ultimately made to pull the plug altogether and get me out of there. What it really came down to to the lab guys was how long can you ethically let someone suffer, knowing you have no idea what the end point is going to be?  What’s an acceptable amount of time you can let somebody sit in a 0° environment?  1 hour?  2 hours?  3 hours?  What?

img_1533By now, I had endured exactly 30 minutes longer than the next longest sucker test subject in the freezer and, I can assure you, it was awful.

I mean, sure, “Yay me!”, but still, it totally sucked.

Would I have stayed longer?  Absolutely.  If the last ‘Effects of Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance and Cognitive Function in the Heat’ (click HERE) study had taught me anything, it’s that I can be one tough bastard when I need to be.

And, yes, I definitely used my mental skills training here as well.

Thanks Phil!

But as a safety precaution, a 2 hour suffering time limit had been predetermined for the study so, yeah, I never even made it to the bike.

Needless to say, I was disappointed; disappointed that I had failed at having successfully failed.

What?

It just is what it is.

Having said all this, when the guys started to help out of the chair, I realized that just about everything had locked up in the cold; my back, my legs, my knees, everything.  The chances are that even had I made it to the 15k time trial, I wouldn’t have been able to do little more than simply over the pedals, much less time trial.

Furthermore, the skin on my forearms had freezer burn (which ultimately wouldn’t go away for another three days) and my pecker had done it’s best Punxsutawny Phil impression by burying itself in my abdomen, and considering the size of my abdomen these days, I likely wouldn’t see it again for another six weeks either.

In a picture, I felt like this:

o-frozen-meat-facebook

The other thing to consider is, let’s say that my core temperature finally did drop the required 0.5° and I did make to the bike to complete the time trial – shitty as it would likely have been.  That means I would then have had to endure that same 2-3 hours once more for the second protocol, and it I was nervous before, I would definitely have not been looking forward to doing it all over again.

img_1535

Don’t let the smile fool you, inside those mittens I’m really giving Gary the finger.

It was another 20 minutes or so outside the freezer sporting a full winter jacket before the shivering finally subsided. And, truth me, you will never appreciate just how warm room temperature is until you sat in 0° temperatures for two fucking hours.

Finally I was able to remove all the sensors and, yes, the probe which, honestly, made me feel a bit like this:

popsicle

Oh, and I also had the longest and most enjoyable hot shower I have ever had.

After each of these studies I ultimately try to find the learning lesson in for me.  How does this translate to the outside world and, hopefully, provide me with a little added value.  The results of the ‘Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance‘ study taught me how to improve my performance through positive mental conditioning and the firefighter study taught me that’s no way in fucking hell I’d ever want to be a firefighter.  But what did this teach me exactly?

After two hours of suffering you’d think there would be some sore of profound “Ah ha!” moment, right?

But here I was at a bit of a loss.

Sure, if I happen to wander out of a bar in the middle of winter with an unseasonably fashionable jacket and end up passing out in a forest somewhere, the chances are good that I will survive for at least 2-3 hours.

But is that what I was meant to learn?

Doubtful.

Maybe there wasn’t a learning lesson here beyond knowing that my body is very good at regulating it’s internal temperature.  Maybe this is a result of all my cold weather training and conditioning, or maybe my body is just retarded in that it just doesn’t know when to say “I quit”.

Who knows?

What I do know for sure is that there are definitely better ways to spend a Wednesday evening.

Hopefully though, I will get some sort of honorable mention or maybe a footnote somewhere in the final paper about being the tough bastard (idiot?) who sat for two hours in a freezer with a probe up his ass.

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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!

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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

New Scientific Evidence: Studies Suck!

Posted: February 21, 2014 in Lifestyle
Tags: ,

So mid-foot striking is better, therefore minimalist running is good since heel striking causes injuries, hence bad.  But now studies are showing that foam might, in fact be better, so ‘maximalist’ running is now also good, so minimalist is then bad?  Yeah, let it sink in.  Now its minimalist running that actually causes injuries, so heel striking is now the preferred method.  The same can be said for research studies on ‘distance-per-stroke’ training in the pool.  Good.  Bad.  Who gives a shit?

Good grief.  Studies will prove or disprove just about anything.  Hell, I’m sure if you dug deep enough, you’d probably find evidence that crawling might in fact get you to the finish line quicker.  So in light of all this recent scientific study on the market either proving, or disproving something, I am offering up my own scientific study, in that 80% of people who blindly follow the latest training trend based on “scientific studies”, is only likely to end up with a maxed out credit card while experiencing an increase of 90% more frustration based on injury and lack of performance when it really counts, hence:  fuck studies.  Studies are stupid.

If you want my opinion (not that I’m anybody to give it, mind you), forget about the latest “scientific research” you read in your favorite Running magazine this week and focus less on what’s on your feet and more just being on your feet.  Dig?  Do your drills, work on your form and technique, eat right, stretch but, most importantly, just run dammit!  Or swim, or whatever it is you’re doing.  Forget the stupid toe shoes (they’re gay looking) and gorging yourself on chia seeds (nasty) and focus on what really counts:  getting out and gettin’ er done come wind, rain, sleet, snow, or whatever else the good Lord decides to throw at you.

Whatever the latest trend is, remember that it will more than likely be dis-proven over the next few weeks to months and inevitably be replaced with the next prevalent faux training trend based on some other bullshit study.  It’s a vicious circle and it’s ridiculous. Don’t fall for it, it’s a trap.  It’s a cash grab.  Call it whatever you want, it’s not going to get you to that finish line any quicker.

You know what will?  Running.  Period.

Anyway, why am I so up in “scientific study’s” bid’ness you ask?  Well, I found an intriguing article recently on middle-aged men and running; scary that I can now consider myself as “middle-aged” but, hey, that’s the way the protein bar crumbles I guess.  Anyway, the gist of this article focuses on MAMIL’s (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) and how new “scientific research” has proven that running significantly put’s them us at a greater risk of cardiac arrest.  Really?  No shit.

So riddle me this:  who funded this think tank exactly?  I mean, seriously, I have a near cardiac arrest every time I leave my front door and with each passing year that risk grows exponentially.  I get it.  I don’t need a “new study” to tell me that.

Anyway, the apparent concern now is that more and more couch potatoes’ are exchanging their television remote controls for running shoes and hitting the open road.  I am certainly one of these individuals as it was only a short 5 years ago that I decided to make a drastic change in my own life for the better.  Little did I know this was apparently a bad idea.  But, hey, maybe it’s because we’ve become concerned with the recent results of any number of other scientific studies that told us living sedentary lives is also bad for us.  So if we try to change ourselves and get healthy by getting active (i.e. running) we die, but if we don’t…we die.  Awesome.

But, really, shouldn’t we be happy we’ve gotten the wake-up call and taken up a new healthy lifestyle instead of ordering another order of fries or polishing off another bag of Ring-Ding’s in front of the game?  I think so.  Fuck the study!

Apparently this recent influx of active middle-agers as a result of receiving negative reports of high-cholesterol, or blood pressure, or whatever, has also significantly increased the number of incidents of ‘atrial fibrillation’ (heart attacks) in recent years.  Yeah?  It was coming anyway, so who cares?  Are they trying to suggest we choose not to be active?  I’m confused.

The other concern is that this increase in activity among MAMIL’s also means we’re more prone to negative effects on our joints, hips, knees, back, etc.  Likewise, we’re at risk of tearing, stretching and scaring our muscle tissue.  Clearly these researchers have never heard of the concept of “No Pain, No Gain”.

Hey, smarty pants…it’s called AGING.  Genius.

Commonly accepted studies say that by the time we hit our 40’s we start to loose muscle and gain fat, not to mention that our bone density decreases making us more apt to injury and soreness.  Hey, again, tell me something I don’t know.  This doesn’t mean though that we’re just going to throw in the towel, check into the nearest Retirement Village and wait for the Reaper to come harvest our bodies.  Hell no!  So to this study’s notion of “take it easy”, I say ‘go fuck yourself’.  Do not quietly into that dark night…or something like that anyway.  As it is, I’ve we’ve wasted enough time in our lives making bad lifestyle decisions so, personally, I’m not wasting another moment.  If that means carrying on with my swimming, biking and running puts me at more of risk, then so be it.  I mean, it’s no worse than doing something really stupid like buying a motorcycle or taking up sky-diving, rock-climbing, base-jumping, or something equally outrageous is it?  I think not.

Truth be told, I do understand what the point of this research is trying to point out (albeit in a roundabout, morbid, sensationalist kind of way), that we MAMIL’s should enter into our newfound active lifestyles cautiously and strategically, instead of just throwing on a pair of old sweatpants and going for a 10k jog, or go balls out on a treadmill for an hour.  So maybe this study could have forgone all the scientific horseshit and just stated the obvious?  Duh.

But think of it this way, other studies have shown that a regular and well-structured exercise program does significantly improve health (heart, weight, blood pressure, et al.), not to mention boosting one’s sexual libido.  So if risking a massive coronary periodically while out running also means that there’s a very good chance that I’ll grow old and happy while banging my partner well into my 90’s then, hey, it’s a no-brainer in my opinion.  Scientific studies be damned!  That’s a risk worth making, right?  What’s the alternative?  Living a long, useless, unhealthy and largely celibate life?

This MAMIL will risk an early heart attack thanks.

Oh, and a member of this crack scientific research team has also recommended that if you should experience any extreme discomfort while out exercising to get it checked out immediately.  Honestly, who signs these guys paychecks?  Personally, I subscribe to the scientific study that shows that an increased number of heart attacks among idiots like the ones described above is 100% guarantee to also result with my placing higher in my age group classification in my future events.  And you can take that to the bank.

It’s been nearly a month (27 days to be exact) since I’ve started my ‘We Can Rebuild Him’ strategy for becoming a lean, mean, triathlon machine come 2014.  The primary focus of this plan is to require my run fitness and transition into becoming an efficient and confident runner once again.  Hey, ‘train to your weaknesses and race to your strengths’, right?

To this regard, I have undergone an extensive rehabilitation plan with the good people at ‘Legacy Health & Performance’ (Phase One), and even switched to a gluten free diet to eliminate all the unnecessary evils of wheat from my system (Phase Two).  Also this month, I’ve begun to reestablish a base on which to build into long distances and a regular running program in the near future.  I now run 4-5 times a week, accumulating approximately 20k a week in total.  It’s not much, but it’s absolutely eons from where I’ve been all year so far given the troubles I’ve been having with my left foot.  Thus far, things have been going pretty well, so this past weekend I initiated Phase Three of the plan…subjecting myself to a bio-mechanics running analysis conducted with Dr. Burr and then have a run specific program designed around targeting those determined weaknesses and inefficiencies.  Sounds like fun, right?  After all, who doesn’t like being told they resemble a transvestite running from a stalker?

 

At least that’s what I expected to hear anyway.

But as it turns out, my currently form may not be so terrible after all.  That’s not to say, however, that I am without opportunity for improvement; far from actually.  In fact, after the initial visual inspection the observed results were as follows:

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What the nuts and bolts of this analysis is saying it that these deficiencies in my current body functionality may stem from an underlying weakness in my glutes (primarily my right) and abdominal area, as well as an overall poor range of motion through my shoulders and pelvis area.  I do however, have an ‘excellent’ push-up posture – I just thought that I’d throw that in.

So as a result of this initial physical analysis, which was determined on performing a series of activities in the playground of a local school and being filmed running with new ‘Dartfish’ technology,  I have now been prescribed an action plan (on top of my current ‘Phase One’ strengthening program) to address these specific running inefficiencies.

"Sloppy"?  Just how every guy likes to have his lower torso referred to as.

“Sloppy”? Just how every guy likes to have his lower torso referred to as.

Geez!  Sounds serious, right?  I’m trying not to freak out, but, DAA-YUM!  But, hey, at least I know.  So given this particular feedback, Dr. Burr has now offered the following recommendations to improve these general weaknesses in my current form:

Say wha?

Say wha?

I know, I know…‘amoronsayswhat?‘  Let me spell this out in English.  Basically, what this all entails is that I now have to perform a series of functional exercises that to the uneducated eye might seem like I was reenacting the ‘Ministry of Funny Walks  from Monty Python.  Now, I confess, they might make me feel a bit self-conscious at first, and I don’t really want to give the neighbors anything more to snicker at than they already have, which is enough; believe me.   Don’t get me wrong, I understand the ultimate purpose of these drills but, still, they do make me feel silly so I am going to resign myself to doing them either in the back yard away from prying eyes or along the Friendship Trail when it’s quiet.  But, hey, when it comes down to it, if suffering through a little silliness to come out at the other end as an effortless gazelle of a runner, then so be it; suffer I will dammit!

So without further ado, I give you the ensuing new strengthening routine in all its illustrious silliness:

1.  Walking A’, and B’s – The purpose of these drills is to break the natural running gait into its three separate segments.  The A motion is propelled by the hip flexors and quadriceps as I take tiny steps marching forward, on the toes, while raising my knees to 90 degrees to slightly higher than waist level, alternating opposite arms with opposite legs.  The B’s are dominated by the hamstrings.  Upon impact, the hamstrings continue to contract, not to limit the extension of the leg but to pull the foot upward, under the glutes, to begin another cycle. The emphasis of this exercise is to pull the foot up, directly under the buttocks, shortening the arc and the length of time performing the phase so that another stride can be commenced.

2.  Ninja Kicks – How awesome does that sound, right?  Alas, no, I am not performing roundhouse kicks a la Jean-Claude, but they’re still pretty cool and, as it turned out, exhausting.  While keeping my ‘chest up/eyes up’ and my hands high overhead, I attempt to bring alternating legs to my hands, being careful not to crunch too much at the torso.  This motions fires up the ‘ol hamstrings and hips.  This exercise sure invites some curious stares from dog walkers, that’s for sure.

3.  Lateral Shuffle – Originally an exercise for football linebackers, this drill primarily works my butt muscles, hips flexors, hip abductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, the calf and shin muscles as well as the ‘erector spinae’ muscles in my lower back running alongside my spine. Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and point your toes forward. To perform these, I bend my hips and knees, sit my butt back, lower my body into an ‘aggressive’ squat while keeping my knees over my ankles. To help with balance, I bend and hold your arms/hands in front of my body. From this position, I take a sideways step with my left leg and then shuffle with my right to return to the original stance, keeping my back straight, chest up and your eyes looking straight ahead throughout the exercise.  I shuffle in this position for 10 steps in one direction, and then back in the reverse direction three times.

4.  Grapevines – Similar to the Lateral Shuffle posture, I move so that I cross my feet over one another as I move laterally. This particular drill, while still working all the same muscles as the Lateral Shuffle, also works all those minute stabilizing muscles that play a secondary, yet vital role in running.  Clearly I am no ballerina because I find the coordination needed to do this extremely challenging.

5.  Walking Arm Circles Bilateral – This is easy enough (or so I thought anyway), make wide circles with my arms at the shoulder both forward and backward.  However, as it turns out, given the number of forward stroke I perform in the pool on a weekly basis, I have a very limited range of motion in my shoulders.  Forward rotations I can do, backwards, well, not so much…like, at all.  Obviously, this is aimed at giving me a more relaxed and natural (read that as ‘effortless’) shoulder rotation while running.

6.  Arm Rotations (w/ strap) – Ditto as above, except that I am attempting to rotate my shoulders nearly 360 degrees around their access.  Breathing in on the way up, exhaling down.  Going backwards, this actually feels like my arms are being ripped from their shoulder sockets.

7.  Shoulder Flossing – Same as above again, this is aimed at loosening up my shoulders.  You will just have to YouTube this one for yourself as it is hard to explain but, take my word for it, it’s also not easy.  Hopefully, the end result will be a smoother and more relaxed arm swing at the shoulder (not to mention stroking in the pool) while running and not expending unnecessary energy.

So, yeah, now I have things to do while out running other than just taking those necessary steps forward.  Luckily, the weather is nice and the leaves are turning color and it’s actually pleasant to be outside and being active without the pressure of intensity, pace, distance, or what have you.  In other words, it’s the perfect time to focus on getting strong and efficient in my form with the goal being that when the time comes to begin that serious training and all that it entails (tempo, hills, speed workouts, et al.) that my run will be more smooth and effortless allowing me to run better while harnessing my bodily strength into that forward momentum.  Remember:

We Can Rebuild Him

Another upside is that by running with a better form I can, hopefully, alleviate any future injuries or issues in the future that I am currently getting over and not end up back at square one in my comfy chair feeling miserable.  Oh, and to make sure I don’t run like that transvestite, or any of these guys for that matter (click HERE).

My Left Foot

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Injuries and Owies, Run
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Triathlete’s are hard on their feet.

And while I still use the term ‘triathlete’ loosely in reference to myself, I am as guilty of this particular bodily abuse as anyone.  I mean think about it, we shove them in shoes of all sorts and literally beat the living hell out of them over long distances, often through extreme conditions and terrains, over and over and over again and then just kind of ignore them.  Perhaps later, if we do think to invest ourselves in some sort of ‘recover’, we’ll pay particular attention to stretching out our calves, glutes, hams, shoulders what have you, and wrap just about every conceivable body part in compression wear but, still, we’ll pay little attention to the very things that genuinely carry the brunt of the workload – our feet.  Why?  So while I truly believe that we do severely neglect our feet, I’ve never really done anything about it…until now.

The past few months, running-wise, have not been kind.  The mind is willing but the flesh is weak, per se.  Since April/May, I’ve been experiencing an ongoing issue with my left foot and, subsequently, the muscles in my left leg.  It gets better so I begin to run, then it begins to hurt and so I take a break and it goes away…so I start to run again…and the whole vicious cycle begins to repeat itself.  It sucks, but ‘ol Thunder and Lightning just haven’t been the same since Ironman Wales.  Whatever it is, it sucks, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but:

I MISSED RUNNING!

I know, take a minute for that to digest.  Lord knows I never figured that those three words would ever escape my lips but, c’est la vie I suppose.  In the meantime, all the doctor prescribed x-rays and ultrasounds have come back negative, so it’s definitely not a stress fracture, or something equally serious, so I’m taking that as a green light to get back on the program, despite being so late in the season.  So the real good news is, for the first time in weeks I’ve finally felt ‘run ready’, so I’m starting myself on a strict recovery regime to regain my former run fitness.

Step one was to try and find some answers about what the real story with what lingering soreness still remains.  I’m running relatively pain-free, but all is not ‘perfect’, and I’d like some explanation about what’s been going on as well as what to do about it perhaps.  To this regard, I’ve started on something of a rehab plan coordinated by Dr. Kristin Burr at the ‘Legacy Health & Performance’ clinic in St. Catharines.

Now, for me, this is a huge deal.  My past experiences with chiropractors and physical therapists have not been positive.  My original impression of ‘rehab’ is to be left in a cold, dank, prison-like room for 45 minutes with creepy yellowed anatomy posters while hooked up to a machine that looks like a throw away from the Cold War.  Any requests for detail or possible explanations on my condition would be met with the same reluctant disposition that Bumble the Beadle might have reserved for hungry orphans requesting more gruel.  At best, a vague diagnosis would be offered that might include anything from a pulled muscle to, say, myelofibrosis, before they hurriedly vacated the room to hook up their next unwitting victim.  Seldom were there any improvements or offered insights, and the whole process was about as frustrating as trying to masturbate with a catcher’s mitt.  Just show up, shut up, get hooked up, and bring in your cheque afterwards.

Enter Dr. Burr.

First off, the clinic has less of a Russian gulag feel to it and more of an actual healing center.  Of course, this is probably largely in part to Dr. Burr being female and actually caring enough to decorate her office and lounge with things other than People magazines from the turn of the century.  And, hey, when you’re greeted at the door by a friendly Springer Spaniel, that doesn’t hurt either in my opinion.

After an initial meet and greet we had already formulated a strategy for not only what might be happening, but how to address and treat it.  Now, don’t get me wrong, nothing is certain in physical therapy.  I get that.  But given her ability to relate to the constant ouchies and owies I’ve been experiencing and her explanations (complete with pictures) suggest to me that we’re definitely on the right path to recovery – finally.  To paraphrase from the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’:

Feet, we can rebuild you. We have the technology (and the approved doctor appointments). We have the capability to build the world’s next successful Ironman marathoner. You will be those feet. Better than you were before.  Better, stronger, faster.

Yeah, you can say I’m a bit jazzed.  Well, as jazzed as one can be when getting back into long distance running anyway.

So here’s the skinny or, rather, what we figure might be currently happening with my left foot.  And, no, I don’t mean the Daniel Day Lewis movie either.  All pain seems to emanate from the ball of my left foot, which scared the bejesus out of me as I have been thinking that my plantar fasciitis might be coming back.  Thank God, that is not necessarily the case.  More correctly, it may be that my ‘quadratus plantae’ has been the source of all the trouble.  The quadratus plantae is a muscle in the foot that extends from the anterior of the ‘calcaneus‘ to the tendons of the ‘digitorum longus’ or, in layman’s’ terms, from the heel to the toes.  It assists in the flexing of the toes and foot muscles (‘lumbricals’) to, basically, keep the normal bio-mechanics of the foot working properly.  With this particular muscle not working successfully, the normal bio-mechanical movement of my foot (my gait) has been all wonky.  Sorry to get all technical on you there.

As explained to me, the body has this incredibly innate ability to adjust itself to avoid pain and injury, often at the expense of itself.  For example, since my ‘quadratus plantae’ muscle is not 100%, my foot (and body) has unconsciously readjusted its natural movement to avoid further aggravation.  As a result, the other muscles in my body have been suddenly thrown out of whack and, therefore, suffered the consequence.  This explains the constant pain I had in my left shin and calf when I tried to run through the pain, as both muscles were attempting to work in a way that they were not originally designed to do.  Likewise, in favoring my left big toe, the ‘sesamoid’ bone has been bearing more than its fair share of impact and has subsequently become inflamed and painful.  So, if one were to focus on the sore area (the sesamoid), and not on the root cause of it, then one could misdiagnosis the issue altogether and concentrate on the wrong solution or fix…which, of course, I have been doing.

So, the focus now is in treating the root cause; that pesky ‘quadratus plantae’ muscle.  Besides regular weekly treatments to breathe some life back into muscles that have otherwise ceased to function properly (literally, I can’t bend the toes on my left foot at all), I have also started a strength conditioning program at home to try and strengthen them.

As I understand it, you should be able to move your toes like you do your fingers.  In this regard, my toes are lifeless slabs of meat that just extend from my foot.  To fix this, I have to practice lifting them off the ground and spreading them wide.  This was something I saw the girls do in my yoga classes and I just assumed that the female foot was more flexible.  Compared to my poor immoveable piggies, these girls had monkey feet.  I want monkey feet.  To assist with this development, I am rolling my feet over a small tune-up ball* daily and practicing gripping it, and moving each toe (albeit, unsuccessfully at the moment) over and around it.  If I can encourage the tension in my foot to loosen up, in doing so, I will also increase the width of my foot.  If I can successfully do this, I will also increase my base of support and, by proxy, my natural stability while running.  Dig?

Think of it this way, there are 26 bones and 33 joints in the foot.  If you are holding tension in the foot muscles (as I am), the joints won’t be able to move properly (they aren’t).  But if you can get the joints to be really mobile (I’m working on it), it’s like having 33 little mini computers telling the body what’s going on when you touch the ground and how to adjust.  How can that be bad?  At the moment, I am simply putting one foot in front of the other and hoping for the best, which lately, has not been good enough.

In all honesty, I am relearning how to run; starting from scratch.  And given that I have other Ironman competitions, as well as other long course events on my horizon, learning to run smoother and more efficiently (not to mention acquiring the super monkey feet) now, will be a huge key for my future success as running is still my Achilles heel as far as triathlon goes.  I have always maintained the belief to train to your weaknesses, so the next few months are going t be spend addressing just that:  my weakness.  The fly in the ointment.  The wrench in the machine.  Whatever you want to call it.  Once I can reestablish this strong run base, form and all, I will begin to build up my endurance again to reestablish myself as a strong runner.  And as long as I can simply maintain my swim and bike fitness to the level they are at now (if not, improve even a little), I will be a force to be reckoned with.  I want to be strong in all three disciplines, not just hanging on to survive the run.  This means lots of hard work, a few steps backward but, hopefully, lots of forward progress as well.

It all starts now.  I’ve set up a new blog (Music in Motion) to chronicle my progress as it relates to the music I listen to (hey, I’m a blogger after all!), I’ve stocked myself up on tubes of Traumeel and the old man corn pads, and I am currently establishing a new running plan (with Dr. Burr) to get back on track.  I’m not sure what my next running endeavor will be in 2014 yet but, whatever it is, I want to be confident that I will do well and be happy with the end result heading into the next triathlon season.  2013 was about fun and recovery; 2014 will be about reestablishing myself as a contender.

*Seriously, how often do you get to walk into a yoga store and ask to purchase a set of ‘blue balls’, and really mean it!

My earliest association with anything called a “stress test” came in my teens while watching one of my all-time favorite cheese ball movies from the 80’s about professional cycling, ‘American Flyers’.  In hindsight, it was pretty lame, but it did have lots of cycling in it, a kick ass soundtrack (or, at least I thought so back then), Rae Dawn Chong, and a young Kevin Costner rocking a pretty bad ass cooler-than-Jesus mustache.  The movie revolved around sports physician Marcus as he persuades his unstable brother David to come with him and train for a bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains, the infamous ‘Hell of the West’.  What he doesn’t tell him, of course, is that he has a cerebral tumor (queue the dramatic organ HERE).  Whatever it was, this flick features great views of the Rockies and served as my first insights into the basic tactics used in bicycle racing.  Now, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you or anything but, David wins, Marcus dies, Rae Dawn is hot, and the whole cycling thing was awesome.  Hey, throw in a bag of Cheetos and back then that was my ideal recipe for a perfect Saturday night.  Yes, things have certainly changed somewhat since then even though I still think Rae Dawn is hot.  Sue me.

However, in the movie, there is a pivotal scene where David undergoes the dreaded “Torture Test” where he’s hooked up to all sorts of electrodes and literally has his bollocks run off on a treadmill in his quest to beat his brother’s record of 25 minutes and 14 seconds.  Total cinematic gold if you ask me.

Now, even though I now know that this kind of test is better known in the real world as a ‘VO2-Max’ test, when I first accepted the offer to undergo a ‘Lactate Threshold’ test at the local Niagara College, I still kinda expected it to be something similar to this; electrodes, sweat, gasping, cheering, and total maximum awesome.

Of course, it was probably more like this:

maxresdefault

But, anyway, I digress.

So what is this whole ‘lactate threshold’ testing and why would I ever want to subject myself to something like that anyway?  Well, as it turns out, it has nothing to do with lactating, breast feeding, or even breasts at all.  Imagine my disappointment (queue the sad trombone HERE).

Basically, the lactate threshold test is a means by which to measure your aerobic endurance; revealing how powerfully and how long you can race. In a nutshell, using the results can help with prescribing exercise intensities, monitor training adaptations, and enhance your overall performance in the long run.  Pretty nifty, right?  This is all well and good, of course, but what is this magical ‘lactate’ exactly?

To produce energy for movement, the muscles primarily use fat and carbohydrate for fuel.  When carbohydrate – the sugar-based fuel source – breaks down, lactic acid is produced in the muscles as an after effect.  As this lactic acid seeps out of the muscle cell and into the blood and surrounding body fluids, hydrogen ions are released, and the resulting salt is called ‘lactate’.  Yeah, not quite so enticing is it?  The amount of hydrogen ions and lactate increases as the intensity of the exercise increases.  At low levels of production, the body efficiently removes and recycles them.  As your exercise increases in either intensity or duration, the removal of this lactate waste isn’t quite so efficient, and the build-up of hydrogen ions begins to interfere with energy production and muscular contractions necessary for movement, thus causing fatigue and discomfort; and that’s putting it mildly.  This production of lactate, or lack-thereof in this case, is how Lance Armstrong used to explain his freakish performance in the Tour d’ France before we all learned that it wasn’t lactate (or lack of) coursing through his veins, but EPO instead.  But I digress.  So measuring the lactate in your blood as you shift from aerobic (light breathing) to anaerobic (labored breathing) exercise, or the level of intensity at which you begin to accumulate this waste, will help determine your ideal “threshold” at which you can sustain an effective pace.  Capeesh?

Think of it this way; imagine slowly pouring water into a paper cup that has a hole in the bottom allowing the water to run out as fast as it goes in.  This is what happens to lactate in the blood during low levels of exertion.  By pouring faster, there comes a rate at which the water goes in faster than it comes out, and so the cup begins to fill.  This is similar to what happens with lactate in your bloodstream during exercise of increasing intensity.   The point at which the water first begins to accumulate is analogous to the ‘Lactate Threshold’.  So, exercising, or racing, at a slow rate of exertion (aerobic), you could probably go on for hours but I wouldn’t expect to see many spectators left at the finish line to see you finish.  The harder you push yourself at a greater intensity (anaerobic), or faster you try to make yourself go, the lesser amount of time you can actually sustain that pace.

So when the opportunity was announced through my TryForce group that this type of testing was available to members, I jumped on the chance as the tests were going to be conducted by Natalie, the same ‘Exercise Science for Health and Performance’  grad student who devised my functional strength program a few months ago that I still use today.  So why not see what other means she has to kick my ass, right?  Besides, with these results, I would have a good viable starting point at where, or at what intensity (measured by heart rate), I should be conducting all my long and slow, tempo and speed workouts in order to maximize the overall results of my training.  So it was all set; time to get my hurt on.  Suuuu-weet!

I’ve never been part of a formal lab test before aside from those, well, questionable ones back in university where I was dosed to the gills on a Friday night and left to watch movies for a few hours while technicians with clipboards observed me through a Plexiglas window; much less anything fitness based.  So I was not sure what to expect.  A few instructions were sent out via email a few days prior:

  • Wear loose clothing
  • No exercise 6 hours prior
  • No alcohol 2 hour prior
  • No smoking 2 hours prior
  • No food 2 hours prior
  • No caffeine 2 hours prior

These instructions were all simple enough and easy to follow, even though it meant that I’d had to give up my vodka martinis for breakfast apparently.  The last two though, no food or caffeine for two hours was going to be a bit difficult since I eat, like, constantly, given the amount of calories I typically burn in a day with all the swimming, biking, running and whatnot.  As a result, I was still shoveling in scrambled eggs, toast and orange wedges right up the last very allowable minute.  You’d think I was going on a month long fast in the desert right afterwards or something from the way I was frantically spooning in the last of my breakfast.  At one point I nearly choked on the last dregs of my coffee and barely made it to the sink before the remnants sprayed out my nose.  Yeah, I’m classy like that.

When I first arrived in the lab there were already a few sweaty, exhausted friends still givn’er on the treadmill, so that much of the equation was holding true.  It was then explained to me that I could similarly conduct the test on a treadmill, or on a spin bike if I preferred.  This, apparently, is the classic ‘pistols at dawn’ type of choice for testing triathletes.  I also noticed that there was a complete lack of electrodes, high-end technological gadgetry, or fancy electrical gizmos of any kind.    Not necessarily a big deal, of course, but part will definitely admit that there is a certain cool factor (and bragging right) to being hooked up to this kind of shit and a bit of me was disappointed.  Oh well.

Does this look like fun or what?

Does this look like fun or what?

What was prevalent was an entire table of gauze and menacing looking stabby things.  That can’t be good.  Then it registered, ‘how else are they going to test the lactate in your blood?’  Of course, they would have to extract it one way or another.

I decided that since I’ve already done quite a bit of threshold work on the bike during my Thursday night spin classes, I would revert my suffering to the treadmill as I am about to launch myself into more full on run training and knowing my particular running thresholds will serve me great purpose in the coming months for sure in my bid to acquire some of this here elusive ‘speed’ I keep hearing people talk about.  Before I could jump on the treadmill however, I needed to have some preliminary physiological measurements taken such as my age, height, weight, and blood pressure.

Funny thing about having my blood pressure taken – I hate it.  I have no reservation about running on a treadmill for rapidly increasing intervals until I’m ready to puke, but the feeling of actually feeling my heart thumbing in my upper arm as that cuff begins to constrict itself makes me, well, queasy.  So much so, that my blood pressure was first recorded at 169/96 mmHg.  Logistically, they needed a reading of 145/100 mmHg  to proceed with the test safely.   So who suffers from ‘white coat syndrome’ apparently?  This guy!  Crap! How embarrassing would that be if I couldn’t even past the preliminary blood pressure reading to proceed to the actual LT test?  Just.  Shoot.  Me.  Now.  Thankfully the next reading came in at 144/92 mmHg, falling just beneath the required standard so I began to ready myself for the next phase of getting down to business…the drawing of blood.  Oh joy.

What greeted at this next stage of the process, it was kinda on par with something you might expect to see on Vlad Tepes bedside table: gauze, a dozen needles, and alcohol swabs.  Goodie.  Hey, are we doing a Lactate Threshold test here or conducting some weird medieval bloodletting ritual or something?  It’s hard to get motivated while facing at such a macabre set-up, but it’s simply a part of the test since they need to measure the amount lactate in your blood through the various intervals to determine any fruitful results.  Fortunately, my student observer was a sweet, kindly looking girl despite the intimidating lab coat.  “Okay, ready to start?” she asked.  “It’s going to be a piece of cake, believe me.  It’s not so bad.”   Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, what I really heard was:

Apparently, as is evidenced by the plethora of shaving cuts on my face, I am an easy “bleeder” and it only took the girl one stab to draw blood establish the benchmark by which to begin my test.  Queue the agony.

Basically, the entire test is conducted on a graduated system of intervals that steadily increase in intensity from an initial easy pace.   Using what’s known as a “Borg Scale”, a method of measuring my RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), which ranges from 6, being extremely easy to 20 being ‘I think a vein in my forehead is about to burst’, I would have my blood tested every 4 minutes as my intervals increased in intensity upward up that scale.  The Borg Scale looks exactly like this:

Brilliant thing this Borg Scale; I think we should incorporate something like this in all aspects of life.

Q: “How’s your day going?”

A: “Oh, I’d say about an 11 on the Borg Scale.”

Q: “This dinner is delicious!  Is the recipe difficult?”

A: “Not at all.  It’s only an 8 on the Borg Scale.”

Q:  “Hey, what took you so long in there?”

A:  “Are you kidding?  I just passed a turd that was at least a 19 on the Borg Scale.”

So, with my perforated fingertip dripping fresh blood and a Borg Scale placed squarely in front of me, I started to run at what felt like a fairly easy pace, or an 8 on the scale.  After four minutes, my blood was tested again and the interval slightly increased, this time to an 11, which, in Spinal Tap terms is pretty awesome – true – but for me this was still a pretty easy pace.  And so on and so forth through five more intervals over the next 30 minutes or so until my legs were turning over quicker than a hamster in a wheel, lungs gasping, head woozy, my heart rate racing to 173 bpm – thump thump thump thump – and climbing still.

The top was cropped out to spare you the literal mess that is my current condition, not to mention what little dignity I still have left.

The top was cropped out to spare you the literal mess that is my current condition, not to mention what little dignity I still have left.

The even less than less then fun part.

The even less than less then fun part.

Okay, so this is what prolonged death feels like.  Good to know.

So what were the overall results of this madness you ask?  Well, from the gathered information, they were able to determine that I’m fat and slow; big surprise, right?  And it only took $30 and an hour in the lab to determine that.  Yay me.  Basically, I can sum up the overall results in a cool looking graph like this:

LT4

After all, who doesn’t loves themselves an awesome, groovy graph?  Totally looks legit and official, right?  With this graph, they were able to determine a few other things of relative importance that will aid me in my training going forward, specifically, my first and second lactate threshold ‘spikes’.  Hey, if the graph says so then it must be – “All hail mighty graph!”  The first spike on the graph signifies the first slight increase of blood lactate in the curve, and second spike of blood lactate where my lactic acid is building up faster than I could clear it out.  From this data, they could determine my approximate heart rate zones for my different workouts, represented in this handy-dandy chart:

chart

Recovery:  This zone is primarily used during recovery from other faster intervals, or at the end of my training sessions (this value is <LT1).  I’ll also use this zone for all my easy runs.

Over-distance:  This is my long-slow-distance (LSD) day.  This value is the first half of the values between LT1 and LT2.

Endurance:  This is a slightly higher intensity version on the LSD day.  When I choose to do my weekly endurance intervals, I can work within these over-distance and endurance heart rate ranges.  This value is the second half of the values between LT1 and LT2.

Tempo/LT (lactate threshold):  When doing my high intensity training, I can use the lactate threshold to give me the appropriate heart rate ranges that I should be working within.  For example: if my heart rate range is 163-173 bpm  (my lactate threshold being mid-way through that range – or about 168 bpm), my high intensity intervals should be at the upper end of those values (168-173), and my recovery from these intervals will be at the lower end of the heart rate range (163-168).  By working slightly above this lactate threshold, I will be stressing my system and allowing for new adaptations to occur in order to improve my lactate threshold appropriately through effective training. This value is my LT2 +/- 5 bpm.

VO2:  This value/heart rate is working above my threshold. This is ideal for sprinting and working towards my maximum heart rate.  Obviously, this value is way above my LT/Tempo range where I can expect my chest to feel like one of those marines in Aliens just before an alien bursts out of it.

Now what do I do with all this?  Well, where my swim and bike conditioning has already been happening in earnest, my ‘official’ run training starts now.  I have spent the last three months building up my running base again from all those nagging foot issues I’ve been experiencing since Ironman, not to mention the multiple motivation issues, and, yes, the fat issues, and it’s once again time to up the ante a bit and get back to bid’ness of getting out of my comfort zone more often and once again tasting life and feeling the burn.