Sunday, 17 April 2016

Fitting It All In Part 3

even when we feel weak...
Back in 2014 I posted Fitting It All In Part 1 and Part 2.  Now, 2 years later, I am thinking about those  posts again and struggling to piece the puzzle together.  This week-end was my 2nd to last long back-to-back week before the Grand Canyon Ultra 50 Miler.  It was a very stressful week at work, and it was also my oldest son's birthday today.

Friday morning I woke up mentally at my max.  I had had a hard week of work and a hard week of training. When my first thought out of bed was wondering how long it would be before I could get back into my PJs...I knew I was in trouble.  I am a physiotherapist and I LOVE what I do.  I love people and I love helping them.  But Friday morning I didn't have much left in my tank to give to anyone.  My energy levels were at an all time low, and I knew that in order to fit all I needed to into the weekend (including 58K of running), I would need to NOT fit it all in.  I need to draw the line somewhere.

Increasingly over the last year, I have found myself engaging more and more in social media and in digital conversations.  It's easy to let constant chatter and enduring conversations hijack your day.  I also engage with dozens of people every day on a very personal and sometimes deep level at work.  I usually thrive on this, but by the end of this week, I needed a break.  I felt like I was a negative magnet and everything else was another negative magnet and the closer life tried to get to me, the harder I pushed away. It was almost that palpable.

I knew that in order to protect my mental health and the integrity of my family unit (while getting my mileage in), I would need to shut it all off.  I let those closest to me know I was going offline, and I shut my phone down for the weekend. It seemed like such a simple thing, but such a big thing too. I needed to check out and run alone...away from the city and the noise.  I needed the sound of silence.  I ran at very odd hours.  I also knew that I would need to be very present and engaged with my family during the waking hours of the day, and with no phone to distract me, it was a lot easier.  I got my 58K in, and was there to make my son his birthday brunch this morning in addition to spending the day with him.  I lost some sleep, but am strangely now recharged and ready to take on the next week of training, and healing.

Five weeks until the Grand Canyon Ultra!  It had better not snow this year...I need a vacation.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Giving Back - Cancer Care Manitoba

Well, the runs are getting longer again and the races are getting closer. The Grand Canyon Ultra is only 6 weeks away and I have only 2 long runs left before my 50 mile race.  The Spruce Woods Ultra is 2 weeks before GCU and Todd Baranoski of Team Manitoba Dawgs is doing the 100K event.  After these races, our team will be focusing on the Fat Dog 120 and 70 mile events.

Scott Sugimoto, Todd Baranoski and myself will be travelling to Manning Park, BC for the Fat Dog 100 race Aug 12-14.  Scott and Todd will be running 120 miles and I will attempt the 70 mile distance.  We have been enjoying training, planning, dreaming and trying not to, but generally obsessing about this race since at least December.

Ultra running can be incredibly all consuming and self absorbing, so at one point Todd came up with this great idea to use our race efforts to give something back.  We are SO GRATEFUL and feel so fortunate to be able to run the way we do.  For brief periods of time when we are injured or feeling niggles that hint of injury, we freak out and can't imagine not being able to do what we do.  There are people who are fighting much bigger fights, more important battles, battling for life and death.

We are supporting Cancer Care Manitoba through our training and racing efforts.  We can't think of anyone who hasn't been touched by cancer. If you feel impressed, please visit our Team Page to donate in support of this worthy cause.  Consider donating per mile or any arbitrary amount  - every little but helps.  We hope to raise $5000 for Cancer Care.

Thank-you and Happy Trails!

Thursday, 7 April 2016


In my search for information on fitness testing, of course I happened upon Sally McRae's blog where she talks about her first testing experience.  I admire her so much, and can identify with many of her struggles:

I gave her a half joking half pouty, “Yes, I Walk Past Weights And They Jump Into My Thighs.”

Please read her post and enjoy!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold Testing

Last week I had my first VO2 max and blood lactate testing done at the Pan Am Clinic where I work.  I was so excited. Despite being able to do field tests and now having a ridiculously complex and expensive Garmin that predicts such numbers from heart rate and running data, blood lactate testing and actual VO2 max testing is still considered more accurate and the gold standard of measure for aerobic fitness. So I booked myself in!

I have some big goals for 2016 and although it's getting late in the season to be having such testing done, I really wanted a snapshot of my current aerobic fitness profile in order to train more specifically throughout the rest of the year.

What is VO2 max?  It is a value given to the maximal rate at which oxygen can be taken in, transported and utilized by working muscle.  The higher your VO2 max, the better is your ability to use oxygen during muscular work.  It is often expressed in the relative score (ml/kg/min).  This is important for athletes that must move their bodies against the force of gravity (runner, X-C skiers) and for comparing individuals of different body sizes.  The absolute (L/min) value is important for sports where body weight is supported (cycling, rowing) and is a value that is only meaningful to the individual - there is no point comparing this number to others.

Here is one example of a normative data chart.  There are many and they all vary slightly.

Here is another one:

Elite runners and athletes are reported to have VO2 max values in the 70s and 80s.  The world record is reportedly held by a cyclist from Noway named Oskar Svendsen (97.5).  There is debate as to how relevant VO2 max really is in predicting performance, as athletes with lesser scores can beat those with higher scores.  Hence the whole mind over matter debate...which is best saved for another post.

Lactate threshold (LT) is used to signify your anaerobic threshold which is the shift from the energy supply primarily from aerobic to anaerobic.  Blood lactate is a measure of the lactic acid that appears in the blood as a result of anaerobic metabolism when oxygen delivery to the tissues is insufficient to support normal metabolic demands. LT is indicated by the sudden rise in the lactate when the anaerobic energy system (without oxygen) becomes the primary contributor to exercise.
Athletes all want to stay out of the anaerobic zone as much as possible and having a high LT enables them to perform to a higher level without those dreaded burnings legs. Here is a great article on LT.

Here are some pictures of my testing:
Nose clamped, breathing into a tube, heart rate monitor on
It was hard to see where I was on the treadmill with all that gear - I kept bumping into the front
This is how the test worked: After I had changed and put on the heart rate monitor, I warmed up on the treadmill at a very easy pace for 15 min.  This allowed my heart rate to stabilize, as it spikes all over the place during the first 10-15 min of any run.  Then I put on the head gear, clamped my nose shut, sealed my lips around the mouth piece, and hopped back on the treadmill.  Dean pricked my finger and took a blood sample (in the same way as a diabetic will do a blood sugar test) to determine my baseline blood lactate.  Then I started running on the treadmill.  Every 3 minutes I hopped to the side to allow Dean to take another blood sample.  Then Richard bumped the speed up by 0.5 mph and I ran for another 3 min.  We repeated this cycle several times, while Dean monitored all sorts of information on his computer and reported the blood lactate levels to Richard.  We started at 5.5 mph and by the time we reached 8.0 mph I was starting to wonder when this test would be over.  After running at 8.5 mph for 3 min, my blood lactate finally jumped from the low 3 mmol/L to 4.8 mmol/L (if my memory is correct).  At this point, we had our LT reading, but I still needed my VO2 max scores.  Richard then started to increase the incline on the treadmill by 2% grade every minute, while I was still running at 8.5mph.  It didn't take me long, and after 2 min I called it quits at 4% grade. I'm not sure if I could have gone more, but I thought I was maxed at the time.

Richard and Dean

The whole test took about 45 min on the treadmill, and I had my results within another 15 min.  Dean and Richard were amazing and very good at explaining the whole process and interpreting my results.  I have debated as to whether I should share my results publicly, but I'm no elite athlete and this is a form of journal for me, so I will use my real numbers to help explain what it all means.

Absolute VO2 max: 3.4 L/min

Relative VO2 max: 53.1 ml/kg/min
Maximum heart rate: 184 bpm
Lactate threshold: 3.1 L/min
HR at LT: 172 bpm
LT as a % of VO2 max: 91%

Interestingly, Dean asked me what I thought my LT was before he told me.  He said that people who regularly monitor their HR can usually tell when they reach it just by the burn in their legs.  I told him 170-173 bpm.  I was bang on.  So what do these numbers mean to me?  Having a high LT as a % of VO2 max means that I can run almost to my max before my body shifts to anaerobic metabolism.  It could be better though, and my coach, Sarah Seads, suggests that I work on bringing my LT up to 95% of my VO2 max before I try to up my VO2 max.  How is all this done?  By using these numbers to determine your five training zones, which can done with online calculators, or by an experienced coach or exercise physiologist (Dean gave me my zones during my session).  Knowing your specific heart rate zones can help you train more intelligently and keep your easy runs truly easy, and your tempo or speed workouts truly effective.

Now, we'll see if all this knowledge pays off for me. Ultimately, it's up to me now to apply this information to my training.  Thanks Dean and Richard for a great testing experience!