By Team Trainright's Bill Plock
On November 5th I was tested at Carmichael Training Systems for the first time since becoming a CTS athlete in April. There is no question coaching has helped. Was there ever doubt? How could it not? But confirmation is good. I took the same tests earlier this year in April, and did a few field tests through the summer, so I had a lot of data to compare.
These test confirmed what I already knew — I am stronger. So far in 2011 I've finished every race significantly faster than the same races in 2010 with no other change but having a coach. Same bike, same courses, same food, on and on.
So what did the test say? In a nutshell since April, physiologically speaking, I can work just as hard but for much longer and more efficiently. For example, I can sustain 275 watts of power about twice long at my lactate threshold, the point where my muscles accumulate lactate faster than they can process it.
Additionally, my threshold as it relates to my VO2 max (which has also increased slightly) has gone from 82% of max to 87% of max. That 5% is significant. Lactate threshold is the maximum intensity level I can sustain for long periods of time. Power at VO2 max is the maximum intensity my aerobic engine can achieve. When both your power at threshold and power at VO2 max incraease, and the gap between them diminishes at the same time, it means you can sustain an intensity that's closer to your maximum potential. You're using more of the engine you have. That's huge!
And of course that is just part of the story. I am, according to coach Lindsay, perfectly trained for an Ironman or other long distance events. The test show I can produce up to 225 watts of power for a long time with almost no significant build up of lactic acid, the killer of Ironmen. 225 watts is difficult to translate into speed because of the variances of terrain and aerodynamics, but it is certainly in the 22 mph range for me. Let's assume that is right.
An increase in my power at lactate threshold means two things: I can go faster before reaching lactate threshold, or I can go the same speed as before and conserve a lot of energy. My goal is to split the difference and go somewhat faster than I have before, but not so fast that I burn through precious energy I'm going to need for a good run. This is where the tests proves so valuable. Lindsay can now prepare a race plan that manages my abilities. We may choose to utilize the increased endurance with a bigger bike effort or save it all for the run or more likely some combination.
But hold on a second, it's a race right? It's emotional and there are millions of variables. Maybe it's windy or my stomach hurts or it's unusually hot or whatever. I won't race with a power meter or a heart rate monitor or someone pricking my finger to test my lactate levels, so I simply have to feel it. I will wear my Garmin which tells me my speed and pace keeping me somewhat on plan. So what good are these test now?
They are invaluable. They give me confidence. I can feel my heart rate and know when to back off and when to push. These test also show I have some room to screw up, and by that I mean I can afford a few pushes and probably not get in trouble. Maybe I over swim at first to get away from competitors clubbing each other, or push a little hard on the windy side of Cozumel or maybe I give it more on the last few miles of the run. Who knows, it's a race and anything can happen.
Moving forward this test will give coach Lindsay data to help dial in my training for next year to keep getting stronger. She told me we haven't even focused yet on my biking which scares me a bit as I can recall some grueling bike sessions! With this data she can also give me more targeted pace and wattage range for training.
As I mentioned, we also tested my VO2 max, which is basically your maximum capacity for taking in and processing oxygen. This is a harder number to increase only by training. It is greatly affected by genetics. Losing weight (healthily) can impact it significantly as VO2 is measured by millileters of oxygen per kilo of weight per minute. It's a predictor of potential but less an indication of fitness or performance.
A car with a 185 horse engine potentially can go just as fast as a car with a 400 horsepower engine. It might need better tuning, special gas or oil and will operate at higher rpm's, and it will probably burn out much faster and would probably be more prone to breakdowns.
VO2 max to a human is what max horse power is to an engine. Rarely do you drive a car at max horsepower just like you don't cycle or run for more than a few seconds at VO2 max efforts. The key is utilizing that potential. How the car is built, how heavy it is, what kind of gas you use, how you drive will impact the car's performance just like proper nutrition and training help us be more efficient and faster.
My VO2 in April was 58 and now it's 61. That is a somewhat significant increase and can be slightly attributed to being in better shape but also being leaner and having a higher muscle density has an impact–I weigh exactly the same as I did in April. With more muscle I am able to utilize oxygen better. So again, it doesn't mean I race faster, but it does give me a bit more horsepower to play with.
All in all, it's good to know where I'm at and I can even more confidently recommend coaching!