Refining my Training as a Runner

On August 8th I went in for an assessment with the Peak Centre for Human Performance in Kanata. Our Summer Marathon Clinic group had a talk from them a couple of weeks back about finding the right pace-zones to get the most out of your training – a good slow pace for your long runs, a challenging fast pace for tempo. We were all really motivated by what we had heard, and so approximately 40 of us ended up signing up to get tested (at a pretty sweet discount!).

It was really easy to book the appointment online, and I was quick to receive a confirmation email which said that I was scheduled for my preferred day and time. Woohoo!

When I arrived I was given some basic paperwork to fill out, and a waiver for what they called the VO2 Max testing. Then they brought me into the room and got me set up. First I put the heart rate monitor around my chest – just like the one I have at home – only they use a conductive gel on the pads to ensure a good reading. We discussed a good pace for me to start at, which would be recovery/Sunday long run speed. For me that was about 7:30min/km on their chart. I warmed up for a few minutes on their treadmill and the person testing me agreed that this would be a good starting pace. It was time to begin!

I neglected to bring any water, so I popped my head into their sink like the graceful creature that I am. Then the contraption of doom I had heard so much about from so many before me was placed upon my face: The Mask. It was a tiny rubbery thing that went over my nose and mouth. Even though I was fully aware that it would make me feel incredibly claustrophobic, I still felt momentarily startled, like “I can’t run with this on my face!” as it feels like you can’t quite get enough air in. I managed to wiggle it around to a point where I felt I could fully open my mouth and nose (which did feel a bit pinched initially), and then I calmed and was ready.

Back onto the treadmill I went. They attached some tubes that went into and out of my mask so that they could monitor my breathing. I glared at the tubes and silently hoped that they would be able to keep up with my air demands.

I started off on the treadmill at my Sunday long run slow-and-steady pace and held that for 3 minutes before they would increase the speed by 1km/h (if I’m recalling that correctly). All of which would be at a 2% incline. Before increasing speed, however, they would take a quick blood sample from my finger. I would place my hand on the side armrest of the treadmill, and they would quickly lance my finger and squeeze out a bit of blood.

Of course, by no surprise to me, I have cold hands with no circulation, and so I pretty much needed to be pricked a fresh hole for every cycle. I didn’t mind as it wasn’t painful. My history with blood tests at this point leads me believe that one would have better luck extracting blood from a stone than from my body!

My goal was to keep running for as long as possible to ensure we were able to collect enough data for my results. I was doing alright with my breathing, even though I did have to straighten out the tube to my mask a few times as it would get caught on the treadmill screen. I kept my mind occupied by watching the computer screen before me, which showed the elapsed time (I wanted to keep going for at least 20 minutes), my heart rate (the heart rate monitor beeping insessantly below me, reminding me that I was pushing myself, in case I wasn’t aware..), and my VO2 readings (which were constantly fluctuating and, if indicative of my VO2 Max, not very impressive).

At one point during what I deemed to be my last run cycle (I was just barely maintaining that speed!), I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that my pace was reading 3 minutes per km! I nearly flew off the treadmill in shock – I have never run that fast before!! Suffice it to say, I broke my records for fastest kilometre and mile run that day! I was positively giddy.

So for me it was definitely the legs that gave out first. Most people reported back that it was their lungs – feeling claustrophobic, not getting enough air in through the mask. I feel a bit disappointed that I couldn’t keep it up for one more 3 minute cycle, and that if I hadn’t seen my pace then maybe I could have. But then I remember I was just barely keeping it together long enough for him to take that last blood sample. When I was able to slow down a bit and catch my breath it was easy to say “let’s keep going!”, but that’s not how the test works.

All in all, it was definitely an interesting experience and I’m looking forward to seeing my results, which will help guide my training!


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