A couple of weeks ago, fifteen months after my initial visit to UCSF's (University of California - San Francisco) RunSafe clinic, I went back for a Performance Evaluation. The Performance Evaluation was comprised of:
1. A Body Composition Analysis
2. Lactate Threshold Testing
3. VO2 Max Testing
4. A private consultation with an Exercise Physiologist
I was so nervous going into the appointment because I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew that both tests were designed to have me reach max level of exertion. As if that wasn't enough to make me feel jittery, the tests were also conducted on a treadmill which I *never* run on. In addition, one of the reminder emails said, "Please be well hydrated and ready for a strenuous bout of exercise." Umm, I wondered just how strenuous this workout was going to be...
When I arrived, I met the physiologist who was conducting my session, as well as the other person who was assisting with the testing. Unlike the RunSafe Clinic where 4 people were evaluated at once, this time I was the only person being evaluated, so it was just the 3 of us in the clinic that morning.
Body Composition Analysis
The Body Composition Analysis consisted of getting my weight, height, and body fat measurements. I have a Tanita scale at home and it turned out that my data was exactly the same as I had measured that morning. At least I know my scale is accurate - not sure if that's a good thing. :/
Lactate Threshold Testing
The next step in the evaluation was a Lactate Threshold Test. A Lactate Threshold Test measures the maximum effort you can maintain before lactic acid enters your blood stream. You can Google the term for more detailed, scientific background on it, but basically it's a test that tells you what level of exertion your body is capable of handling.
Prior to the appointment I was told that I could bring an iPod with my own music to be played while the test was being administered. I thought that was really cool; unfortunately, I brought my iPod shuffle, which couldn't be played over the sound system. So instead they put on Pandora and let me pick out a station.
First I had to put on a heart monitor, and then they pricked my finger to get my first blood sample. Next I got on the treadmill, starting at a walking pace. The assistant had an RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) chart and I had to rate my RPE at every stage. Each stage was about 2-minutes long and at the end of 2-minutes I got off the treadmill, gave another blood sample and gave my RPE rating. This went on for about 8 stages, with the pace increasing by .5 each time, until I reached an RPE of 20; i.e., max exertion.
I was told that my finger would be pricked a maximum of 2 times but apparently I am not a good bleeder because they had to prick my finger after every stage. By the 4th time they had to move on to another finger. As bad as that sounds, it wasn't too awful. It hurt more trying to squeeze the blood out.
VO2 Max Testing
After the Lactate Threshold Testing I took about a 15-20 minute break where they gave me water to hydrate and a towel to wipe my sweat. I watched them set-up for the VO2 Max test still not completely sure what to expect. Turns out, it's exactly like doing a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test, just running on a treadmill.
What that means is you put on a headset that attaches a breathing tube to a computer. The breathing tube goes into your mouth complete so you can *only* breathe into it. Even your nose is clipped shut.
I got back on the treadmill and they started me at a slow, steady pace. But instead of increasing the pace every 2-min, for this test, they increased the incline by 1% every 2-min until I reached max RPE. I didn't have to get off the TM for a blood sample, but I did have to rate my RPE. Since I couldn't speak with the breathing tube in my mouth, I had to give hand signals - thumbs up/down - to rate my RPE and to give the okay that I was ready for the incline to increase.
I get claustrophobic quite easily so this test was difficult for me. I held on for as long as I could, going from a 1% incline to a 7% incline, then I had to stop because I felt like I couldn't breathe. If I could have taken a breath of fresh air or a sip of water I could have gone on for longer, but since I couldn't I had reached my max RPE.
The physiologist took some time to review my test results then sat down with me to go over her preliminary findings.
• My body composition was in the normal range so there wasn't anything to be concerned about there. • My lactate threshold was about a 10-min/mile pace. This is the pace that I should be able to maintain for 26.2 miles. • As for the VO2 Max, I didn't quite hit max, but I did hit VO2 Peak and based upon the trends leading up to VO2 Peak they were able to determine my VO2 Max, which was in the mid-40’s, which was also normal.
The recommendations made were:
• To train at paces under 10 min/miles. • Do lots of fartlek, speed, and interval work. • About a week after the evaluation they also sent me a more detailed report that included what my training zones are based upon my HR and RPE's.
Although I have already been training at the recommended paces and doing speed-type of workouts, I actually laughed out loud when I heard "you should be able to maintain a 10-min/mile pace for 26.2 miles." A certain someone had been telling me this for months and to be quite honest, I didn't believe it. But now here is science telling me that this is what my body is capable of right now -- and I'm not even in marathon training mode at the moment.
I've definitely been pondering that data from this evaluation, and it is not lost on me that perhaps this experience is directly tied to the race that I had on Sunday. Either way, I think this was a beneficial process for me to go through and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again.