My Latest Fitness Assessment: Fitter, but More Wimpy

Last week I went back to the Peak Centre for Performance to do another running fitness assessment, as it was time to check in on the effects of my new training plan. Unlike my previous test, I didn’t need to measure my VO2max, so I didn’t have to wear the snorkel and breath through the tube. Which I thought meant that I’d be able to run a little bit more at the hardest level, as the last time I found it really difficult to gasp for breath through that snorkel. Boy was I wrong!

As you may recall from last time, I mentioned that people usually keep running to a blood lactate level of 8-10 mmol/L, whereas I gave up at 7.2 mmol/L, which means I am wimpier than average. This time, however, I gave up at a pathetic  5.69! Daniel’s interpretation of this is kinder than mine – he thinks that because I knew that I was running at a faster speed than I maxed out on my previous assessment, I gave up on the test too early, thinking that I couldn’t do any more than, rather than actually having quite because I was too wimpy to take anymore. There might be some truth to that – perhaps next time I should try to ignore what speed I’m running at during the test and focus just on how my body feels. Or maybe I should run until I literally fall off the treadmill!

At any rate, the positive news from this assessment is that my zone 1 training has paid off big time, as I’ve significantly shifted my lactate curve. Here’s the graph of my second assessment.

2015-08-06 Fitness Assessment Results

Then I plotted the data from both assessments on the same graph so that we can compare them:

2015-08-06 Running Assessment compared to first assessment

On this graph, the blue and green lines represent my heart rate results from assessment #1 and assessment #2, respectively, across the different speeds (with speed on the x-axis). As you can see, the heart rate results are virtually identical. The red line represents my blood lactate levels across the different speeds for assessment #1 and the purple line represents my blood lactate levels across the different speeds for assessment #2. As you can see, my blood lactate is lower at each speed throughout the assessment, which is exactly what zone 1 training is meant to do. In zone 1 training, you run at a relatively low level of exertion , a level that would allow you to run all day long. This trains your body to be able to run at faster speeds without producing as much lactate, which means you can run faster for a longer period of time.

On the down side, while I was diligent with my zone 1 training and significantly improved my aerobic threshold, I was a delinquent when it came to my intensity workouts and it showed in the results of my training. This next graphic shows my lactate and aerobic thresholds compare to the limits for these thresholds:

2015-08-06 Fitness Assessment Results - LimitsWhat this graphic shows is that my aerobic threshold occurs at 81% of my speed at VO2max and my lactate threshold occurs at 94% of my speed at VO2max – and I’m basically at the limits. This means that if I continue to just do zone 1 training, I won’t continue to see improvements, because you can’t push your aerobic threshold higher than 80-85% of your max. The only way to improve from here is to increase my max speed, which means that I have to do my intensity workouts. Normally, this would mean doing zone 5 workouts – essentially, running for as fast as you can around a lap of the track, giving yourself a rest, and then repeating that until you can no longer maintain that max speed. But given that my next half marathon is only just over a month away – and I’ll need to taper for the last couple of weeks leading up to it – Lewis suggested that until my race, I should do a zone 3 workout once per week (basically, running at my zone 3 pace, which is where my muscles start to build up lactate, for as long as I can (working my way up to 30 minutes over the next few weeks if possible) in order that I build up my tolerance for lactate (i.e., suck it up buttercup!). I’m also adding some “race pace” to end of my long runs – which I really should have been doing a while ago, but I was discouraged by the fact that my target race pace was in my zone 3 range of my previous assessment and so I just kind of ignored that I was supposed to be doing it at the end of my long runs!

So – will I reach my sub-2 hr half marathon goal in Montreal? Who knows. I might have a spectacular race day and pull it off. I might have screwed myself over by not training to build my max speed and build up my lactate tolerance up until now and now I don’t have enough time to fix it. Only time will tell. But as with my last half marathon, I’m setting a series of staged goals – so even if I don’t make my sub-2 hr goal, I’ll still have some backups to aim for:

  1. a sub-2 hour half marathon
  2. finish my first ever half marathon where I run straight through, with no 10 and 1s – I’ve done 12 half marathons and for all 12 of them I’ve done 10 and 1s (run for 10 minutes, walk for 1 minute, and repeat). This training is the first time I’ve been training on this new system where I run in zone 1, so I don’t need those 1 minute walk breaks. Each week when I do a long run I think “That’s the longest I’ve ever run straight through without walk breaks!” So doing that for an entire 21.1 km will be an accomplishment!
  3. finish – Finishing a half marathon is always worth being proud of.

So, there you have it – I’ve scienced up my running and am now motivated to go out and do my zone 3 runs from now until race day! Wish me luck!