Training: Of Treadmills, Drool and Potential

This guy doesn't appear to have my drooling problem.*

Sometimes, all you can do is drool.

I first read about the UCSF Human Performance Center last year in Runner’s World as I sat on the couch with my broken foot propped up on the ottoman. For a science geek, it sounded incredibly cool: using actual performance testing to determine what I should be capable of doing.

It took nearly a year to get around to scheduling the first part of the testing — VO2 max, lactate threshold and body composition. On Monday, I battled the fog and traffic to drive to San Francisco. For all of my excitement for the concept of the program, my brain could only process one thought on Monday morning: what the hell was I thinking?

You see, the entire test takes place on a treadmill, and I have a bit of a treadmill phobia. I’ve always struggled to maintain my pace on the ‘mill without drifting towards the back. Yes, I have visions of being That Person at the gym, the one who stumbles and shoots off the back of the belt like they’ve been launched from a catapult.

The program began with connecting me to a heart monitor. I wasn’t surprised to see that my heart rate was already in the triple digits before we started. My resting heart rate at last week’s doctor’s appointment was 67. A little bit of anxiety, perhaps?

The first part of the testing analyzed my lactate threshold. We began with a finger prick to test my blood at rest, then proceeded to test every couple of minutes as the treadmill speed was increased. They matched the info from my blood tests with my heart rate, pace and the self-assessment of my rate of perceived exertion.

The second part was the VO2 max test, which had me hooked up to a lovely piece of alien-looking headgear attached to a tube that was approximately the same size as a vacuum cleaner hose (like the person in this picture). The giant tube was connected to a silicone mouthpiece that I had to bite down on to keep in my mouth. My nostrils were closed off with nose clips, which made it feel like I was running with a bad cold and stuffy nose. I awkwardly re-mounted the treadmill — even more anxiety now, since the tube and apparatus blocked my view of my feet, affecting my sense of position on the equipment — and began to run at a 12:00/mile pace.

This was when I suddenly realized that with a giant silicone doohickey holding my mouth open, I couldn’t swallow.

Yes, I drooled on the treadmill. I am the epitome of grace and poise!

With the aid of a drool towel, the test went on. Rather than increasing my speed, the VO2 max test increased the angle of the treadmill, so by the end of the process I was plowing up a steep uphill and working harder to maintain the same pace.

So what did I learn? I have lots of room for improvement. My VO2 max is currently in the “average” range, which it shouldn’t be considering the amount of training that I’ve done this year. Interval training will help me to increase my VO2 max, which will improve my speed.

Tempo runs and hills will train my body to improve my lactate threshold, allowing me to push farther. A combination of the two should help me improve both my pace and my distance.

I’m looking forward to finding the time to do the second part of the program, the RunSafe clinic, early next year. RunSafe tackles form, strength, flexibility, nutrition and injury prevention, something all runners can use.

Are your workouts maximizing your potential? How do you gauge your level of intensity and whether you’re doing the right thing?

* Photo from the Human Performance Center.

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