Tuesday, April 23, 2013

VO2 Testing at Seattle Performance Medicine

My training for skiing has changed a tremendous amount in the past few years. After the winter of 2010 my coach and I decided that, while my anaerobic system was quite well-defined and my speed and strength ample for the task, my aerobic system was leaving me lacking in my events. The sprint event in xc skiing is unique in its combination of maximal power demands AND aerobic demands via recovery and often long courses. I would ski well through qualification time trials and perhaps the quarterfinals, but then fall short in ensuing rounds. We decided to put a strong emphasis on aerobic training, and in the last two seasons we've seen huge gains in training markers and overall results.

But still, in this past season I felt something missing in the sprint. I would qualify well, and finish the quarters well but in the semifinals I'd still feel a missing gear. We couldn't determine what the culprit was - aerobic? anaerobic? strength? It's difficult to identify the missing link, and with a training regimen that attempts to cover all these bases we were left at the end of this year scratching our heads for answers. In addition, I've long wrestled with appropriate diet and nutrition - how much is enough? What is my optimal weight/body fat/carb-to-fat ratios? So many questions...

In February when I was bemoaning all these looming questions, Alison recommended that I schedule some metabolic testing at Seattle Performance Medicine, and an evaluation with Dr. Emily Cooper. Alison first heard Dr. Cooper speak several years ago at a running camp, and was impressed with the straight-forward and intuitive information on nutrition for endurance athletes. I hadn't taken a VO2 test in several years (2007 was the last), so I thought at the very least it'd be interesting to see my improvements in capacity.

Metabolic testing can take several forms, but in general it offers much more than that coveted max VO2 figure (point of maximal oxygen uptake). Along the way, a well-conducted test can determine your aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, your percent utilization of carbohydrate, fat, and protein at various intensities, and your metabolic rates during exercise and at rest (how many calories you're burning during the day and during exercise). When combined with expert analysis and summary these data can change your athletic life, for sure.

My last race of Super Tour Finals was the National 50km; I had four full days between that event and my testing, so I made sure to eat lots and rest plenty. You should treat a testing day like a race: you want to be well rested and well-fueled beforehand. The objective is to reach your absolute maximum effort, so any lingering fatigue from workouts, races, or busy living will affect the outcome.

The Seattle Performance Lab is a highly professional, well-run facility. My testing was conducted by Brady Wright, the Exercise Physiologist who manages the testing lab. He got me started with a resting metabolic rate (RMR) test; this one measures how many calories you burn per day just maintaining normal function. It also can show how much of those calories come from fat, carbohydrate, and protein. And all you have to do is lie down and breathe through a mask for 16 minutes! My RMR was 2750 calories, so I need to eat that much plus whatever I burn during daily workouts to keep my body firing on all cylinders. Needless to say, I've been eating probably 50-75% of what I should be, so already I was getting some great data.

Next was the VO2 max test. While protocols vary from test to test, the basic premise is that you run on a treadmill (or cycle, or row, or rollerski) at increasing paces and incline until you can't go anymore. The test is broken into time stages, and the pace and incline are increased after each stage. The whole time, ventilatory data is collected via a face mask and inputted into a computer which graphs it for the physiologist to determine where you're at.

After the max test I did an anaerobic level test, where I ran at increasing speeds on a flat treadmill, again breathing through the mask, until Brady identified via the graphs that I had reached my anaerobic threshold, that point at which my body is demanding more oxygen than I can take in.

After all this data was accumulated and summarized it was time to meet with Dr. Cooper. When we sat down I told her my plight, that I was having trouble finding my top gear in the latter stages of a sprint. Dr. Cooper admittedly didn't know much about the xc ski sprint, but her ample knowledge base of other endurance activities gave her plenty of grounding to identify my weak points. First off, she said, I'm burning WAY too much fat at high intensities. Basically, when you're pushing as hard as you can you want your body sourcing glycogen, which metabolizes much faster into ATP (your body's ultimate energy supply); fat takes much longer. Most sprinters are burning 100% glycogen at their max; I'm burning almost 20% fat! She said that this has probably developed due both to a lack of appropriate caloric intake (especially of carbohydrates), combined with a tremendously strong aerobic system which keeps my body in a more efficient fat-burning state even when I'm asking for quick-fueling glycogen.

The second factor she identified in my search for answers is the close proximity of my anaerobic threshold to my max VO2. Traditionally in endurance sports this is a great thing, as it allows one to go very fast/hard and close to their maximum without going anaerobic and developing a high level of lactate in their system. But for sprinters and power endurance athletes, you need to have room between these two figures, an "anaerobic capacity", which offers you those extra gears. See, lactate is actually a good thing, not only as a secondary fuel but as a marker than you're tapping into your fast-twitch muscle fibers which only burn glycogen (and hence produce lactate). Without that broad anaerobic capacity these fibers don't have much room to run, and your power at high speed/effort is limited.

So how to proceed? First I need to eat more. Lots more. And more carbohydrate. And secondly, I need to back off on my high aerobic training because that system is already too strong for what I need (were I a marathoner, I'd be sitting pretty). I need to put a big emphasis on anaerobic and strength/power training to build that anaerobic capacity under my max VO2. To measure these improvements I'll use lactate monitoring during workouts, to look for high lactates which reflect utilization of fast-twitch fibers.

In all, this testing has provided multiple new avenues for my training, and for the price ($350/session) I consider it well worth my time and money.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Importance of Spring-time "Adaptations"

Springtime in the mountains is a beautiful thing; after a long winter of cold and snow and wet the spring sun is about as welcome as a slice of warm pie after a long trail run. And whether you're an avid skier during the wintertime or just try to maintain your fitness through gym work and the occasionally snowy outside run, when spring and snowmelt arrives it's tough not to jump into a huge volume of fun, warm, out-of-doors activities.

The spring is a valuable time for endurance athletes as it offers us our first chance in months to engage in the sports we've had to put on hold since last fall, and this can be a good thing. Training different muscle groups, introducing diversity back into your routine; it can all boost your general fitness up to a great level. But there should also be prudence in your approach; jumping headlong into running if you haven't tied up the shoes in a few months could easily lead to minor injury. Make sure to ease up your volume gradually, and look for softer terrain like trails instead of roads to restart you impact-heavy activity. Also, I think it's a great idea to always start each spring with a new pair of running shoes. Not only is it exciting to pull a great-smelling pair of kicks out of the box for the first time in April, but that old pair from last fall is likely broken down.  Especially if you used them in the winter, when road salt and debris can weaken your old shoes' integrity, having a new pair gives you the best chance of protecting your initially-weaker running joints from the pounding.

Core strength, that old chestnut, will continue to be your best friend (if you've got it) or your worst enemy (if you don't) this spring. A strong core will allow you to dive into new activity without major injury, as it ties together all the extremities which are suddenly baffled at the change in movement. Lacking strength in your core means everything from leaning forward on a bike to pounding up and down while running will be absorbed by your arms and legs, leaving them more susceptible to overuse injury. Get in the gym and do some strength, you!
Alison (in grey shirt, right-of-center), about to start her first running race of 2013, the Squak Mtn Half. She won.

Given all of the above, what's the best way to embrace spring? Do everything! Get on your bike, go running, go backcountry skiing and carve some corn. Take advantage of this time to get involved in lots of different sports, because as the year wears on you will eventually want to hone in on that one sport where you goals reside.

Here's our Methow Endurance Springtime Checklist:
1. Buy new running shoes (try La Sportiva!)

2. Try and include at least three different sports in your fitness routine each week

3. Try a sport you've never done before, or haven't done in a long time
When's the last time you stood at a place like this with skis on, having made it there by your own steam? Backcountry skiing is excellent strength and aerobic training; it's pretty damn fun, too.

4. Set goals! Spring is the new year for athletes - want to try a 50-mile trail race? Search the race calendars and pick one. Interested in moving up a wave in the Birkie? Register for the race now and plan your training year around that goal. Having a focus and working that focus with a coach can dramatically increase your odds of success, and beginning in the springtime gives you a long-range plan.

5. Enlist the help of a Methow Endurance coach. We can help you structure your training and proceed in the best possible manner toward your goals, and starting in the spring gives you and us a blank slate to work with, ready to fill with high-quality training and preparation.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 Rattler in the books!

Exiting the canyon, before the climb. Photo by Methow Valley Photography.

Today marked the first running of the Rattler Trail Run, Methow Endurance style. We were graced with warm temperatures and sunny, albeit breezy, skies. Many local runners applied their skiing fitness to dominate each race. The times to beat for the half-marathon were an impressive 1:29.36 by local runner extraordinaire and MVSTA director James DeSalvo, and 1:40.40 by other local extraordinaire, Laura McCabe. Laura passed her speed on to her daughter Novie,  who at age 11, was first overall in the 4-mile race. In the 9-mile race, part-time resident Dave Cleveland won with a time of 1:07.44 and Twisper Heidi Dunn took the ladies' race in 1:21.36.

Directing this race was particularly fun, knowing several people used the event as their entry to the trail running world we love so much. Thank you to everyone who participated, the volunteers, and our amazing sponsors, Winthrop Mountain Sports, La Sportiva, Clif Shot, and Rocking Horse Bakery, who make this event possible.

Full race results can be found here.

Methow Valley Photography took some wonderful pictures out on the half-marathon course, that can be found here. See you next spring!

Having fun in the sun. Photo by Methow Valley Photography.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Methow Endurance Fall Getaway

Fall is my second-favorite season here in the Methow Valley (can you guess my favorite? It rhymes with "splinter"). While New England does a great job of marketing its fall foliage, nothing beats the beautiful collage of yellows and reds from the Aspen and Cottonwood trees mixing with the deep green of the Ponderosa pines. Quite often as well we experience an Indian Summer where the temperatures will rise into the 70s during the day before cooling at night.

Having planted that delicious image in your mind, we are excited to announce our first annual Methow Endurance Fall Getaway! We want to show off all the great possibilities of Fall by offering you expert-guided riding and running on the trails and roads around Sun Mountain Lodge. The weekend is open to both men and women, and features options for both trail running and mountain biking. Saturday and Sunday mornings start with invigorating yoga sessions, and then will feature small coached sessions in each of the above sports; in the afternoons there will be guided tours of each, accommodating all ability levels. After your adventures, relax in one of the Lodge's hot tubs or pamper yourself with a spa treatment. In the evening venture out to one of the Methow's delicious dinner options or dine in at the Lodge's four-star restaurant and wine cellar.

Like our highly successful Women's Ski and Yoga Retreat, our partnership with Sun Mountain Lodge for this weekend will include special room rates for participants, and breakfasts and lunches will be included in your registration fee. In addition to the outdoor activities we'll be offering yoga sessions and evening discussions on training and nutrition.

For all the information you'll ever need, and to sign up, go to the Getaway website.


When: Friday, October 18th to Sunday, October 20th

What: mountain biking, trail running, yoga, fall colors, friends, food, relaxation.

Cost: $280; includes two breakfasts and two lunches; yoga sessions; all coached and guided sessions in biking and/or running;  wine and appetizers on Friday night; evening discussions; and shirt. Room and other activities are extra and must be arranged separately.