Lab Test Results: Time to Move On?

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  • #6941
    CRC
    Participant

    Scott,

    I’m attaching a PDF with my most recent (~3 months ago) lab test results. I have a handful of questions I’d like to run by you. I hope you’re okay with the long post.

    By way of background, you indicated to me a while ago that the biggest bang for the aerobic buck was time spent right at AeT or slightly below it. Taking this to heart (and having an obsessive personality), I’ve really worked for the last year and a half to do nothing but improve my aerobic system. On average, I’ve been spending about 6 to 10 hours a week trail running, which is about 40 to 60 miles per week since I’m slow. All of this has been at or below AeT. No Intervals. No Threshold Work.

    For a while, I saw nice progress. And, for what’s is worth, under this type of constant work regime, you seem to magically wake up one day and find that your AeT has fallen 5 beats per minute or so (or pace has increased at a given HR). This last year and a half has taught me a lot of about patience because you don’t see results for a while and the progress is definitely not linear.

    Anyhow, I’ve had several lab tests done (I try to go every six months) at the lab you recommended. And, I have updated my target AeT HR after each test. This said, I’m getting to the point now where I’m starting to feel that there are some serious diminishing returns to what I’m doing. I know you have discussed in the past your desire to see AeT within 10% of AnT before introducing higher intensity work. How do you feel about where these results lay on that spectrum? And, please remember these results were over 3 months ago, so I’m hopeful additional (even marginal) gains have been made since.

    Finally, you’ll see that my running economy is quite high, so I don’t see any point in trying to improve it. Also, I have an above average Vo2 max, which I know from extrapolating other lab test results, which leads me to really wonder: why am I not faster? If we think (generally) about distance running performance = Running Economy + Vo2 Max + LT Threshold (or % of Vo2 Max you can sustain).

    Anecdotally, because I understand this is as much art as science, I want you to have a couple of other observations. 1) My max heart rate in the last year according to TP was in a cross-fit style workout @ 185 bpm. 2) I’m having a hard time getting my heart rate high without being under load though, i.e., just running max speed. For example, today during my AM run after 3 miles at an average HR of 145pm I hit a part of the trail that has a sustained 5% grade (very runnable), so I go full speed up it for about 60 seconds and I’m talking max speed here, and my HR only hits 167 and in about 30 seconds of walking after the short sprint it’s back down to <130. I’m sure this is a common misconception but this type of training regime seems to have completely killed my speed. And, I even feel that neuromuscularly – slow turnover, heavy legs that can just plod away. 3) If it helps, I ran a 50K trail race in September. It’s at moderate altitude (Big Sky Resort, MT) and there is about 10,500 ft. of gain over the 31 miles. I finished in ~9:45, which seems to be about middle of the pack. 4) Finally, my goal is to further improve my aerobic system before switching gears and focusing on other capacities (think Max Strength and Local Muscular Endurance). I’m going to try to keep running as much as I can over the winter here in CO because I have a good feel for perceived exertion and good data to use now, but a lot of my training will inevitably switch to ski touring.

    I want to end by saying how much I appreciate all of the advice you and Steve have offered since our first encounter back in Portland several years back.

    Thank you for your time and expertise.

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  • Moderator
    Scott Semple on #6943

    Hey CRC,

    First, great job on being that disciplined. It’s rare, and I’m sure that it will pay off.

    I’ll leave most of this for Scott and Steve to comment on, but the one thing that jumps out at me is your expectation for a max HR response. Unless I’ve misunderstood what you described, 60 seconds isn’t a long enough duration to elicit a max heart rate.

    The load itself (a 60″ sprint) is certainly high enough, but that intensity won’t be able to be maintained long enough for anyone to get to a maximum HR. I don’t know what the shortest possible time would be, but my guess is somewhere in the range of 10-12′ using an effort that somewhat exceeds anaerobic threshold.

    My two cents,
    Scott (S)

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #6964

    CRC:

    Thanks for sending in your test results and like Scott S said; Greta job on following the protocols so well. What you are describing is quite typical for someone who has been doing exclusively aerobic base training. You’ve seen good improvement in aerobic base as measured by AeT. But not seen much improvement in performance. Keep in mind that the aerobic base is a support system for the endurance training which has a direct impact on performance. With out this unglamorous base the high intensity training needed to improve endurance will have less benefit. But racing off that base training alone will not yield the best results. But now you are poised to add high intensity endurance training and you WILL see performance gains unless something goes wrong. Some specific comments:
    1) Why do you care what you max HR is? It has no bearing on, nor relation to performance. Chances are though that it has been affected but all this slow running. You say you feel like you are plodding (typical comment) and for sure your FT fibers have been de-conditioned during this base period so you can generate the power needed to elicit max HR right now. But why do you care about max HR?

    2) Your AeT and AnT are about 10% or a bit less apart and surely you should be including high intensity in your workouts. You have also noted that your felt a plateau in AeT gains which is another clue to add HIT to the mix.

    3) Your economy is excellent. That bodes well for the performance gains you will no doubt see as you start more specific endurance gains. While maxVO2 is indeed a factor in performance it is not as strong a predictor of endurance as AnT pace. I am not seeing the above average VO2max that you allude to above. But a lower max aerobic power after all the slow base work is also not surprising. To elicit a high O2 uptake you have to have done a lot of hard training. You’ve done none so I’m not surprised.

    You now have an aerobic system that can support a more high intensity endurance work and recover faster. Good luck and thanks for the kind words.

    Scott

    Participant
    CRC on #6971

    Scott,

    Thank you for the response. To be clear, I don’t care about max HR. I just thought it might be useful information in the context of feeling like I have lost so much speed that I can’t get my HR high like I used to (when just running). I do think max HR is relevant in the sense of measuring how close your AnT is to it (the closer the better), but I digress.

    So, do you have any specific recommendations as to the type of higher intensity work you would like to see? Intervals, Repeats, AnT threshold, Fartlek, Hills? I do have access to a track. Also, can you give me a specific HR you’d like to see the higher intensity work run at or a zone recommendation if you agree with the prescribed zones in the lab test?

    Finally, from an aerobic detraining perspective – for maintenance purposes when I shift some volume towards higher intensity work – is it better to do my AeT work say 4 days/week for an hour each run or 2 days/week for two hours each run?

    Thank you for your time.

    Keymaster
    Scott Johnston on #6972

    Besides the factors I mention in the previous post, Max HR will drop due to increased cardiac stroke volume. Increased stroke volume will mean a lower HR is needed for the same cardiac output (often called minute volume liters/minute). MaxHT also drops with age due to changes in the sympathetic nervous system. I often see even elite athletes max HR drop from one season to the next. That’s why am saying not to put too much emphasis on maxHR. It just has no relation to endurance performance which is what you care about.

    As for your question about what kinds of HIT to do: Consider the following.

    “It is an important but unresolved question: Which type of training is most effective (for building endurance). To maintain an intensity level representing 90% of the maximum oxygen uptake for 40 minutes or to tax 100% of the oxygen uptake capacity for 16 minutes.” Per Aastrand. The Textbook of Work Physiology 1970.

    Aastrand is one of the great men in exercise science. This question remains unanswered today. The result is that most coaches include a mix of intensities. The mix will be based on several things: Previous experiences: What seemed to make the athlete feel stronger. The length of the event. The athlete’s training history. Kilian likes to do a ton of Zone 3 (either steady state or intervals) two months out from his event and then when that feels comfortable he adds Z4 and even Z5 intervals on top of the Z3 workouts. Most people will not be able to handle that much intensity. But I can tell you that no one workout is the secret sauce. The various intensities and lengths of intervals seem to interact with one another in a symbiotic way. So you do some Z5 45secs hill repeats and 3 days later you do 2x20min Z3 intervals and you notice you feel much faster than the last time you did a Z3 workout. Is it the accumulation of the Z3 workouts that is making you faster or the addition of the supra max hill repeats. No one really knows but it has been my experience that some mix of Z3, 4 and 5 interval training seems to have a greater effect than a steady diet of anyone of them.

    What’s the right mix for you? As with most training questions there is no one right answer. I recommend using Z3 to prepare for Z4. Progress the volume of the intensity so you can gage your ability to handle it and not put yourself under by making too radical of a change to quickly.

    Scott

    Participant
    ErikW on #7157

    CRC:

    I’m just starting on my path toward building my aerobic endurance. To that end, I got tested at the CU Sports Medicine to establish a baseline. Said baseline was not pretty.

    You mentioned that you’ve been getting tested pretty regularly, and having checked out your attached latest report, I was wondering if you’d be open to sharing some of your earlier reports? Offline would be fine. I’d just love to see the progress… as a motivator.

    Thanks,
    Erik
    (Boulder)

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