Lactate Profile and VO2 Max Test

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Sometimes you just need validation that you are doing the right things…

Back in February, Neal Henderson gave a talk at the BTR Speaker Series. At the end of it, he threw out an offer for discount pricing on their services. They are located right at the base of Mount Sanitas so I know the location well. I didn’t know we had such services in Boulder so I made an appointment for a Lactate Profile and VO2 Max test. Today was the day.

I woke up a bit under the weather. Kim and Kayla are in the starting stages of something. The other kids are fine. But I feel groggy in the head and had stuff in my throat. Could have been any other day for this but it was today. I will deal. Ate a decent breakfast a few hours beforehand since you can’t eat the hour prior. Got to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and changed into my normal running gear. Had to wait a while to get my test underway. Browsed the halls which were filled with random jerseys of famous athletes that had come through these halls. In good company!


Met Paul K. who would be administering the test to me. Basically, I would warm-up for about 25 minutes on a treadmill just getting comfortable. Paul would read my HR rate from my monitor and track things a bit. Just to get us ready for the workload to come. I hopped off with a few minutes left in the warm-up to hit the bathroom. With that out of the way, I ran a few more minutes and then the protocol began.

Basically, you run for 4 minutes at a constant 1% grade at a constant speed. This is enough time for things to level out. He would ask for my level of perceived exertion. Then I hop off the treadmill and Paul pricks my finger and takes blood. I would then wipe my brow, swig some water and jump back on. Paul would up the speed by 0.4 MPH and we did it again. We did this 8 times. That last time hurt. I was glad to be done. The treadmill is not my friend nor a place where I excel in running. I feel out of my element. Luckily those few days on the mill last month eased a bit of that.

Next was the VO2 Max test. A few things started going wrong. I was fairly gassed from the lactate profile intervals. Just happens. Then we had a fall start on the VO2 measurement system so I had to restart that test once. By then, I think I had cooled down enough that my body wasn’t ready or willing to do the peak performance of the day. Furthermore, my mind was done. But we went again. Here is what it looked like.

VO2Max Test

In this test, they basically bring you back up to speed and then start doing grade increases until you crash and burn or fall off the treadmlll dead. I didn’t get too far into the test before I hopped off. As you can see, you are breathing through this tube. I have nose clips on too. Its terribly claustrophobic. The treadmill was zooming. The incline was growing. And my flight response took over and I jumped off. I surely could have went for more — especially on a fresher body. But I wasn’t really there for the VO2 test. It was just an add-on they offered for a little more money if you did the lactate profile so I figured why not.

I was done. I cooled down and then went to meet with Neal to go over the results. So here is the big money graph. I will go through it for you and I and highlight some of what Neal and I covered. There is probably more than I care to write but I will give some of the highlights.

Lactate Profile

HR (blue) and lactate (red) ideally sort of run parallel to each other. This shows you that you are powered by aerobic effort. Lactate isn’t playing a role yet on the left but does more and more as you move right across the page. Lactate is kind of like your turbo booster. You want to use it when you want to go fast but you can’t use it that long or you burn out.

As the speed goes up, you start seeing lactate increasing faster. There is a magic point in there and this is what I came to find out. You are trying to find out your lactate threshold here. That’s defined as a 1 mmol change followed by a greater than 1.5 mmol change in lactate.

I hit this around 164 bpm on the HR scale and 6:45 pace. This is 1-2 bpm faster than I predicted using my own methods at home. I got very close. Neal also pointed out not to get too fixated on the pace here. Pace on the treadmill versus on the road with conditions just doesn’t compare. However, HR and lactate levels will stay together. So the pace is just a round about estimate. I was happy to see this number given what I want to do at Boston.

Neal pointed out that my marathon range can fall in the 158-162 range and I should stay comfortable. Pace-wise this was low 7s here at altitude. So with taper, some lighter gear and sea level conditions — it will be faster and that is around where I want to be running if sub-3 is going to happen.

We moved on to the VO2 results. I scored a 57.2. In the chart he pulled out for VO2 at age groups, there is low/fair/average/good/high/athletic/olympic. I feel at the breakpoint between high and athletic. He joked that I am “in the club” of a nice VO2 for high altitude athetes. He made the assumption looking at the data alone, that I probably could have hit 60 on a better test day. On the graph above, those 2 right most data points are the VO2 test. Once at peak and once 2 minutes later to see decay. You can see that my lactate levels in the VO2 test only hit 4.32 — meaning I didn’t eclipse the effort of my last interval. The VO2 test was supposed to be at a higher intensity than the final interval on the lactate test. For me it ended up being somewhere between the final 2 lactate intervals. Not my best work.

In the bottom right of this graph, it broke down my HR training zones. We went over those and most of this was a refresher in what I do each week already. Basically showing that my sweet spot is 133-155 in training. If you watch my runs I am usually right in the mid-140s. A perfect landing. However, he gave me some encouragement about putting in some bursts of tempo work during long runs. I tend to shy away from that and this is the 3rd time I have been told that might be my biggest thing to gain on right now. Will take it under advisement — although I sort of did that on Saturday where I ran hard for 3 miles mid-long run.

We talked a bit about longer term goal like Leadville and that shifted the conversation to fueling and slow slow paces. Spoke about my taper and how to use my ATL/CTL/TSB stuff properly to make that happen. What types of numbers he has seen in peak performances AKA perfect tapers. All good.

All in all, I will say I didn’t learn much today — but that wasn’t my goal. I don’t pretend to be guessing my way through this. I have been collecting data, analyzing, graphing, listening to peers, etc. I heard Neal speak for over an hour on this same topic a month ago in which I learned a lot. Today was more about getting some hard data on some kind of internal body functions that only a lab could provide in order to validate where I am and what I think I need to do. Frankly, I think I did my homework well and nailed it pretty well. I was also excited to be able to produce a decent looking chart to show my fitness isn’t a fluke. After putting hours…no, days…no, weeks…no, months into my running its fun to see some sort of numerical proof that the system is working and is ready to kick some ass this year.