DIARY: My Day as a Lab Rat

Its my personal goal to see exactly how far I can go physically, what the 100% limit of my physical prowess really is, and since I know that I am by no means a natural athlete (quite the opposite in fact), I decided to enlist the help of another precious hobby of mine: Science.

Peak Centre Sandyford
Just a few hundred metres away from my work, you'll find an excellent sport's testing facility called The Peak Centre.

They offer a perfect test for the (aspiring?) athlete, including data such as:

VO2 max (Oxygen consumption per minute)
Relative VO2 max (Oxygen consumption per minute per kilo bodyweight)
HR Zones/Speed (km/h)
Fat Percent
Lactate levels (mmol/L)
Fat burned (grams per minute)
CHO (Oxidation of carbohydrate)

Apart from that they offer personalised training programmes and advice for athletes and casual fitness enthusiasts alike.
Among their portfolio is some of Ireland's leading female marathoners as well as speed-demon Gary Crossan of IMRA fame (or infamy if you don't like being on the losing side of a race!). As the researcher said: "Gary runs everywhere, the measurements you get off him while he is "cruise running" are the measurements you'd get off a normal person walking."
Why Not Just Run?
What I will do today is talk about how I experienced the test and then I'll follow up with another post talking about each of the measurements, where mine lie relative to others, talk through the scientifics of each metric, and finally compare my measurements to those of some of the best.

Without fear of ruining the suspense, I can say already that the tests confirmed both what I had hoped would be the case, and what I feared was the case, meaning I know what my strenghts are and what my weaknesses are. The weaknesses are the interesting part, as they have helped me pinpoint which kind of training I must take up in order to overcome them. That doesn't mean its going to be any easier, but consider this:

You're running a race and doing ok, but suddenly you're in doubt whether you're on the right route or not? Are you lost? Your tiredness is seemingly compounded now, legs turning heavier, thoughts of failure try to distract your focus. Suddenly you see a red marker, "you're on the right track", energy flows back into your legs and mind, and you cannot almost feel the finish line drawing you in.

Training is not different from this, psychology, its a lot easier to drag your **** out of bed on a freezing winters morning and brave the gales that flow through grey dreary streets as you pound over monotonous tarmac, if you know that what you're doing is actually going to work. And that's why I need science as part of my running programme (that and the fact that I'm a science freak, I must admit I enjoyed watching Star Trek...and Babylon 5....and...no I'll stop now...).

Note: For my non-native/non-engineering speaking friends at home "tarmac" stands for tar-penetration macadem and is an old type of highway pavement not commonly used anymore (we call it "tjærebeton" or "tjæremakadem" which basically means "tar concrete").

Playing the Rat

So how was the whole experience? Well, it was quite intriguing. I was greeted at the centre by physiologist and sports science graduate Emma Watts, a complete professional with an admirably cool and fact-based approach to the world of sports. Dr. Stroud would have approved!

People who know me, will know that I don't like wishy-washy talk (you wouldn't find me at a sports psychologist), so I felt quite at home with the experimental setup and scientific lingo as I had a heart-rate monitor and a breathing mask attached to me before starting a light jog on the treadmill.

The breathing mask serves to provide information about Oxygen intake during the session (apart from its primary purpose of giving you a slight Darth Vader feeling).

Needles and Pins

When it comes to needles most people only like the 60s song above. Personally I have never had any problems with them, and (like my old man), can watch in utmost fascination while someone takes a blood sample from me. Sick? Well, maybe...

This was to come in handy because getting the test taken was easy:

  1. Run on the treadmill. Every 3 minutes the speed setting increases for a total of 24 minutes of running.
  2. Between every increase in speed setting, you place your hand on the treadmill, and you'll feel a slight pinch as a small needle is shot into you finger taking a blood sample
  3. As you go, the breathing mask takes data about your oxygen intake
  4. The last 3 minutes are HARD, you'll be going close to your anaerobic maximum, so the sweat will be hailing off of you!

It took me a few minutes to get accustomed to the treadmill (never liked those things), but after that I settled into a good pace and you couldn't help feeling competitive as I was running while watching my heart rate, distance, and speed on the monitor in front me.


After the test is completed, the results were sent for analysis, but some measurements where immediately available and Emma sat down with me explained the basics about my Heart Rate (HR) zones and gave me a preliminary picture of my "pain-points".

On the way out I picked up a few brochures, among them about the Peak Centre's "Altitude Training" (red: at the time of writing I've had my first sessions, but that's a post for another day).

A few days later the results arrived by email, with lengthy scientific explanations, that's what we'll talk about next...