Yesterday my husband and I flew into Denver for that "Romantic Getaway Weekend" I mentioned in my last post. I wrote about why we're taking this trip over at the Fit Mom Blog at Tip Toe Turtle, if you need more background. So, our day started at Carmichael Training Systems in Colorado Springs. My husband treated me to a lactate threshold test and a VO2 Max test. I realize not every wife would find that sweet and thoughtful, especially because it requires a certain degree of discomfort, but this wife did. It was exciting to be at the acclaimed CTS operation (if you're a Lance Armstrong fan, you're with me here) and as a general fan of fitness, finding out what you're made of, and more importantly what you're capable of, is enlightening. My training (and I say training very loosely) has never been that scientific, but certainly the last five years, since becoming a mom, the focus has been less about setting goals and more about moving for moving's sake. Both tests were conducted on a bike. Can I tell you the last time I was on a bike? No. Honestly, I can't remember. Let's see, I've taken a handful of spin classes over the winter. While I was wishing I had been on my bike a little bit more before showing up, Lindsay, who was conducting my test, said that getting a baseline test was actually very helpful. Good, I would start at ground zero on the scale of cycling fitness. I'd like to mention here that I wore a comfortable pair of cycling shorts with a seamless chamois liner.
The lactate threshold test was similar to the anaerobic threshold test I took four years ago on a treadmill in terms of intensity. Just a gradual effort that gets you a little beyond that "talk test"--when it gets hard to carry on a conversation. Of course, you're not talking at all because you have to wear this Darth Vader-like mask to capture the various gasses in the breath you exhale (this is more uncomfortable than the actual riding or running). With the lactate test, though, I got several finger pricks throughout the test. So in addition to knowing at what heart rate I move from an aerobic to anaerobic state, I also know at what heart rate my body starts going overboard on lactic acid--that's when you feel the "burn" in your muscles. This is good to know so I can train within a range that allows my body to positively respond to the exercise I'm doing, but also so I can work to push that range higher. By pushing that threshold higher I can go longer and faster. This test was over in about 15 minutes. The VO2 max test was much shorter but harder: I had to pedal at an increasingly difficult effort until I couldn't pedal anymore. Basically this test lets you know at what heart rate you poop out. As my husband says, it represents your potential. With training you can raise this number too, but because you can't sustain any effort at your VO2 Max, the lactate threshold is a more practical and useful test to work from.
Why should I care about any of this? I'm signed up for a few triathlons this summer, but it's not like I have any aspirations to become super competitive. The thing is, I like self-improvement. I take classes to become a better writer. I read books to become a better mother. And so I exercise to be healthier. I don't have to use these numbers just to improve competition. In fact, I'd say improving these numbers are more important to general fitness than tracking body weight on a scale. I'm at a healthy weight, so how do I quantify my fitness? I think fitness testing is how. Even when I do well in a race or two, it doesn't really tell me how fit I am. I've earned a few trophies, not because I was in the best shape of my life, but because I was one of the few women competing in my age group. But if I can increase my lactate threshold and my VO2 max then I know I'm actually accomplishing something.
Today we're off to Boulder. No more tests until Monday morning, when we run the Bolder Boulder 10K. And yes, I think that's romantic, too.