Friday, August 12, 2011

Working Hard for the Little Prick.

Yes gang, this is going to be a good one.

I know you can't wait to read on and hear all about....

My lactate threshold testing experience.  Or my FaCT test.

What did you think I was going to talk about?

FaCT stands for Feldmann and Chlebek Test.  The test was developed by Juerg Feldmann and Herb Chlebek at FaCT-Canada and has been used on hundreds of athletes from Olympians to your regular weekend warriors like myself.

There are 2 components to the FaCT test protocol.  The first component is known as the Performance Line (or step test) and it is used to compare performance changes over time.  One can see at a glance how an athlete has improved his performance over time, and how to adjust a training program to show continued improvement.  It can also be used to determine whether a particular training program has been ineffective, and allow an athlete to make the appropriate changes to address the problem.*

The second component is the LBP, which stands for Lactate Balance Point.  This is the determination of the body's ability to balance the production of lactate in working muscles, with it's clearance by the body.*  This is what I was interested in.  How well do I process lactic acid?  How fast can I go before it starts to wear me down and cause me problems?

Lactate is a metabolic product that is produced in the muscle cells during exercise.  It can be measured by taking a drop of blood from a finger tip in the same way that diabetics monitor their blood sugar level.*    The first time I had it done I was a bit freaked out thinking that it was regular sized needle (I don't like needles) that I'd have to get poked with every 5 minutes.   But just turned out to be this tiny little prick that felt like you were getting hit with an elastic.   So this time around, I knew what to expect.

Friend and pro-triathlete Tara Norton was going to be doing my test at Absolute Endurance.  Very convenient for me now that we're living up at Mount Pleasant and Davisville!   So I got a nice little warm up in outside before I had to jump on the treadmill.  Tara explained the various stages of the test to me while I did a little warm up on the treadmill.  The first part she was going to increase my speed by .5 on the treadmill every 3 minutes.  So if I started at 6.0, at 3 minutes, I'd go up to 6.5 etc etc until I was at a perceived effort of 8 on a scale of 10.  At that point I'd feel that little prick on my finger.   This required me to place one hand on the side of the treadmill, while running fairly hard.  Not an easy feat.  The first test revealed that my blood lactate was only at 1. something.  Ok.  Can I go harder she asks?  I suppose so.  So she increases the treadmill to 8.5 from 8.  Geez.  I'm not sure I can go another 3 minutes.  But I do.  She pricks my finger again.  I keep running for another minute.   My blood lactate only reaches 2.8. Normally she likes it to be at 3 or more.  Tara suspects that my hard workout the night before is effecting my ability to produce lactate.  Apparently when you are fatigued it's harder for your body to produce lactate.  Who knew?
She decides to use that 2.8 reading and we move on to the second portion of the test.  This portion involves keeping my heart rate steady in 5 beat per minute increments for 5 minutes each increment.  She decides to start me at 145 bpm.  I can run at that pace forever.  It's a bit on the slow side for me but it's a welcome change from the harder effort I had just done.  She fiddles with the treadmill speed every so often to keep my heart rate at 145.  After 5 minutes she ups the speed to bring my heart rate up to 150 bpm.  This is where I usually keep my heart rate for long runs so the 5 minutes passed quickly.  At this point Tara takes another sample just to see what my body is doing.  Nothing much as it turns out.  So she ups the speed again to bring my heart rate to 155.  Another 5 minutes passes, another little prick in the finger with a similar result.  I'm feeling ok at this point.  My legs are sore from my gym workout and the intervals I did the night before but it's manageable.  She ups the treadmill again to bring my heart rate up to 160 bpm.  Another 5 minutes.   Towards the end of that 5 minutes it's starting to get harder.  I'm feeling sloppy and tired.  At the end of the 5 minutes, Tara takes another sample.  Finally things are happening!  She asks if I can keep going for another 3 minutes to see if anything changes.  I feel like I'm working really hard at this point, even though my heart rate is only 160.  I think it's from fatigue because a 160 heart rate for me is about a medium-fast pace.  I hit 187 in my interval session the night before so I know I have a lot more in me.  I barely manage another 3 minutes.  I get another little prick in my middle finger, which by now is quite red.   This time she gets the result she's looking for.   She tells me I can cool down so I slow the treadmill down to 3.5 and I walk.  Oh yeah, that feels so good.  By the time I finally stop, I've covered 10km in 55 minutes.  That includes my warm up and cool down.   If you add in my little 7 minute run to Absolute Endurance, I probably ran about 11km on Friday.   Great considering I missed my tempo run last Tuesday!

Tara was pretty impressed with the fact that she didn't have to manipulate the treadmill much to keep my heart rate at 155-160.  I was like a metronome.  Very steady and very consistent.  Her initial thought was that perhaps that I'm running a bit too slow on my long runs.   Interesting.  I always thought that slower was better when running long.  Turns out, I am running a bit too slow on my long runs.  My lactate balance point is 160 bpm.  Or an 8:10 min mile pace (which works out to roughly 5:04/kms).  Which means I can run at this pace comfortably for a long time.  This is good news because it means that I can actually go faster.  Right now, I usually aim to do my long runs at a pace of 5:20/km with an average heart rate of around 150.    So for my next long run, I'm going to push my HR to 155-157 and see how I feel.

See all those little red dots?  Yeah my finger was a bit sore.
My training zones broke out like this:

Zone 1: < 150
Zone 2: 150-160 (this is where I should be doing my long run training in)
Zone 3: 161-170
Zone 4: 170-180
Zone 5: 181++

So realistically I can really push myself harder on my tempo runs too.  My interval work might actually be a bit TOO hard.  But then again isn't that the point?  They should be hard.  My tempo runs should be somewhere in Zone 4 so I'll have to work at that.  Sometimes I'm up there, sometimes I'm not.  It depends on how much I decide to dog it in my warm up.  My next test will be to determine my max heart rate (I am currently taking a wild guess).  It's not an incredibly scientific test but I've read that's it's fairly accurate.    It will involve yet another form of pain; running up and down a steep hill at varying speeds.   I guess I better get the barf bag ready, I'm probably going to need it.

*NB:  The info on FaCT testing came from an Absolute Endurance hand out.  Those are not my own words!

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