Monday, August 06, 2007

Don't Call It A Comeback

Saturday we were back in Minnesota for a baby shower our friends threw for us, which was good times. We stayed with my buddy Mike, who lives about half an hour north of the Cities, and I brought 'Blue to retread my old route in a Lactate Threshold test - my first since...geez, spring of '06, I suppose.

Brief primer: When you exercise, you burn up carbohydrates. As part of that process, lactic acid is produced to help break down those carbohydrates. The harder you work, the more insufficient oxygen becomes as part of this process. Your anaerobic threshold is that point where you're working so hard that you're burning carbohydrates without oxygen. Lactic acid, then, shows up and the muscles quickly break it down for fuel. (That's really simplified, by the way. I didn't used the word "synthesis" once.)

When you reach this point - where lactic acid is saturating the muscles, the muscles become much more inefficient. It is, inevitably, the beginning of the end. Performance will suffer and suffering will begin, and the pH in the lactic acid stimulates nerve endings and causes "the burn". So - you want to go as long as you can without hitting your lactate threshold; without burning your stores of carbohydrates without oxygen. This is especially important in endurance sports, obviously. In an 800-meter sprint, you can live with hitting your Lactate Threshold (LTH). In a 140.6 mile Ironman, you want to avoid it altogether.

Okay, so - to test this on the bike (in ways that don't involve pricking the finger and testing blood for acidity levels, etc.), you simply ride a 30 minute time trial as fast and as hard as you possibly can. You record the last 20 minutes of that ride to get your average heart rate. You can then define that heart rate as your LTH - the point at which your body is working too hard to sustain. The higher the heart rate, the higher your LTH, and the more efficiently you can exercise at high or rigorous volumes without hitting that lactic wall. And, it's highly trainable - you can spend time in high-intensity workouts to bump up your LTH. So, it's good to test it every month or so.

My LTH, after about 6 weeks of actual training and 3 weeks of serious training, was 158 - which is an improvement over the 151 that I'd been working with, recorded early season last year. And, I was able to sustain 21.7mph without any major knee issues. That's not terribly fast, but I don't care, I'll take it. At this point it's just good to be developing some base lines to get a sense for where I'm going and what I'm doing. And, that I was able to ride all-out, full strength and not have knee issues is the biggest victory of all.

The next day, though, is when things got really exciting. I headed out for my normal 50 minute run, all in heart rate zone 2, where I've really been living for the last month - except for one inspired mile last week, I've intentionally stayed slow and easy, all the time. The result has been some really quality base training miles, and I've been building some good efficiency in the low heart rates. Anyway, I'd loaded up my iPod with some fresh tunes, and was really just enjoying my run. I felt strong and comfortable - even after my hard bike the day before - and when I hit the 25 minute mark where I'd normally turn around, I decided to just keep going a little further. I wasn't even watching my pace - just heart rate and time, and as long as I felt good, I just kept going. I didn't have any water with me, and no gels - I wasn't prepared for anything more than the short run I'd planned, so at 30 minutes I stopped at a gas station and went to the bathroom sink for a quick drink. I didn't even think about turning around, then - still just kept going. Finally at an hour - which is longer than I've run since the half marathon I did in May - I turned around. Still just watching my heart rate, still just enjoying the run. It's how I knew I was breaking through from one kind of athlete and into another - offseason to inseason. I just felt so good. I had a spring in my step. I felt strong and consistent. It was awesome. The kind of run that only comes from feeling sufficiently trained, and this is the first time I've felt like that in so long. 10 minutes shy of the 2 hour mark, I returned to where I'd started.

But I wasn't done, baby! Feeling still so damn good, I decided to turn around and go out and back for a hard-as-I-could 2 miles. One thing I'm going to work on the next 2 seasons is developing strength and speed, and to do that I'm going to be tapping into anaerobic - going as hard as I can - after I've already shredded my legs with a long or difficult workout. So, I blew through 2 miles that didn't turn out to be terribly fast, but I was working hard and in the end, I finished 13.65 miles - what?!? - better than a Half Mary, with no ill effects on the bum knee. This was not on the prescribed workout list, I know - I'm only supposed to be doing Sprint-distance training - but when you feel good, you feel good. And I felt out there that my body needed some testing.

The official results - remember that my only goal was to stay in zone 2 (except for my mad sprint at the end...)

Total time: 2:09:43
Total distance: 13.65 miles

Lap 1: 59:01
6.05 miles
Pace: 9:46
HR: 135

Lap 2: (walking for 2 minutes)

Lap 3: 52:22
5.49 miles
Pace: 9:33 (note the friggin' negative split, baby)
HR: 139

Lap 4: 16:20
2 miles
Pace: 8:12
HR: 163

Last yesterday afternoon I had the kind of insurmountable fatigue that only comes from long distance exercise, a sensation I hadn't felt since last summer, really. That I was able to stay sub 10:00 without trying, and push for those last 2 miles, and do it all with the knee intact then, afterwards, and today - it's coming together baby. Pretty soon I'm going to have to stop thinking in terms of what my knee will let me do, and just be thinking back in terms of what I'm capable of. That's a good feeling.

To remember how low I felt only six weeks ago, I can't describe how good it feels to be back on point. In the game. Part of it all. Life is good.

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