What’s next? First, a little physiological testing!

It seems a common phenomena for those participating in a big event to feel some type of “post event letdown”, however I attribute a good recovery, a little time off the bike, and some thought about the next goal to my relatively cheerful disposition. Before I left to participate in the Three Peaks Challenge I was beginning to enjoy the thrill of pushing myself that little bit harder and faster. Therefore I have decided to dust off the racing cobwebs and enter Battle on the Border, which is a three day tour in Northern New South Wales. The event will be held at the end of April, which gives me five weeks to get ready. The event compromises two road races, an individual time trial and a hilly criterium.

Because I haven’t raced for a long time and am essentially unsure of my capability, I decided to drop my Cycling Queensland grading back to C grade. As I like to use power in my training, particularly to help with pacing for climbing and time trial type efforts, and given how much I have improved in the past few months, I decided that it was time to take stock and do some physiological testing. Physiological testing is useful for both professional athletes and cheerful amateurs like myself as it allows you to reliably pinpoint exactly your strengths and weaknesses, your current capabilities and what you need to work on. The results of testing can also reflect the type of training that has occurred prior to testing and ascertain your readiness for different training emphases or events. An example of this would be an Ironman participant focusing on building aerobic capability. In road cycling, all energy systems are used – a good road cyclist will be able to endure long distance races and be able to sprint for the finish line at the end if necessary. A road cyclist also needs the capacity to put in short hard efforts, for example, if a break forms – to either maintain or catch the break, so anaerobic capacity also becomes important.

The particular physiological testing I chose involved measuring concentrations of blood lactate. Fellow exercise scientist, Brian Cooke, of Bubba’s Bike Lab performed my test, using what we exercise science types call a step protocol. That is, Brian started me on a Wahoo trainer at a set wattage and gradually increased the load in certain increments of time and graphed the results. At certain intervals we measured blood lactate. Why lactate? In the simplest of explanations, when we exercise, we rely on certain energy systems to produce energy in the form of adenosine tri phosphate (or ATP for short). No energy system works in complete isolation, but for endurance athletes, using the aerobic system produces 16 times as much ATP per unit of glucose burned than the anaerobic system. Therefore it makes sense that when we train or race, we want as much energy contribution coming out of that system. Lactic acid (H+ and lactate) are a by product of anaerobic metabolism. As intensity increases, so does blood lactate concentration – at a certain level (approximately 4mmol/l for most), blood lactate starts to rise rapidly and the anaerobic system begins to make more contribution. The increased amount of H+ increases acidity in the muscles producing that burning sensation that many athletes describe as “going lactic”. If blood lactate concentrations, heart rate and intensity (power) are graphed against each other, the point at where blood lactate begins to kick up is known as lactate threshold – the junction where anaerobic metabolism now starts to make a significant contribution.

“If it can be measured, it can be managed”.

As an endurance athlete, we want to maintain a predominantly aerobic contribution for both training and racing. Complete use of the anaerobic system only allows us about five minutes of sustained effort and most races are much longer than that. Therefore the ideal world of endurance training involves increasing our power output without an increased contribution from the anaerobic system. In layman’s terminology this is the purpose of “base” training, developing good aerobic foundations so that our anaerobic systems can be utilised at higher intensities/power output/HR. More power means ability to generate more speed which could mean the difference between first and last place in a race.

Three Peaks challenge training has helped me build a wonderful base and this was reflected in the data that was collected. As a result of base training, I’m producing more power aerobically – which validated my feelings/perception of improvement in my riding. Now that I’ve got my new baselines and training zones, I’ll now add these to my training. For me, the biggest step is marrying those numbers with perceived exertion – i.e. what does an effort feel like at this wattage/HR? In racing there’s usually no time to look at a Garmin, you need to go by instinct and feel!

I’ll be sharing the next few weeks discussing my prep for Battle on the Border and the challenges of training for speed (especially as we get older). Hope to see you there! If you have any questions about testing, feel free to drop me a message or email.

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