"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I just had an epiphany.

[Sorry if this is long-winded and dull.]

I was thinking about how every coach means something slightly different when they say "threshold run" or "tempo run," when I started thinking about how Jack Daniels' thoughts on VO2max interval training is so radically different from my own experience. He advocates running 3-5 minutes at one's maximal heart rate, but I can only attain that maximum for a second or two. Then I started thinking about some other things that have never added up... and now I get it!

For one thing, Daniels talks about how there's a specific pace that's related to VO2max. In my experience, as I run at any constant pace, the effort level increases until I hit a collapse point and, if I run at a steady heart rate, my pace drops precipitously. This is related to what Brad Hudson calls the "VO2max slow component" (page 52 in his book). What has always been unfathomable to me is that there are people who run a marathon at constant pace and constant heart rate at the same time; it just doesn't work that way for me. While the effort level increases for them, it is not reflected in their heart rate, though for me the two have been synonymous... I assume that what holds true for me holds true for others, which is the same error that all the others have made, just from the opposite view.

What Daniels says holds true IF one's heart rate is the limiting factor in one's VO2max. For me, it's not. I'm running very anaerobically for several minutes before my heart rate drifts up to maximum. I can (and have) run a half-marathon at 95% maximum heart rate, which is supposed to be impossible. This is because my body isn't limited by heart rate, so it shoots up quickly because it can and I've trained it to do that.

The big question then is: if my heart rate isn't limiting my VO2max, what is? Certainly something is holding me back. Let's take a look at all the components that make up VO2max, one by one. First is heart rate, which we've eliminated. Second is stroke volume, which is inversely correlated to resting heart rate; mine is currently 38 bpm (though just standing before a run, it's often 70-85, again because my heart rate's the first thing to shift), so that's not it. Next is vital lung capacity; though my lungs are scarred from recent recurrent infections, mine's about 5.5 liters, which is okay. Next is peak respiratory flow; I've had allergic asthma problems, but I'm currently slightly above average there too. Next is capillarization of muscles, which after 30 plus years of aerobic training, is certainly not the problem, nor is blood vessel diameter - I have some pretty ropy veins. I'll assume that there isn't a 2,3-bisphoglycerate problem, or some other rare genetic flaw (like a thallesemia). I eliminated blood pressure and viscosity issues, though chronic dehydration causes me to have some odd readings.

This leaves the blood itself. And here's where things get odd. I recently had a blood test that showed me to be anemic. My first thought was that it was like when Dr. Gabe Mirkin found the entire US women's Olympic track team was testing anemic; that it was just a flaw of the test (he decided that, as athletes have larger blood volumes, it was a dilutional phenomenon). Further investigation came up with:

1) Heavy training was causing steady small blood losses in urine.
2) Impact shock from long hard running was causing "march anemia," first noted in soldiers in the 1880's. The repeated landing shock was causing blood cells to rupture in the feet.
3) My dietary sources of iron are all chelated. For example, spinach is heavy in iron, but it's bound by oxalic acid. Phytic acid (found in nuts, legumes and grains) is another chelator. Then, given the amount of tea and coffee I drink, tannins decrease iron absorptivity. On paper, my diet is rich in iron, but I'm not getting any of it!

Maybe I can change things with diet and better recovery. Even if I can't, at least I know that it's pointless for me to try to follow any training plans designed for someone whose body reacts differently from mine.


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Through the miracle of judicious editing, I managed to make this post less "long-winded and dull" - but may have inadvertently changed its focus:

I just had ...this ... long-winded and dull ... "threshold ..." when I started thinking about ... Jack Daniels ... but I can only attain that ... for a second or two. In my experience, ... effort level increases until ... my pace drops precipitously ... my body ... shoots up quickly because it can ...if my heart rate isn't limiting m[e], what is? stroke volume ... is currently 38 b[eats]p[er]m[inute] (though ... it's often 70-85 ...) ... mine's about 5.5 [in] diameter - I have some pretty ropy veins.

And here's where things get odd. ... my ... nuts .. decrease ... but I'm not getting any ...! it's pointless for me to try ...

A much better (and truer) post now, in my humble opinion.

SteveQ said...

G: Have you ever thought of using your talents for something useful?

Funny stuff, except the "not getting any... pointless to try" hits awful close to home!

Tracizzle said...

Steve, very interesting post.

I don't know if you can ask the question, "what limits my VO2max?"

I'm certainly no VO2max expert but I'm sure it's more of a combination of all the factors you mentioned than one being a limiting factor.

I'm trying to think of Bjoern Daehlie, the Norwegian cross country skier, who I believe had the highest VO2max ever recorded. I guess if you looked at him going at VO2max pace, you could say that his heart rate at that moment was a limiting factor. But, then again, if he had more efficient muscle and less fat, as VO2max depends on weight, those would improve his VO2max also.

I don't think there is any one thing that is "blocking" your VOmax.

Now, if you were anemic, your heart would pound faster to compensate, so in that scenario heart rate would be even more important. But then again, doping with EPO raises one's VO2max as well. I'm confusing myself. We need you to write more abou this, including what a tempo run is. Does anyone really know?

Another topic is why the hell are you anemic? That's not normal, unless you are talking very minimal anemia. We need more info on that one.

Keith said...

Funny, G!
Limiting factor is typically used to indicate either the first of several things, or which of several things has the largest effect on a system. If you look at VO2 max, as a new athlete trains, various parts of their body will develop at different rates. So at one time a given effort will have them gasping for breath. Months later it might be the leg muscles that poop out while the lungs are doing fine.

Tracizzle said...

Ah, crap. The Tracizzle comment was me.

sea legs girl said...

I think what Fast Bastard is trying to say is the Tracizzle comment was Fast Bastard.

Robyn said...

How anemic are we talking? Is this a microcytic anemia (suggesting iron deficiency)? You need to get that looked at if you haven't -- not to be alarmist, but it can be an early sign of [potentially treatable] colon cancer, among many many other things.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

I think what sea legs girl is trying to say is, "Why don't you do a post about choking the chicken so we can read btw the lines to see what you think re: heart rate and VO2max?"

Personally, I think she should stop trying to put words into Tracizzle's mouth. Especially Fast Bastard's words.

Putting words into others' mouths is my job!


Ian nailed me in the toe with a sinker last night ... while I was wearing open-toed sandals. I won't be running any time soon. Perfect time to find out what my VO2min is.

[Baseball lingo learned just last night: "Worm-killer" = "Sinker Ball Pitcher".]

Fast Bastard said...

Ah, posting as myself now.

I've thought a lot about this VO2max thing. I think you could view as a supply and demand type system. On the supply side, you have something like stroke volume x heart rate (= cardiac output) x hematocrit x oxygen saturation; ie. the amount of O2 pumping through per time. On the demand side, you have your collective muscular system's ability to work aerobically (ie. the percentage of O2 extracted from the blood).

That's a lot of limiting factors. Surprisingly, breathing is almost never the limiting factor as O2 saturation is almost at 99-100%, even at max exercise.

And about the anemia, we could get you some EPO. That would take care of the anemia and you would crush course records everywhere.

Seriously, you should get that looked at, unless it's a Quickian exaggeration.