I never thought that being a not-so-young, not-so-old, slightly higher-than-average mileage, sometime-beer-drinker would get me anywhere out of the ordinary in life. A few weeks ago, though, I got that very special e-mail that changed my life. Oh, okay. It didn't really change my life, but it did present a very interesting opportunity that would allow me to find out a few things about my own fitness, and give scientists a chance to see what effect, if any, moderate alcohol consumption has on training and performance in distance runners.
Among weekly group run schedules and race announcements, one special item caught my eye in our running club's weekly email. Beer drinking runners, 30+ miles a week, ages 25-44 were needed. Free beer and food would be served. We would go through a battery of tests that would normally run a pretty penny, but for study subjects, they would be free of charge. Are you kidding me? Where do I sign up? I filled out the short questionnaire and received word pretty quickly that I would be included in this study. About ten days ago, I showed up for my first meeting with the other test subjects and researchers. I recognized a few faces in the room but there were others there as well, and everyone was very excited to be doing this "research."
We filled out paperwork and consent forms, and were served an amount of beer that had been calculated by our weight and gender to bring us up to just under .08 BAC, the legal limit in my state. I was served 2.5 beers of what I believe to be Fat Tire, a favorite from my home state. All the while, I thought to myself "This is a first-drinking beer in a lecture hall desk on a college campus." I kept waiting for the cops to show up and break up the party....and then, there they were, smiling in the lab doorway. Two campus police officers in plain clothes appeared, and came into the room with the breathlyzer kit to see if the researchers had nailed our blood alcohol content.
As we went around the room, it seemed that they had gotten things right for most people. One guy who had just eaten a gigantic burrito before showing up only blew .034 after his four beers. I stood up for my turn, and they watched excitedly as my numbers climbed up.....up.....up.....and then stopped at .072. Yep, I do it Price Is Right style-the closest without going over. I was actually pleased with this. My cupboards had been practically bare at this point in the week and I'd snacked as much as I could so I would not have an empty stomach, but it wasn't quite as much as I normally would have eaten at this point in the early evening. One of the researchers kept hollering "you're goin' to the pokey!" with each person's turn on the breathalyzer, and it cracked me up. I thought these guys were going to be serious lab coat folk. Another guy must've had a particularly empty stomach, or his weight had fluctuated, because he blew a .09 on the four beers they had calculated for him. Whoops. Just 3.5 beers for future testing, sir.
The police officers actually enlightened us on several things having to do with traffic stops for suspected drunk driving, one of which was the fact that your eye will do an involuntary twitch when you are impaired. This is why they always do that field sobriety test in which the subject is asked to follow the officer's finger with their eyes. This came into play when another one of the women who was actually part of a post race food and drink gathering I was part of last winter was overserved on her beer. She was supposed to get only 1.5 beers and was leaning back looking VERY relaxed in her seat after 2.5 beers. I thought it seemed off that a girl several inches shorter and clearly a good 20 lbs or more lighter would get the same number of beers as me-and it was. She asked them to field check her, and I had to get up to watch. She was focusing like mad, intent on outsmarting the test-then I saw the eye twitch. Yep, you're going to the pokey! (BIG DISCLAIMER....under no conditions were any of us allowed to drive at all following testing that included any alcohol consumption. And it goes without saying that this wasn't about heavy alcohol consumption that obviously messes with performance, training,a nd health and general. Even if you blew barely over zero, none of us was anywhere near a car.) Whoops.
While we drank our beers for calibration purposes, I went through my study information in more detail. The next visit would be a VO2Max test on a treadmill, complete with oxygen mask and nose plugs. For most of us, this would involve increasing our speed up to 8.0 mph, and then an increase in incline by 2% every few minutes until we gave up and cried mommy. From this test they could determine not just our VO2Max, but the pace and incline we were running when we reached 80% of that VO2Max. The 80% mark would be very important for future test runs.
About a week later, we would return for a carb depletion run in the evening. This run would last 45-50 minutes and would be at more of a moderately hard pace-not piece of cake but nothing that would suck the life out of us either. No oxygen masks or nose plusgs-just a nice little run. This would be followed by our designated amount of beer, plus pasta, salad, and bread. The next morning, we would return for a run in full lab rat regalia...oxygen mask, nose plugs, heart rate monitor. We would then go at that 80% VO2Max pace until we could not run anymore. Now, this pace does not necessarily come 80% of the way through your VO2Max run. It could be right before hitting that 7:30 pace, maybe some other time. Then we'd come back again that night, do the depletion run (yep...another run the same night after wearing ourselves out), drink, eat, get up in the morning and do it again. At some point during the testing, we'd also get in this thing that looked like an egg with a window, or maybe a spaceship. It was called the Bod Pod, and it measures body composition.
When all was said and done, they'd have some interesting data to analyze, and each of us would be given a packet of valuable training information with details about our VO2Max, heart rate, body fat/lean muscle mass, and a variety of other information that the researchers could deduce from our testing as far as what we could use most in our training and where our weak spots lie. This was stuff I'd always wanted to know, and I was stoked to say the least that I was getting to sit in this lab for the testing. As I called my husband and waited for my ride home after the orientation/beer calibration meeting, I felt both excited and very nervous about beginning this experience as a beer drinking, running lab rat.