Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Running For Beer, Episode III: Return of the Fat Tire

Yes, I am finally concluding the running for beer saga. Just in time to head off to Ouray for the Imogene Pass Run-but I won't jump ahead of myself.

When we last left off, I had finished all preliminary meetings and testing. It was time for the nitty-gritty: a big "Weekend O Running." I actually had a moment or three of wondering what I'd gotten myself in to. There were some seriously talented locals in there. The other women were very strong mountain runners and it was hard not to compare. I had to just shove all those thoughts aside, though, and show up on Friday night for the first depletion run.
Now, we're casual in this neck of the woods. I did not expect humorless, antisocial researchers in lab coats with stethoscopes, but when I walked back into the human performance lab I was instantly at ease. Again, the researchers were walking around with smiles on their faces, and I saw one step behind the privacy curtain that was around the fridge in the lab (just like what you'd see in a doctor's office). You know, to protect the identity of the beer being poured in the unmarked cup for the folks who had already finished their runs.
The guys and gals who had run already were on the back patio of the lab, where a camp stove was set up to cook spaghetti. Just inside the big windows and double doors to the patio was a table with salad made from fresh stuff from the garden of the head researcher, some bread, and beverages. His dog was hanging out in the lab, as was Oskar, the dog owned by the writer of the piece. (You can see the back of Oskar's head, and the writer standing off in the distance, in the September Runner's World on page 90.) The photographer was walking around and taking candids, as well as photos of runners on the treadmills. It was hard to stay bunged up and nervous in this environment. They were ready for me pretty quickly, and they told me I would start on the treadmill that I dubbed the "Big Green Monster," and then would move over to the smaller treadmill where they could get some photos of me. All I can say is WOW...that thing is BIG. I think it is bigger than most city apartments. I got to do this run without that dang breathing mask contraption on my head, so this was good.
After a little while, they moved me over to the little treadmill, and the RW photog got lovely shots of me in all my sweaty glory. All told, I ran for about 45-50 minutes. Next would be food and beer, but I had to stand in front of a backdrop for more goodtime sweaty photos. Oh yeah. "Please look off into the distance while you stand there pouring sweat." Okay, he didn't exactly say that-but that's how it went down. A handy lab assistant brought me the first of my 2.5 beers. I started to eat and drink and was told I needed to come over around the corner for another quick shot where I basically sat on a box, drank my beer ("Act like you're really enjoying it!" I was told-my, now this is a real stretch for me. Let me bust out my acting chops.) and stared off at the Colorado National Monument across the valley. This was certainly an awesome way to spend a Friday night.

I went back to finish my food, and the beers kept coming. I couldn't pinpoint what I was getting and didn't think deeply over it then. Everyone was chatting on the back steps of the lab, eating and drinking and enjoying one another's company like any regular barbeque. As I neared the end of my last beer, I called my husband to come over to pick me up. The next day would bring the really scary stuff-the first run to exhaustion, followed by another evening depletion run.

When I showed up in the morning, I was a little intimidated this time. I saw one of the guys finishing up his run, and getting to that point of exhaustion. Let me just say that people running like that with a huge thing strapped to the head with tubes and machines kind of look like scary cyborgs-not your friendly neighborhood runner. For this test, they covered up the pace and time on the treadmill so I would also have no point of reference for how long I would be running. Geez..this would be totally blind running. At different points in the test, my lab assistant would hold up a "pain scale" printed on a clipboard. Unlike your standard hospital/doctor office pain scale that goes from 1-10, this one started at 6 and went to 20. I would need to point at the number that best indicated my level of exertion when he asked. Again, it was back to the humiliation of make-you-drool mouthpiece attached to oxygen mask/head gear, and the oh-so-sexy noseplug. I'm glad I am not unusually obsessive about appearance because nobody looks good with this getup. They counted me down and off I went at my pace at which I hit 80% of my VO2MAx in the original test.

I was surprised at how not bad I felt at first. Things were uncomfortable but they were really okay for quite awhile. When they started to go downhill, though, they started going downhill fast. All I could think was that they see a range of 25 minutes minimum to typically a 55 minute maximum on the test. All I could think was "I SUCK...this hasn't been 25 minutes! Stay on! Stay on!" I was getting lots of positive whoops and hollers and "looking good" and I kept pushing on. Finally, I cried uncle and jumped to the side rails when I felt myself slumping and feeling like I was ready to fall off. Turns out I'd been on for 28 minutes. Not their minimum of minimums but pretty close. I felt like a lightweight but it is what it is. They told me that my heart rate had stayed pretty high for a long time, so I felt like slightly less of a loser. Our local guy who is just this amazing oddity when it comes to running everything well-all surfaces, all distances-had totally broken the other end of the curve with a one hour, twenty minute run to exhaustion. I was in awe of that kind of greatness-he has not been running for much longer than me, and from my limited greetings at various races, I've found him to be very cool to fellow runners. I'm looking forward to reading about his numbers when all is said and done.

We had a table full of bagels, juice, and fresh peaches from the head researcher's orchard. Yum. I didn't even know breakfast would be included in the deal. All I could think, though, was "I have to be back here for another run tonight! How am I gonna do that?"

One of the other runners had his young daughter at the lab in the morning, and I'd mentioned offhand that I bet my son would dig all the stuff going on, expecting they'd cringe at that. They'd said "bring him!" so I brought the 6-year-old along to check things out. At first, he was sticking closely to me, barely looking at anyone else, but they coaxed him over to start the big treadmill for one of the other runners. Awesomeness. He was enjoying the dogs in the lab too, and when I started running I could see that he thought that all the equipment in the lab was pretty cool. I told him he could walk around and look at things but he wanted to wait until I finished to check things out.

As for the run itself, I'd been worried at how hard it would be after the morning run. What happened, though, is that the hard workout kind of loosened things up. Running at a more middle of the road pace without the mask felt surprisingly comfortable, and soon I was back on the patio, drinking beer, and eating pasta and salad. My son looooves pasta more than anything, and is hip to the salad and bread, so to him this was a pretty sweet adult gig. We also poked around the lab and I got photos of him by various pieces of equipment. My husband showed up again and took us home after the evening run/eat/drink session.
In the morning, I got up for the very last run. I'd held up well thus far but I have to say that my legs felt TIRED. Mentally, though-it was the strongest I'd felt. Just kind of "whatever...let's just pile on one more run. Legs are numb already." This morning, I brought my middle daughter-the eight-year-old-along for the action. She is a hoot-my daughter promised to yell "Suck it up, buttercup!" at me if I wanted to give up too soon.

Performance pressure much? They hooked me up to the mask of doom one last time and it was time to go again. I was surprised that I didn't feel markedly worse today after all the running. I kept going....and going....and going.....but then that screaming body/dead legs thing set in. My daughter did apparently yell "suck it up buttercup" at one point but I didn't hear her over the whir of the treadmill and with the mask on my face. When I finally cried uncle, it turned out that I'd spent 33 minutes on the treadmill. A full five minutes longer than the night before, and after a full weekend of running.

After poking around the lab with my daughter and getting all the obligatory photos (plus a random shot when she said "Mom! Take a picture of me doing the splits in the lab!"),

I tried out some inflatable leg compression thingies and chowed down on peaches and bagels. Think blood pressure test sleeve, but for your entire leg. OUCH. Maybe they work to circulate the blood but they got so tight it hurt.

While I was sitting there, the one detail of the study that hadn't been mentioned but seemed to have been an obvious way to measure things was revealed. Yes-we got "beer" both nights. It's just that it was non-alcoholic beer on one of the nights.

HA....yes. Now it all made sense. I had to know. Which night was my beer night? It turns out that the alcoholic beer was New Belgium Brewing's Fat Tire, which was the same thing we had on the beer calibration night when we blew on the breathalyzer. The nonalcoholic beer was O'Doul's Amber. It was a random mix each night of real beer and near bear drinkers. As it turns out....drumroll please......I'd been served the near beer on Friday night, and ran 28 minutes the next morning. On Saturday, I had real Fat Tire. On Sunday-yep, five additional minutes.
Familiarity with the testing procedures? Sure-that could explain the longer run. Fear of my kid laughing me out of the room? Maybe. I still have to say that I was stoked to find out that I'd done better after the real stuff, and after the full weekend of running to boot. I may just be an experiment of one, but this is pretty much what I suspected. While getting drunk and tying one on is clearly a bad idea, not anything I support or advocate, and destined to produce bad running results, I've always thought if a runner enjoys moderate amounts of alcohol and doesn't notice negative effects-why give it up? Wouldn't it be more negative for that individual to suddenly break from routine?

I said I wouldn't bring up Imogene, but it's the best example I can think of with regard to the beer study. I was SO nervous before this race the first time two years ago. I could have eaten a light dinner, skipped my favorite beer, and returned to my room to toss and turn restlessly in bed. Instead, several of us enjoyed a nice, slow-paced dinner, had a few beers and enjoyed some really pleasant dinner conversation. All the positive components of the meal (food, drink, friends) got me in a great mindset where the edge was off, and I felt a little better and less terrified of the morning's race. Then I was more willing to go soak in our hotel's outdoor hot springs hot tub instead of rushing off to bed, and once we did turn in I slept like a log, ready for my best shot at the mountain in the morning. I know everyone has their own routine but I think that sticking to my routine was a good move.

Going back to the study, the most thought-provoking discovery from the initial results came along gender lines. While only one of the men did slightly better on the run to exhaustion following real beer night, each of us ladies did dramatically better after our moderate alcohol consumption than on the fake alcohol consumption night. They were planning to test some more women to see if we were just freaks of nature (the sample group was pretty small, after all), but I found this pretty fascinating.

I also got my personalized results a week ago. I'd already been told during the study that it was clear from my initial numbers that I had good endurance but could make considerable improvement with more speed work (ouch, but right on the money). There were some suggestions in there for including speedwork, and where the heart rate or intensity should fall. It's something I just need to now that fall is upon us and it's not blazing anymore, I'm going to get back to that Tuesday track night.

Then there were the nitty-gritty results. The cold hard numbers. The coldest and hardest to me was that body fat percentage. Yeah, I know it's part hereditary, and I have grown and fed four kids. That does leave a little bit of a mark with extra fat stores. Still, I was a little depressed that when it was stated that most female runners fall in the 12-24% body fat range, I came in at 23.5%. When it came to other numbers, I had a VO2Max of 44.2 mL/kg/min. This is a measure of how much oxygen can be consumed for every kilogram of your weight every minute. It's largely genetic (I will never be Lance Armstrong or Matt Carpenter), but 20% can be trained to higher levels. My VO2Max is nothing special for a runner, but it's cool to know that I can work at it and bring it up some.

My anaerobic threshold (ventilatory threshold) was 73%, which is a heart rate of 164 BPM for me. This percentage represents the point where lactate formed during aerobic/anaerobic exercise is equal to removal, and therefore where people are taxing their aerobic systems to their max. This goes back to where I need more work, and regular interval sessions was something suggested to improve aerobic performance (I get it, I get it). It's something I know but when you hear someone else tell you who knows what he is talking about-yeah, pay attention to what he has to say.

So, that wraps up my time as a lab rat. It was a thoroughly enjoyable opportunity, even when it was uncomfortable or painful. I am not sure when the article will publish but do know it will not be until a 2011 issue of the magazine. A lot of what is printed is planned out well in advance, and things are sometimes pushed back for a variety of reasons. This is okay-I'm a little frightened at the possibility of any of those sweaty, drooly shots seeing the light of day. Until then, I am going to keep running long, running hard, and enjoying a cold frosty one when the mood strikes.


scarlet said...

The photos look great! Nice one!

scarlet chaco

Fair Weather Runner said...

i'm a total nerd and found all of this really, really interesting. thanks for sharing! also, fat tire is amazing :)