Boulder Performance Lab

29 08 2008

Yesterday I spent a few hours with Jason Smith at Boulder Performance Lab (BPL), located within the Alta Therapies building in South Boulder. While Jason had already performed several useful physiology tests for F4 athletes this season for both running and cycling, I had yet to pay him a visit personally to learn for myself the value of his services.

Coming off a rather mediocre summer of racing, I’d been looking forward to the upcoming cyclocross season, and felt that having updated data on my bike fitness would aid in my training/ racing over the next few months. In addition, as I’d recently added a Power Tap hub to my Zipp 303 wheelset, I’d be able to use the up-to-date power data for specific training sessions designed to produce improvement in LT, VO2, etc., as well as better evaluate race performances.

While Jason was setting up my bike in his lab, he thoroughly previewed the different elements of the test, which would include a warm-up, glucose and hematocrit levels, LT step test, spin scan, VO2 max, and carb/ fat metabolism test… sounds like fun!

Everything was smooth and comfortable as we began the LT test by ramping up the wattage in 3-minute increments. At each increasing stage Jason would do a finger prick (barely noticeable) and measure the amount of lactate present in my blood. At the same time he recorded my corresponding heart rate and perceived exertion level (1-10). This was all pretty fun until we got to about 240 watts and I had to really concentrate on keeping my cadence up above 85 rpms. I visualized a recent group ride up Left Hand canyon, where my power and HR were at or above this level for 20+ minutes, and tried to relax and keep the pedals spinning.

At about 248 watts/ 176 bpm/ RPE 7 the lactate levels began to rise faster than I could process them and therefore this marked my lactate threshold point. As performance at this intensity level is pretty important for most races I do, this would be handy information when heading out for workouts designed to improve my ability to process lactate and allow me to ride longer at this level and/ or ride faster before succumbing to the increased lactate levels/ fatigue.

Jason then lowered the resistance on his CompuTrainer (lab edition) and allowed me a recovery period before the spin scan. Unfortunately, I started having some low-level spasms in my right hamstring, a lifelong issue I deal with that is a likely result of a complex blend of electrolyte imbalances, carb depletion, dehydration, etc. This affected my spin scan somewhat, but I did learn a few things about my pedaling skills that I will work on going forward.

Jason cranked the watts back up to 80% of LT (195w) to begin the VO2 and metabolism portion of the test, and right away I knew I was in trouble. My RPE was already at 7+ despite the moderate workload, and my legs felt super heavy. I managed to get through to 265w before pulling the plug dejectedly at only the 50.5 VO2 mark.  I know that I pushed through all the negative sensations and lack of motivation and truly reached a point of failure.

We are still trying to determine what happened, as in previous similar tests I’d managed to push watts well into the 300’s and reach VO2 #’s in the high 60’s.  Most likely I came into the early-afternoon test pretty light on carb stores, then emptied those along with my electrolytes during the 1st part of the test, when I didn’t replenish as I normally would due to the testing protocol.  Stay tuned for more on the subject and possible re-testing data.

Overall I was very pleased with Jason’s professionalism and enthusiasm and would highly recommend BPL to endurance athletes of all levels who are looking to add some focus to their workouts and use a little science to make their training time more efficient.

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