V02 Testing – Is it worth it and can you benefit from it?

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In March 2015 I was approached by Phil Anthony from Christ Church University sports lab to be part of his research and test subject.  I jumped at the chance as Phil is an amazing runner and ran London in 02:16 a few years ago and was a national Ultra champion. I wasn’t sure if it would work and benefit me so I decided to try.

What is V02? Research shows that successful performance in endurance running is closely related to the level of aerobic metabolism that a runner is able to sustain throughout a race. This directly impacts on the runner’s ability to maintain their speed throughout the duration of a race. Aerobic metabolism refers to the body’s ability to convert oxygen, delivered to the working muscles, to usable energy. The maximal point at which each athlete is able to achieve this is referred to as their maximal oxygen uptake or their O2max.

The test consisted of a ramp test where you run on a treadmill in stages of four minutes with each stage going up a level in speed until you need to stop. The second test was a 5k time trial on the treadmill after running at 16kmph for 10 minutes.  The third test was that I had to run my long run on another day which was 1 hour and 30 minutes at 70% heart rate.

After this I was sent away for 6 weeks where I had to increase one long run by 6 minutes for 3 weeks and the other long run by 9 minutes for 3 weeks and then maintain it for a further 6 weeks.  I then went back into the lab and preformed the 3 tests like before. I was given my results and this showed my V02 max had gone down so could struggle a bit in my runs but my running economy had improved hugely and something I needed to work on more. So what is Running Economy?

A common method for assessing an athlete’s running economy is to look at the volume of oxygen ( O2) they are able to consume at a speed of 16km h-1. The average O2 in well trained runners at this speed is~52ml•kg-1•min-1. However, as an individual athlete’s running economy can differ according to their speed, and 16km•h-1 can be too fast for many athletes, it can be better to assess RE in terms of distance covered ml•kg-1•km-1. The average RE for well-trained runners, when expressed in this form, would be ~200ml•kg-1•km-1.

So mine had improved but was still poor so I was told to work on easy long runs at 70% heart rate through the winter. This was to purely make me more efficient and burn fat instead of carbs. I found I enjoyed the winter months as the training was easy and in a space of a year I had managed 15 PB in all different types of disciplines.

So I was asked to go back in August this year for another test but this time a test for the difference between running indoors and outdoors. This test consisted of a Ramp test on the treadmill, 5K time trial after running 15kmph for 10 minutes on treadmill then I had to do this on the track.

So what did I learn this time? That running on a treadmill is quicker as I was 20 seconds quicker on the treadmill. Does that help me? Probably not but the data I got from it does. I was told my V02 max was a lot higher than last year because I was purely training for 5k’s, however my running economy was still poor but much better than last year. So looking at the data the short running reps help for 5k’s but the longer distances help for the longer races. As I have decided not to do a marathon next year I will be focusing on speed in the winter but also targeting my running economy.

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Did I find the data useful and did I improve? Well I did, at first I didn’t think this would work but now I have the science behind me I can move my training forward. The first test last year did work hugely and now it’s time to put the August test in practice.

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