Back in October, I went through some metabolic testing at Sportstest in London.  It was truly eye opening.

I had wanted to get myself tested because I was trying to figure out why I was such a crappy cyclist.  Yes, that’s the truth of it.  I was running and swimming generally well, but my cycling consistently never matched the other two.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was putting in the time – I did Sufferfest sessions 3-4 times a week, I did long hours on the bike, including a number of Century rides, and I rode rain or shine, snow or ice.

Palace 2 Palace, 144 km cycle:  the only sportive where I finished ahead of the others. Because they all got lost… and I didn’t. L-R: Tom, me, Jojo, Dalia

And yet I sucked on the bike.  It was exhausting and disheartening.  Why was I always so slow?  Finally, metabolic testing with Dr Garry Palmer would reveal the truth.

The Test

Pre-testing, Garry discussed my training regime with me, my bike times vs my run times, and surmised that it was likely because I was training too hard on the bike.  Pushing too hard all the time, never letting up, always going for it, exhausting me.  Could that be it?  The testing would tell.

I won’t go into great detail about metabolic testing, but you can hear more about it from Garry himself here or read my friend Karis’s recent post on the subject. Essentially, Garry was monitoring my heart rate, my oxygen uptake and my CO2 production, first on the bike, the on the run.

VO2 max

Testing time!

I was in for a shock.

It was my “off-season”, I’d just had several weeks off after an intensive year of racing, and yet my bike results were good.  Very good.  My VO2 max was in the top-trained athlete range (61.19), and my power to weight ratio was very high (4.68).  What it boiled down to:  I wasn’t trying nearly hard enough on the bike.

It was all mental.

All the times I’d struggled in the sportives to keep up, all the times I’d been dropped by my friends – it was all because I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I generally pride myself on giving 110% effort, so this really was a surprise.  I think all the years of bike commuting just meant that I didn’t know how to suffer on the bike.  I had been coasting along in the “recovery” heart rate zone (or Zone 1) the entire time. I’d learned how to push hard on the run, but not on the bike.

We then moved on to testing my run:

The run brought fewer surprises, but again Garry identified my training zones.  We did establish that my running was ahead of my cycling – but not by that much.  It also showed that I was doing my “steady” runs far too easy.

The graphs

The various tests resulted in a number of complex graphs and numbers spewing out, one example here:

Test results

Test results

These graphs show the points at which you stop burning fat and only burn carbohydrates.  As an endurance athlete, the longer you can burn fat, the longer you can keep going.  Tom and I are both believers in fat-fuelled sessions (long and slow without taking on extra fuel so your body learns to burn fat rather than “hitting the wall”, which is what happens when you are burning carbs only and your body runs out of supplies).  Turns out pretty much all my cycling had been in the fat burning zone only.  For endurance triathlon, you ideally want to be in Zone 2 – where you burn both fat and carbohydrates.

The consequences

No more excuses!

If there is one thing I’ve learned doing endurance sports over the last few years, it’s is that the mental is more important than the physical, by far. This testing really brought that home.

Since the assessment with Garry, my cycling has improved 100%.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have a long way to go, but the improvement has been palpable.  I trust the numbers he has given me and I’ve finally learned to push hard on the bike.  My Half Ironman time has dropped nearly an hour (5:58 in Norway in 2013 to 5:01 in Naples in Jan 2015), with my bike split going from 3:22 to 2:42, 40 minutes! (granted, Norway was hilly, and Naples was flat)!

It’s true that it’s pancake flat here, unlike hilly England.  So perhaps I can’t put everything down to trying harder, but I’m definitely pushing more than I ever have before, and it feels good.

FullSizeRender

 

All in all, I would highly recommend getting yourself tested if you haven’t done it already.  And I am continuously amazed at how much of this sport is mental, not physical.

Have you ever has a metabolic assessment?  Did it help you?

 

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Training with a World Champion: Tri Camp with Leanda Cave! | Rule 5

  2. Julia glad I could help, and what an awesome performance advantage! An hour of a 70.3 distance race is excellent. Keep up the hard work 🙂

  3. Very enlightening! Thank you Julia! Keep them coming!

  4. Julia, this is fascinating! If I ever scrape together enough, maybe I’ll do metabolic testing myself.