A few weeks ago I visited a Human Performance Lab for some testing:
*Hydrostatic Body Fat Test
*Resting Metabolic Rate Test
I want to be a better athlete and my scary goals for 2016 demand honesty and hard work. Ever since Ann started coaching me, she has encouraged me to get these tests done; and after a year, I finally got around to it. Throughout my long journey as an athlete, I’ve constantly been confronted with the truth that if I want to reach my full potential then I have to embrace all my strengths and weaknesses in honesty and then build from there.
I don’t just want to be a “good” trail runner.
I want to be great.
I want to race the toughest races in the world.
I want to race against the best trail runners in the sport.
I want to see the world from the mountaintops- from my two feet.
I want to impact the sport for the good of others and not just myself.
I want to see how far I can go…and then go a little further.
I dream big. That’s always been a part of me since I was a little girl; and I shudder to think there ever be a day that I stop…I reckon it will be the day I take my last breath.
When I decided that I wanted to be a “competitive” trail runner, I searched out the most competitive races. Where was the competition? If I wanted a good picture of how I measured up in this sport then I needed to do races where I’d be competing against 10 or 20 of the best females around; as opposed to to hunting down podiums where the competition was lacking. And I’ll pause here and say that this has not been an easy one for my pride; I would love to say that I’ve won 20 races and finished 100 ultras; but if the substance of those accomplishments were founded on me “searching for small/non-competitive” races then how would I ever know how I truly rank? And I say this strictly from a competitive mindset. I desire to compete; I LOVE to compete; it’s my job to compete; so I need to find the best competition.
So back to the performance tests I had done; and why?
To be frank, my results at Western States this year broke me down a bit. I believed with my whole heart that I would run sub-20. I trained harder than I ever believed I was capable of and I stepped up to the Start line with great confidence and determination that I would run well. The day after the race, I sent Ann a text telling her I wanted to do better next year. And I haven’t stopped thinking of the race ever since.
Intense? Yep. I totally am. I love that race; and I want to do better.
So after UTMB, I took somewhat of an off-season. I chose not to race the Ultra Trail Cape Town in South Africa because my body was so tired. And I have spent September and October doing lots of aerobic running, strength training, and resting. Basically prepping for another wonderfully brutal Western States training cycle in 2016.
With this prep, Ann has directed me to a completely different approach than I had last year:
“You’ve got 4 months of road racing.”
I remember the immediate fear that paralyzed me when she said this. I don’t race on the roads; never have. Any road race I’ve done in the past has been for fun or just to stay in shape. And when Ann says road racing, she’s not talking just a marathon- she wants me doing 5ks, 10ks, half marathons and then culminating with a marathon!
Here’s a fun fact for ya- I’ve never even signed up for a 5k! Closest thing I did to a 5k was a Breast Cancer walk with my entire family and in-laws while pushing Makenzie in a stroller! And speaking of Makenzie, she races 5ks all the time and seriously….What if she beats me!? Ha! What’s my 5k time? Looks like I’ll be finding out soon.
Yep, I’m embracing all my fears and weaknesses these next few months. Training for big mountainous 100 mile races does NOT make you faster; and Ann knows that I need to be faster. If I’m going to do better at Western States in 2016 then I need to be fitter, faster…and lighter. Which brings me to the first test:
*Hydrostatic Body Composition Analysis/Body Fat Testing
Warning: I’m now going to talk about my body.
Please Note: Do not read this as if it’s coming from your adorable skinny girlfriend complaining about the extra 2 ounces on her waist. This is more about science and not a goal to fit into a pair of jeans. (also, I can’t fit into jeans if I tried- ha ha!)
Keep in Mind: I am a professional athlete. My body is my job. I train very hard-EVERY DAY. I’m a coach, personal trainer and have a pretty good handle on understanding how the body works.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, please read accordingly. In being honest, I needed an accurate analysis of how much fat and muscle I’m carrying on my body. Okay, so I have a lot of muscle on my body; and if it were so simple, I would get rid of at least 10 pounds of it. It’s heavy and requires a lot of energy to move around. Undoubtedly, and without going into great detail this much muscle has offered me a lot of advantages in 100 mile races; however there’s also been some numbing disadvantages; and I have science to thank for pointing this out.
If possible, and without hindering my performance, I would like to be lighter, so this test was used to show me how much weight I could safely lose. If you’re not familiar with body fat percentages, here’s a chart:
In short, hydrostatic weighing measures the mass per unit volume of a living person’s body and is typically the most accurate way to measure body fat. In the past couple years, I have experienced non-stop frustration from doctors and health professionals who have calculated my body fat to be anywhere between 19-23%. I would take this information and eat and train accordingly- hoping to slim down. But I continually found myself hungry and struggling with recovery. I knew something wasn’t right. So this test was going to offer me more accurate insight.
When I arrived at the lab, I was directed to a room with a small pool and asked to change into my bathing suit. When the technician entered she looked at me and jokingly said,
“Ha, well there’s no way you’re more than 15% body fat.”
I laughed back at her, “Ummm, try adding 10% to that guess!”
“No, I test people all the time.”
“Well, I kind of hope I’m wrong, but maybe not really!”
A part of me wanted higher body fat so that she could just tell me what to do to slim down. Did I need to eat more? Less? Eliminate certain foods? Add something in? How was my training being affected by my size? I wanted answers.
She measured my height and then showed me how to lay on the rack and breathe out all my air once under water. I was to wait until she tapped me on the shoulder before coming up for a breath.
My body tensed up as soon as I got into the water; I was nervous. A big breath in; then out; and underwater I went. I did this four times and when she was done, she simply said,
“Alright. We’ll go over your results after you finish the other two tests.”
Resting Metabolic Rate Test
I dressed and met her in another room where she hooked me up to a machine that would measure my resting metabolic rate for 12 minutes. The RMR test measures exactly how many calories one needs to eat to lose weight and function healthily throughout each day. It’s not the most comfortable test- there’s a big tube shoved in your mouth and a clamp on your nose; but it’s only 12 minutes and it’s great information to have, so I was happy to do it
I started the test and focused on natural easy breathing as best I could; drool started coming out of the corners of my mouth and my eyes quickly became heavy. I wanted to fall asleep, so every now and then I’d glance into the mirror on my right to wake myself up. I was a hilarious sight! The 12 minutes came to an end and like the previous test, she noted that we would talk about the results after I finished the final test.
VO2 Test- SubMaximal
I changed into my running shoes and met the technician on the treadmill. She placed a mask on my head. A long plastic tube was connected from the mask to a machine. She explained how the test would play out,
“Typically this will last about 8 minutes and at the very most 11 or 12 minutes. I’m going to keep pushing you harder and harder as the test goes on. You’ll be running fast and uphill if we need to get the heart rate really going.”
If you’re unfamiliar, in a nutshell this test is the ultimate measure of fitness and offers a wealth of information including cardio fitness level, personal target heart rate zones, your anaerobic threshold, and how well you recover after training.
Although battling a bit of a respiratory infection (thanks to all the traveling) I was especially excited about this test; but also nervous. I went into this test thinking that there is a “good” score and a “bad” score. Isn’t that how we’re conditioned to think? For as long as I can remember, anytime a teacher mentioned the class would be “…taking a test on Friday.” I would tense up. I was either going to get a good grade or a bad grade. So I had a choice. I was either going to study and nail the test or slack off and score poorly. My approach to the VO2 test was no different. I wanted a good score; but I feared the worst. I kept envisioning her saying,
“Well I don’t know how you perform at that level; you’re not really cracked out to be a competitive athlete.”
I suppose this doubt stems from what I’ve been told quite a bit throughout my life; which in a nutshell is,
“You don’t look the part Sally.”
When I was younger I was too small(late bloomer). Too small to make the team; too easy to push around. And in my adult years, it’s been,
“You don’t look like a runner….Wow you’re really big…Your body is terribly disproportionate…Are you a bodybuilder?”
The list goes on; and these are actual statements that people say to my face almost everyday. On one hand I take pride in not fitting into others expectations of what a runner should look like; I love challenging other’s “small thinking” but even greater is the chance to inspire others that we should not limit ourselves because of how others measure us. If you dream a dream; go get it! There will always be critics telling you “you don’t fit the part.” And sometimes it is we ourselves who are the worst of all critics.
As the test started, the technician would give me feedback on my heart rate and my VO2 number, I focused on the number 40 for a few minutes, “I gotta be higher than 40.” I giggle just typing that-like a silly kid!
The first few minutes went by quickly and we had some difficulty getting my heart rate up; each time she would increase the speed or incline my heart rate would go up and I’d notice some excitement on her part, but then I’d immediately recover and my heart rate would drop back down.
“Okay, you’re all over the place…I’m gonna increase the incline again- let me know if you’re okay.”
We were now 8 minutes into the test and I had yet to feel any real stress. So up the treadmill went and faster I ran. 10 minutes passed, then 11 and I began to wonder if I was doing the test right, until at minute 12 my heart rate started to really go up and stay up. I was running at 9.3 mph with a 6.0% incline when I finally hit 150bpm.
“Are you okay!” She yelled over the roar of the treadmill and my pounding feet.
I wanted to cough up the phlegm that had been hovering in my lungs and my nose started to drip. I looked in the mirror at my now red face, we were now 13 minutes into the test.
“Let me know, are you okay?”
I nodded as my chest heaved; I wanted a full breath with that mask off my face; I was uncomfortable.
I raised my hand to end the test.
That first breath without the mask was glorious!
“Could you have kept going?” she asked
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“That was one of the highest scores I’ve ever had.”
I smiled, then wondered how many people she had tested. Ha!
It was time to listen to the results. So I followed her over to a small table in the corner of the room. I felt like a 2nd grader at a teacher conference. I sat tensely as she read off my scores and explained what each one meant. I was shocked:
Body Fat- 11%
RMR- Resting energy expenditure- 1500 calories
VO2 Test Score- 55.2
“Also, you should know that you are NOT 5’5, you are actually 5’6.”
Yes, the last time my height was taken, I was 5’5. Did I really grow? Ha ha.
For the next half hour our discussion was centered on my weight and body mass. She explained that my body fat was already very low and losing anymore would be unhealthy; at most I could lose 2-3% as a minimum of 8% is needed for cushioning internal organs, insulation in hot and cold temperatures and for defense against infection. I wasn’t happy. She smiled sympathetically when I asked,
“How do I reduce my muscle mass?”
“I’ve only had one other client ask me that and he was a professional MMA fighter who needed to drop to a lower weight class.”
She explained hesitantly how it could possibly be done; the act of “cannibalizing” muscle. How timing my meals would be important; what types of workouts to do and not do; but her hesitation left me wondering. I appreciated her honesty as she said,
“I just don’t want to risk doing something that’s going to affect your performance. Do you build muscle easily?”
I gave her a half joking half pouty, “Yes, I walk past weights and they jump into my thighs.”
She laughed and took a few minutes to encourage me; it was much of what I’ve heard from other trusted coaches and friends, which is roughly,
“This is your body and you can’t look at all that muscle as bad; embrace it.”
So there it is; in the open. My strengths; my weaknesses; my goals; my struggles; my hopes.
This is my starting point and I’m going to embrace it. I’m a big runner, but I’m strong and fit.
I haven’t done road races in years, but I’m going to start and even if I finish with an embarrassing time, I’m just gonna train harder. And when it’s time to start my training for Western States 2016, I’m gonna be better and fitter…even if I look like a bull! Bring it on!
Thanks so much for reading, I’ll be updating you here on my journey to improving myself as an athlete as well as on my journey to Western States 2016.
Stay Gritty my Friends…the BEST is still yet to come!