Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I am not an android... I'm a triathlete

After breaking the VO2 testing machine the last time I was there, the Performance Lab let me come back last Friday. Turns out, even though I resemble one in this photo, I am not an android at all.

The first time I found myself in the lab, it seemed so surreal. Here I am, regular old Diane, standing in a room with real athletic testing equipment... for real athletes. Like real, serious athletes. I couldn't help but giggle pretty much the whole time I was there. How did I end up here?

The Performance Lab, located in Cherry Hill, N.J., is "powered by" the Rothman Institute, which is a super awesome orthopaedics specialty group that I went to as a last resort to work out this hip issue of mine. Basically I thought, if they can't help me, no one will. 

Enter Dr. Michael Ross, fellow member of the Philadelphia Triathlon Club. After meeting him at his office and getting X-rays of my hips, he determined some physical therapy would help my hip... but wanted to take it a step further. He wanted to find out why my hip injury will not go away and stay away. He suspected it had something to do with my asthma and the way we figure this out is we test. 

As a less than amateur triathlete, the idea of getting these complex tests done was super cool. I mean, really, how freaking cool is it that I can learn how my body burns fat, carbohydrates, at what point lactic acid takes over and learn about my overall lung function from the inside out? Pretty freaking sweet in my book.

The first thing that happens is they fit you with this very android looking device, see above photo. Next they measure, I think, my lung capacity. I take a giant breath in and then blow it out until my lungs are empty. Next is a hyperventilation test where I breathe in and out quickly (hyperventilating). I will be honest, I have no idea what that measures. I didn't take notes. Bad blogger.

After doing those tests, the real testing begins. Starting out walking on the treadmill, we increase the miles per hour every two minutes until I can't run any more. 

This doesn't take nearly as long as you'd think. At least for me.

I topped out at the end of the 2 minutes at 8 mph. This is a 7:30 running pace. I can't run faster than that. I simply could not keep up with the treadmill any longer.

What we learned:
My asthma is not nearly as controlled as I thought. My large airways stay open, in fact, they actually increase as I exercise, but the small airways do not. They get smaller and decrease by as much as 50%, which significantly decreases the amount of oxygen getting to my muscles, which speeds up fatigue. This, in turn, makes my small muscles work harder than they should and helps contribute to my hip injury never really staying better. So, Dr. Ross prescribed some new meds that seem to be really working. We'll retest in a few weeks.

We learned lots of other things like where my body stops burning fat and starts using carbohydrates, my lactic threshold and how I can get faster, but I don't really want to bore you with all of it because it really is only interesting to me ... and Joanna. What I will tell you, is that the longer I'm in triathlon, the more I learn about myself. Whether it's that I sometimes shock myself with my competitive nature or how lung function can directly effect muscle fatigue, the real lesson in triathlon has less to do with swim, bike run, and much more to do with what the individual athlete learns about themselves through the training process. 

Oh, quick update: I was supposed to run the Iron Girl Half Marathon in Columbus, MD, Sunday, however both Joanna and Dr. Ross decided it wouldn't be a great idea for me to try and muscle my way through a half marathon and potentially injury my hip even more, which could ruin my chances of racing Eagleman in June.

Monday, April 9, 2012

It's good to know people in triathlon

I've been a bad blogger, a very bad blogger. I haven't written in some time because, to be completely honest, I've been struggling with some mental setbacks. I haven't run more than 12 minutes in a row in nearly 3 weeks and I have a half marathon scheduled for April 29. I've been assured by my doctor and Joanna that I'll be able to run the race, but I'm starting to wonder if it'll really happen.

Shhhh! I snapped this picture while I waited for the doctor. 
Oh, what lovely bones I have...

Last Thursday I went to the Rothman Institute for an appointment to find out, once and for all, what is wrong with this hip of mine. As you can see in the above picture, my bones are fine. But, turns out, I have injured my gluteus minimus because my gluteus maximus is weak. Everybody laugh... I'm a weak ass. But what it means is that I'm not using my rear to its full potential while running.

That's not all... on Friday I went in for a VO2 max test at the Performance Lab (which was a really super awesomely cool experience that I promise to write about before the end of next week) to see if my asthma may be making my smaller muscles work harder. The test showed that my asthma is under control (good news), but my muscles aren't storing sugar for very long. This means that when I do longer, faster runs (bike rides or swims) my body doesn't burn fat for energy unless I'm running really, really slow - instead it's burning muscle. According to the test, I need nearly 200 per hour from carbs while working out. That's two Gu's an hour! From what I can tell, it's a vicious cycle for my body that nutrition counseling and physical therapy should fix.

Thank goodness my coach is also a nutritionist... who knows my doctor who happens to be a fellow member of the Philadelphia Triathlon Club, which takes me out of the translation loop. That's great news, since you can tell I'm terrible at explaining medical garble.