When I was a young lad, 5th grade (maybe?), I ran in my first 5K. It was a big deal for me at the time, since I ran by myself with a bunch of adults. During that race, I was cruising along mid-pack and feeling good! Then, an older guy (maybe my current age, doh!) offered me some unsolicited advice: “Don’t stomp my feet so loudly.”
For the next twenty years (or is it 30? Double Doh!), when I ran purposefully for training or racing (excluding soccer and sprinting), I continued to run with the that in the back of my mind. As a result, I ran more softly: Landing on my heel and rolling onto my forefoot as I propelled myself forward in a quieter, more gentler fashion. So this presumably unlicensed coach effectively turned me into a heel striker! The act of heel striking meant I was applying brakes each time I put my foot down, which shoots an unnecessary shock up my leg and through my joints. This vicious cycle resulted in me running on soft surfaces whenever I could to “save my knees”.
My high school track coach knew how to push me hard and taught me how to run off the blocks and pass a baton, but he didn’t do much for my running efficiency. It wasn’t until I started training for triathlon decades later before I learned proper running mechanics. I first learned them through run drills. Since they double as great warm-up exercises, you get to fire your proprioceptors and engage your neuromuscular system to establish good form before you start your workout. Tis the season to sprinkle them in during your track workout, so you come out of the off-season with better form. Better form means less risk of injury and greater efficiency. In other words, you get to train more without setbacks and the suffering ends sooner, since you’ll finish faster at the same effort!
In the end, my loud stomp wasn’t all that bad, at least I landed on the middle of my foot, which is built to reduce a lot of the shock before it gets to the knees. I think some of the noise came from my vertical oscillation. I should have embraced the midfoot strike, but I should have focused my force from an upward direction to a forward direction. If only I knew then what I know now, I would’ve beaten that old guy in my first 5k!
If you have any doubts about your run form, get a coach to observe you and nip it in the bud before you waste precious time and maybe avoid some costly injuries. And in the meantime, come out to one of our track sessions! We have a lot of track options tomorrow! For details, visit www.dfwtriclub.com/calendar.
Power Meters measure direct energy output as power is being generated, compared to Heart Rate Monitors (“HRM”) that measure how hard the heart is working to support energy output. There is an indirect relationship between power and heart rate. Stated simply, your muscles store energy so they can do some work without major changes in heart rate. As energy production increases and energy storage in the muscles decrease, the heart is recruited to pump blood to replenish that energy. Thus, it takes about 30-60 seconds for your heart rate to catch up to changes in energy production.
When cycling power meters first hit the scene a couple of decades ago, they were very expensive and only used by elite athletes. Like all great new technologies, time has provided economies of scale and resultant falling prices, so you can now find them in most serious cycling circles. Any good coach will suggest getting a power meter before upgrading your bike, (well, depending on the bike, I suppose). As you may have heard before, “You need to build the engine before you build the machine.” And, “What good is a Ferrari if it has a Smart ForTwo engine.”
Now there is a power meter for running. And get this: The price is lower than all current cycling power meters. When you also weigh the fact that cycling power meters have educated consumers about what training with power means, I’d say the running power meter is now on a faster trajectory than we saw with cycling power meters. They will soon be as common as HRMs are today. We can now figure out exactly how much energy we used running through rolling hills. To use an example of running with only a HRM, it is entirely possible to expend 400 watts climbing a 20 second hill hitting Zone 5, but it goes undetected since your heart rate only climbed 10 beats per minute. Thus, it may still look like you are in Zone 3; you won’t even know that you have burned a match. With the Stryd power meter, there is currently a delay of about 3 seconds, but they have talked about decreasing that soon. In the end, 3 seconds is enough to save a match and adjust without cause for concern.
Interestingly, the chest strap HRMs we grew up with are on the verge of becoming obsolete thanks to the spread of optical HRMs in wrist watches. Unfortunately, Stryd goes on your chest too, so it looks like we won’t be able to shake chest straps just yet. At least it does also collect heart rate data, so our silly fashion trend and the tan lines that come with it will be sticking around for a bit longer. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time I was at the track doing 800s and a sprinter asked me what I was wearing around my chest…
When Stryd was first brought to Kickstarter, it was advertised as a device that clipped to the back of your run shorts. I imagine it is hard to get heart rate data from that spot, which may be why they moved it to the chest strap. Needless to say, I look forward to the day that they bring it back… which is hopefully the same day the Garmin 930xt comes with an optical HRM.
Stryd is currently selling their power meter for $200. For a triathlete, this price point is almost a no-brainer. We are used to paying top dollar for equipment, so this feels like a bargain. Even the cheapest cycling power meters start around $450 but can easily reach four figures. Not a bad deal, folks!
The strap that comes in the Stryd box is sub-par. You cannot snap or hook it around your chest; it is always connected like a rubber band. Since you want this thing tight on your chest when you run, it is a bit of a hassle to squeeze into it. BUT, don’t worry, the Stryd works with the Garmin and other HRM chest straps! Problem solved, although more on this soon.
Keep in mind, they are still working through the software side of this. To view my running data with Stryd, I have to log the workout as a bike ride, since Garmin hasn’t yet unlocked the ability to display and record power data in the run screen. Also, in cycling, power meters do not have integrated heart rate data, so we’re waiting on Garmin and the other watch makers to open up the ability to view both power and heart rate in the run fields from one device. For now, you should consider running with TWO chest straps!
When I first tested this outdoors, I was shocked by how many watts I was pushing at my easy pace. It was difficult to run slow enough to get my power to drop below 200 watts! On a bike, it is pretty easy, but rolling inertia on a bike is much different than stomping through a run. To make more sense of this, I performed a blood lactate test on myself, while on the treadmill. I started my test at a very low speed and increased my speed by 1/2 mph every 5 minutes until exhaustion. This helped confirm the reasonableness of the numbers I was reading and the two tests were consistent. The lab environment controlled for the speed and eliminated the weather and hills from the test. I was able to go below 200 at the lower speeds and my Lactate levels rose in a predictable manner.
I then used this device in an Aquathlon. At the race, there were a couple of Stryd employees also in attendance! Although this is not officially waterproof, they confirmed that I could wear the device during the swim. Although it was a 1 mile swim, I was not diving with it, so there were no issues bringing it into the water for this race. The 10k run that followed gave me an average wattage that was in line with what I would expect from the lactate test. Since an “Open 10K” is a good field test to help determine your lactate threshold, in my case preceded by a swim, it corroborated the existing lactate test.
The final claim that Stryd is selling us on is that this can help improve your run form. Although I’ve played with my run form while using the device, I haven’t been able to test it properly. Every time I look down at my watch, I cut off oxygen by bending my neck and my form suffers. The guys at Stryd have at least one video that shows how this can give you feedback on your running efficiency. When I did play with it, I was not able to see a 10% drop like they mentioned in the video, but again, I did not perform a proper test. Check out the video for their claim:
As expected with new technology, upcoming firmware updates will make it a little more accurate and accessible. In the meantime, I am still very comfortable relying on this data.
My verdict: If you only run treadmills or you avoid hills and bridges, then running with a heart rate monitor alone will work just fine. It is steady feedback without much variation, so the additional effort may not be worth the marginally more expensive price. If you run on hills, frequently change your pace, or just love data, Buy! This is not a gimmick. Run, don’t walk to get your Stryd Running Power Meter. (And by the way, walking does not currently register on the Stryd – just running. It senses when both feet are on the ground at the same time and doesn’t report feedback.)
My first Olympic Distance Triathlon was not an easy one. I picked HITS Marble Falls, in the hills outside of Austin. I deemed it a “B race”, since it was more of an experiment than anything else. It was my first 1500 meter swim so that was my biggest concern going into the race. I got through the swim just fine, rather unmemorable in the long run. I do remember the bike though. I found that I was able to pass a lot of people on the rolling hills. I muscled up the hills every time. By the time I got to the run, my legs were mush. There was a steep climb right out of T2. I could not understand why my legs were so tired. It was the first time that I remember walking in a race. Most of the people who I passed on the bike while blasting up the hills ended up passing me on the run. If I had invested in lactate testing before the race, I would not have blown up like that and I would have had more fun. Lactate testing gives you your individual training and racing zones. Armed with your new lactate knowledge from Part I, these six tips will help you perform better and may help reduce the (H+ ion) acid burn. Less burn equals better quality training and quicker recovery. Do all of the following:
1) Get stronger. Your muscles are made up of mitochondria, as well as other building blocks. When you exercise, it is the mitochondria that process the energy. The average person’s muscle mass consists of 2% mitochondria. A pro runner or triathlete can have up to 10%. This is 5x the capacity that can process energy and convert the waste back into ATP, which fuels your Anaerobic System. The ATP function of the Anaerobic System does not last long, from 2-10 seconds, but it is just long enough for the Lactic Acid System to kick in – that starts at about 10 seconds and lasts another 20 seconds.
2) Stay hydrated. Water is H2O. Or, 2 parts Hydrogen and one part Oxygen. If you stay hydrated throughout the day and during exercise, you will avoid that limitation. Blood consists of 55% water. If you are dehydrated, your blood will thin and not carry the necessary nutrients that your muscles need to perform.
3) Breathe deeply. Also known as diaphragmatic breathing. It is important to get enough oxygen, but for human beings, it is difficult not to. Our lungs are overbuilt, so getting oxygen is the easy part. It is the exhale that we need to do more of. A full exhale gets rid of the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) waste product. (Glucose plus oxygen produces carbon dioxide, water and energy.) So a deep breath will not only get rid of CO2, but it will also clear your lungs of this to give you more room to take in more Oxygen (O2). Thus, this is not just an issue for when we exercise at the higher intensities; it can affect you well before that. If you focus more on expelling a full breath, oxygen takes care of itself, it will come into the lungs without much effort. Train this when you are at work, driving in the car, or while reading this article! It will become habit and easier to do when you exercise.
4) Eat carbohydrates and sugars. Glycolysis breaks down sugar in your blood stream and turns it into ATP. H+, Lactate (H+ buffer) and Lactic Acid (fuel source) are also generated in glycolysis. Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrates and sugars that we have in our muscles and use for energy. During a long workout (or after a workout), we deplete the glycogen levels in our muscles. For them to recover and get stronger, we need to replace glycogen by consuming more carbohydrates. (Note: for full muscle recovery, we also need to consume protein, amino acids and other essential nutrients – feel free to search the interweb on this subject if you do not want to wait for my take on it). Note that muscle soreness is activated by inflammation and nociceptor (pain receptors) activity. Overtraining (especially in relation to the amount of carbohydrates and sugars you have eaten) and poor diet contribute to inflammation. Thus, eating the right food and at the right times will help improve your performance. (Click HERE for the hands down best rap about glycolysis there is.)
5) Detrain your anaerobic system. For an endurance event, you should attempt to minimize the amount of acid that goes into your muscles. You do this by staying below your Lactate Threshold (“LT”) for as long as you can, but if you do go above it, to keep it as short as possible. Every time you go above it, you “burn a match”. It is possible to train to make your matches last longer and to increase the number that you can burn, which may be useful if you do Sprints or Crits (Criterium bike racing). As mentioned above, if you always work out hard, then you might have an overbuilt anaerobic system. So even at an easy effort level, your body thinks you are about to go hard again and instantly produces acid. This is why sprinters hate running long distance; they produce too much acid to go long. To correct this, you may consider substituting anaerobic work for Zone 2 aerobic work. Your top end speed may suffer, but you will delay your H+ (and lactate) production, which will allow you to go faster for longer. You can always circle back to the Zone 4/5 work later.
6) Recover first. Most of the H+ acid is gone in 30 minutes to 2 hours. If you work out hard again later that day you may generate acid again quickly, since your muscles are still sore and inflamed. Plus, you won’t get much out of that workout for this same reason; your muscles haven’t healed yet. If you keep adding stress to your muscles before they recover, you become weaker and your fitness decreases. If you give yourself enough time to recover in between hard workouts, then your muscles heal and get stronger, or supercompensate. When you start again, you will be stronger and you will be fresh, so you will not flood your body with acid right away.
In the final installment of this series on Lactate and performance, we will examine lactate testing and how this compares to other forms of testing as well as what the test will tell you. Train smart and stay tuned!
If lactate testing is something you are interested in, check us out!
Your Lactate Threshold (“LT”) is the single biggest determinant of endurance race performance (Kravitz & Dalleck). In addition, it is the most reliable way to track your progress. Beginner triathletes come into the sport from different backgrounds and may respond differently to various types of training. The best way to know whether it’s working is by testing it “in the lab”. “The lab” represents a consistent atmosphere that is repeatable and controls for variables such as wind, hills, stops lights and heat. The test will tell you which energy systems you need to work on and can play a major role in determining your next training cycle. Testing this directly from your blood is testing it at its source.
You reap the benefit of this in training, since it allows you to train efficiently and effectively. Now that you know your LT, your “Threshold workouts” will be perfectly tailored so you train just below it, which allows you to adapt and increase it. You can then tailor your anaerobic workouts (above threshold) to teach your body to learn how to flush out the “acid” (we’ll define acid in a little bit) effectively so you can recover quicker and are ready for the next hard effort quicker. Finally, your recovery workouts will be exactly that, recovery. There is no more guesswork, you have your zones.
An example on the opposite side of the spectrum is a common challenge that new triathletes face when coming in from other higher intensity sports. They train with an ‘all or nothing’ mindset. In other words, they train too hard too often. These athletes may be very physically fit but produce too much “acid”. In these cases, once identified, it may be beneficial to set a training program where they will get better by keeping their workouts aerobic and detraining their anaerobic system! Yep, I said it! Detrain the anaerobic system. Before I explain why, it is useful to know how your anaerobic system works:
Science Alert (although this is somewhat simplified,skip ahead if you aren’t into the technical stuff): Upon digestion, carbohydrates and sugars turn into glycogen. Glycogen fuels the anaerobic system. As it releases energy, Pyruvate fuels the aerobic system while lactate and positively charged Hydrogen ions (H+) are released into the blood stream. Blood is responsible for carrying oxygen and other nutrients to your muscles. The harder your effort, the more lactate and H+ accumulates in your blood and muscles. Eventually, you are going to reach a point where you cannot flush the lactate and H+ from your muscles faster than you are producing them. That is your Lactate Threshold (“LT”).
Now that we have covered that, there is an important distinction to be made between Lactate, Lactic Acid and the H+ ion. Although lactate is released into the blood at the same time as H+, it is NOT lactate or Lactic Acid that causes the burn in your muscles. It is the H+ ion that is the “acid” mentioned above. Lactic Acid is actually a fuel source. It easily travels through cell membranes to the liver and converts back to glucose for more anaerobic fuel. The reason why we measure lactate and not H+ is that this is much easier to do. They are directly correlated; they are produced at the same time and lactate is actually the buffer that helps deliver H+. It is common to hear people say that lactic acid causes the burn. Unfortunately, this is inaccurate. If it were true, it would certainly be easier to explain, but ultimately for us athletes (ie, nonscientists), it means the same thing, just replace lactic acid with “positively charged Hydrogen ions”.
Speaking of Hydrogen, did you know that pH stands for the power of Hydrogen? So when you flood your muscles with positively charged Hydrogen ions, you are making them more acidic. In other words, your pH balance gets more acidic. Per WikiPedia: “in chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline. Pure water [is completely balanced and] has a pH very close to 7.” The pH range goes from of 0 to 14, with 0 being very acidic and 14 being very basic (alkaline). The pH balance of human blood usually stays around 7.365. Even with an extremely hard workout, our pH does not go very far outside of the 7 range. Thankfully, we are limited on how acidic we can get. Lactate is the base (alkaline) and lactic acid is the acid. Although hard exercise increases our acidity, consuming alkaline food while we are exercising will not have an effect on our immediate recovery. But consuming alkaline food as a regular part of our diet is very highly advised. There is some debate about whether it is the alkaline that helps or whether alkaline foods also tend to be more nutrient dense that is what helps. Regardless, try to limit highly acidic foods, like processed foods (stripped of nutrients), or wheat and sugar that do not have many (or any) nutrients. Fruits and veggies, on the other hand, are high in alkaline and coincidentally have a lot of nutrients. So although your blood remains pretty stable (slightly alkaline), avoiding acidosis is important to keep inflammation under control and eating a nutrient dense diet is extremely important to fuel your workouts.
Coming up in Part II, how this all relates to better performance.
Special thanks to Jerry Kosgrove and the plethora of information at www.lactate.com.