Last week I drove over the border to Switzerland to get myself tested at the Olympic medical institute in Sion. At the clinique they specialise in Ski Mountaineering athletes and have developed a treadmill test that replicates uphill work. I.e. rather than increasing the speed to get the desired max workout effect, they keep the speed steady and increase the angle instead.

After a brief questionnaire and a change into running gear we got straight on with the test. 10km/hr on the flat for 3 minutes, and then an increase of angle (3%) every three minutes after that. Just before every new stage, I had a sample of my blood taken for the lactate level. Not a big sample, just a very, very small pin prick exactly the same as the diabetics use for their tests.

You also wear a oxygen mask to measure the oxygen consumption during the test, which gives you the VO2 max level at the end, plus of course a heart rate monitor.

It really is a test to the “max” and a proper battle at the end to keep going. I was so done in afterwards that I had to have a lie down on the floor, and they had to take my final lactate reading from there!

On the treadmill. Wearing my dartmoor runners vest for extra speed

On the treadmill. Wearing my dartmoor runners vest for extra speed

So you get some fairly useful information afterwards, especially your personal training zones based on heart rate. So you can exercise appropriately depending on what the training session is for. This is great for keeping the heart rate low for the Zone 1/2 endurance training, and also motivating for the higher intensity training, something that I need to work on.

Having the lactate threshold set at a specific heart rate is also really useful, as this is the intensity you can exercise at without too much lactate building up which eventually leads to someone blowing up and having to slow down significantly. In practice though, this level is fairly intuitive and it turns out that for my shorter races I was running within a beat or two of the limit anyway.

I also sat in a body pod thing, which supposedly measures your body-fat percentage. They tested me three separate times thinking the machine’s calibration was off, but it turns out I was a little too skinny for it (less than 5%) and as a result it under-measured me further. I was then asked a few questions about my diet (vegetarian) and whether I ate enough, or was perhaps not looking after myself? No one mentioned “eating disorder” but I re-assured them I was fine.

It turns out that my bathroom scales do a very accurate job of measuring the body fat and muscle percentage. Better than thousands of pounds worth of equipment at their clinique anyway…..

We also had a half-hour time slot at the end of the test to chat about the results and training ideas.

So was it worth it? It is an expensive test, but then again not too bad, about the price of a really good pair of running shoes (plus a coffee or two…). A lot of the data confirmed my own training and “feel” of the heart rate zones, but it has motivated me to increase my top end speed and I do now have a better idea of how to go about this.

And should I eat more and put on some extra weight? Maybe, maybe not. I might have an experiment anyway. Pass the cake please.

Next race – the vertical kilometer at Fully, Switzerland.