Testing, Testing…Part 1

2019 is here, and it marks a 20 year anniversary of sorts for me. In March of 1999 I had my annual physical, and I hit the scale at 190 lbs. That was a high for me and a kind of wake up call. Soon after that I started riding with the Stockton Bicycle club. On my first ride in the hills, I got dropped and was hopelessly far behind. I remember going home and telling Stoker (who was 7 years away from getting that nickname) that the 5 other riders on the ride were very nice, but they were much stronger than me. I told her there was no chance I could ever ride with them. I simply was not strong enough.

Me in 2001: Before Dr. Testa

But on my second club ride the route was much flatter, and there was a bigger group with a few riders that I could at least see in front of me. I got dropped by everyone, including Shig, who was in his early 80’s at the time. Gary Johnson was very nice to me and encouraged me to come back for more rides. So I did, on and off over the next 4 years. I got better and lost some weight, down to 177 lbs.by March 2003. Then I took a step that changed my cycling life forever. I went to see Dr. Max Testa for a VO2 test.

I was already riding with a heart rate monitor and was constantly surprised that other riders had much higher heart rates than I did. They would say they got into the 180 bpm range, and I never saw anything much over 150. Since most of them were also much stronger than me, I was wondered what I was doing wrong and why I couldn’t get higher heart rates.

The UCD Sports Medicine Clinic in Sacramento offered VO2 Max testing to anyone who wanted to pay for it. So I made an appointment and was delighted to find that Max Testa himself did the test and post test consultation.

I was pretty happy with my 177 lb. weight, but I was in for a shock. After doing a caliper test to measure body fat, Dr. Testa said I should lose another 10 lbs. I hadn’t weighed less than 170 lbs. since high school!

Jan.2, 2019: VO2 Max Testing Fun

After that we did the test. A VO2 test is a test to exhaustion. They put a breathing tube in your mouth and pinch your nose so they can measure how much oxygen your lungs can deliver to your muscles. The test typically starts at 100 watts (higher for elite athletes, which I’m not) and goes up 25 watts every minute until you can’t do any more. It isn’t much fun if you do it right and really push through the last couple of levels. You finish gasping and with your heart pounding hard and fast in your chest.

What I learned from the test was that my maximum heart rate was only 170, and that my anaerobic threshold was only 156 bpm. Dr. Testa gave me a set of workouts to do based on this test. When he suggested I do 5 minute intervals over 156 bpm I thought to myself that was impossible: from riding with a monitor I felt anything over 150 for more that a few seconds was all out.

But guess what; it turned out I could do those workouts. It took time and they were hard and not much fun, but I started to get much better on the bike. I was keeping up with people who used to drop me. And with all the added cycling intensity and a few eating modifications I dropped those 10 lbs. down to 167 by July 2004. I’ve stayed in the 165-170 lb. range ever since.

So to kick off my 20th year of serious cycling I decided to repeat the VO2 test and do a lactate test as well.  I had the tests on January 2. I thought the comparison with my 48 year old self might be interesting and enlightening. And it was. I’ll share the results in my next post.




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