The one word that teenagers, tipsy pilots, and runners don’t want to hear. I went in for my VO2Max re-test last week and walked out as a walker, not a runner at least temporarily…"grounded." The wrong diagnosis with the Boston Marathon a mere seven weeks away. While I was confident my heart rate zones have improved over the last nine months following the heart rate training approach, I felt I hadn’t quite got my groove or mojo yet for this Boston Marathon training session.

My VO2Max appointment was with Dr. Inigo San Millan at the University of Colorado Sports Medicine athletic lab. Inigo, a Phd has many credentials including work with Team Garmin. I ask the same question you are probably asking, “why am I in this guys office,” or “I’m in way over my head” as I scan the dude's office walls with autographs from Colorado's elites. The cool thing is that historically, access to such talent is limited to elite athletes, but CU has opened it up to everyday guys like me. This was scheduled to be the follow-up to my first VO2Max study done last May (’10.)

I explained my race calendar (four races in ten months) culminating in Portland this last October. A perplexing (Portland) performance in that I monitored my heart rate during the race which seemed in check (thus my lactate wasn’t going berserk,) so why did I hit the wall so hard so early? (see the above video clip of Portland.) In terms of my current Boston training plan I “chalked up” my lackluster performance to mild injuries at the onset of my sixteen week program. How can my heart rate be low yet I have low energy? I got my answer two paragraphs below.

Be careful of the questions you ask as you may not like the answers. Despite being “amped up” to get on the treadmill and hook up the computer, air mask and tubes, I went with the Dr.’s advice to skip the test and get athletic performance bloodwork done instead. The Dr. explained (far better than I could) that when overtrained, muscles can effectively get trashed (as they often do after an all out effort in a marathon.) Healthy muscles look (as in the image on the left*) as they should under a microscope resembling a basket weave or Life cereal. Healthy muscles can retain the all important fuel for an endurance athlete; Glycogen. Trashed muscles on the other hand look like trashed concrete unable to retain the Glycogen. As Inigo so deftly described it, it’s like trying to hold water in your hands.

The Dr. explained the results, “As suspected, you have muscle damage that for sure is interfering with performance and proper recovery. I am glad that we saw this as it is feasible that this muscle damage was higher last year. Not an issue for your health but definitely an issue for your athletic performance. Also your hemoglobin and hematocrit, although not anemic for sure are a bit low for a male who lives here in Colorado, so this could also impact your oxygen carrying capacity.”

The good news is that he’s suggesting only a layoff of 7-10 days from my all out regiment to give my body the time to repair and resume training. This I presume is that my body reacts positively to the break. I am not an expert, but I’m smart enough to work with many that are. I’ve used the phrase, “listen to your body” before and now I have to listen to my own advice. This last weekend was the first in months that didn’t involve a long run. Part of my solace is that I’ve had a couple running buddies who had to rest in the middle of a training program due to injury only to perform well on race day. I'm trying to think of it as a much needed rest before I enter the last trimester of training. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts...

Footnote to the story: After a visit to my chiropractor today, he reminded me that many things in life can contribute to your ability to defend and repair against marathon muscle damage including diet, rest, and stress. The later went off like a light bulb as I've had much to deal with in life outside running in the last year and a half. More Deepak before bed! Happy thoughts, happy thoughts...

* Source: The Physiology Society


  1. Sorry to read of your hiatus, but you are correct in that many come back stronger after a week off. You have been pushing hard the past year, and may want to consider an extended downtime / reduced mileage regimen after Boston as well. I hope the 7-10 days off are all it takes, and good luck!

  2. Happy thoughts indeed! I hope your rest brings you roaring back; I want to see you fly by me in Boston!

  3. Taking a week off does not compare to a lifetime! I truly believe that after this break you will be back stronger and better than ever before! May I suggest a yoga class in the meantime...To keep those happy thoughts going but of course! :)

  4. The muscle biopsy slide image/slide is all from the same athlete. (a) is the healthy tissue, (b) is after light activity, and they get progressively worse (d) and (e)

  5. It's pretty great the CU is open for non-elites too, and it sounds like your visit paid off. I think your ten days off (be strong and hold out for the full 10 - you can do it!) will work wonders; Pfitzinger's book has countless examples of athletes who ran the best races of their lives after an injury forced them to take a little time off before a big race (because they too are prone to overtraining ... doing just a little more than was best for their bodies). Anyway, as Pfitzinger wrote, an athlete will do far better a little undertrained than a little overtrained. Take the doctor's advice, and then go crush Boston!

  6. Luckily it's still early enough where the rest can help you get some fresh legs. A solid month of training once you get back will have you ready for 4/18!

  7. Ty, I hope the next 7-10 days go by quickly. I've heard of people getting sidelined due to illness (flu, respiratory infection, etc) for days and then perform very well on race day (just as your friends did). Trust in your cumulative training. You'll rock Boston!!


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