From 1 January 2015, I have been a participant in research for Anglia Ruskin University looking at the effects of endurance running on the gut. So as well as all this ruddy running and training for Marathon des Sables 2015, I have also been logging my daily activity (what it is, my perceived effort during activity and for how long), taking note of what I’ve been eating every day (it’s pretty dull reading to tell you the truth), added a supplement of probiotic to my diet every evening (whether this is truly a supplement or just a placebo I’m not really sure) and headed up to the labs in Cambridge twice, first time was in January, and then on the Sunday that has just gone – that’s the end of March 2015 – for a variety of tests.
So what have they been testing?
As well as assessing your training diaries and sending out a number of questionnaires about your gut and bowel movements during training, the research team have taken a range of different measurements including heart rate, blood pressure, blood samples, poo samples (yes poo), ECG, skin folds and VO2 max.
It sounds pretty personal so why take part?
While you do feel like a lab rat being prodded, poked and linked up to various machines, this is the first experiment of its kind so it’s interesting to be a part of the research. On a more personal level, you receive a free ECG test (a requirement of MdS) and are given the opportunity to record measurements accurately using high tech equipment such as VO2max (normally this can cost from around £130).
Hang on, what is VO2max and why is it important?
VO2max is the measure of the maximum or peak volume of oxygen measured in millilitres you can consume in a minute per kilogram of body weight. Essentially, the higher your VO2 max, the better your body is conditioned for aerobic endurance such as running across the desert. Though there is a correlation between a high VO2max and performance, it is not an indication that a higher measurement indicates a better performance, it simply allows competitors to know their potential or aerobic power.
For the cohort of runners taking part in the Marathon des Sables study, it is a good indication of how training has improved your fitness levels and can be a real boost of confidence before you get to the start line.
How does the test work?
The particular test at Anglia Ruskin saw you kitted up in a rather fetching gas mask and taken through eight 2-minute stages on a treadmill – the first four stages were increments of speed, while the second were based on incline. All you had to do is keep running, breathing (which is difficult to do when wearing something covering your face) and point at a sheet telling the researchers about your perceived effort.
Here’s a pic to show my time as a lab rat.
A good indication of my progress?
On the whole, yes, it seems to be all coming together. My results were pretty positive and it appears all the crazy training has paid off. According to the machines, my resting heart rate is between 43 to 46, which means I’ve got a pretty strong ticker. And my VO2max is 70 – not 100% sure about this one as this puts me in the elite category.
What I do know is that these results offer me a good basis to commence my journey across the desert, all I now have to deal with is the sand, the heat and whatever else the elements decide to throw in my way.
Post-MdS I will be returning to the lab for another set of tests which will highlight any positive/negative effects on these measurements after running an endurance event.