The Fort Lewis College track and field program did not envision spending its Friday night running 1-mile repeats in dropping temperatures and getting their earlobes pricked to measure lactates and the amount of power they are using when exercising.
While the training methods might have been out of the norm, the long-term benefits will help head coach Joshua Coon establish where a runner’s baseline is set.
“We’re looking to get quantitative data to better write up training for them, especially for their summer,” Coon said. “With this testing, we’ll be able to individualize their training a little bit more and not assume where they are at. Threshold testing is really important for what we do, and to be able to write it up specifically will be huge.”
Leading the data collection was Rotem Ishay, director and exercise specialist at the Durango Performance Center and Fort Lewis College’s exercise science lab coordinator. He said the amount of data he will be able to get from the experiment will develop a profile for every athlete and their threshold.
“We’re measuring their lactate levels at an increasing pace,” Ishay said. “Their lactates are a measure of how hard they are going because it’s a byproduct of anaerobic metabolism in our body. So, as lactate levels go up, they are getting closer to their maximum capacity. That’s going to help us get a profile for every athlete and their minute-by-minute speeds and lactate levels, and we can compare it at the end of the semester or a season to see how they improve.”
In order to get a lactate measurement, each runner was pricked with a thin needle in the earlobe before the start of the run. Then, a group of five runners would be led at an 8 minute, 30-second mile pace before dropping to a five-minute mile. After completing each mile, student helpers would measure the lactate levels through the tiny sample of blood. The higher the lactate levels were recorded, the closer each runner would get to his or her threshold. Thirty runners were tested in all.
Ishay also said the test helps determine the lactate threshold – the highest intensity each runner can keep at a given pace for an extended period of time.
Friday night was also one of the first opportunities FLC has had to use Styrd, a new technology that measures the amount of power each runner is using. The device was tied to each runner’s shoe, similar to a timing chip for races. Power meters have long been used for cycling, but it’s new to running.
Dr. Melissa Thompson, assistant professor of exercise science at Fort Lewis College, said power numbers along with the lactate levels will have an instant impact on the way the Skyhawks train.
“These new power meters have an accelerometer, and it interprets that acceleration into power,” Thompson said. “Power has the most direct correlation to performance. It’s very new in running because it’s a real big performance metric. Things like heart rate don’t follow as quickly as something like power.
“For example, if you sprinted, it takes a while for your heart rate to catch up, but the power from accelerating is this instantaneous measurement. We can also look at power through things like their vertical jump but also as a function of fatigue, so how much power they can maintain. Having this baseline testing, they’ll be able to use this in training, as well. We can see how they are improving through new workouts or if they’re training at the right level.”
The testing came one day after state lawmakers denied a $25 million plan to expand Whalen Gymnasium, which houses the health and exercise science program.
Dr. Thompson was surprised with the decision but said she and the rest of the department will keep fighting for funding.
“It was pretty gut-wrenching, and there were some tears shed in the office, and we were feeling pretty confident going into it, so it was pretty tough to see what happened in just a couple of days,” Thompson said. “We’ve got a lot to offer that can really take us to the next level, and we’re still hoping that it will happen eventually, and we’ve got an awesome administration that is working hard to do that. We’re still keeping our hopes high for that.”
Coon, Ishay and Thompson said that while the weather conditions Friday were not ideal for testing, one night of pricks, probing and mile repeats will provide a clear path for the future of the program.
“We’ve been doing these tests for many years, but this is the first time that we’re doing it with an entire athletic program,” Ishay said. “This will provide us with a lot of answers for each runner, the training workouts that are used and how we go about it in the future.”