Err..."It's a test where you find out how well your body uses oxygen and then you get heart rate targets for different kinds of runs."
So, let's let Ken Mierke at Fitness Concepts, give it a shot:
Maximal aerobic capacity or VO2 Max, the amount of oxygen consumed in one minute of maximal aerobic exercise, is widely considered the standard test for aerobic conditioning. Improving VO2 Max is a crucial step in maximizing endurance performance in any event lasting four minutes or longer. The higher an athlete’s VO2 Max, the greater the contribution of the aerobic system to energy production. This translates into greater endurance at any intensity
There. Got it??
The test involves a 15 minute warm-up on the treadmill (or the bike trainer, depending which activity you want to get training rates for) followed by the donning of a strange, claustrophobia-inducing mask, followed by Ken fiddling with controls and every few minutes leaning over and upping the treadmill speed for about 15 minutes until you want to throw up and keel over.
And then you go for 3 more minutes after that.
Eh, it wasn't so bad. The worst part was that my pals (hi Casey!) kept chatting to Ken, and he would look away from ME ME ME, and I was terrified that he would miss some critical piece of info and I would have to start ALL. OVER.
But never fear: The man is a professional.
A group of us went: Three got tested while running and two while on the bike.
Afterwards, we sat around (posing) while Ken tabulated the results.
The funniest thing was that we all wanted to know how we compared to each other, and how we compared to ... I don't know, the world, I guess. So my actual VO2 max is 36.5.
What do it mean??
Ken kept emphasizing that these results are a snapshot of our bodies, and they are only useful as a training tool. But we are all so conditioned to needing to know if we are fast or slow, or fat or thin, taller or shorter, stronger or weaker than the next guy, that we kept asking Ken everywhichway what these results said about us, individually.
Were they good?
So Ken finally parted with the tidbit that the average VO2 max for women is 28. So yay, I'm better than average. Other than that, I really don't know what good or bad is, although my rational brain tells me if YOUR zone 2 heart rate is lower than mine, yet your pace is faster, then obviously your heart and oxygen systems must be in better shape. But that way lies madness.
Better to just do what the man tells me:
We all got nice fat books explaining what everything means, but Ken broke it down for us. He said we really only need to worry about zones 2, 4 and 5b.
Zone 2 is basic endurance, where you are burning more fat than sugar. (That was pretty much all I need to know.) If you run faster than your (your) zone 2 heart rate, say during long runs, you are not burning fat, and you will not be able to eat french toast afterwards without paying the price.
Zone 4 is your lactate threshold and I don't really know what it means but I like slinging the words around. It makes me feel very runner-y. This is the heart rate at which you do tempo runs.
Zone 5b: Well, I don't like the sound of this, for good reason. It's called the Aerobic Capacity Training zone. This sounds suspiciously like speedwork to me. Ken warns that Zone 5 training carries a high cost and a high benefit, and that a little goes a long way.
Ken says the most common mistake people make is running too fast for the type of run they are doing, thereby expending too much energy, tapping into the wrong fuel source, and not reaping the benefits.
(Please feel free to correct my gross misinformation and oversimplification in the comments. But don't take away my french toast.)
All in all, it was a most pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning, not including the phone call I got in the middle of all this from Number One Daughter, telling me that she had spun out getting on the Beltway and a not-very-nice cop gave her a ticket! My little girl! (She was fine, the car was fine. Thank God.)
But I digress.
I haven't started heart rate training yet, but I'm buying a used Garmin 305 this week ($100, in original package). Somehow I think this will make me magically faster and thinner. I'll be sure to let you know how that works out.
Meantime, enjoy some more pix from our photo shoot: