Sports testing, my experience


I am always up for trying something new. In 2018 I have tried watching reality TV. It was awful. I gave some new training sessions a go. Loved them. I have tried moving to a vegetarian diet. The jury is out.

The point is in order to improve as an athlete I need to find new little incremental gains. 2018 was also the first year I ever tried performance testing. You know things like VO2 max testing, HR analysis, body composition stuff. I was nervous about doing it. The idea of laying it out there on a treadmill instead of a trail or road was disconcerting. What if I didn’t like what it said?

Background is I am a 42 year old ultrarunner. I started when I was 36. In just a few short years I have gone from being grossly overweight and unfit to running for GB and Scotland in international events. The highlight so far has being part of a silver medal winning team at the 2018 European 24 hour championships. But I want to get better, find that next gain.

I underwent testing in the lead up to the champs in May. First time was in early March. This gave me a baseline. I got my key metrics. This allowed me to work with my coach, Paul Giblin, to target specific improvements. The sports scientist I did the testing with was Seamus McCafferty at Hampden Sports Clinic. Right from the off he explained the procedure, purpose of the numbers and test and conditions to me all in simple (cause it had to be!) and plain language. Graphs and images turned into opportunities and targets. It was easy to be honest. All except the time on the treadmill. Putting on a mask did have me worried but it was all good, even if I did crack the “Bane from Batman” joke that Seamus has heard 4,432,867 times before but kindly didn’t mention.

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The testing only lasts a short time, 15-20 mins maybe but the speed at which you propel to the thresholds is almost blindingly quick. The gentle incline becoming my own personal UTMB by 12 minutes in. The pace never slows though, just an ever increasing incline. “Just wave your arm when you want to stop,” was Seamus’ advice. I felt by the end I was flailing like an octopus falling out of a tree.

Baseline achieved I went back in May, about 10 days before the Europeans and did a second test. Everything had gone in the right direction. In some cases much better than I expected. This was a massive boon to my confidence. In essence, scientifically I was as fit as I had ever been.

During the championships I had a horrific time for a few hours with sickness but I knew all along that if I could get through that my physical fitness would come to the fore. And so it did. To put some context on it, my last hour’s running was the hour I ran the longest distance in. Which is a 24 hour race is very unusual. The mental game was improved by knowing my numbers were good. It made a significant difference to me psychologically knowing my body was in the best shape ever.

I will be using some of the same testing in my build up to the 2019 season. Well, I have a new baseline to beat!

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