Friday, January 1, 2016

SPACE odyssey: the halfway mark

I just finished week 13 of my Mars mission (background here), so it is time for an update about how things are proceeding. I will be doing my mid-protocol tests next week, so I'll have numbers to report like I have done previously shortly. But for now, I'll stick to the things that stand out to me - either as realizations or observations - about the overall experience of being a participant in this fascinating study. And for each, I've set a little goal (it is New Year's Day, after all!) for the coming year.

1. It remains on the whole, fun for me to participate in this study.
This is not a revelation, though I am happy to report it now with more certainty than I would have had at the beginning. Working out 6 days a week and following a very structured workout each time is something I've never done with this degree of precision. Because the point of this, from a scientific point of view, is to make a dataset for the team to analyze, I am doing exactly what is called for each day with no deviations. This is true for each individual day, but also for each week with just a few exceptions when I've had to reschedule a session due to travel.

But I like the regularity of the workouts very much. I'm going to try to keep up the pattern of 6 workouts/week throughout the year even when the study is done.

2. Intensity is much much more important than I thought for producing physiological adaptations.
This is saying something, because I've understood for a long time what the point of exercise is - to create stress that causes the body to adapt. The interesting thing I've started to see now, though, due to the large amount of data I am producing from a very consistent workout regimen is just how much adaptation can come from relatively short, but hard workouts. I'll have more to say about this once I get my next set of testing data back, but here are a few bits that you might find interesting.

At the six week mark, I reported that my best 30 minute sustained efforts came when I was producing between 235-240W. Those are continuous, no coasting, no rest numbers. So they function like an FTP test. I do this workout every other day. So I've done it about 28 times now.

As I start week 14, I am consistently able to produce W in that range. One key difference though is that at Week 6 I was doing that with an average HR of 170-172. At 13 weeks, it's more like 162-164 for the same power. I haven't seen a lot of improvement in my PR for the 30 min workout. I think this is due to the fact that my regimen is not really designed to produce huge gains in performance, but is rather designed to help astronauts maintain fitness levels in zero gravity conditions. Still, I'm getting better: more efficient and better able to use more of the total power I can produce.

An area where I have seen consistent improvement is the 4x4:00 interval workouts, with 3:00 active recovery in between. These long intervals are done at a Wattage level of my choosing (unlike the other two intervals, which are set by the computer), so I can dial them up to 11. I think about these days as the days I get better. Early on, I was doing these at 240 or 250W. In week 3, I started at 268 W for interval one and had to drop way back in subsequent intervals to try and recover from that first one.

But these days, I'm doing 4x4:00 at 283W. That's a big difference. Considering that in my baseline max test, I was only able to get to 275W (for 2:00), it's a noticeable change (though not necessarily a big change in my V02Max). I think by the end of the study, I'll be able to do 300W for all 16:00 worth of work interval. That's my goal, at least.

3. Making the Science is Weird.
First, I want to say that everyone I see as part of the study - all of the research assistants, post-docs, and others who run the project on a day-to-day basis - has been extremely nice, courteous, generous, grateful, and professional. They have clearly been very well prepared by the folks in the lab. But they are also, in general, super nice folks. They go out of their way to treat us like people (not like gerbils running on a wheel) and to express their gratitude for our effort and commitment to the project.

I can see why the PI's on the project spend time training the research staff to be like this. Because it is just a little bit weird to be a research subject. Some of the measurements - like blood pressure, etc. - feel like a visit to the Dr.'s office. But for the workouts, there are specific cues for the researchers to collect key data points such as our heart rate, cycling cadence (revolutions per minute), watts, and/or perceived exertion level (how hard we feel we are working). And so it's a little strange going full bore in front of other people who are literally measuring your effort. I think about folks being nervous to work out in a gym in front of others they don't know. Try doing it while someone is literally standing right beside you, taking your HR after every 30 second interval!

The takeaway here is simply that I've got nothing to hide any more. Now that I've been a 45 year old rat in a lab, slathered in electrode gel, huffing like a freight train in front of undergrads less than half my age (good god) writing down everything I can do or can't do on a given day...I know I can go to the pain cave now in front of anybody.

Bring it on, 2016!

No comments: