VO2 Max Testing & Heart Rate Training

I’m not a trained medical provider, this is simply my experience and opinions based on my experience.

As I mentioned last weekend, my schedule for this week was a little wonky because I was scheduled to do my VO2 Max testing. I had called to schedule this about a month prior and wanted to wait until after my race to have it done. I was told to take a rest day the day prior to the test and since I run in the morning, this meant I had to take Wednesday and Thursday morning off from running. My main objectives for getting the testing done was to get a better understanding of my fitness level and get true guidelines for heart rate training as I head into my marathon training cycle.

So what is VO2 Max? It’s the maximum amount of oxygen (in mL) an athlete can make use of during exercise. With proper training, VO2 Max can be improved over time which can improve race paces. To do the test, I was put on a treadmill with a heart rate monitor strap and an oxygen mask. The doctor started me out walking and every minute he increased the speed until I was running faster than my half marathon PR pace, but slower than what would likely be my 5K pace. Once I hit that pace, he then adjusted the incline in one minute intervals to stimulate running up a hill. At some point, I reached my VO2 max and gave him the thumbs down to stop. It’s a tough test that had me feeling worn out the rest of the day. Though it only lasts for about 10-12 minutes, it obviously had me working at my maximum fitness level. The doctor was great and coached me through, encouraging me to keep pushing. The toughest part is hanging on for just a bit longer than when you feel that you need to stop so the doctor can get a true reading. Those administering the test can see when a participant’s VO2 max level plateaus and that’s how they know they reached a true reading. When I started to feel like I was going to throw up, I knew my test was over. During the test he also observed my running form.

Heart rate zones!
Heart rate zones!

After the test, I was put on the treadmill for 5 minutes of walking to cool down and then had some time to get changed and ready for work while the doctor tested another participant. Then we went into a conference room to talk about our results and what they meant. He gave us both the above sheet that also included our max HR and VO2 max number. To the left of the zones (not pictured) were the exact HR ranges as they apply to me.

Though the test was expensive, I feel it was worth every penny. I was given guidance for my marathon training, advice for how to make the most out of my interval training, and strict instructions to stay out of Z5 during my first marathon training cycle. I had a feeling based on my HR monitor data that my max HR may be a bit higher than average and my instincts were correct. Max HR is mostly genetics and my parents passed me down some good genes! The good news is that I don’t have to slow down too much more on my easy runs to be in my proper Z2. I was surprised with the quality of my VO2 Max number, but my BRF was not at all surprised, pointing out that I chit-chat the whole time on our long runs with no issues! Getting these stats gave me confidence that I can run a strong first marathon and confirmed that my fitness level is in a good place to take on the challenge of training and running the marathon.

I don’t necessarily plan to be 100% committed to HR training during my marathon training cycle, but I will use it as guidance. Keeping in mind that heat, stressors, and higher mileage weekend runs will all affect my heart rate, I want to make sure that training stays fun and I don’t get wrapped up in numbers and forget to enjoy myself. It will be a good way to make sure I am not over-doing it on a hard day, taking it easy enough after a hard work out, and hitting the right heart rate during cross training. At the same time it will also keep me from wasting any runs by slogging along too slowly on days that I am tired.

I’m looking forward to using the next few weeks to experiment in my different zones before beginning marathon training in June.

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6 thoughts on “VO2 Max Testing & Heart Rate Training

  1. This is super interesting and as a science nerd myself – would love to get this done! I find HR training to be a very interesting (not to mention well documented) approach to training and look forward to hear how it works out for you! Have a great weekend!!

    1. You should definitely look into it. We’ll see how much I stick with the HR training considering I’ll be training during the summer, but I definitely plan to try it out completely for a half next year.

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