VO2 Max Testing and Marathon Planning

Just over a month ago I decided to sign up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon. I took some time to think about a realistic plan for gearing up to the 50k distance and felt the marathon would be a great target for the spring.


I enjoyed the course when I ran it before and now feel fairly confident in my abilities and understanding to run it again comfortably. It is a relatively flat course with a couple of hills to tackle, which makes it ideal for targeting my aerobic fitness.

My idea is to phase the 50k training over the next six to twelve months. The first stage is working on my aerobic fitness in my zone 1 and pushing my aerobic threshold higher. I chose the Vancouver marathon for its fairly flat profile that makes it a great platform to target and run in my zone 1. The marathon will also be a set goal to reach the 42km distance.

The next phase will be to improve my endurance further but also introduce more elevation gain into my runs as part of my zone 3 training to build strength and power. The majority of 50k trail races that are perfect for beginners have around 1500-2500m of gain, which will require the right preparation. The last stage will be targeting the training with a race in mind and putting it all together.


My latest VO2 Max and Lactate testing 

After such an extended period of no training, I felt it would be a good idea to see where my fitness is at the moment. I took two trips to the Peak Center lab and had a VO2 max and lactate test for both the bike and run. I knew I wanted to use cycling as part of my cross-training and required some updated results to use.

The most relevant sets of data that I sought from the tests were my heart rates, bike power and running pace for zones 1 and 3. I will be spending the majority of my training at Zone 1 (below my aerobic threshold) and around 10% at zone 3 to work on my lactate threshold and help develop my aerobic system further.



I certainly felt I was lacking the fitness I had four months ago when I was training for the Half Ironman. It was much harder to push the faster speeds. My aerobic threshold occurred at 9.1 kph and 157 bpm and my lactate threshold occurred at 11.1 kph and 177 bpm. Comparing previous results I could see that my speed at my aerobic threshold had increased by .6 kph, but my heart rate had increased by ten beats. There was only a slight difference in my lactate thresholds.

The table below shows the raw data captured for each stage. I peaked at 13 kph, 185 bpm and a VO2 max of 41.0.  You can see on the far right the change in how much Fat and Carbohydrates (CHO) was being used during the test at each speed.



As you can see from the table above, the VO2 max portion of the test captured the amount of carbohydrates being used at different rates. The following chart shows how many grams of sugar I need for each zone, which will allow me to dial how much I need to perform at my best during training.



Training with the Data


The chart below gives me some clear target heart rates and speeds to run at for different zones. For my zone 1 training (‘easy’ and ‘long slow distance’ runs), I will target a heart rate of 153 bpm on average, which will allow some room to avoid creeping over the top of my zone 1 into zone 2.  Running by heart rate ensure that my effort stays the same and I will adjust my speed to compensate for hills.


Each week I will have two easy runs between 5-12km and one long run at the weekend that will gradually gain distance.  By January I want to be comfortable at running around 25km so that I have a strong foundation to begin a 15-week training plan for the marathon.

To target my zone 3 speed, I will rotate three drills (1 per week) that will be working at 5min/km. The first session will be running at this pace for up to 30 mins on flat terrain, which will most likely be around the seawall.  The second will be using the treadmill and running at the top and bottom of zone 3 (10.7 & 11.4 kph). Each speed will be run for 5 minutes at a time and rotated up to 30 minutes in total. The last drill will be an explosive hill workout running up the short hills in the West End and recovering on the downhill for up to 30 minutes.




My bike training zones are on the table above that will allow me to target heart rate or power.  I use the Stages crank-based power meter on my bike that links up with my Garmin unit.  It does a great job at getting a relatively accurate power output that helps in my training. Ever since getting a power meter I’ve noticed vast improvements in my training methods.


img_2074During the winter months, I tend to hook up my bike to my Cycleops bike trainer that allows me to get a great workout without having to deal with adverse weather conditions. On nice weekends I will most likely wrap up and go for a longer cycle.  I will have two easy rides at zone 1 at 137bpm or 120 watts, and one zone 3 workouts, hitting 185 watts.  I may opt to go to a spin class some weeks to get a fairly vigorous workout.



Summing up my results and going forward

I can quite clearly see looking at my results above that my running pace for zone 1 is around 6min/km that would result in a 4:13 marathon finish time. I have no intention to try and beat my PB of 3:51 at the Vancouver Marathon as that would require a 5min/km pace, which is in my zone 3 at the moment. My intention is to train and then race at my zone 1 heart rate. As my fitness improves, I will be able to run a faster pace at zone 1 naturally.

When it comes down to it, I’m not thinking about a 50k finish time as I can’t predict that like I can on a flat marathon.  The nature of the terrain will mean that a lot won’t be runnable.  Truth be told, I just want to finish one and won’t be concerned about how long it takes.

It takes roughly twelve weeks to see the changes from the training, and I will be able to have another lactate test just after the New Year to get an updated profile and hopefully a slightly fast pace at zone 1 that I can run the marathon.  The next two months will be used to work specifically in these zones and develop a new base to train on in the new year.

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