Anaerobic Threshold

Imagine you fill a bath half full of water, then pull the plug out but leave the taps running. There are three things that can happen to the water level: it can go up, it can go down or it can remain the same. There are no other possibilities.

If the water level goes up, then there’s more water coming through the taps than there is going out down the plughole. If the level goes down, then there’s more water going out than there is coming in: and if the level stays the same, then the rate of flow in is the same as the rate of flow out.

Okay so far?

Now replace the bath by your body’s working muscles and the water by lactic acid. We’re now going to consider that same scenario in an R2CN workout.

Lactic acid is the by product of working your muscles very hard over a relatively short period of time, generally up to two minutes. If you’ve ever watched a 400m runner falling apart in the home straight, that’s the effect of lactic acid. It poisons your working muscles to the point where they don’t work properly anymore, and they stay that way for a good few minutes while you recover. The harder you work, the faster the effects come on.

When you work out lightly, your muscles generate very little lactic acid and you can continue working out over a long period of time. That’s akin to the scenario where the water runs out of the bath because there’s less water (aka lactic acid) arriving through the taps than there is being flushed away.

The opposite, which happens if you try to run 400m at 100m pace, causing your leg muscles to fill up with lactic acid, is when there’s more lactic acid being generated than your body is able to flush away.

The steady state, the so called Anaerobic Threshold, is the holy grail of sports endurance: to be able to work out at a level where you’re working hard, but you’re not accumulating lactic acid. That’s akin to the water level in the bath remaining constant. The reason that the Anaerobic Threshold, or AT to give it its shortened name, is so important, is because it’s a predictor of performance. In athletics, you run a marathon at 94% of your AT pace. You run a half marathon at 98% of your AT pace. You run a 10K at 104% and run a 5K at 108%. Consequently, if you have a recent performance at one of those distances, you can predict, with a degree of accuracy, what you could achieve at the other three distances, assuming that you’d trained to a sufficient standard.

You can train to maximise your personal Anaerobic Threshold. You want your AT speed to be as high as possible for two reasons: so you’re not poisoning your muscles when you’re working at a pace where you otherwise would if you were untrained; and you want to be able to go faster for longer.

Now bring all that science across to cycling. I haven’t a clue how distances equate, and in any case, cycling over the same timeframe invariably brings more hills into play: but I’m as certain as I can be that the parameters remain the same: that if 800m of running involves a mix of one third aerobic and two thirds anaerobic effort, and the race takes two minutes, then I’m reasonably sure than two minutes of similar effort on a bike works at roughly the same proportion of aerobic to anaerobic fuel.

“But why is all of this important?” I hear you ask.

It’s important because I’m chasing King Of The Pensioner segments on Strava in an attempt to increase awareness of neuroblastoma, and hence of research that’s needed into finding a cure. I’m not Steve Taylor on Strava, I’m Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma. So, my thinking goes, the more segments on which I can slap R2CN on the top of the leader board, the better it is for raising awareness.

And how do you get to the top of the leaderboard?

By having a high Anaerobic Threshold, ie being able to push your body very, very hard for up to three, sometimes four minutes, without falling apart. And to do it repeatedly on the same day.

This is relevant because yesterday I had a need to consider AT over a much longer period of time and it was as sore as f#ck. I’d cycled Sustrans Route 75 from Glengarnock (via Johnstone) to Port Glasgow (via Kilmacolm), and back. The second half of that route follows the old Kilmacolm railway line that closed in 1983. It’s basically uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back as far as the middle section of that 40 mile round trip is concerned. Turning right off the old Kilmacolm line onto the Lochwinnoch/Glengarnock line on the way back presented the not inconsiderable challenge of the final ten miles being into a raging headwind, with the intermittent shelter of deep cuttings on the route of the old railway track.

On the outward leg, I’d mentally clocked the mile markers so I’d have a visual point of reference for the way back. Kilbarchan was the 8 mile mark, and it was there on the return, as I say into this fierce wind, that I clocked a poor soul in the far distance, far too far away, maybe as far as half a mile, to work out whether it was a jogger, a cyclist or a dog walker. However the red jacket suggested one or two rather than three. Over the course of the next five minutes, I didn’t appear to be making much headway into the gap, so I convinced myself that it must be a cyclist: game on! I got myself fixated on making the catch as a way of motivating myself against this interminable headwind.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the gap started to come down, maybe as much as a hundred metres a mile. But as I only had 8 miles to play with, the only option was to up my game, and to do so significantly. That was the reason, basically, why my legs were completely wrecked at the end of Stage 214: working increasingly harder whilst operating beyond the average distance of a regular stage, just to catch this dude, into the wind.

But catch him I did, at the 2 miles to go marker. But see the best bit, which I clocked as soon as I got into proper visual range, this dude was on an eBike, and he was only pedalling five seconds in every ten. And all the time my legs were in the red zone, probably operating in pseudo 10K territory at the end of a three hour gig, but as long as I was still hauling in the rabbit, this particular greyhound was way beyond caring about the pain. We used to have a saying on the Highland March: pain is only a four letter word.

And so we’ve come to the end of January: maybe six weeks or so before we can finally close the book on the winter of 19/20. See back in October/November time: The Daily Express published some shite, as they do every year, that this was going to be the worst winter for a hundred years. When I read it, I was coming off the back of a bit of a downer, possibly prompted by the thought of battling my way through another winter, my sixth in seven years (remember I took 9 months off after the Australian Ride2Cure so I didn’t ride the winter of 18/19). Looking back, that Daily Express article was the catalyst for everything that’s happened these last three months. It metaphorically lit the fuse.

November was 968 miles, a total bettered only fifteen times in the whole five years of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

December was 1068 miles, the first time I’d ever cracked a thousand in December.

January has closed on 1038, bettered in the calendar month only once back in 2018 when I was in mad training for Australia.

And with all of this has come 7000 miles in seven months: since Ride2Cure2 – the relapse ride, kicked off last July. I’ve never done 7K in seven months before. Ever. If I’m to convert that into 8K in 8 months, which is pushing the bike out even further (sea what I did there [and there?]?), the asking rate is 29.5. And if I don’t have to go away with my work, which is always a risk, and the Daily Express doesn’t have the last laugh, which it still might, all options are on the table.

The journey is at 215 consecutive stages, each averaging 33 miles. In five weeks’ time, R2CN will be one third of the way towards its target of 25,000 miles. I plan on finishing the job before the end of 2021, by which time I’ll be fast approaching my 69th birthday. This really is game on.

As I’m semi retired 😊there’s going to be no slowing down, and because my Anaerobic Threshold is clearly quite high for an auld codger, every time I can plant Ride2Cure Neuroblastoma on top of a Strava KOTP leaderboard, awareness of the disease reaches a new audience. It’s a no brainer.

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