Wednesday, September 4, 2002 - Athlete Perspective
NSDT Update: How Do You Feel Today?

By: Tara Whitten

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When I awoke this morning I automatically reached over, turned on my lamp, and strapped on my heart rate monitor to do a rusko test. Lying down on my bed watching my heart rate hover around normal resting values, I thought “I’m feeling good today.” I wondered at the same time though how much that assessment was based on my actual feeling, and how much it was based on the fact that my rusko was telling me that I was feeling good. As I stood up, I watched and felt as my heart rate climbed and then just as quickly fell back down. I was in a good mood as I ate my breakfast . . . there’s nothing like a good rusko to start the day off well.

I started thinking about all of the tests that we perform to monitor our recovery status. Some days after doing a rusko, eating breakfast, and relaxing for a little while I drive up to the Nordic centre, hop on the treadmill and start a submax. A submax test involves running at three progressively faster stages on the treadmill, and recording the average heart rate from the last minute of each stage. This produces three data points, which form a straight line. Information can be drawn from the slope of this line and it’s position compared to other tests.

Other days, while we are training, coach Mike pokes us in the finger a few times to draw lactate samples. These samples ensure that we are training at the proper pace for the specified workout, and could indicate possible glycogen depletion or fatigue of the slow-twitch muscle fibres.

On still other days we drive into Calgary to get blood samples taken. Or sometimes we hook ourselves up to some electrodes and lie on a table at the nordic centre attached to the Omega Wave machine. This crazy new device uses data from strategically placed electrodes to give us, in less than 5 minutes, a verdict on our state of recovery. It sounds like something out of a science fiction novel!

With all of these various tests and numbers to interpret, it is easy to fall into the trap of letting a machine tell us how we feel. But wait!! I have forgotten about the single most important weapon in our arsenal against overtraining! This one is really impressive. I take a few moments to clear my mind of all of the numbers from all the tests discussed above, and I ask myself: “Tara, how do you feel today?” It seems simple enough, but don’t be fooled: it can take years of training to develop an accurate feeling for your body. I have struggled with this in the past, but as each year goes I learn new things and become more confident in my ability to understand and heed what my body is telling me. Ideally, all of the tests that we perform should really just be used as a confirmation of what we already know.

As athletes, we are constantly stressing our bodies and then recovering from the stress. It is therefore essential that we monitor our state of recovery in order to optimize our training. With this in mind, coaches and sport physiologists have developed countless tests to monitor athletes, ranging from simple morning heart rates and rusko tests to much more complex tools like the omega wave. With technology playing an ever increasing role in sport, and monitoring tools becoming more and more complex, it is important not to lose sight of the most important test of all. How do you feel today?

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