Manchester Institute of Health and Performance Physiological Testing

Today was a day me and James were looking forward to. We are lucky enough to be supported by MIHP, a sports performance and excellence centre in Manchester.

The day started with me and James performing some static strength tests that measured the peak power of your hamstrings and quads at different torque; the test was repeated on each leg, with five efforts at 100% effort at three different torque settings. The idea of this test is to find out if we have any alarming muscle discrepancies – if found now we can work on them and make ourselves a little bit more robust for the challenge ahead of us. Personally, I was also interested to see the difference between me and James in terms of peak power.

It was safe to say this was a daunting first test – I’ve never needed to be restrained by gym equipment before so that was… interesting.

Next, we were taken to the most painful lab of them all – a room full of SRM ERGs and fancy oxygen measuring computers. I’d seen these tests on documentaries when normally someone superhuman like Lance Armstrong or Chris Froome is attached – not me or James (the man still protesting he’s not a cyclist).

First, I’d like to say that the team at MIHP are brilliant – they explain every aspect of the test that you’re about to do, when they’re going to pull the plug on the session and what they’re looking for, so in this case we were looking for our Vo2 Max and our Lactate threshold – essentially they’re testing our engine efficiency almost like a rolling road where you’d test a cars MPG.

Back to the lab, to begin with, you give a baseline blood sample and you’re hooked up to a ventilator which measures your oxygen and co2 output, amongst other things but I’m not smart enough to figure them out. The one thing I can say about the mask is that it makes you feel like you’re being suffocated.

This is when the test begins in earnest. The test starts with a very nice warm up at 130 watts, this is where you’re presented with a scale of perceived exertion and you get cocky

nice and easy – feeling great, how hard can this test really be. It turns out very.

The ERG ramps up the intensity every three minutes by 30 watts and gradually climbs up to 300 watts. Your power and heart rate is steadily climbing and with no rest, you’re really starting to struggle to control your breathing. This is exactly where they want you – your lungs are like massive bellows and your legs are full of lactate as you’ve now well and truly pushed through your lactate threshold. Good science for them – the longest three minutes for you.

Mercifully, they finish the test. Maybe you’ve hit a Vo2 ceiling but really your heart is probably just maxed out. You collapse over the bars (well I did, annoyingly James didn’t), and you’re instantly pricked for another blood test. You then want to immediately remove the mask you feel has been suffocating you for the past 20 minutes but no dice – the words

we need to collect some recovery data keep on pedalling

have never sounded worse. The irrational part of your brain is screaming “screw your recovery data I’m out of here”. One final blood test to measure how your body has recovered and processed the lactate and you’re done and get to go lie on the floor.

As amateur athletes being given this opportunity to test ourselves has been brilliant and with MIHP input we will start using their environmental chamber to help acclimatise to the altitude and deserts we will face at RAAM.

I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone at MIHP, so Ross and Mal who looked after us and to Pete, crew member, who gave up his time to help us document our experience at MIHP and cheer us on when the pain really set in.

If you want to take on your own physiological testing then visit the MIHP website to find out what they do.