Project Endurance

When we arrived back at the base of the hill, I got off my bike and walked slowly under the awning. I was exhausted. The sun’s heat beat upon me unobstructed by clouds and my clothes felt tight and uncomfortable. I was sweating profusely, and no wonder: I was bundled up considerably. On my legs I wore a pair of long pants under a layer of bike shorts; my upper body was wrapped in electrodes bound by tape and covered by a bike shirt. My feet sweated in bike shoes and my head baked under a helmet. As I walked in the tent I turned stiffly, unable to rotate my head, and sat down in a chair. Someone handed me a cold drink.

We were in Bishop, California for Red Bull Project Endurance. I was one of six athletes chosen to participate in a study led by 15 of the most respected sports scientists in the world. Using some of the most sophisticated technology available anywhere in the world, we spent four days in the eastern Sierra exercising at high intensity while hooked up to more wires and sensors than I could count. At any one point during the testing I was wearing upwards of $50,000 worth of medical equipment on my person, and with this came the constant attentions of concerned doctors forever fiddling with details and sensor positionings. Knowing very little about the precise purpose of any one test, I submitted willfully to all of them in the hopes that I would eventually be able to wade through the data to find meaning.

On the first day, we drove from Bishop to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park. At an elevation of precisely zero we utilized Red Bull’s state-of-the-art mobile training center to find our lactate thresholds, VO2 maxes, and power indexes (or something like that). In the process, the various electrodes and sensors did things like measuring the electrical activity in my legs, real-time blood flow through my legs and brain, the activity of my heart in several ways, my blood-glucose levels, my O2 and CO2 output, and probably much more. We did all of our testing on stationary bikes firmly installed in a semi-truck trailer filled to bursting with technology and medical equipment, and in the midst of a crowd of scientists bumping into each other. On top of all this, the outside temperature was hovering just above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Though I felt somewhat overwhelmed, I quickly realized that what we were doing was actually pretty cool.

The reason I was there was quite simple. A quick email exchange and phone call between myself and Red Bull’s high-performance manager, Per Lundstam, had resulted in my booking flights straight from Anchorage to Mammoth Lakes in mid-May. I suppose Red Bull was looking for endurance athletes to test, and they took Karl Meltzer’s suggestion to invite me, something for which I am very grateful to Karl. With little introduction, Per asked if I wanted to spend a week with scientists and athletes testing our endurance, and with little hesitation I replied yes, thinking that even if it wasn’t so good I could at least get valuable data for training. And that’s all it took.

Our day in Death Valley was hot and uncertain. We were unsure of what to do or how to do it. Everyone was still meeting each other and learning how to do their jobs in the most efficient way possible. I had never worn so much equipment in my life, and had only done a VO2 max test once before, on a treadmill in Colorado Springs. When I got on the bike I found I had many questions about how to even ride a bike well. Particularly vexing was finding an RPM rhythm that was most efficient. I spent a lot of time in the low 70’s range before seeing Rebecca Rusch behind me pedaling like crazy. I then ramped it up to a more reasonable 90 and kept it at that rate for the rest of the test.

The test itself was both fun and painful, surprising and routine. I pedaled against a steadily increasing load for about thirty-five minutes, then stopped for eight. Then I pedaled as long as I could with the power increasing by twenty-five watts every minute. My strength failed in less than ten minutes. Twenty minutes later I pedaled as long as I could at 25% more watts than I had reached during the VO2 max test. This was all extremely difficult for a guy like me who does little high-intensity work, and particularly after coming straight from three weeks of almost no running in Alaska. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the workouts and the experience. All that I saw and did was very thought-provoking, and I knew I could use this to build fitness for the summer running season.

The second day, we repeated the same tests at altitude. At 9,200 feet, we could see across the Owens River Valley to the Sierra crest beyond, and the mountains looked to be in fine running condition. Less beautiful were my graphs. Having felt strong and healthy the day before, my tests at altitude were markedly reduced in power and output. This was predictable, but vexing nonetheless. I found that even though I had been at a reasonable altitude in Alaska, my lack of specific training meant I did not have as much power as usual. Though determined, I simply did not have the power I sought. This problem was only assuaged by my many imagined future link-ups of the incredible Sierra peaks beckoning in the distance.

Red Bull treats its people right. Each night we slept in a beautiful home overlooking Bishop, with mountains all around us. We ate healthy, satisfying food cooked by a nutritionist and chef. We reviewed our data and talked of how to improve results. Working together in close quarters for four days, the 20-something of us found that we were very similar in many respects. Though we all came from vastly different backgrounds, we all had the desire to maximize potential and improve our knowledge of the various processes involved in doing so. Having known none of these people before the trip began, except for Karl, and knowing how different we all were, I found myself relating to and admiring every single person at the camp in a unique manner. I realized that the diverse people around me were going to be the defining parameters of this experience.

To say we had a diverse group would be an understatement. I would say we had a good cross-section of every aspect of endurance sports. On the bottom level we had the athletes. We were six – long-distance motocross rider, Kendall Norman; cyclocross rider, Tim Johnson; triathlete, Kirsten Sweetland; mountain biker, Rebecca Rusch; some guy named Karl Meltzer; and myself. We were the focus of the camp, scientifically.

Then we had people who understood the tools of our trade. A guy for the bikes and bike computers, a guy for the ride support, a guy for the gear, and a guy with TrainingPeaks to show us how to use all the data we gathered. And above that we had the scientists doing the science. These people were the real focus of the camp because they had the knowledge to extract meaningful data from quality testing and apply it to real-world settings. Each person had a specific focus–such as cardiac output or blood testing–and us athletes were forever pausing to submit to some test or another. Over the five days we were together, we became very close with each other, as people do when working in tight quarters and (for the athletes, at least) more than half naked. We quickly became good friends.

After two days of testing on stationary bikes, we were ready for a change. So the third day we rode real bikes 20 miles uphill. The testing equipment was the same as before, but we found new challenges to overcome, such the two electrodes taped to our necks, which almost completely prohibited lateral motion of the head. To make things even better, the sensor-fied shorts that we had to wear to measure blood flow didn’t have butt pads. But riding a bicycle requires butt pads. (Is there a technical term for this?) So we had to double up our layers to keep us comfortable, which ironically made us uncomfortable. This was an ongoing issue. From our start at the bottom of the valley we rode “easy” (Tim Johnson easy) up the Lower Rock Creek Road, along the Old Sherwin Grade road, along 395 for half a mile, and then about six more miles up normal Rock Creek Road. The vertical gain was about 4,000 feet over 19 miles, and boy, you can really feel that vertical gain on a bicycle.

Once at the top, however, we got to do the fun part. After the standard pricked-finger blood tests, I jumped back on the bike with Tim and Rebecca and began a descent that reminded me why road biking can be so awesome. Hauling ass down curvy mountain roads is really fun. Using the Quarc bike computer on my handlebars, I clocked us for most of the descent at around 45 mph. But towards the bottom the road got really steep and the wind turned to our backs and, with just a little bit of pedaling, I topped 50 mph. A premium accomplishment, if I may be so bold.

However, at about the moment I realized I was going 50 mph on a bike, I also realized I was going fifty miles per hour on a bicycle. A brief flash of panic ripped through me. A single mistake would leave me a crumpled heap of shredded skin on the side of the road. Then I realized I was acting like an adult who thinks things through and worries about consequences, which was kind of depressing. So I tried to speed up again and got the speed wobbles and the fear returned. With this degenerative cycle racing through my head, I coasted into the final climb of the day and downshifted until I could start pedaling uphill like I’m used to.

The next day was the hardest of all, but also the most satisfying. We began the day with a ride down the hill from our houses to the Pine Creek Road in the bottom of the valley. Once there, we got wired up and did our best to stay fueled and hydrated. (Those are athlete terms for eating and drinking.) When everyone was ready to go, we did a four-mile warmup and then lined up on Pine Creek. They lined us up and started us at two-minute intervals. Before long I was pedaling as hard as I could up the road with no idea where I would get to stop. The time trial had begun.

The scientists had intentionally withheld the distance from us, saying only that we would have to ride between 4.5 and nine miles. The point was to see our efficiency in the unknown or something like that, but the result was, like, really hard. I charged as hard as I could up the hill for what felt like forever, straining my eyes at every curve to see the finish line. The sun was merciless, beating down upon my back and neck. The road was a steady uphill grade of five-to-seven percent, and with each pedal stroke I felt my legs filling more and more with lactic acid. After what felt like an eternity (they had taped our bike computers so we had no feedback), I found that my legs simply couldn’t sustain the same wattage as before, and I dropped down to my absolute lowest gear, pumping as hard as I could and sometimes even standing up to gain leverage. Turn after turn went by with no finish in sight. And then I saw it. All I could do was inch across the line. When I finished I nearly collapsed off my bike.

Soon enough, however, I was feeling better. Though the day was still hot, I had a cool drink in hand and a snack. I was sitting under a tree cheering on the people behind me, and not long after that we all rode down the hill together, which further cooled us with the wind. Typical of me, however, I charged down the hill, pedaling as hard as I could to gain speed. So when I reached the trailer in the valley, I walked under the awning as described in the first paragraph of this (fascinating) article. Pretty beat up, but satisfied at the effort. I looked forward to a big meal and a shower in the afternoon, and maybe even a jog. But it was not to be.

Per walked under the awning and gathered everyone around him. “Well guys, good work. I’m super happy with your effort,” he began. We all looked at him suspiciously. If we were going to pack up and leave, why did we need a pep talk? I was suddenly aware that all the medical equipment was still attached to me. In previous tests we had been unhooked as soon as we finished. He continued, “That test was designed to test your efficiency over an unknown distance. Now that we have done that, what’s next?” He looked at us pointedly. He looked at us as if we had an answer. We looked back at him blankly. A moment of heavy stillness passed. Then from somewhere behind me I heard Rebecca’s voice, “we don’t have to do another one.”

I laughed. Everyone laughed. We were all friends. We were used to making jokes. This was funny. What was next? Maybe some cold beer and pizza? Maybe some creek baths and afternoon naps? Maybe even, if we felt super industrious, some data review? But certainly, definitely, absolutely not another time trial. I kept my eyes on Per, who was smiling slightly, and he didn’t move. Then he said, “We’ll start again at 1:30. Make sure to get some food and water in so you feel good.” And then I knew there was no hope, and I would have to kill him and everyone else there, and I reached for my hunting knife.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to attach it to my spandex bike shorts, so after a long period of considerably vehement denial I ate a bagel with jelly and got a short massage and drank of lot of electrolyte drink, and then we had to suit up and go again. I don’t really want to go into the details. The second time trial was awful. Even worse than the first. It lasted more than 35 minutes, and for every one of those minutes, I felt negative. At the top I wanted to rip all those electrodes off and melt into the pavement. But I (mostly) kept my cool and didn’t lose any friends, and soon enough we were back at the trailer at the bottom, high-fiving and making jokes again. Things like that usually pass pretty quickly, but that doesn’t justify a bad attitude. I don’t have any excuses. I should have been better.

Tim had the fantastic idea to ride home, so he, Kirsten, Rebecca, UK-based-sweat-scientist, Andy Blow, and I got back on the bikes for the last few miles up the hill. Karl and Kendall had much more sense than us and simply caught a ride home in one of the vans. I thought our ride home was a good idea until we started going uphill, and then I realized our ride home was the biking equivalent of my last 25 miles at Hardrock last year. A total slog. A quiet sufferfest. Deep in the pain cave, I beat my chest and rended the flesh from my own legs with bared teeth and wild eyes. Little had I realized that our descent that morning–seemingly eight or nine miles–was actually 15 miles with 2,000 feet of climbing. Tacking that onto the end of the day we had just had, and following immediately after the previous day’s hard ride, and not being in shape or even someone who would call himself a cyclist, that kind of hurt. A lot. I don’t know how to describe it, but if you’ve been there you know. It’s the kind of challenge that makes you stronger mentally.

By the end of the day I had ridden more than 60 total miles, and more than 12 of them at maximum effort. I was pretty beat. But that’s the best feeling of all, and after a big meal and a cool shower, I took a nap and appreciated the feeling of sinking perfectly into comfortable bedsheets and oblivion. Nothing compares to the feeling of worth after a hard workout.

Project Endurance began to wind down. That night we endured several hours of data review, which was actually fascinating in many ways but when tacked onto the end of a day like that was pretty painful to watch. All of the information transmitted from the sensors on our bodies was graphed and overlapped and the result was a really cool overview of our levels of effort, our strengths and weaknesses, and our limiting factors. All this data will be highly useful to us in the future for training. But at the time I could do little more than stare at the people speaking and visualize words jumping out of their mouths and bumping into each other and breaking apart into nonsense that spilled all over the floor in a pile of meaningless vocabularic rubble.

On Sunday, we did about 20 miles on the bikes with no sensors, and on top of a hill we did some interviews and photos and that sort of thing. While riding back down the hill I nearly died with a super-sketchy pass at 50 mph around an RV with oncoming traffic. But I survived it and learned that you don’t mess around with cars ever, and especially not at 50 mph, and especially not ever. Lesson learned. Then lunch. Then packing. Then airports and airplanes until nearly 1:00 in the morning. As I write this, I almost feel that the last week was a dream. From a hectic and unfamiliar environment I have now returned to a predictable and familiar landscape, and I can’t help but question the veracity of my senses. The comparison seems too extreme. Surely I couldn’t have been there then if I am here now. But I know I was, because I can feel the positive energy within me.

This past month has been a revelation for me. Always in the past I have returned from long trips almost disappointed. What had once been a fantastical dream was now a known entity, the romance and excitement dissipated in the doing. But on this trip, to Alaska and then to California, I finally broke away from my insecurities. Red Bull’s Project Endurance was a quantifiable step forward in understanding endurance sports from a physiological point of view. But for me it was more than that. It was an affirmation of self, a lesson in others, a choice for the future.

A new page has been turned; a new light has been cast. The world of mountain running is dynamic and exciting. The world of mountain climbing is more versatile than ever. The things that I love, and the people with whom I love to do them, are available and ready to go. The only limits remaining are imagination, and with the list of ideas growing every day, I don’t think we’re going to run out of that anytime soon. I’m not alone in feeling like this. The world in which we train, compete, and socialize is growing and changing every day, and people are setting and accomplishing goals with a rapidity unheard of just a few years ago. We have a long way to go, and I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing than that.

There are 48 comments

  1. Mic Medeska

    Great write up Dakota. Though not a fan of the energy drink itself, what Red Bull is doing in the sports world is so incredibly unique and worthwhile that I have the utmost respect for their company. This Project Endurance sounds great and I hope we as information consumers are one day able to see the results and findings and most importantly the interpretations of the data. Glad you were a part of it!

  2. Chris Fey

    From a scientific standpoint, why would the tests be perfromed on bikes and not treadmills/running if the athletes are trained runners? Would it have changed the results?

    1. Derrick Spafford

      Exactly what I was thinking too Chris. I've done testing on bikes and find it overloads some muscle groups compared to weight bearing tests, and I fatigue much sooner…and at lower HR's.

    2. Dylan

      To answer your question: yes. The VO2max's that the 6 athletes got are only beneficial to those of the cyclists. Karl and Dakota on the other hand shouldn't utilize the data they got from the tests because they are RUNNERS not CYCLISTS. It'll give them a rough guess of their VO2max; but if you review the literature, if they were to have done the tests on a treadmill or running, their VO2max would be higher.

      1. Michael

        Bikes are used because its almost "fixed", on a treadmill, form plays a much bigger rule. Also, it's easy to measure more with a bike, such as power output. And yes, it favors cyclists, but not as much as you might think.

  3. Josh Wright

    I'm with Mic–I love it that Red Bull includes ultrarunning in the list of adventure sports they support. I only wish this story could have included Dakota and Karl thumping Felix Baumgartner on a mountain descent.

  4. Drew Gunn

    The technical term for "butt pad" is chamois, which comes from the leather used in old school bike shorts. Haven't you been to Europe?!

  5. Mic

    If there was competition which athlete was the winner? Which was the strongest power-wise, blood-wise, O2-wise, Time-wise?

  6. Matt P

    Fascinating, funny account! My question is the same as others: wondering how results will be published. Best would be something in a peer-reviewed journal, of course. I have no problem with RB's sponsorship, but like everyone I'd like to see an objective analysis of the data.

    Also, who "won" :-)

    1. Ben Nephew

      I think the data are more personally useful to the athletes than something that is going to be published given the sample sizes, backgrounds of the athletes, and testing methods.

  7. Mr. Helpful

    "But at the time I could do little more than stare at the people speaking and visualize words jumping out of their mouths and bumping into each other and breaking apart into nonsense that spilled all over the floor in a pile of meaningless vocabularic rubble."

    Awesome turn of phrase, even if (or maybe because) I had to look up 'vocabularic' to see if it was a real word. I was mildly disappointed that you hadn't just made it up.

    1. Speedgoatkarl

      I can share one of my numbs….VO2 max….you ready for this? 56.5. Pretty low eh?

      Red Bull is really amazing in support of athletes, no company does things like this, Project Endurance was an amazing camp.

      One of the reasons we did cycling only was because I was hurt with a calf strain, I could not ride unfortunately, so that skewed things a bit. I will say though, that riding has given me new light, it is really fun bombing down a mountain road on a 17 lb bike. I can't say I hit 50mph,maybe 45,but dam, it was fast.

      Definately a great write-up Dakota, well said. I hope we can do it again next May, and this time, we'll know what Per has up his swedish sleeve.

      1. Bryon Powell

        Do you think that your VO2max would increase if you did more intensity in your training or that you cycled more? I don't mean that your actual VO2max would improve, just the measurable performance?

        I train at low intensity, and have found that as little as one intense session (say the Uphill Challenge at OR) can increase my ability to come closer to my max (at, say, Jupiter Peak Steeplechase the next day).

        1. Speedgoatkarl

          maybe, I do run hard occasionally when I feel good, but no real max out stuff like we did at the camp. My highest HR was at 183, and I can assure you, I was about to die. When I was riding the time trial at this camp, I was able to sustain 166 at the highest on that second brutal lap, actually higher than the first lap. I never run like that, even when I run "hard" in training. So yah, I could probably get it a bit higher, but shit, I like 100s….

          Would it make a difference? again, maybe, and because my training is about 25 miles per week since Sonoma in prep for Western, my next 3 weeks will consist of hard uphill efforts as long as my calf holds out, to increase my fitness as quick as possible. Downhills will be run easier as this is what triggers my calf to potentially tweak. I realize downhill at WS is a super important element to running a great race there, but it's all I have now, other than that textbook in my back pocket and the "autopilot" button I've been giving a tune-up. We'll see what I can pull off

  8. Lstomsl

    It would be interesting to do another with the same people but making them run instead of bike. Id guess the results would be very different…. The human body naturally becomes more efficient with the muscles and motions thatutuses most. Pro cyclist walk as little as possible to avoid using non-cycling muscles….

  9. JP

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it doeasnt really matter that these guys were riding instead of running.

    I doubt the absolute numbers are really important, rather, what is happening relative to those measured/calculated attributes during different types of effort.

    Are they going to publish results?

    1. Ben Nephew

      I'm betting it does matter if you want the V02 max value to be indicative of performance related fitness. This will be true for the cyclists, but not the runners. I see your point about the differences between different types of efforts, but I don't think we can assume those differences would be the same for runners whether they were on a bike or running. I'd agree with you if this was a controlled long term study where there was specific training plan and before and after testing, and larger sample sizes. With the current sample sizes, broken down by gender and sport, you have groups of 1 and 2. You cannot run statistics on groups that small. Without any statistical testing, this doesn't seem likely to get published. I'm not sure how useful the data are going to be to Karl or Dakota considering their health/fitness at the time of the testing.

  10. Matt P

    Interesting that the first reaction to SP Karl's "low" # is that maybe there is some way to get his number "up." We want to make the facts what we think *should* be the case, but one of the many many things to love about Karl is that he keeps confounding what we think we know about running really far.

    May he continue to do so for years & hundreds of miles to come!

      1. Dylan

        I'd bag to differ. Look specifically at cycling and "Tour" races. The individuals who can actually compete for the podium in a race such as the Tour de France or the Giro all have extremely HIGH VO2max's

        1. dogrunner

          Right, I was referring to the intensity of 100 mile running races. Even at 50 miles VO2max might be a good predictor, but mostly because of it correlation with other aspects of physiology (aerobic threshold). Intensity in pro cycling races is pretty high.

        2. lstomsl

          I'm not sure its that straight forward. VO2 max, to my understanding is a measure of how much oxygen your body can use at lactate threshold. Nobody running a hundred mile race is going to get anywhere near lactate threshold until we start seeing Karl, Tim, Dakota, and Killian sprinting for a finish at the top of Mt Handies.

          In one of his tour rides (can't call them victories anymore) lance only spent 34 minutes out of the entire 21 days with his nose in the wind. Tour cyclists spend most of the time at relatively low intensity like ultra-runners but in order to win they have to spend at least a few minutes now and then at the end of the day at maximal effort. They can do so because the day is over and they can recover (and whatever else they do…). In an ultra you have to keep going and there is never any reason to put out max effort at the end. Its consistency that matters, and I would guess that efficiency at moderate intensity, strong tendons and joints, impermeability to injury, mental strength, pain tolerance, etc all play a larger role than VO2 max.

          Still I would bet that Karl and Dakota would have better numbers on a treadmill because they would be using the muscles that they develop every day and thus would be more efficient than on a cycle using muscles that are unused to being pushed. I don't know though, that's why it would be interesting to see it done.

          1. dogrunner

            No, VO2max does not measure O2 use at lactate threshold (if there even is such a thing as LT :)). "LT" measures the intensity of the greatest "effort" (e.g. measured as heart rate) you can sustain (and your actual pace depends on other things, such as your running efficiency). VO2max simply refers to the maximum rate you can move O2, relative to your mass (which indexes how many cells you have to feed). LT is a better predictor of performance in endurance sports. Many of these measurements are correlated because the training or genetics that improves your physiological capacity tends to improve things across the board.

            There has been a lot written about all these topics. Here is one from some knowledgeable guys, not about VO2max alone, but comments on the information gleaned from it: [broken link removed]

            On the subject of TdF, you are right that a lot of the distance is at a relatively lower effort, but the pros are all riding at a fairly high sustained effort compared to what a normal person can do, but winning requires not getting dropped on the big mountain climbs!

            1. lstomsl

              LT is the maximum intensity BEFORE the body begins to utilize anaerobic pathways (i.e. produce lactic acid) and where oxygen throughput is no longer the most important factor. Whether that is sustainable or not defines on how you define sustainable I guess. Certainly it is not sustainable for ultra distances. For most people the length that that level of intensity can be sustained is measured in minutes not hours (or days).

              I assumed that this level would also be the intensity at which you are moving O2 at the maximum rate. Perhaps that is not right but it must be close.

              And yes, body mass has a role. The athletes with the highest total oxygen throughput are rowers because they need both intense efforts and have large muscular bodies. The human athletes with the highest VO2 max measurements in general tend to be nordic skiiers because they are using more muscle groups and also tend to be lighter weight.

              The athletes with the highest VO2 max measurements ever are sled dogs. They perform at high intensity for weeks pulling sleds for 1000 miles in 10 days. That is insane….

              And I would bet that the average intensity of the tdf riders is considerably lower than what most of us do on our normal training runs/rides. They are capable of doing 30mph for an hour in a time trial but average 23 or so in a pack. Most of us spend far more time closer to time trial efforts.

  11. Flandria

    This is an interesting study or tests because the subjects vary across the board from cyclocross racer, mtn bike racer and ultra runners. Not clear of what the objectives are for the study but the data comparison between each discipline would be a great data to analyze individually.

    Although, cyclocross is only an hour race in very high intensity but Tim Johnson also does road racing/training in his cyclocross off season. It's a little different than riding 100 miles on a mtn bike like Rebecca or ultra running but I guess he is sponsored by Red Bull, I believe.

    Individually, the data would be useful to each discipline but comparison between each other probably not (except between Karl and Dakota) because there are so many other factors or variables differing from each subject's training, genetic build, racing, environment, age, muscle fiber make up, stress level etc for each specific sport before the subjects were tested. Also, how fresh the subjects are for the testing.

    VO2Max measurement does not really determine an athlete's success, most of the time – in my opinion. Genetically high VO2Max is great and of course that helps but there are so many other variables in training and racing that makes VO2Max irrelevant specially in long endurance racing such as an ultra.

    Also, "intensity" is very relative…

  12. KenZ

    Are you sure about that? I mean, how much it may or may not favor cyclists? I think the answer to that is "depends." For instance, I can run circles around one of my friends on the trails or roads, he's huffing and puffing and I'm having calm conversation. His heart rate after an hour is likely 10+ bpm higher than mine (when mine is at my leisurely easy effort around 142bpm)

    And then… we get on the bikes and do a leisurely hill ride. We'll be going up a hill for 30+ minutes, and he'll ask what my HR is. I'll look down and it'll be 165+. I'll ask him… it'll be something like 115. Seriously. MASSIVE difference on the bike. He's a cyclist… I'm a runner.

  13. KenZ

    Sorry… and yeah, I understand HR and VO2 max are different things, but I think given how seriously different individuals can perform on one or the other based on their background, I can't imagine that it wouldn't make a significant difference.

  14. J.Xander

    Based on the description in the article I would guess that there were probably many individual studies going on during this "camp". The individual data points that were collected may ultimately inform a variety of studies. There may have been one overall comparison study between athletes or gender or multiple overall studies. The results probably won't be published in one single journal. Also, this could have been one "camp" of many where there are collecting data from a variety of sources and in a variety of conditions.

    It would be interesting to know how many individual grants were being fulfilled and what thesis were being tested.

  15. Pete

    To think that vo2max doesn't help with 100 mile runs or anything else is a bit foolish. Those who contain the highest bo2mazs will also have very very low resting year rates. Why does this matter? Well it is pretty simple it allows athletes to use less blood therefor keeping a lower heart rate and allows one to cover any distance mor efficiently. Killian has a very low resting heart rate and a very high vo2 and as we see he continues to dominate. This measure simply should not be brushed aside. Sadly genetics plays a bigger role in this then anything. Kind of like the ability to hot a 100 mph fastball you either got it or you don't. It really shows us who is elite and who is a mid packer

  16. Pete

    See I disagree. First off vo2max is a scientific measurement and not an opinion. It is the ability of ones body to be efficient. One who has a high vo2max can simply do more work or run faster more efficiently. Isn't running a 100 miles all about being efficient with ones body? Take the meffatone theory I believe it is where one finds a hear rate zone to stay at for the duration of a 100 miles. Say myself and killian both run at a hr of 145 guess who is gonna win by a long margin? Killiian for the simple fact that he has a higher vo2max and can be more efficient with it. Yes other things do matter ie resting heart rate and max hear rate but in the end it is all genetics. While I agree that one still has to train hard and work hard to succeed an individual with a higher vo2max will always be more successful. Sorry but science will aways win over opinion.

    1. Lstomsl

      Again, it is not that simple. Case in point Karl, if his measurement is valid, has won more 100s than probably anyone ever will again with a very pedestrian VO2 max. Killian may have a genetically high vo2 which is an advantage but if he sat on the couch he would go nowhere. Otherwise why bother with a race? Just put people in a lab and give the buckle to the guy who tests the best. Killian also has incredible coordination and huge cojones or he couldn't be a ski mountaineer. He has mad descending skills which have nothing to do with vo2. And despite his hippy-dippy public pronouncements that he just wants to run and have a good time you know he has the killer instant and mental toughness to win. And I've never heard of him being injured. VO2 is only part of the puzzle, whether scientific or not.

      1. Pete

        I hear ya man. I will agree to disagree. There is a real possibility killian could take down Karl's record # of wins though. Look at the number of races killian has all ready won and to take nothing from what Karl has done killian has beaten better competition. When and if killian ever gets into hardrock I imagine he will beats Karl's pr at that direction. Obviously there is variables to come into play just think some here under estimate the value.

        1. Pete

          I also think Karl's vo2max was a bit higher in the past as well. Ie in his 20s and 30s. I don't want to take anything away from Karl though he is truly an amazing ultra runner and might have the most amount of mental toughness on the planet. Sure as heck seems it anyways I mean who else thi is 100 miles is easy haha

          1. Jason H

            Pete, you bring up some good points… but, VO2 max is only one predictor, and possibly not even that important. It's not THE definitive measure of running economy, especially when we include running on technical trails at altitude/heat/cold/night etc.

            I'm a five min miler, and it's been proven to me time and again that I can't hang with the low four minute milers like Max and Sage. But I have soundly beaten faster marathoners at 100 miles, and that's not saying much since I'm not that fast there either. Point is that once the distance stretches it's still good runners up front, but the absolute speed becomes less important than a myriad of other factors.

            As for Killian vs Karl at HR or some tough 100. Well, what happened to Killian as WS10? What happened last year at Transvulcania? Pikes Peak last year he won, but not only missed the CR, he missed the Masters record (both set by Matt Carpenter). OBTW, Matt Carpenter states that he initially had a pretty low VO2 max and was told that it was a genetic predictor and couldn't be changed much. He trained hard and improved that number greatly. Anyway, not saying Killian isn't great or the best or whatever, just adding some food for thought.

        2. Lstomsl

          I'll agree that killian would likely eat Karl's record, of course he should, he has goat like descending skills and his vo2 is probably 50% higher but he won't be 50% faster he might be 5% faster.

          If I were to somehow boost my bo2 to 10% more then killian's AND I were able to reach peak performance without getting injured I could probably beat killian on a track, or at rocky raccoon but he would still destroy me at hard rock or utmb because I would never go down as fast as he does and at a mountain ultra only half of the race is uphill.

          1. Pete

            No I hear you guys. I was lucky to get to witness Matt Carpenter run at mt washington a few times generally just until the first turn when he was well ahead of me but hey i was only 12 he should have crushed me. Not the point anyways. I do think you are right that isnt the only indicator but I do believe it is an indicator of true potential. Matt carpenter was is a special type of runner. Same mold as the speed goat i would say. Very mentally tough great runners. I think the first time Killian ran westerns he made a rookie mistake which i guess proves your point. Lets remember at transvulcania when dakota beat him he had only run like once or twice on the season. Pretty good performance for the 3rd run of the year (incredible raw talent which doesnt need to be debated). To get third at westerns while carrying no water all day is pretty dang good to. Anyways good discussion. In hindsight of everything i have said i guess i shouldnt speak on the 100 mile distance because i simply havent done that until july.

  17. Speedgoatkarl

    There are a number of young ultrarunners that could beat or at least approach my 35 100 mile wins, the question remains though: Do they want to run 4-6 (or maybe even more) 100s per year over 15 years. Killian could win 50 of them, but not if he runs WS, UTMB, all the most competitive ones. Comp is getting better and better and it will be tough to do it. I hope to die with that record, be it 35 or even 40. I had alot less comp when I won some races, but not because I seeked out an "easy win", I seek out great courses. And remember I started running 100s when I was 29, not 20 or 21. I won 35 in 15 years…'s gonna take a long effort to see if that's possible again.

    I'll shut up now….the camp was amazing, V02 means nothing in my book, whether it's on a TM or Bike, and running 100 miles never even coming close to running at max is what I do best, so I'm gonna keep doing it till I pass out.

    Great article Dakota….

    1. Pete

      Agreed a great article. Your record is amazing karl to. I would say there is nothing easy about any of your victories. Wasn't trying to diminsh them in the least. I guess I am on the killian is the greatest ultra rtunner ever train. That is some serious longevity you have put out. Not to mention the years you have done the appalachian or the pny express or what not. Keep going strong.

    2. lstomsl

      I would agree that breaking Karls 35 wins is possible. But possible and probable are very different things. Its true that competition is higher these days but there are also a lot more races so if a fast kid comes along that wants to do nothing but break 35 or 40 wins they could focus on smaller races and MAYBE do it. IF they could keep that focus going for 15 or 20 years. IF they could run a half dozen 100 mile races a year and not get injured. IF they didn't ever want to test themselves against the best or IF their sponsors didn't want them to run against the best or IF they didn't decide to move towards other arena's as Killian and Dakota seem to be doing. That's a lot of highly unlikely IF's. We'll see in 10 or 20 years I guess…..

    3. Wooderson

      I've thought about this a lot. You have younger and younger talent coming into the sport, plus as the sport is growing, you will have a broader range of races in the future it seems. If someone was young and focused on the record itself, I think it could happen. But a lot of things would have to go right. (avoiding injury setbacks, etc.)

      I think the biggest thing is burnout. I mean, we are talking about 35 freakin WINS. And tha old goat is still racking them up. A person would have to have not only the talent, but the pure love of the distance (and a little luck) to sustain a career the length that Karl has.

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