Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Test: Dropping Science Part 2

I arrived at the K-Lab not really knowing what to expect. Well, I expected to answer a questionnaire, sign some legal waivers, get weighed, then ride my bike on a trainer for an hour while being periodically pricked on a finger so blood could be drawn, meanwhile eating some sort of semi-experimental electrolyte product. And, yes, that's pretty much what happened. But blogging is all about telling a story that turns into some other story, a much longer, more hilarious, other story. So here's that story.

I actually expected something unexpected to happen, like them telling me I couldn't drink any water, or that I would need to wear some scientific burlap cycling shorts, or that Coach K would dash out from one of the offices and start prodding me with a trident. None of these things happened.

Once, this other time, I participated in a study that measured several products' ability to speed glycogen replenishment in leg muscles after intense exercise. Sounds cool, right? The catch is that to replenish glycogen, you need to deplete all of your glycogen, also known as bonking. So, the experiment involved riding the bike on a trainer for about 2 hours, really hard, then sprinting. The body is smart, though. Too smart for a silly study like this so when I started sprinting at the end, my body decided that this was important for survival (like escaping from a cheetah or something) and instead of just giving up and letting me bonk in peace, it somehow pulled more glycogen outta nowhere. This continued for another hour or so, interspersed with blood samples--not just little finger pricks, but little vials full, straight outta the vein--and tube-in-the-mouth oxygen measurements. It was total torture.

In this case, the K-Lab person, Cameron, was very nice. There were a few other staff members around during my first trial and a few other people doing some walking experiment during my second trial. The walking experiment involved some undergrad walking back and forth in front of an array of cameras while wearing spandex shorts and little fuzzy white balls taped to him. They were supposedly using some motion-capture equipment to do some sort of modern Al "Mr. 59" Geiberger SyberVision analysis (I'm still looking for a better link of this video, but it's a pretty hilarious golf technique video which was also the premise for a friend's theme party). The balls kept falling off, making their experiment seem even more ridiculous. They would occasionally look over at me, cranking away, while they sat around, re-adhering balls to his shorts.

So, in my most recent experiment, an hour on the bike wasn't so bad. Plus, there was Computrainer. If you have not experienced Computrainer, you've been missing out. Computrainer is computer software that you hook up to a stationary trainer and it allows you to race against a virtual competitor while it gauges your power, cadence, heart rate, speed, and dorkiness level. However, this was not a study of dorkiness, given the fact that most people who would decide to participate in this type of experiment are already off-the-chart dorks (see Dropping Science: Part 1). In any event, Computrainer is essentially a video game, a lot like Guitar Hero or Rockband but instead of five buttons and a whammy-bar, there are only two commands: pedal with your left leg and pedal with your right leg. There are also no guitar solos on Computrainer. It does, however change resistance as you go uphill or downhill.

Ah, Computrainer. Much like that strange compulsion that some people have that will cause them to drive to a smelly gym on a gorgeous North Carolina afternoon, jump on a treadmill, and stare at ESPN or CSPAN or ANTM, the Computrainer will make you never want to ride a bike outside again. Who needs the outdoors when you can watch a computer screen where you are playing this video game where your character is outdoors? The "level" I was on was a rolling landscape of green foliage and rocky knobs. It looked a lot like middle earth from the Lord of the Rings movies, sans hobbits, plus a silky-smooth car-free roadway. My character was on the left-hand side of the road, so it may have been in England.

But in an anachronistic twist, on this pastoral landscape, I was racing against the cyclist of the future. Yes, while riding on these magical roadways, your companion, or should I say nemesis, is not a mythical beast from the days of yore, but instead a futuristic uber cyclist who appeared to be made out of liquid mercury. Yes, if you dream that you are racing against Terminator 2 to save that really hot elf, then the people at Computrainer are stealing your thoughts. Also, you will like Computrainer. My cyber opponent, let's call him RoboFloyd, had a ridiculously high cadence (>120 rpm) and a bad habit of not slowing down when they were drawing blood, making me eat stuff, or when I just felt like slowing down. Even my normal technique to slow the pace down (sidling up to a compatriot and trying to get them involved in a conversation about equipment, nutrition, or their mother while I gradually slow down) didn't work. He was least until I got too far behind. Once he got a few bike-lengths ahead, I think he was programmed to ease up until I caught him. After I figured this out, things were cooler. I realized that I would not be abandoned in this computer world and forced to battle my way out, like in Tron.

The cool thing about Computrainer (okay, all that other stuff was really cool, too), is that it produces tons of data. Here's a screenshot from one of my sessions:

I'll discuss the data in the next installment of this series, but here are the cool things about using a Computrainer:
* You can do a solid one-hour time trial test, which can be difficult on the open road since you need to contend with traffic, stop signs, and liquid-mercury humanoid rednecks throwing stuff from futuristic pickup trucks.
* You get to see all of the sweat you produce during a workout.
* You can avoid the outdoors, which is great if you are in Barrow, Alaska in January or if you are a reclusive novelist or if you haven't done laundry and don't want to wear your Rock Racing jersey with your white Quick Step bibs.
* You don't need to wear a helmet, so you can proudly display your EuroMullet (see Brochard or Bergler).
* You can listen to your headphones without fear of getting hit by a car. My recommendation for Computrainer 2.0 would be to team up with the Rockband people and make some course where you could race against a cycling robot on a floating pathway to the tune of Rush's "Tom Sawyer".

Next time: electrolytes=yum & data analysis.


DukePirate said...

So basically you got to play Nintendo Wii while they poked and prodded you? Rad.

Anonymous said...

Halo I am Brochard. I have "euro-mullet"? This is very much popular in my region of France. You laugh? My cousin Brian tell me you no like the flowy hair?