A friend of mine put a post on Facebook about a study at Coventry University involving cycling in a heat chamber and looking at the effects of taking various drinks including ice. Be someone who is always up for a challenge I thought why not so popped an email over.
I got a reply from Chris who is running the study giving me a run down of that the study involved. I was surprised to get a reply as you see these things on Facebook all the time but never get anything back when you reply. Expecting loads of people to respond, I have discovered why there are actually only two of us in the current study.
The study essentially involves doing 18 x 5-second sprints with a minute or so break in between so a total of about 37 minutes in a heat chamber at about 38 degrees centigrade. Sound tough? We are doing this twice a week. It starts with a 40-minute pre-cooling session involving drinking an unknown drink or eating ice. The drink will either be a placebo orange juice or orange juice with caffeine or orange juice with caffeine and carbohydrate.
Naturally, we will need numerous monitoring probes stuck to various body parts including a temperature probe. Apparently, the most comfortable place is rectally! (up your butt like a Jack Russell at the vet) Otherwise, it would need to be right down the throat. Yes, still discussing the temperature probe. So while I realised this would push my comfort zone, I decided I was man enough to give it a go.
So, Tuesday 9.30am I pitched up at the strength and conditioning centre in Coventry. Phase one was some pre-trial testing so body composition, a series of squat jumps to test power and some other exercises. Then we headed across the road to the actual lab facility where the delightful heat tent is located. I say across the road but this little walk actually took 10 minutes and I got lost on the way back trying to find my car!
Again, we were doing some pre-trial stuff which involved a RAMP test in normal conditions. We do the test on Watt bikes which I must say are actually really cool. For the RAMP test, i started riding at 200 watts for a minute and then you increase your output by 20 watts every minute until you can’t continue. I only got to 400 watts. Could possibly have got to 420 if I really wanted to completely kill myself but i wasn’t feeling awesome anyway.
On a positive note, there were no probes on day 1.
Probe day! So after arriving we are attached to all our initial probes after having to strip off and take a naked weight. Then we are handed the black cable. We have to look after the black cable. That is all i am saying. We are (individually) sent off to the bathroom, clutching our precious black cable with very basic instructions. Lube was never mentioned. Post this little experience, I kinda wish it was. Walking to the toilet clutching my black cable was a work of horror. I felt like a dead man walking. Sad look on my face of impending doom.
Standing in the toilet with my not so little black cable, slightly terrified about what i have to do with it. Trying not to hyperventilate, trying to pull myself together and realising I don’t have a choice. I just have to do it. Pants down, bend over… I actually started sweating, elevated heart rate… This is going to skew any scientific results.
The walk back from the toilet was not pleasant. When you see people walking like they just shat themselves and don’t want to spill any more crap down their legs… felt a bit like that. Nasty. Back to the lab, slightly horrified look on my face, clutching one end of my little black cable, the other end disappearing into my cycle shorts.
The other poor guy hadn’t done his walk of shame yet. Was looking just as nervous and apprehensive as me and asking for any tips. Difficult conversation to have really. What is the best way to shove this thing up your butt? Pretend you’re a Jack Russell at the vet!
It does actually get slightly worse. All our probes are attached to the same box! So now, we are attached to each other, walking around with one of us holding the box and connected via our butts. We have to go sit in the pre-trial lab which is cooler than the heat lab and have our drinks over the next 40 minutes. Half a cup of some juice every 5 minutes. While sitting on a stool… attached to a little box… its not that comfortable.
So you are thinking, can this actually get any worse. Em, yeah. As part of this trial, we have to do some squat jumps before we start cycling. Still attached to our probes, we have to squat down with something up your butt and leap in the air. Seriously? I am sure this is some kind of experiment to see how far you can push the human mind before it snaps and you leap out the window.
First jump was very tentative as you can imagine. Felt a bit easier after that. Takes a bit of coordination as you can imagine as we maneuver ourselves towards the bikes. We are told that it is important if we have to bail out the test that we wait until we are detached first from the little box. Jumping off the bike and running out the room still attached to a box that your buddy is also attached to via his butt is not going to end well.
Sitting on a bike saddle with a probe in your rectal cavity so not that comfortable in case you are wondering. But you get used to it. We start with a warm up and then into our first sprint. You have to wack the resistance up with 5 seconds to go, sprint your little heart out for 5 seconds and then pedal easily after wacking the resistance back down. I probably tended to hit about 1100 watts for those few seconds which felt fine, however, a few seconds after the effort your heart rate spikes massively and you feel super crap. You have to wait for it to come down again and start feeling normal.
It is not actually that enjoyable. The temperature started off about 35 degrees which is warm. You can cope initially but as it climbed to 38 and the humidity increased drastically, it did become very hot and uncomfortable. Breathing is very difficult and when you are trying to recover after doing a sprint and your heart rate is racing and you are gasping for air, it feels challenging.
We continued with our sprints, easy pedaling at about 180 watts and then sprint again. I kept it pretty consistent until the last two and especially the last sprint itself where I was not in a good place and barely hit 600 watts. It became increasingly difficult, between trying to recover and the heat. When they said we were half way it was actually really depressing. It was hard going. You look at the watch and it says 12 minutes and you think, how on earth am I going to do 36 minutes of this.
Just before we start the next sprint we have to say how we feel in terms of legs, body, temperature and general comfort. There is a numbered chart so we just say, 18, 18, -4 and -3 for example.
By the time we hit 29 minutes I was done. I was wiped out and now it was just the power of the mind. My buddy was still going and I couldn’t quit while he carried on. It actually takes effort to quit and I simply didn’t have that energy available. I just kept pushing. Chris was a bit concerned about me but I know regardless, I just keeping going. Extreme Ironman events teaches you this. He said I know my limits and I should stop if I need to. Dude, I was way past my limit. We passed that a number of minutes ago. This was just pure stubbornness.
Finally, we did the last sprint at 36 minutes and did a bit of a cool down. I was mashed, uncoordinated and weak. We were unplugged and I staggered over to the floor to lie down. I think it took me 20 minutes before I could even stand up again. I did start feeling a little more human but now we had to go back to the toilet clutching our black cable and do a naked weigh in and could at last extract a certain probe from a certain place.
I felt sort of ok after a shower although was very warm still. I then had to go back to work and must say felt a little depleted for the rest of the day. They did say, people don’t normally go to work after these kind of tests. I was contemplating doing a time trial in the evening but I don’t think they would have gone very well. You feel a bit strange after pushing yourself past your limits. Your body is a little confused as to what has just happened. However, as this is week 1 of 4. There will be more probing and suffering to come. Hopefully, report back next week…