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Torquemada’s Treadmill

Posted by Filed Under: Health & Fitness, Training

Read the entire account of Mike’s experience: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five.

Leg strength tests and body scans are all to the good, but now I was going to get a chance to take a running test. Even those who are relatively new to running have probably heard of an aerobic capacity test—or VO2 max test. It measures your ability to transport and burn oxygen. If you are able to do this well, your distance running is steady and sure. Do it poorly, and you end up like Pheidippides.

I had a hearty lunch and headed to the small room where exercise physiologist Mike Siemens awaited me, along with a standard treadmill. Many VO2 max tests involve having sensors pasted to your body and an unwieldy contraption attached to your face. But we had a portable wireless gadget that utilizes a normal heart rate monitor and a standard oxygen mask, sending the data directly to the computer through telemetry—much like a guided missile. Although, in my case, it was more like a Nerf dart thrown by a 4-year-old.


It all hangs on a harness that makes the entire get-up very unobtrusive, enabling you to concentrate on running. Mike explained how the test would work: I would start with a moderate walk, and he would gradually speed things up until I was running at near-top speed, after which he would add incline until I killed myself.

OK, I added that last part, but Mike wanted to make sure I would actually reach my max, but at the same time avoid any macho self-destruction. He mentioned a team of high school track stars who goaded one of their members into exceeding his max and reaching his next physical threshold—barfing.

Off I went. I must have been a little overexcited because my starting heart rate was 86. Walk. Walk fast. Jog slow. Jog. Run slow. Run faster. By minute 12 I was cruising along at my marathon pace, which is 8:30. At minute 13 we accelerated to 8:00 pace. No big deal.

Minute 14 – 7:30, slower than 5K pace for me. Still feel good.

Minute 15 – 7:00. Now I’m cooking. This is like the last 200 yards in a 5K, except I know it’s not going to end.

Minute 16 – My mile best in my old age is 6:36. Mike asks if I want more speed or more incline. I think about it for a second, and picture myself shooting off the back of the treadmill into the wall. “Slope! Slope!” I gasp. Mike adds two degrees of incline.

Minute 17 – “Are you OK?” Mike asks. I summon enough energy to nod my head, but can’t spare the breath to speak. Mike bumps me up to four degrees of incline.

Oh. Dear. God.

Not only am I running for my life, but up an endless sand dune. My mind departs my body, unwilling to share in the breathless agony. It hovers above me, staring at the treadmill timer—exhorting it, willing it to reach the magic number 18:00.

I make it! And fortunately Mike can see that if he adds two more degrees of incline I’m more likely to vault over the handrail and grab him by the throat. He slows the treadmill gradually while I focus on avoiding a facer into the control panel.

I soon experience a “runner’s high,” otherwise known as “stopping.” It feels so sweet.

Next up: The verdict!

About Mike Antonucci

I ran 6-minute miles when I was in the military, then tapered for 20 years. Two-time marathoner (3:43 PR), my next goal is to stay healthy enough to run another. There are literally thousands of people handing out running advice and serious tips. I prefer to focus on the humorous or odd facets of our shared obsession. Let's face it, running is funny.

  1. Mark Iocchelli on September 28th at 8:48 am

    Tease! This can only mean you have a higher max than Bjørn Dæhlie’s. Right?

  2. Jeanne on September 28th at 9:18 am

    um, that sounds like so much fun! not!

  3. Blaine Moore (Run to Win) on September 28th at 2:42 pm

    When can I try?

    By the way, I love that quote: “I soon experience a runner’s high, otherwise known as stopping.”

  4. Lisa on September 29th at 4:25 pm

    WOW…I think I would have flown off the back of said treadmill!

  5. » Torquemada’s Treadmill on October 7th at 10:30 pm

    […] Mike Antonucci wrote a fantastic post today on “Torquemadaâs Treadmill”Here’s ONLY a quick extractI had a hearty lunch and headed to the small room where exercise physiologist Mike Siemens awaited me, along with a standard treadmill. Many VO2 max tests involve having sensors pasted to your body and an unwieldy contraption attached … […]

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