Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Invite him in for a visit. He'll be a nasty little bugger and will probably hurt you a few times, but he won't kill you. So don't fear him ...make him your friend. In time, you'll even learn to enjoy his company ...that is, if you're a bit twisted.

Lactic acid.

I tried to renew our relationship on the lunch ride today but it was not a pleasant interaction. Downright unpleasant in fact. Seemed like a good idea to get reacquainted before Mothballs on Saturday where I'm sure to see him. So today I purposely invited him in by taking some pulls longer than my current fitness supports, and he plopped down on the quadriceps couch and proceeded to grow and grow and grow.

Then I got dropped. Which made me think of Dave Tu.

Old-timers in SB and all around California might remember Dave. I'll bet Hecky does, but that's another story...

Dave Tu was a very good bike racer in the late 1980's. That was an era with very few trade teams; 7-Eleven existed, Levi's/Raleigh, and maybe Crest and Suburu-Montgomery had started already too. But other than a couple dozen "professionals", most bike racers aspired to be on the US National Team. Dave made it to the National B team, which meant that the USCF recognized him as a talent. In 1988 (I think) he won something like six consecutive p/1/2 races in NorCal. Once or twice I can see, but six? He also did an international stage race or two. What I'm saying is that he was good. But soon the USCF dissed him and he was out of cycling by 1990.

Today at lunch, with uncomfortably elevated lactate flowing in my legs, I was reminded of a story Dave told me. Seems that back then the US National Team coaches did a lot of physiological testing on the riders at the OTC in CO Springs, and the biggie was VO2Max. It was THE dominant criteria for evaluating potential.

Unfortunately Dave's VO2Max tested quite low. How was that possible? You can't just win a bunch of road races on will power, can you? Of course not. It turns out that another test showed the reason for Dave's success. He was able to ride with an outrageously high level of lactate in his blood. Or stated another way, he could ride nearer to his own VO2Max without the acute muscle fatigue that most people experience at that intensity. Dave had become good buddies with the C3H6O3.

Now I don't know the precise physiology involved, but via a few sequential processes, lactic acid gets remade back into usable fuel for your muscle cells. How cool is that? But most importantly, the efficacy of that process is very trainable. I also know from experience that when this system is not well trained, an intense effort can be excruciatingly painful. Or even sickening ...I've barfed a few times after hard sprints preceded by significant anaerobic effort. Lactic acid poisoning? On the other hand, when you've successfully trained that system, the feeling of elevated lactate can be almost pleasurable. In a twisted sort of way.


Kk said...

Twisted like the pleasure I get from how painfully stiff my calves are today...Went lookin' for Lactic Acid's pal Sucking Chest Pain. Found her on that 7 percent grade right where I left her... Boy can those two party!

Enjoy your pain, Marco!

Anonymous said...

That was some good stuff yesterday. And remember, your the one that suggested those damn sprint intervals. L.A. BABY!

Marco Fanelli said...

Thanks kk! It must be that we subconsciously block or forget the pain, but we remember and relish the endorphin highs. Otherwise, why would we continue??

Marco Fanelli said...

Yeah, the sprints. The good thing about sprints is that they're over before they really start to hurt! Next time let's do 10.

Anonymous said...

You put that molecule up there, so I can't resist.

I'm no exercise physiologist, but I'll take this opportunity to use my degree for the first time
in 10 years (biochem). Let's begin splitting hairs.

It's really ATP hydrolysis that causes all the muscle pain. The Lactic Acid <-> Lactate buffer
helps attenuate the effects of ATP hydrolysis.

There are many competing metabolic pathways in action during exercise, lets draw a box around one of them
(don't laugh, this is serious).

During anaerobic metabolism, ATP hydrolysis causes a high rate of hydrogen
ions to accumulate and lower the blood pH (acidosis). ATP is just an energy store molecule for muscle.

The Lactic Acid <-> Lactate buffer in your blood serves to reduce the hydrogen ion accumulation
produced by ATP, ie, Lactate becomes Lactic Acid. At some point your body cannot remove the Lactic
Acid to help buffer ATP hydrolysis (threshold reached: Lactate cannot remove anymore hydrogen ions
and form Lactic Acid).

In the end, no matter how much pain you're in, pushing hard on the pedals is impossible since all
the metabolic pathways we have not talked about are shifting left and right (that's a technical term).

John P.

Marco Fanelli said...

Nice lesson John! I actually cracked open my fav Exercise Physiology book (McArdle, Katch, & Katch) just to make sure I had the molecule right, and then I thought about adding some of that whacky science stuff about the pathways and all... but then the dinner bell rang so I stopped.

I'm out the door to make some Lactic Acid on OSM & Painted Cave...

Mitchenmiller said...

I remember Dave Tu regularly taking fliers with one lap to go at Research, and most of the time winning the race. We always knew he would do it, but very few times did anyone get on his wheel. We were always trying to play it safe by keying off the Stocktons.

jen said...

Is this anything like the little red men who carry the oxygen around?

Just trying to keep up...

Marco Fanelli said...

MM- Those were the good ol' days, eh! I bet Barney still has contact with Dave so we should ask him to say "Hi, whadup?!" for us.

Jen- I'm assuming that the John P. that commented earlier is your John P., so get him to explain to you all about the little red men (the good guys) and the C3H6O3 guys too (they're the bad guys). Good pillow talk...