Altitude -- Part One
Our photo this week is the Three Amigos (g, BDC and Denny) at 11,000 feet on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I mentioned to Brandon that we sure look better than I felt. I had progressed beyond seeing stars to seeing blotches.
It was likely the hypoxia but when Brandon asked me for the location of the nearest water fountain (at 11K) I laughed so hard that I triggered a massive coughing fit. Perhaps you had to be there...
Thursday afternoon here in Boulder and I have just finished the toughest three days of my current training block -- nine days of high volume start on Saturday. In the last 48 hours I managed 30 miles of running (avg elevation ~8,500 feet), ten hours of cycling and 10K of swimming. My final workout was a team time trial session where the lads took me to the point where I "lost interest". Currently, I am moving pretty slowly, especially up stairs.
Hands down, I have the most dedicated crew of homeboys anyone could ask for. Denny, in particular, has total dedication to getting the absolute best out of me on every bike session. I do get a little grumpy when he gives it an extra 30 watts as he pulls through but, hey, that's what I need.
Every coach that I've ever had has told me that it's important to place myself in situations where I'm not in control. Grumpiness is a sign of resistence -- I'm committed to riding more "clearly" next time. To ensure that the lads have an adequate incentive to ignore my pleas for mercy, I shall be offering a $5 cash bonus for anyone that beats me to the KOM point (TBA) in three week's time. They'd probably smash me for free but a little money always make it's more interesting.
Ghost Wars is finished -- read about your tax dollar at work! Given the popular mandate after 9/11, I can only imagine what the CIA have been up to over the last few years. What was most fascinating to me is the unintended consequences and changing dynamic of US foreign policy. A sure-fire policy ten years ago can seem totally boneheaded later. Stockdale's advice about the nature of military action is well taken -- clearly defined while being publicly supported by all of our leaders. Secret wars are far too easy to leave people swinging once the going gets tough.
I also read, "Where are the customers yachts?" An easy, and entertaining, read. Given my focus on personal excellence for Ironman Canada on August 26th, I've shut down new deal flow -- so this didn't hold quite as much interest as when I considering new deals in 2006. Made me smile though.
Right now, I am reading "The 4-Hour Work Week". This book comes the closest to how I make choices on a daily basis. The title, and promo, are a bit chessy and nearly put me off the purchase. I probably bought it because I wanted to see how I stacked up against the author -- I still tend to compete on multiple fronts.
So far, there are two key things that I've pulled out:
The Role of Management -- educating the team to effectively serve the goals of the company. Empowering employees to become effective, rather than efficient.
Dead Time -- I consider myself highly effective but it is amazing how much dead-space remains in my life. The author's point about relentlessly cutting out; "Not to do" lists; learning to say "no"; and relentless simplification are excellent reminders of the value that can be achieved from considering habits that hold us back. He's down to 60 minutes of email once per week. I'm bringing in a few new strategies to free more time for myself.
We're launching Alternative Perspectives this week (thanks to Brian Johnson). The first installment is Alan writing about Lydiard and the 100-Mile Run Week. When you read the article, remember that his athletes were likely running at an average of 10 mph. So the base program was ten-hours of max steady-state work per week (for the rest of your life). Interestingly, as a decent age-group ultrarunner, that duration was close to the max that I could handle. Back then we used to budget ten kilometers per hour and my big weeks were likely close to 100km.
I raced last weekend. Fortunately, my good buddy (Justin Daerr) wrote my race report for me. Just substitute "bike" for "swim" and you have my story. I signed up for a low-key local race and Hunter Kemper turned up! It ain't easy going short when you're a long course guy...
When I prepare for Canada, I like to include a lot of altitude training into my June program. My personal experience is that there is a big reduction in late-race fatigue that accrues to an athlete that has patiently assembled 10+ weeks at altitude.
For this discussion I'll define altitude in five categories. If I was writing to a mountaineering audience then I would change my definitions. When I was climbing high mountains, altitude was pretty much "why bother" until you were over 12K and didn't really start to dig in until over 17K.
Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet
Those are rough guidelines based on my personal experience. You could probably go +/- 500 feet at any end.
To give you an idea on how altitude impacts my running...
***Ten (flat-ish) miles at 10,300 was 7:14 per mile pace at 149 bpm (small HR variation)
***Fifteen (hilly) miles at ~8,500 feet was 6:48 per mile pace at 146 bpm (large HR variation)
***Three (flat) miles at sea-level was 5:59 per miles pace at 148 bpm (no HR variation)
I've found that the shortest "altitude" camp that makes sense is seven weeks -- two weeks easy; two weeks solid; one week easy; two weeks solid. The best duration (for me) is ten, or more, weeks.
Most visitors to altitude training locations try to cram too much, too quickly into their programs. The literature talks about low- and high-responding athletes. In my experience, it would be more accurate to classify them as impatient and patient athletes. Athletes that like to do a lot of tough training; tend to make themselves very tired, very quickly by rushing their adaptive periods. Altitude doesn't "work" for them because they are totally shagged when they leave.
I've found real altitude to be far better than artificial. On the artificial side, I've used IHT, low-O2 tents, and low-O2 rooms.
My expereince is that the "sweet spot" for an endurance athlete appears to be in the range of 7,500 to 8,500 feet. That's where I can get my pace rolling (when acclimatized) _and_ enjoy the hypoxic "benefits". At all levels of altitude, I use downhill running to get my cadence and speed up without red-lining my heart rate.
I believe that real altitude works best because, for endurance sports, the most effective adaptive mechanism appears to flow through desaturation that occurs while training at moderate and mod-high altitudes. The interuption to sleep, and slowing of recovery, that occurs from the low-O2 systems seems (to me) to be counterproductive. The delay in recovery that happens from artificial altitude was not outweighed by performance improvement.
I've also noticed that following an extended period of altitude training (say June) -- I am able to maintain my acclimatization with 2-3 weekly sessions at mod-high altitude -- these sessions need not be challenging, merely include 30-60 minutes of steady-state aerobic training. This frees me to do all my key specific prep sessions (July/August) at moderate altitude.
For my "speed" cycles I head down to sea-level. This past Spring, I used two camps (Nevada and California) that fit very well with my desire to boost my top-end performance as well as my Phase Two training (race cycle).
For recovery (including nightly sleep), I like to get as low as possible. It's tempting for athletes, especially those with access to artificial altitude, to crank up altitude stress when training stress is low. My own experience is that this is counterproductive.
Impact on all three sports -- I'm often asked by altitude-trained athletes how they should adjust their efforts for a triathlon at sea level. My own experience (Oly Distance, Half IM Distance, IM Distance) is that you don't change anything, you simply go faster at your 'normal' efforts. For races under two hours, I have found that I can generate (and sustain) higher heart rates, especially on the run.
So that's Part One -- if you have specific questions about altitude then send them along and I'll include them in Part Two. I only check emails on Monday so replies could take up to 14-days.
In order to give myself every opportunity to win Ironman Canada on August 26th, you may find my replies to questions to be a bit brief.