Saturday, December 8, 2012

Q & A on altitude

 I would love to hear other's thoughts on racing at high altitude. Any tips from past experience that may help?    This is a fairly common question (problem) but Dave's question speaks specifically to a 10 day pre-race block.

Question from Dave: I want to do the UROC 100K in Breckenridge, CO on 9/28/13. Problem is I live and train at sea level near San Francisco.
 Going to make a vacation out of UROC by heading up for some altitude acclimatization while watching several friends race IM Lake Tahoe the week before (staying @ 5000ft, running @ 6000-8000 feet for 5 days) , then drive (2 days) to Breckenridge with arrival 3 days before my event (staying @ 9600 feet with all Breckenridge training runs/hikes at as high as I can get ~11K-12K). The big unkonwn for me is the altitude.
 Will going up to 6000 ft @ Tahoe help all that much for a race at 9000-12000 feet 10 days later? I've never run above 8000 feet before.



My answer: I like this question. Essentially will 5 days at ~6k and then 5 days at 9k+ altitude be beneficial. We'll answer this on the podcast on Wednesday... but the short answer is definitely.
The #1 thing you have to do though is not cook yourself. Recovery will be diminished and even a moderate effort will fatigue you more than you're used to- and at altitude that fatigue just hangs around. The first ~1-2 days you'll feel fine and then the altitude is going to slowly affect you, it will have a cumulative effect. If you push the training then you'll likely be in a hole for UROC. But if you relax and don't over do it then you'll gradually feel better and better.
Of course there's a significant genetic component here. If you're a 'responder' then you'll do well. If you're a 'non-responder' then you won't acclimate as quickly. That's something that you will find out.
I would also highly recommend increasing your carbohydrate intake, particularly immediately following workouts. I've lived at 8200+ft altitude now for close to 5 years and this is possibly my #1 rule for recovery (outside of not doing runs that I can't recover from) Your metabolism is going to very readily prefer CHO at any bump in effort, so you'll deplete more quickly. Remember that V02 and LThreshold are significantly lower especially above ~7800ft. A typical recovery intake for me is ~1 liter of water + 40-50g of CHO (Gatorade works well) in the 30:00 post run. Also the air is going to be dry and you'll lose fluid due to respiration alone, hydrate well but don't over do it. A rough guide is to pee every ~2 hours (this is speaking to the time that you'll be in Breck), in Tahoe you may not see a big difference from where you live now, but still pay attention. The more time you spend at altitude, with smart training, the better. It's much better than not spending any time at altitude.
I would also tell you to place a strong focus (~7 sessions in the 12 weeks leading up) on V02 max and try to really make sure you strengthen this before heading up. Also getting lean, get your diet lined out and get body fat % as low as you safely can. At 9000+ ft every pound of useless weight you carry is going to be significantly harder to carry... plus it's a waste of blood/ O2. T

22 comments:

GZ said...

I think you nailed it. All that said, the biggest variant in the equation is DAVE. There are just some dudes who blow up at 9k but can kill stuff at lower elevations.

When I look at the folks who have done incredibly well at altitude, they trained the crap out of it. Kim Dobson last year showed us that a summer of nailing altitude trains the brain that you can do near "normal" things up there (when everyone else is falling apart). Of course, 10 days ain't gonna do that for Dave.

I'd suggest Dave be real careful with that stuff up high with his runs and hikes. He is not going to get a ton of benefit (I think) physically, but more a familiarity (central gov) as to what he can do.

Lucho said...

GZ- I was hoping you would add your 2 cents (generally worth a few dollars)Not sure I know of anyone who regularly doubles their altitude for training/racing like you do.
For sure Dave is going to respond to altitude in his own way, no science will be able to predict that. Experience/fitness is it.
And I think your last paragraph is the key to either failure or success... spot on.

GZ said...

Kim Dobson's effort on the Ascent this year, where she crushed the record, and ran from tree line (A frame) faster than all but 2 people ... well, I think it shows that for the folks who want to be largely successful at altitude, if they don't have a genetic disposition against it, and have the time to work it (Dave does not) - they can be.

At Pikes, the last three miles are VERY VERY runable. But the fact that people have run 10 miles with 5k gain and that they are altitude, they shut down.

If that is not something someone can train to deal with, I don't know what is. It is really a choice.

Brett said...

Yea the delicate part will be that he'll be entering the taper phase heading up to UROC at the same time he's hitting altitude. He will probably have to be double careful and if there is any doubt err on the side of easier, no?

Jill said...

I know a flatlander who trained for Pikes Peak by breathing out of a straw. I don't know (I've read both positive results and not so much on this), but he had an excellent race.

Lucho said...

IMO there's almost zero benefit to doing anything that I would call 'training'. If you're actually training then that implies that you're doing something that breaks you down. I would have him never go beyond ~1 hour and never above MAF. Possibly 1-2 sessions with downhill strides of 15"-30". MAYBE one moderate, ~30:00 tempo run in Tahoe to keep blood volume up. But really, 10 days out and there's little left to do other than rest and keep loose. Definitely err on the side of caution.

Lucho said...

Ya, there's a few altitude simulation methods out there similar to that. The Mask is one. I'm skeptical. There is anecdotal evidence, maybe some science. My guess is that the hypoxia from doing this allows you to feel your central governor kick in which is always a good thing. A dry sauna is another altitude simulation technique and there is some science behind the association with thermoregulation and EPO response. Overdressing on runs to raise body core temperature and also increase blood flow to the skin (which deprives vital organs of oxygen) If it works you, or even if you just THINK it works, then go for it I say.

Anonymous said...

This is unrelated to altitude but wanted your opinion on the first ever declared tie at Xterra World Trail Run championships Dec 2. Looks to me like bib #1 should have been relegated for pushing bib #8 right before the line. Thoughts?? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HV-n9DKEuI&feature=plcp

Lucho said...

Did Joseph protest? If he didn't then why not?

Brett said...

I don't think the shoulder check did anything other than keep bic #1 from winning, since he was coming from behind. If he would have used that energy to thrust forwards instead of sideways, he might have won. What an ass munch.

Lucho said...

Brett- That's what it looks like to me too. If he hadn't shoulder checked him he would have won, cost himself the race.

Steve Pero said...

I also now live at 8200' in Northern NM., have been here for 2 years. I hardly notice any altitude above 10K now, but will mention that my 2 Hardrock finishes came while living in NH at around 1K and living in Silverton (9318') for 2 weeks before. I have yet to finish Hardrock while living in NM. ;-)

Best of luck Dave, I hope to also be running UROC.

Lucho said...

Steve- That's funny (not as in haha but odd) that you haven't nailed HR when you were more altitude trained. Going to show that race execution is the key? Possibly more rested when you cam from NH?
You guys have any snow yet?

ultrahoosier said...

To me, living at altitude, the challenge isn't acclimating for racing... it is acclimating for recovery. At sea level, my middle aged body heals up quickly. Not so here.

Wondering if there are techniques to help with that. CHO intake - to help restore energy or are you implying it can help with healing. Any thoughts (other than hyperbaric chamber)?

Lucho said...

ultrahoosier- Absolutely. Recovery is very much compromised. When I first moved up here I thought I could handle training like I had been at 5500ft and I melted down. A hyperbaric chamber would be great to use once in a while for sure. The CHO immediately post workout is important to replenish carbohydrate stores which are more readily depleted at altitude. MAP (Master Amino Pattern) certainly helped me a lot this past year. Diet is critical for recovery/ healing so making sure to get adequate protein and quality fat is key. Outside of the immediate post run CHO- limiting processed CHO is important and focusing more on vegetables and fruits. Nothing at all profound in this, yet it still tends to confuse nearly everyone. But really the number ONE rule for recovery is to avoid doing workouts that you can't recover from. Not tipping over that point takes a fine tuned PE but your body will tell you (sometimes scream at you) to ease off whether that be mileage or intensity. When I finally figured out how to train well at altitude 1-2 full rest days were a huge part of this. Also including cycling in to the mix which still provides a big training stimulus but with out as much pounding or fatigue.

Anonymous said...

I use to live at straight sea level and compete in ultras at altitude, 6000-12,500ft. By sea level, I mean on the beach! My method of madness was to do soft sand runs pulling a 50lb sled and wearing an "Elevation training mask" i.e. gas mask with restrictor plates instead of a canister. Never had a problem with altitude at my events, other than at Leadville I had 2 days of initial acclimating where I had a splitting headache and nausea, but by race day I felt fine. Of course it was probably just the factor of good fitness and ability to tolerate suffering by pulling a sled while not being able to breathe, because when I checked my O2 saturation it was still a horrible 92%.

Sean said...

Lucho,

What's your opinion on blood donation during training? I (try to) donate regularly, 8 weeks, but will forgo any donation w/in a few weeks of a focus race/period due to increase fatigue. However, i was wondering if you believe there is ANY benefits that can be achieved by donating, other than the whole "saving a few lives";)?

Lucho said...

Anon- Awesome, I love it! That's hardcore which is probably (mostly) why you did well. I think you're right on the mental component... if you can do that workout then your brain is a rock.

GZ said...

Sean - there is apparently some evidence that you can get a gain by donating, but it comes at the price of the donation (and so a short term loss).

Of course when you donate, you lose plasma (back with 24 hours) and RBCs. The RBCs can take 4-6 weeks to regenerate, so there is the loss.

But the gain is potentially this: You bring new rbc's into the mix. Apparently their ability to bind oxygen is greater than "old" cells. And so that is the benefit.

In my mind then it becomes a wash. You are decked from donating and getting a very hard to measure gain down the road. But did you lose the ability to train well after the donation? Probably.

That said, if you are donating, you are probably not doing it for some training effect alone.

Lucho said...

Sean- It can take ~2 weeks to fully replenish the blood loss. But I would argue if that lost blood really matters? If you're really pushing volume and intensity to your limit, then probably. But I don't think we need to be at 100% in order to get the work done. So I doubt it affects you and your timing of the donation sounds good. As far as benefits of blood letting? I don't think there is anything proven unless you have very high iron counts (hematomacrosis which is genetic). It could be thought that the body's lack of RBCs would trigger the body to produce more EPO. Not sure about that though. I would think the loss of quality training (less fitness) would even out the benefit?
Keep donating! And just time it so you don't have any hard training soon after (within ~3-4 days) or a key race within ~3 weeks and you'll be good!

Lucho said...

Ha! Good timing GZ! I've read ~2 weeks for RBC rebuilding, but I can promise (and I should have thought of this, so I think GZ is correct here) an athlete is going to be different. ALL of the medical advice is based on the typical human under very little physical stress. (anemia comes to mind here- what is considered anemic for a sedentary person is not the same for a runner) You have to consider if the advice applies to you as an athlete. But ya, any benefit from donating will probably be a wash with the loss of quality training.

Sean said...

Lucho and GZ,

Thanks fellas! I've tossed this topic around with my dad (MD & runner) he feels the same.

Most definately decked after donation; DO NOT attempt stair climbing race post bleed. Trust me.

Back to lurking...