DIARY: Altitude Training

Hi received some bizarrely good news today. I have now had two of my scheduled 15 altitude training sessions with the Peak Centre, a training programme that will peak out around this year's Carrauntoohil race and in the six weeks after.

I have responded remarkably well to the training so far. Even though I am born 5 m below the level of the sea (and lived at that altitude until the age of 19), the thin air that this training subjects me to has not managed to lower the oxygen levels in my blood to below 94%. The average for a person subjected to the thinness of air that I have been, would be 80%! So this is superb news before I undertake any trips to higher mountains, and even better for my longterm target of completing the Everest Marathon.

What is this "Altitude Training", you ask? Oh yes, let's get the chicken before the egg.

Altitude Training
Altitude Training is performed using a specialised apparatus that you connect yourself to via a breathing mask. The air filtered through by the device can simulate the thin air you'd find at up to 6.5km of altitude or the same altitude as Camp 2 on Everest.

Altitude Training, or , grants you many of the same benefits as the various respiratory training devices (of which I use PowerBreathe, which focuses on inhalation, I'm considering buying Powerlung as well, since it allows you to resistance train exhalation as well).

These techniques do not work against one another, though, quite the contrary. While respiratory trainers (of which I'll talk another day), strengthen your respiratory muscles, primarily the diaphragm. The positive effects are better lactacte levels (e.g. less muscular acidosis), less breathlessness, lower heartrate, and the ability to draw in more oxygen with fewer breaths.

Altitude Training will provide many of the same benefits, but through a wildly different channel, thus, it will work synergistically with any respiratory training that you do.

How does it work?
Altitude Training, or Hypoxic Training as its scientifically know, plays on a curiousity of the human physiology's ability of extreme adaptation.

By being subjected to thin air for 5 minutes, then taken back to normal for 5 minutes, then subjected to thin air again, etc., for an hourlong session, an ancient defense mechanism is triggered. Somehow, these short periods of exposure, is enough to trigger our latent defense mechanisms against thin air, and this causes the body to undertake several physiological changes leading to benefits such as:

  • Drop in the resting heart rate
  • Rise in haematocrit value (interestingly, often beyond 50%, which is the level that the bicycling world automatically considers to be "illegal" and "doped". Seems someone is not paying attention)
  • VO2 max increase (e.g. larger oxygen consumption)
  • Increased density of mitochondria (mitochondria are the power plants of our cells, interestingly, they have their own DNA, and are, in effect a separate organism embedded into most living creatures on the planet)
  • Raised metabolism/better circulation
  • Better recovery and sleep and reduction of stress

The effects are not permanent, however, but you get 15 sessions for 150euro (you have to do them within 3 weeks), and your values will peak 2 weeks after the training finishes and then gradually fade over the next 4 weeks. All-in-all you get at least 6 weeks of improved performance, or in my case, 13 races in the period from 30th of May to 15th of July.

Tomorrow, I'll continue with only my third session, so let's see if we can get that oxygen level dumped beneath 80% (I want to try that nausous feeling they are talking about!).