Friday, January 22, 2010

Dealing with Altitude

I have gone to moderate and high altitude a number of times. When I say altitude I mean like 8,000 feet or more or 2500 meters for the rest of the world. I handle altitude very well, I think. I have gotten altitude sickness a number of times like going from 6,000 to 11,000 feet in one day or trying to sleep above 20,000. However, I have never been so sick that I threw up or couldn't do things for myself unlike the experiences of many of my friends. In fact I have dealt with altitude so well that it's hard to describe how great I felt at 23,000 feet this summer. I was hungry. I ate everything in the tent that looked appetizing. That is not supposed to happen. People are supposed to lose their appetite at high altitudes. I also made the hike from camp two to camp three fairly fast. Still twice as slow as the fastest time from camp two to three that I have heard of, but faster than many.

All of that being said trying to run at altitude is hard. I did my first workout on a track Thursday at altitude, specifically 7200 feet. I ran 200s because one third of the track was iced over and I couldn't safely run farther. Anyway I was able to run the 200s within a second or two of what I would be running at sea level. That was not the problem though. when I jogged back to the starting line I would jog far slower than at sea level and never really get my breathing under control. In another example I was running a hard aerobic effort Tuesday in Denver on a treadmill. The pace I was running is one that is not terribly hard for me, except for running it at 5300 feet. As I ran the treadmill stopped at one point and asked to take my heart rate. I was thumping at 185. That is somewhat harder than what my heart should be beating at that pace. Yet both times my legs have not really gotten tired, I just can hardly breathe.

I know from limited reading that it takes three weeks for human bodies to start making more red blood cells, which in turn carry more oxygen, which in turn makes it possible to perform better at altitude. So two weeks into my new home at 7500 feet I still have not adjusted and am running nearly a minute per mile slower than normal for many of my runs. However, I remain hopeful that this physical stress will contribute to faster race times down the road.

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