My blog today will be split into three parts: 1. Boring, science stuff, 2. Slightly less boring, workout stuff, and 3. A video.
Science behind altitude training + blood tests.
I spent the month of April in Flagstaff, Arizona with a few of my Speed River teammates. Training at altitude was a completely new experience for me, and I was excited to learn about the adaptations that take place within the body when at altitude. Bear with me as I attempt to regurgitate some of the information I learned.
For those unfamiliar, the concept of training at altitude has been around since the Mexico City Olympics, when athletes noticed an increase in aerobic power while training at altitude to acclimatize for the ’68 games.
The idea is that when you travel to higher altitudes, your body is forced to adapt to the lower barometric pressure of oxygen in the air, and your body (ideally) begins producing more red blood cells, and your hemoglobin mass increases. Not only are there adaptations in the blood, but scientists are now discovering benefits that occur within the muscles themselves when athletes are exposed to altitude for an extended period of time.
The downside to being at altitude is that training becomes more difficult when oxygen is scarce, and workouts need to be adjusted accordingly. While tempo run pace for me might be 5:00min/miles in Guelph, I might only be able to handle 5:20min/miles in Flag at the same effort level. For this reason, we travelled down to Sedona, which is at a lower elevation, once or twice a week, to perform higher quality workouts. Therefore, Flagstaff is situated in an ideal location, where you can live high, and within an hours drive, train low.
Training at altitude and learning about the science behind it all was a completely new experience for me, and I was extremely excited to see how I’d respond and my body would adapt to the new stimulus. On day 2 of the trip, we visited a lab that measured our hemoglobin mass, and we then returned at the end of the trip to perform the same test and see how our blood values changed.
Bad news: Today, I received the results of those tests, and while everybody else in the group saw jumps of between 4-8% in their hemoglobin mass, mine went unchanged. While hemoglobin is only one metric amongst several, it was still a little upsetting to not see some tangible results from those tests. I’ve since been assured that while my hemoglobin mass didn’t change, there are still plenty of other adaptations that could have happened. I was also told that my hemoglobin is naturally on the high end, even for elite athletes, and people with naturally high hemoglobin are sometimes non-responders to altitude exposure.
Test results aside, I still feel like my trip to Flag was a huge success. I had some great workouts in Flag and down in Sedona, and think my time there will set me up for a good track season.
A couple of the sessions I was most happy with:
At 7000ft: 12×400 w/1min rest. Averaged around 64-65. Ran my last one in 56.
At 7000ft: AM: 11miles with 2mile tempo+ 4min,3min,2min,1min tempo with 2mins rest at Buffalo park. Then later in the day, did 5×300 with 2min rest at 43.7, 43.4, 43.7, 42.2, 39.6.
Aside from Speed River, there were plenty of other Canadian groups living in Flagstaff as well. We often went to the track around the same times, and it was cool getting to see the different training approaches and workouts that the others were doing (it was especially insightful seeing how my competition trains. Looking at you, Chuck!). CPT joined us for a tempo the second week we were there, which offered an interesting dynamic to the group. Tempo pace quickly turned into VO2 max pace as everybody felt a little threatened by the presence of our temporary training partner (me as the groups 1500 guy, Chris as the groups aerobic power guy, and Alex as the groups token French guy). Nonetheless, it was great having a few different faces in workouts, and helped break up the monotony of training with the same guys over and over.
I left Flagstaff the fittest I’ve felt since joining Speed River (which admittedly isn’t a huge statement), and anxious to get the racing season underway.
As is becoming tradition, I’ve put together a video with random clips from the trip. As is also becoming tradition, I had to make fun of Barry a bit. It’s just too easy.