Several years ago a buddy and I decided to train for a trail run. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, we live at roughly 5,000 feet and the trail run would be at elevations between 4,000 and 8,500 feet. As we began training in the mountains at higher elevations, we both noticed a marked shortness of breath. We believed it was the altitude affecting us.
As we continued training, we both noticed that it seemed that the altitude was bothering us less and less – even though we had just a few hours of exposure each week. Because most literature supports a “stay at altitude for three weeks” format of altitude acclimatization, I wondered if anyone had looked at intermittent exposure.
I contacted Dr. Randy Wilber, head physiologist for the U.S.Olympic Training Center and asked if he had seen anything on intermittent exposure. He said he hadn’t. I asked his opinion on the experience we had with our once-per-week format and he said that though there’s no evidence, he had to believe that some expose is better than none and does offer some form of adaptation.
When I was training for the trail run, I had no way to easily measure whether my weekly exposure was beneficial or not.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I purchased a pulse oximeter in 2010. Since that time, I’ve taken samples of oxygen saturation (SPO2) at 5,000 feet and at 9,100 feet for myself. Know that this is a sample size of one and the experiment was far from controlled and scientific. That written, here’s what I’ve found:
SPO2 at home, 5,000 feet runs 98 most of the time
SPO2 at 9,100 feet runs 92 if I have not been at altitude for over four weeks
If I have 24 to 72 hours of exposure to 9,100 feet every three weeks, SPO2 runs at 96 (know that I sleep at 9,100 and exercise is most often at higher altitudes)
At the end of last summer, when altitude exposure at 9,100 was more frequent than every 21 days, my SPO2 would be between 97 and 98
In summary, for me, intermittent exposure to altitude does help SPO2 and I can feel the difference as well. It's an advantage for me. Though I didn’t collect as much data on pulse rate, I did see pulse rate drop on a track similar to the rise in SPO2. This is good - more oxygen saturation for less work for my heart.
If you wonder what’s happening to your oxygen saturation when you travel to the mountains for fun, training or racing I suggest picking up a pulse oximeter and taking some measurements. You can get a quality device for around $50.
For awhile, I’ve tried to determine if repeated short-term exposure to altitude can help with the acclimatization process. This curiosity is geared primarily for people living in a Front Range situation and then doing fun activities, training or racing in the mountains.
To help me determine if short-term exposure to altitude might help acclimatize people so that they can enjoy fun activities, training and racing at altitude, I picked up a pulse oximeter. I mentioned the pulse oximeter in a 2010 blog. My personal interest in the numbers is for alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, trail running, road cycling, mountain biking and hiking.
A pulse oximeter is a non-invasive way to measure the amount of oxygen the blood is carrying. The number displayed is expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount the blood could carry at 100 percent. At sea level, typical saturation values are 97 to 99 percent in healthy people. At 5,000 feet it might drop to 95 percent and at around 10,000 feet it may dip to 90 percent. Somewhere around 10,000 feet there is a big change and oxygen saturation can drop to 80 percent or below.
Acclimatizing to various altitudes can help improve these numbers up to a point. Know there is individual variability in the acclimation process and there is even variability among native dwellers at any altitude, beginning at birth.
Children born at various altitudes have similar oxygen saturations during the first 24 to 48 hours of life and the values change within the first four months of life. For example, newborns in Denver, Colorado (5,280 feet, considered moderate altitude) have saturation levels of 85 to 97 percent while those born in Leadville, Colorado (10,152 feet, considered high altitude) are 85 to 93 percent.
Though the time periods noted in a medical column weren’t exactly the same, it is interesting to note that after four months, the Leadville infants were between 89 and 93 percent saturation during wakefulness. Healthy, awake infants under the age of two measured between 90 and 99 percent in Denver. So there was some shifting up, particularly on the low end.
You can pick up a pulse oximeter at many local pharmacies. A common use for these devices includes measuring oxygen saturation in people with compromised lung function. Pilots and mountain climbers also use the devices to determine when supplemental oxygen might be necessary to avoid fainting.
I’ve been playing with an oximeter to look at oxygen saturation at my house (roughly 5,000 ft. measured on my Garmin) and Frisco, Colorado (roughly 9,100 ft.) I did this because much of my fun, training and racing is done at altitudes of 7,500 ft. or more and I was curious if my oxygen saturation changed much between the Front Range and the Colorado mountains.
The next blog will be more about what I’ve noticed in my experiment of one.
Yesterday I was talking with a person I hadn’t seen in awhile. This person told me they were interested in entering a race (in this case a sprint triathlon) but they didn’t want to enter the event because they were afraid of being last and having everyone stare at them.
Here’s what I said:
People are more concerned about themselves and not nearly as concerned about you. If I were to survey the entry field, I suspect not one person would care about who comes in mid-pack, tenth from the end, second from the end and last.
If you show up to the start line, you are miles ahead of all the people mashing a$$ on the couch made by Excuses and the chair made by Empty Promises. You’ll never be last.
I got a note that the person entered a race this summer.
If you are trying to establish new habits as of January 1, you've been working towards those goals for close to two weeks now. You’ve got to have an initial goal, or subgoal, to stay consistent through March 6th.
Can you be consistent with your current diet and exercise program until March 6th?
I think you can, if you have written goals and personal reasons to fuel your desire and drive.
Alberto Salazar’s high sweat rate of 3.7 liters (125 ounces) per hour is highly publicized. Recently, I was asked if I knew of higher sweat rates. I decided to ask the expert.
I met Dr. Lawerence Armstrong, author of Performing in Extreme Environments, a few years ago and dropped him a note to ask if he knew of recorded sweat rates higher than Alberto Salazar's. He referred me to Michael F. Bergeron, Executive Director of the National Institute for Athletic Health &Performance and National Youth Sports Health &Safety Institute. Dr. Bergeron is also a professor at the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.
Here is what Dr. Bergeron wrote:
Below are the two highest measured sweating losses/rates I have observed.
30-year-old male recreational runner, 70 minutes of running at race pace on a treadmill in an environmental chamber (77°F, 60% relative humidity), sweat loss (over 70 min): 4.09 liters (138.3 fluid ounces)
~28-year-old male professional tennis player, 60 minutes of moderate running on a treadmill in an environmental chamber (97°F), sweat loss (over 1 hour): 4.3 liters (145.4 fluid ounces)
At 24 ounces per large bicycle water bottle, the professional tennis player is losing some 6 bottles of fluid per hour. That’s alot of sweat!
The first time I was introduced to this type of exercise, it was to rehabilitate a sprained ankle. One purpose of the exercise is to strengthen the tendons and ligaments in the ankle. That’s just the beginning.
You can also use these exercises to build strength in the ankles to help prevent serious ankle sprains. Sure, at one time or another you’ll rollan ankle, but having strong tendons and ligaments might keep an otherwise minor sprain from being a bigger problem. You can also build some strength in all of the stabilizing muscles in the lower leg.
In addition to strength, you need balance. As a runner you do land on each foot and that foot is expected to hold your body weight and keep you balanced until the other foot takes over. As a skier, particularly a Nordic skier, you must commit your body weight to a foot and glide on that foot (ski) for more than the brief moment. In fact in contrast to skiers, the fastest runners want to spend the least amount of time touching the ground. The fastest skiers get the most glide from each ski placement which requires a sort of strength and balance endurance. It doesn't matter whether you walk, run or ski, these exercises can help you.
(A view from Shock Hill at Breckenridge Nordic Center 12-30-11)
Boiled down, you stand on one foot. Seems pretty easy, doesn’t it? I’ve never met anyone that could “easily” (never tapping the airborne foot down to secure balance) do these exercises the first time. Below are four variations of standing on one foot to build strength and balance. Start with the first one and progress as you gain skill.
Looking forward, stand on one foot and count 1001, 1002, 1003, 1004, 1005. Switch feet. Repeat five to 10 times. The non-weight-bearing foot can be anywhere – begin with it close to the ground. As you progress, build up to 30 seconds per foot.
Looking forward, stand on one foot and count to five. Remain on that foot, look over your right shoulder and count to five. Remaining on that foot, look over your left shoulder and count to five. (The weight-bearing foot gets a count of 15 total before resting.) Switch feet. Repeat each foot five to 10 times.
Do progression number 2 with your eyes closed.Tougher than you thought, eh?
While standing on one foot, raise your knee until your femur is parallel to the ground. Count to five. Repeat five to 10 times. As you progress, build up to 30 seconds per foot.
If you’re following one of my training plans, you can easily add one of the exercises below into your strength training session, starting as early as the Anatomical Adaptation (AA) phase. If your plan doesn’t call for strength training, do the exercise before you do a cycling or running session.
Doing just one variation of these exercises one to three times per week can make a difference. If you do it, let me know how it goes and the changes you notice. (You can comment on my Facebook link, but not yet on Active due to hackers.)
PS…I’m guessing you will need to try this right now, just to prove I’m wrong and that you are special and can easily balance on one leg with your eyes closed and move your head and airborne leg anywhere you please. You won't prove me wrong.