High Altitude Training for XTERRA
By Rod Connolly
Make this the year you commit to racing in the thin air at Beaver Creek Resort in Avon, Colorado on July 14. The XTERRA Mountain Champs is at a beautiful resort, on scenic mountain trails, on a legit XTERRA course, with the sports best racers.
For all of you who live at lower elevations and think altitude racing against guys from altitude is a recipe for disaster – you’re right. But, it doesn’t have to be, you can do it and here is a piece written by an expert in altitude training with some advice and encouragement to get you there…
Why Altitude Training Can Benefit Your XTERRA Season
Training and recovering at altitude can be a contentious issue but there are certain benefits that cannot be refuted.
Typically there are 2 types of scenarios for XTERRA athletes who are looking for a block of training at altitude.
An athlete’s power output at VO2 max decreases about 2.3% from sea level to 5,000 feet. But then it decreases another 2.5% for every extra 1,000 feet of elevation. So athletes living in lower altitudes who are targeting a high altitude event will benefit greatly from a structured block of altitude training. Not only physiologically but also from understanding their pacing, fueling and hydration strategies at altitude.
An immediate response to an increase in altitude is an increase in respiration and metabolic rate. This increased respiration rate can make hard efforts feel like one is hyperventilating or gasping before they get acclimated to training efforts at altitude.
But repeated efforts during a training block at altitude will help the body adapt as the natural rhythm and rate of respiration increases due to the elevation. This increased respiratory rate also leads to a marked increase of water loss. A lower elevation athlete will almost always run into dehydration issues if they follow a similar hydration strategy as they use for lower elevation events. The increased elevation also speeds up the burning of carbohydrate for fuel. And the gastric system can become less efficient at assimilating foods for fuel at higher elevations.
It is easier for athletes to “bonk” at elevations and it is a great advantage to experience real world hydration and fueling strategies during an altitude-training block.
Athletes coming up in altitude for an event also suffer from the psychological unknown of competing at a higher elevation. They just don’t know how their body is going to react. A structured block of training at altitude and hitting race pace efforts allows the XTERRA racer get used to the change in respiration rate and recovery times and become comfortable with the change. Athletes can track how their body’s heart rates and power outputs are different than similar efforts at lower altitude and factor this into proper pacing for their target event.
The other primary physical adaptation to training and sleeping at altitude is a change in the blood. The kidneys increase their erythropoietin secretion to increase red blood cell count and oxygen carrying capacity. This is a good adaptation from a block of altitude training. Most of this adaptation occurs during recovery time and deep sleep. For athletes who primarily live at lower elevations sleeping between 8,000 and 9,000 feet is ideal during their altitude block as they get the large boost in the recovery and oxygen carrying hormones and still sleep soundly which often becomes compromised above 9,000 feet.
XTERRA athletes who live and mainly compete at lower elevations will get a noticeable benefit from a camp at altitude; especially for threshold and steady state type courses. Studies have shown a typical 3% increase in 40 k time trial power output on athletes returning from a 7-10 day altitude-training block to lower elevations. On lower elevation courses that are less stochastic in output, athletes will often set a PR after returning from a block of altitude training.
Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist, USA cycling coach and owner of Dogma Athletica- a premier altitude- training center located near Vail Colorado.
Dogma Athletica and The Cycling House are teaming up to provide a unique altitude-training XTERRA camp featuring Dogma Athletica athlete and XTERRA Mountain Champion Josiah Middaugh as head coach. The camp is June 18-24 and will be based out of a luxurious home in Beaver Creek Colorado right next to the Beaver Creek XTERRA Mountain Championships course. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com for details.
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