Breathe in…Breathe out…Check the pulse oximeter- 80%- simulating an altitude above 15,000 feet…Vision tunneling a bit…Check the watch- 3 more minutes to go…
Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE) was the method I chose to help me adjust from Saint Louis (465 feet above sea level) to the mountains of Utah (race start at 6,500 feet, climbing to 10,500 a few times). Rather than spend hundreds of dollars on an altitude sleeping tent (which my wife veto’d even before seeing the price), I decided to build my own. It was deceptively simple and, following the instructions from fellrnr.com, I ordered the parts and built it.
Essentially it’s a rebreather, where you filter your breath through a CO2 scrubber, and work to get the air your breathing in line with what you would experience if you were living at altitude. There are training programs that can be found on the site as well, and since I don’t do things halfway, I went straight for the “Extreme” regimen.
- 15 days, 1 hour per day consisting of 6 minutes using the contraption, 4 minutes breathing regular air
- Then 6 days on, same hour as above, followed by 10 days rest in a pattern until the race
- All the while, slowly lowering spO2 (increasing simulated altitude)
There are various studies on the effectiveness (or lack of) on both elite and non-elite athletes. Most of the studies focused on the improvement in performance at lower altitudes from training or living at higher altitude. I was less interested in that and more in being acclimatized to the altitude so I didn’t pass out in the first 30 minutes. I made it 6 hours with what I would consider a reasonable heart rate given the steepness of the terrain (see below), so I’m going to call my experiment of one a success.
That being said, as you probably guessed from the title, I still timed out of the race (35 racers started, 17 finished, hence the joint 18th place). I put it down to two things: hill training (or lack of) and strategy (again, lack of).
Near my house, I have a few roughly 50-100 foot hills to train on. I did hill repeats in a 30lb weighted vest on them. I did hill work on my treadmill. I ran two Spartan obstacle course races back-to-back.
The first climb in the slowly brightening dark started immediately and didn’t stop until we had climbed 3,400 feet in the first 5 ½ miles through big rocks, loose rocks and roots. Not my grassy hill. Not my tranquil stroll on my treadmill.
The next 11 miles “rolled”:
Down 1,200 feet in the next 2 miles
And then up and down over the next 8 miles…
My legs weren’t shot, but I wasn’t moving quickly. I thought, however, based on the race briefing and my Garmin, that I was on track to make the 5:45 cutoff with (not a lot, but some) time to spare. On the briefing, the aid station and cutoff were supposed to be at 15.7 miles. I didn’t get lost and can only assume my Garmin got it wrong. The aid station was at 16.7 miles and the extra mile took me 25 minutes to navigate. I missed the cut-off by 20 minutes.
So, cutting it WAY to close was a strategic mistake. Taking any distance in a trail run as gospel was also a rookie mistake that I shouldn’t have made. Too many things affect distance on the trail. I also had brought trekking poles but didn’t pull them out until I was struggling up a particularly fun hill during the 5th mile. It made things easier (mentally if not physically) and I may have gained a few minutes if I’d thought to bring them out earlier.
Here’s the link to my Garmin profile: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/829435785
So, live and learn. I may not be back next year, but I will be back. Next challenge is to apply what I’ve learned to the SRT Run/Hike. A 74 mile, self-supported race I’ll be running on September 18th and 19th.
In the meantime, run free!