Altitude training is seen as a major tool by most endurance sports and teams, and we at Team NB MCR are no different. In order to compete with the best athletes in the world, we believe using altitude is a vital component of training and preparation.
So why go altitude training? At a basic level, we go altitude training to increase the amount of haemoglobin in our blood, which gives us a greater oxygen carrying capacity and thus helps us perform better over an endurance event.
So how does altitude training work? The theory behind altitude training is that at a higher altitude, there is less oxygen available for the body due to lower barometric and atmospheric pressures. This puts your cardiovascular system under increased stress and so you have to work harder to supply the required amount of oxygen to your muscles. Therefore, physiologically, the body is forced to adapt to these changes and demands in a number of ways, such as an increased heart rate and respiratory rate. Most importantly, in an attempt to improve the oxygen supply to your muscles, there is an increase in haemoglobin, red blood cell count and haemocrit. It is these changes in the blood that we are looking for when we go altitude training so that when we return to sea level to race, we do so with a greater oxygen carrying capacity, which should enable us to perform at a higher level than before.
How long should an altitude camp last? Most of the adaptations do not occur overnight and it is recommended that you spend a minimum of three weeks at a time at an altitude base for adaptation to occur. However, with an easy first week of training, coupled with a taper before a race this may not leave much time for any hard training! As a team, we go for four weeks minimum and longer if possible.
Other Benefits? Another benefit to altitude training is the camp mentality that comes with it. We are able to focus purely on running with minimal day-to-day distractions, which allows everyone to step up in their professionalism and dedication. The change in running environment and scenery are also beneficial, and can be a refreshing break from the regular running and daily life back home. This helps bring a renewed energy and enthusiasm to training.
Altitude Venues? At Team NB MCR we use a number of altitude camps depending on the time of year. Typically, the year will be structured as follows:
Oct/Nov: Iten, Kenya/ Font Romeu, France
Jan: Iten, Kenya
March/April: Flagstaff, AZ, USA
July/August: Font Romeu, France
Each venue serves a different purpose for the time of year. Iten, Kenya can be used during the European winter as it provides good weather, high altitude and tough running terrain that are needed for base miles during this phase of training. Flagstaff, Arizona again provides high altitude with a number of training venues and terrains, and the ability for the group to “live high – train low” where key sessions can be run at lower elevation in Sedona. America at that time of year also offers great racing opportunities, such as the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University. Font Romeu, in the French Pyrenees, can serve as a good base during the European track season. It has moderate altitude, a variety of trails, easy access to a track and the possibility to run at slightly lower and higher elevations.
We will be giving an update on this autumn’s altitude camp in the coming weeks as Charlie and Ross are currently out in Font Romeu with British Athletics for the next month. They arrived last Thursday and have gradually been building up the intensity and duration of their runs to allow adequate acclimatization. A key measuring tool during this time is oxygen saturation levels in the blood. It can vary for each individual but at the elevation of Font Romeu it usually sits at 94-96% once acclimatized. Anything lower than this then the individual may need some additional time to get used to the altitude. The guys have settled in well and are enjoying plenty of miles in the mountain sunshine and rarefied air!
This weekend sees the team return to racing with Andy competing at the English National Cross Relays in Mansfield on Saturday and Jonny stays on the roads at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10km on Sunday. Good luck guys!