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conditioning/altitude

FAQ and threads for those just starting to hike the Colorado 14ers.
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Postby thebeave7 » Wed Apr 18, 2007 10:11 pm

Good discussion, always love when I get to talk biology. I agree with several of the points made, your ability to perform at altitude is based off several factors; your bodies ability to take in oxygen, to move it to the necessary places, then the ability of the muscles to use O2 and the various sources of energy.

One subject briefly touched on earlier is the distribution of muscle fibers within an individual. While it is true we are all born with a predetermined number of each type(white/fast twitch, pink/fast oxidative, red/slow twitch), training can alter the percentage of each fiber type. So training can increase the endurance and/or strength of your muscles, it also helps you learn to move/process O2 more effieciently. So while the original statement that training doesn't help as much for a flatlander coming to altitude may be true to the extent that you will still be huffing and puffing, the muscle fatigue you experience after that 4000ft+ climb can be mitigated by training and increasing your red fiber count and efficeincy of O2 consumption.

Maybe USAKeller can answer this(or anyone else) but since VO2 max is "the amount of oxygen consumed in one minute of maximal exercise", this may not directly correlate to one's ability to hike/climb. VO2 max is measure at aerobic threshold/lactic acid threshold. When we hike/climb we are usually opperating well below our maximal level(I would assume). Thus VO2 max is measuring the limit of the ability of your muscles to process oxygen. Am I wrong, but it seems to be more of a speed measurement than prolonged slow paced endurance. Not saying it has nothing to do with fitness, just maybe not all that important for hiking.

Eric

PS I used to live in California(sea level, literally) and through training had no problems going from 0->14K in 2days. But that also comes down to physiology. Some people can adapt much more quickly to oxygen deprivation, while others have more issues. Example Ed Viesturs O2 consumption/efficiency is off the chart(can't remember the acutal numbers) and no matter how much I train and live at altitude I will never be able to process O2 like that.
Last edited by thebeave7 on Thu Apr 19, 2007 6:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Chris P. » Thu Apr 19, 2007 2:49 am

Last summer I experienced first-hand the phenomenon of people who are very physically fit not being able to perform at high altitude. I led backpacking trips for groups of high school kids in the San Juans. These kids would come mostly from Texas and the Midwest up to the Creede area, (9000+ feet) then we would take them up into the mountains. A lot of the kids were great athletes and were in very good condition, but the altitude just about killed some of them.

It was also interesting observing how my own body adjusted to spending continuous time at very high altitudes. When I was on the trail during the week, I was at anywhere from 10,000-14,000 feet continuously, and on the weekends, I was in base camp at 10,000. By the end of the summer I could climb fourteeners and not notice the thin air one bit.

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Postby TalusMonkey » Thu Apr 19, 2007 5:08 am

I agree that cardio fitness measured at a high output level does not necessarily equate to hiking/scrambling fitness. I cannot run a marathon (I can't run more than about 2 or 3 miles). But I know people who can run marathons who cannot keep up with me hiking 14er routes.

Hiking requires sustained output at a lower level. My heart rate is not that high when I'm hiking. Runners train at a higher level of output. Although cardio training of any sort is going to HELP with mountain performance, I think you can become a strong hiker by just hiking for long distance in the mountains.

USAKeller does cardio work up to 90 minutes a day, six days a week. I rely primarily on my weekend hikes for conditioning. Occassionally I might do 40 minutes of stepper or elliptical work mid-week. But we can still hike together - she's not running off on me on the trail.

Now, if we get chased by a bear, USAKeller might be able to run farther than me. I'll have to come up with other options... ;)

*** I also have a close friend and climbing partner who smokes cigarettes. She doesn't work out in the gym ever. And she can lead with the best of us on any Colorado mountain! She has great endurance and stamina at high elevation. And she can perform like this for multiple days with 5-6000' per day.
Last edited by TalusMonkey on Thu Apr 19, 2007 7:22 am, edited 2 times in total.
"When hiking in bear country one doesn't need to be the fastest runner in the party - just not the slowest."

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Conditioning and altitude

Postby kiliclimber7_17_02 » Thu Apr 19, 2007 6:50 am

Just a few comments. Since most people are affected by altitude over 8000 ft. you should expect to be significantly affected if you go 6000 feet higher. Fitness is important but so is hydration, eating during the climb and setting a pace you can sustain. I am 57 and no great athlete but by going slow I finished the 14ers last year, did Kilimanjaro and was at 21,000 on Aconcagua before the guides turned us around in a blizzard. There is no way I could have done that if I had to keep up with my son or other partners 20 years younger. I try to set a pace I can sustain, hydrate with a liter per 1000 ft of ascent, eat snacks and get on the trail early. I spend a lot of weeks working at sea level so will spend a night or two at my home in Silverthorne and try to really hydrate before hitting the trail. Anyway that formula has worked for me. Good luck.

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Postby ajkagy » Thu Apr 19, 2007 7:43 am

for me, i run probably 5-6 miles a day...it helps in conditioning and endurance, but I find it doesn't adequetly prepare me for hiking uphill all day long. I could run all I want, but when it comes down to it, the only thing that helps me is by getting out there and actually hiking up a mountain weekend and weekout. I guess I could do stair stepper or something, but I hate to exercise and still be in the same place the whole time.

When I lived in Chicago I would run up flights of stairs in the high rises. Ever run up the Sears Tower? Now thats a leg burner!

It's a combination of cardio endurance plus leg strength.

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Postby thebeave7 » Thu Apr 19, 2007 8:43 am

If you want to better tailor your running training to hiking/climbing activities here are a few things that I've found to help. First, run hills, I'm not talking 200-300ft climbs, but something like 1000ft+, and try to find a moderate grade. Second, slow the pace down so you are well below your lactic acid threshold, mixing running and walking during this kind of workout is perfectly fine(and should be done initially). Third, try to extend your workouts to a duration of 1h+, even if it's only 3-4days a week. I learned last year that when training for ultras that its the time you put in, not the distance(assuming similar energy output). I usually only run 3-4days a week, but each workout is 2h+. This is just what I've learned from more experienced runners and found helpful during ultra training, which pretty effectively helps me run uphills for a long time.
Eric

CG_old

Postby CG_old » Thu Apr 19, 2007 9:08 am

Pure VO2 Max isn't the only factor either... your ability to perform at a certain percentage of VO2 Max is also very important, some would argue just as important.

Person A may be quite gifted with a VO2 max of 80 and Person B may be more in the high average range at 50. If person B is sufficiently trained and able to exercise at 80% of his VO2 max for long periods of time and person A can only exercise at 40% of hers, you can see see that playing field becomes more level.

VO2 max is important, but it's not everything. I've got a friend who did a VO2 max study at CU and hers was only 38ml/kg/min... but she runs a 1:20 half marathon!

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Postby ajkagy » Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:12 am

thebeave7 wrote:If you want to better tailor your running training to hiking/climbing activities here are a few things that I've found to help. First, run hills, I'm not talking 200-300ft climbs, but something like 1000ft+, and try to find a moderate grade. Second, slow the pace down so you are well below your lactic acid threshold, mixing running and walking during this kind of workout is perfectly fine(and should be done initially). Third, try to extend your workouts to a duration of 1h+, even if it's only 3-4days a week. I learned last year that when training for ultras that its the time you put in, not the distance(assuming similar energy output). I usually only run 3-4days a week, but each workout is 2h+. This is just what I've learned from more experienced runners and found helpful during ultra training, which pretty effectively helps me run uphills for a long time.
Eric


thats good stuff...I may have to try that out. Thanks!

Postby lordhelmut » Thu Apr 19, 2007 10:41 am

Talus,

Thats really interesting stuff, here I go getting all excited about getting back into running 4 days a week and hiking on the weekends when all I need to do is stick to my old ways and just hike on the weekends long distances. Makes me feel better I'm not the only one who relies 100% on hiking mtns to stay somewhat fit.

And I've always wondered why my brother, who is at the Air Force and ran the Leadville 100 and finished within the required time, is always behind me when hiking 14ers. I think in addition to what your climbing muscles are used to, maybe add in the passion of the hobby or how bad you want to reach the summit or the view. Some people who are extremely fit may not be passionate mtn hikers/climbers and might lose interest, which totally defeats your moral. I just get up early (earlier if I'm not in shape) and get up it.

Also, in terms of coming from the East. In the past when I'd come out here, the trips I'd come after doing hill runs (3-4 miles) around my home in the Maryland country, I could handle 14ers a lot better with only a day of acclimitization, compared to when I'd lift and run flat terrains for longer distances, that wouldnt do much for me in terms of hiking 14ers. My brother and I came out here for a 2 months for a road trip in summer of 05' and drove straight from DIA to Silver Pick and climbed Wilson the very next day w/o experiencing any sort of problems. By the end of the trip we could hike mutiple 14ers, consecutive days in the row.

Bottom line, as long as your in good shape, it shouldnt be a problem

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Postby rider » Thu Apr 19, 2007 12:52 pm

I agree that one day at altitude make a huge difference in acclimating. I've lived in the LA area for the last seven years, so all my 14er trips to Colorado basically go from sea level to the mountains. I do work hard on road biking to whip myself into shape before my 14er trips, and it does help make hiking more comfortable ... but there's no substitute for a day or even just a night of acclimating.

I did a climb with zero acclimating a couple years ago ... flew to Denver in the morning, rented a car, and went straight out to climb the Kelso ridge. I successfully climbed Torrey and Grays, and I got back to the car ok. Altitude sickness hit during the drive to Vail. By the time I got to Vail, I felt terrible ... I skipped dinner and went straight to bed. The next day, I felt better again and climbed Holy Cross ... and I was fine after that.

Postby lordhelmut » Thu Apr 19, 2007 1:01 pm

Only time I have ever experienced any sort of effects from altitude is when we would drive up to pikes pk, probably gained too much elevation too fast. It was a feeling similar to eating way too much sugar, I felt somewhat sick to the stomach, mildly weak all over and pretty dizzy. The instant we made it back down to rt.24, I felt fine, so I'm assuming thats what "altitude sickness" is.

Postby lordhelmut » Thu Apr 19, 2007 1:04 pm

And I don't know if this is from altitude, but whenever I make it to the summit, I have, at times, fallen dead asleep up to 1 hour. I'm not physically that tired, in terms of joints, and I'm excited to be up there, but if I want to, I can put my head on my bag and find a nice spread, and doze. Luckily I've never woken up to a thunderstorm, and I've only passed out once (Torreys), but its a reoccuring event to take a power nap.

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