As my last block of training before heading into full blown race season, I had planned a training camp at altitude but I wanted to do it at home, in Victoria. Following the "sleep high, train low" philosophy, I decided to sleep at about 6000 feet while continuing to follow my VERY demanding training schedule without modification. This can be facilitated by using an altitude tent by Hypoxico. This year I have pushed to new levels not only cycling but definitely with my swimming and running, but using altitude can improve your aerobic fitness quicker and with less damage on your body because it will challenge your cardiovascular physiology without impact/training. There is a lot of debate over the effectiveness of altitude but I find it is mostly scientists that are debating whether it works. Coaches and athletes are just doing it and winning and not worrying about debates over scientific evidence. I truly believe that altitude, whether it is real altitude training or in a tent, works well for developing endurance fitness.
However, altitude is very demanding. There were some very ugly days in the pool, on the bike and trudging through some runs because altitude adds another heavy load to your body beyond what you are treating it to while training. Because I was still training at sea level, I could still do all of the quality work that I had planned, which really isn't possible when you go to altitude to train (at least until you are acclimated). It is important to use every physiological marker you can to determine how your body is recovering: your morning heart rate, your weight, an evaluation of how you are feeling and, particularly while training with altitude, your blood saturation (as determined with an oximeter). While training at altitude I use an oxygen monitor to determine exactly what % oxygen is inside the tent and an oximeter to see how this % oxygen is affecting me. HOWEVER, if one of these markers should be inaccurate, say due to an oximeter that is a piece of junk, you may make unfortunate decisions based on the marker. One of these poor decisions might be increasing the altitude. And thus begins the story as to why I skipped the NORBA in Fontana…..
So this is how it went. My Tuesday morning swim was great, the key workout for the week was the brick, which went amazing. Then I did the group ride and embarassed myself by getting dropped on every climb. My run on Thursday was average, my intervals on Friday weren't record breaking and I suffered through the group mtb ride on Saturday. By Sunday, I ran great… finally recovered. At that point I increased the altitude of the tent from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. The oximeter was telling me the altitude wasn't high enough. My body was thinking it was wrong but I thought I could trust the numbers. Took an easy Monday and hit it again, only increasing the number of run intervals off the bike. Tuesday was again, incredible, then the rest of the week happened. I was smashed on the group ride, slow run intervals… a similar pattern to last week only even more depressing. Only in the second week not only did my training reflect the load, but my morning heart rates were skyrocketing. By Sunday my morning heart rate was 20 beats above normal rested and I knew I was physically incapable of doing the entire load of volume and intensity I had planned. I packed it in early and started to wonder about that oximeter. I started taking readings after drinking a coffee. Basically that piece of junk read between 95% and 98% all of the time, no variation. I don't know how long it has not been working but I finally figured it out. Unfortunately, not before I had trained myself into a bit of a body bag… and it is frighteningly close to race season to need to take a break.