So it is safe to say I have been pretty busy recently! Rewind to a year ago, I was a slave to the road, chasing faster marathon times and not really making much time for anything else. I have spoken quite a lot now about how I have lost the love for chasing times and I have now fallen into the world of trail, ultras & mountain running! Back in June I took on perhaps my biggest challenge to date, a 60km mountain run as part of the Adidas Infinite Trails Race.
As much as I love living in London, unfortunately it can make training for a mountain race quite difficult, yes we have some pretty tasty hills but it isn’t quite the same and there are so many other factors to think about, including altitude. Races that are altitude are a completely different ball game, once you reach a certain level of altitude (approx 2700m) the percentage of oxygen in the air drops significantly (from around 21% at sea level, to 15%) which will have a big affect on how your body uses oxygen when you run and means that you will feel like you have to work harder than usual, but not necessarily seeing this reflected in your pace/times.
On the short notice I had for Infinite Trials, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to get ready, and after reaching out, I was very fortunate that The Altitude Centre invited me along to their clinic in Bank, London to use their facilities and help me to prepare. I have no doubt that the sessions I did made a difference and not only helped me to adapt to altitude better, but also helped to improve my aerobic endurance in general. I was in there 5/6 days a week, taking part in classes, recovery cycles and using the POD to expose my body to different altitudes. I will be honest, it wasn’t the most structured plan, but I was just doing what I could in a short space of time, however.. we have partnered up again, and this time we have more time to prepare and have put a proper plan in place!
If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that recently I announced my next challenge for 2019, and that is that in October I will be heading to Jordan (#JordanInJordan) to take on my first multistage, 250km ultramarathon with Ultra X. Now, although I will not be climbing mountains or running at altitude, there have been a number of studies done now about how training at altitude can have a significant improvement on your overall aerobic fitness. This is why Olympic athletes spend months of their training blocks at altitude camps, so they can reap the benefits when they are back at sea level.. but unfortunately for most of us we don’t have the time or money to disappear off for weeks at a time, which is where The Altitude Centre comes in!
So, this week after a well deserved break post Infinite Trails & Race to the Stones, I headed back to the centre to get a plan put in place, which hopefully alongside all my other training will get me in the best shape possible ahead of my next challenge. Unfortunately as with all good plans, you need to know where your starting point is, which meant for my first session back I had to do a fitness test, GREAT!
To begin with, we ran through a series of health tests (you know, to make sure I wasn’t going to keel over on the treadmill)
**Full Disclosure – I am still in recovery from my last two ultra marathons, I know that my body is tired, my HR is higher than usual on runs and my fitness levels have dropped. So perhaps if I had done the test when I was fully fit, the results would have been slightly different, however this is where I am at currently so its still a good base to work from**
Health Test Results
Systolic blood pressure: 132 mmHG – Pre-Hypertensive
Diastolic blood pressure: 79 mmHG – Optimal
Systollic – Pre-Hypertensive: Systolic blood pressure represents the highest blood pressure your system is exposed to. As such, NHS guidelines recommend systolic blood pressure should be under 120 mmHg. Your blood pressure, as measured today was higher than optimal, known as pre-hypertensive. Whilst this could be transiently caused by stress or caffeine** , you may wish to have this checked by a medical professional. Remember that at altitude, it is likely your blood pressure will rise further due to the low availability of oxygen.
Diastollic – Optimal: Diastolic blood pressure represents the blood pressure when your heart rests between beats. As such, it is the lowest blood pressure your body is exposed to, and NHS guidelines recommend diastolic blood pressure should be under 80 mmHg. Your blood pressure, as measured today, falls within the optimal category. Continue to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Remember that at altitude, it is likely your blood pressure will rise due to the low availability of oxygen.
**definitely blaming the caffeine, whoops!
Resting Heart Rate During your blood pressure test, we also measured your resting heart rate. Today, your resting heart rate was:
78 bpm Normal
Normal: Generally a low resting heart rate is a good sign of high fitness. Following a block of altitude training your resting heart rate will fall as your fitness increases. A heart rate under 60 bpm is called Bradycardia, or “Athlete’s Heart” and is a sign of good fitness. Your resting heart rate measurement today was in a normal range.
Breath Hold Response
You were able to hold your breath for: 51s
Very good: the breath hold test is used to assess your tolerance to carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. A very good result indicates that you are very tolerant. Those who can hold their breath for over 45 s following an exhalation are said to be in very good health, and this indicates you breath well. Continue to breath from the diaphragm.
Then it was on the the fun (I use this word loosely) part, the fitness test! There were two parts to this, and involved two identical tests on a treadmill, with the only difference being one was at sea level, the other at altitude.
As my goal for Ultra X Jordan is not speed, the aim of this test (and my future training) will be to see if we can make any improvements to my aerobic endurance, so thankfully I didn’t have to run at a max speed, instead a comfortably hard speed.. with some inclines thrown in too. The test was a basic ramp test, the aim was to be able to keep the treadmill at the same speed, and then every two minutes increase the incline by 1% for 12 minutes. During this time my Heart Rate & sp02 (Blood Oxygen Saturation) were both monitored and recorded throughout.
Normoxic Test (Sea Level)
Hypoxia Test (Altitude)
Average difference in heart rate between sea level & altitude (bpm): 6
Maximum difference in heart rate between sea level & altitude (bpm): 9
Average difference in spO2% between sea level & altitude: -11
Maximum difference in spO2% between sea level & altitude: -13
During the test, altitude had a modest effect on your spO2. This indicates that you have good oxygen efficiency, and that even where is little oxygen available to you, you are able to extract it from the air and get it into the blood to your working muscles. You will still benefit from training at high altitude and from intermitted hypoxic exposure to further improve your efficiency with oxygen, and in turn your performance.
After the treadmill run, I then did two basic Strength Tests – Glute/Hamstring Bridge & Wall Sit – in my opinion I think this was a little mean to make me do after the treadmill runs, or that is the excuse I am using anyway that my results weren’t great!
Undertaking strength training at altitude has been show to result in greater increases in strength than the same training at sea level. This will be reassessed during my retest in 6 weeks time and hopefully we will see that my strength has improved alongside my endurance, and therefore making me a stronger, more resilient runner.
Time Held: 75s
Time Held: 57s
I now have 8 full weeks until I fly out to Jordan (minus 1 week where I will actually be in the mountains when I head to Chamonix for UTMB week!) To maximise my results, I am planning on training at the centre 3 times a week, with a combination of classes, POD sessions and doing recovery runs/cycles in the chamber.
I will be posting regular updates on my Instagram page, and once I have had my retest at the beginning of October I will share my results in another blog post, and fingers crossed… it will show some improvement!
If you are currently training for an event at altitude, or perhaps just want to explore how it can help your training in general, then head to the website by clicking here and booking either a consultation with the team, or straight onto a class!
And if you use my code PMG15 you will receive 15% of any of the products & services they offer.
**Sessions have been gifted as part of ongoing partnership with The Altitude Centre.