...and I'm not all that impressed.
As you may or may not know, I'm signed up for 2013 Ironman Lake Tahoe. It's in September and on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, CA. It's at elevation, but it's nothing to freak out about.
I've been to Boulder for the Boulder 70.3 triathlon. The elevation wasn't as much an issue as the heat without the humidity. Being a Kansas boy, in the summer you just walk around and cannot help but sweat and feel the heat and humidity. It makes you take notice and prepare for races in this area for extreme water loss and electrolyte loss. When you're racing in heat at altitude, you fail to notice how much you can lose just from breathing. Yes, I lost a lot in sweat. But, it evaporated so fast that it wasn't obvious that I was losing so much. The result was cramping and GI issues.
But, I don't think you need to find altitude tents, training masks or spend thousands on altitude training camps and arriving a week early for an event.
I plan on showing up 3 days before the event and hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more.
I did want to visit Ironman's suggestions and chime in with my 2 cents.
1. Train at altitude
It's important to get real practice in the months before your race. Whether on your own or at a training camp, experts recommend making at least three trips so you can gain familiarity with the altitude's effects on your body. Squaw Valley, the Official Training Destination of IRONMAN for the Western United States, hosts IRONMAN training weekends throughout the summer months that will include specialized itineraries for high-performance athletes in a high-altitude environment.
That's a nice plug for their training camps. Really? 3 trips? Who has that kind of money? When you charge $650 just for entry and then have to pay for travel, lodging and everything else, visiting 3 more times just to train at elevation is a little ludicrous for the average triathlete that does not have endless funds.
2. Arrive a few days early
When making travel arrangements, be sure to give yourself a few days at altitude before your event so you'll be sure to be over any side-effects you might experience. Drink extra fluids during that time, too, which will help your body adjust.
I actually buy into this. I'm getting their a couple days early just to get my bearings and get a little used to altitude. I am hoping to get a few quick workouts in, but nothing that will make me more efficient at altitude.
3. Stay hydrated
As soon as you get to a higher altitude, your kidneys work overtime for the first few days, which makes hydration very important, as does the fact that the air is typically very dry and loss of fluids and electrolytes through sweat is not as obvious. For at least two weeks leading into your event, be extra mindful about staying hydrated. The best way to be sure you're drinking enough? Urine should be pale yellow.
I agree. Drink LOTS of water. That was my achilles at IM 70.3 Boulder. I didn't realize what I had lost at 90+ degrees since it felt drastically different without humidity from Kansas. The true key, I think.
4. Start easy on the swim
Of the three events in a triathlon, the swim can be the most challenging at altitude. While you can simply breathe faster or deeper while biking or running, it can be difficult to coordinate your breathing pattern in the water. So ease into the swim and focus on controlled, rhythmic breathing—and if you start to notice your breathing becoming rapid, stop and rest until it regulates, then make the necessary pace adjustment.
Hmmm... I'd say this goes for any triathlon. If you go out too hard and get in a breathing deficit, then you will have some serious issues. Sure, you can have issues with altitude, but if you use common sense, it shouldn't be a problem and I don't think you need to drastically change your swimming strategy. Calm, cool and collect just like any other triathlon.
5. Monitor your heart rate
On race day, it's common for athletes to experience a rapid increase in breathing and heart rate. If you do, back off your pace and effort a bit until you get it under control.
Again, that's what I would say for any event. The same can be said for training and racing in humidity. If you train by heart rate, use common sense and adjust your race to what your body is telling you. Altitude isn't some mysterious dark force that's going to wreak havoc on your body. Stay calm and under control. Start each leg under your intensity goal to see how it goes. You can always expend more, you can't get it back if you burn out too soon.
6. Back off on bike gears
As you climb to higher altitudes, your power output decreases. On the bike, this means you'll want to ride in an easier gear than you would over similar terrain at sea level. In other words, you'll want to ride at a higher cadence than you would normally.
I ride at a high cadence anyways. I believe it's a better utilization of power and gives you more to work with on the run. That being said, not everyone trains that way. Go with what you know. Don't suddenly change your style on race day. Now, you may get to the pain cave and need to back off anyways. Remember, after the 112 miles biking, you still have 26.2 miles to run and the legs to do it. But, if you don't train at high cadence, then why do it on the one day it really matters? If you plan to use this strategy, start training that way NOW!
7. Pass on the Personal Best
In addition to the altitude effects, many races at altitude also offer hills, which means you’re not likely to set a best time. Mentally adjust to a slower pace and pay attention to your body, rather than adhering to expectations from a lower altitude. When you get to the run, you may also find that you are breathing harder than usual. You may want to take walking breaks to ensure that you can properly fuel and hydrate. Those breaks will help regulate your breathing, too.
Again, don't do different things on race day. If you want to use high cadence, use more breaks, etc, then start incorporating that in training NOW. Don't wait til race day. Altitude doesn't mean you have to settle for a second fiddle race goal. You will have to put more into your race training leading up to the event, but altitude isn't a dirty word that's going to rape you of any and all ability you had. Don't forget, humidity will be lessened at altitude. Allergies will be lessened. Heat should be minimized at altitude. For all the detriment altitude may bring, it also has advantages.
In conclusion, unless you are gunning to place pro or age group qualify for Kona, you are probably not going to tax yourself to the point that the altitude will create a huge deficit for you. If you have trained right and mixed it up a little to get a little more threshold, then there's no reason why you cannot go out and have a great race without spending too much time, money and drastically alter your plan.
I think too much is made about altitude and creates a huge panic and anxiety in athletes that it really won't affect in an extreme manor. Don't waste tons of money trying to go out and train at altitude. Adjust some of your workouts to get some more intensity in there and drink lots of water. Figure out a plan for the race you are doing and get the key points incorporated into your training. That's the key.