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Coach's Column with Lynda Wallenfels

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |July 21, 2010 7:19 AM

This week's question goes to coach Lynda Wallenfels. Lynda is an Elite level Category 1 USA Cycling Coach, pro mountain bike racer and owner of She is spending July living at 9,300 feet elevation in Crested Butte!

Question: I live at a low altitude but I am racing the 6-day Breck Epic this season. How can I best prepare to race in the thin air of Breckenridge?

Answer: The town of Breckenridge sits at 9,600 feet, and the Breck Epic races from there on up to over 12,000 feet in elevation.

For some things in life, there are simply no short cuts, and altitude adaptation is one of those things. Travelling to and living at altitude is the only sure fire way to adapt. Keep in mind, too, that there is considerable variability between individuals in their ability to adapt to altitude.

Studies show that endurance performance bottoms out within the first few hours of arrival at altitude, and then improves steadily after that. The earlier you can arrive at altitude prior to your race the better your performance will be. Arriving 4 days before the race is good. Arriving 4 weeks before the race is better!

Some artificial methods of simulating altitude can be used at lower elevations to help speed up the adaptation process (or attempt to pre-adapt).

  •  Live or sleep in a hypoxic environment using an altitude tent to simulate altitude by lowering the content of oxygen in the air.
  •  Intermittent Hypoxic Exposure (IHE). An athlete breathes hypoxic air while at rest.
  •  Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT). An athlete breathes hypoxic air while exercising.

 Prior to arriving at altitude:

  •  A month out have your iron levels checked and follow a physician’s advice on iron supplementation if necessary.
  •  Take 80-120 mg of Ginkgo Biloba twice per day in the 5 days leading up to arrival at altitude.
  • Altitude induced asthma can appear in individuals who have no asthmatic symptoms at sea level. If you suspect you are in this group bring an inhaler with you to the race.

 After arrival at altitude:

  •  Avoid any medications that will depress breathing rate. This includes alcohol, sleep medications and narcotic pain killers.
  •  Increase carbohydrate intake
  •  Increase antioxidant intake
  • Continue Ginkgo Biloba use
  •  Drink plenty of liquids


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