Not as many adventures last week as I had hoped for,
but I did get the chance to ski (and chat) with Duane
Vandenbushe last Saturday afternoon (excellent snow
conditions). Vandenbushe is the head coach of the
cross country team at Western State College in
Gunnison, Colorado (elevation 7700 feet). The men's
team won Nationals (D2) in November and that is only a
glimpse into Coach V's legacy (not sure if anyone
calls him that, but I like the way it sounds so lets
go with that). A brief synopsis of Coach V's work with
the Mountaineers can be found here:
My folks teach business at Western so they got me in
touch with him. I am always interested in folks that
are consistently successful (in athletics and
otherwise) and my interest grows even more when the
training takes place at altitude. There are countless
articles (both scientific and layman) out there that
address altitude training. However, science does not
seem to give me the answers I am looking for. I don't
mean that I cannot find a study that supports my own
beliefs. I just mean that most articles come to the
same conclusions and address the same things over and
over again (which is good as well).
One question that I really want(ed) to know is "when
is it best to come down from altitude?" It seems that
science hasn't quite nailed that so I figured this
would be a great question for someone with extensive
experience. Coach V's response: 'within 72 hours.' I
followed that up with Qs like:
Does it depend on the distance of the event?
What about heat and/or humidity?
Again, within 72 hours. I also chatted with a couple
athletes who agreed. I don't know that they (the
athletes) have all tried different approaches, but
they did believe that they felt solid 2-3 days after
coming down from altitude (and knowing that something
works means a lot when its you who is racing). Coach V
said this is what he has found after 35 years of
data/experience/trials/etc. Seems like a pretty fair
My own coach, Joe Friel (Coach J), suggested a 2-3
week adjustment period prior to an athlete's key race
of the year (or training cycle). He said that the
muscles need an adjustment period to get used to the
higher loads placed on them at sea level. In other
words, the body needs to be prepared to race at these
higher intensity levels economically.
So, then it may be best to race either:
1. 2-3 days after leaving altitude; or
2. 10-21 days after leaving altitude.
I have read this conclusion before. It seems like 3-9
days is a bit grey. I wouldn't avoid it for
logistical reasons, but I suppose if you had the
choice (because of extensive travel, for ex), then
those two scenarios might work well.
I spent last summer in Boulder (5500 ft) and I
returned to sea level just before Labor Day. I tried
to really get a grasp for exactly how I felt over the
next 4 weeks after leaving altitude. I will say that I
continued to 'improve' considerably for the next 2-3
weeks, but its hard to tell how much of that has to do
with fitness improvements and how much has to do with
advantages attained from living at altitude. Every
session will seem like you are improving, but you have
to account for the difference in training and racing
numbers from altitude to sea level.
Coming down early can still be great because of the
huge mental boost it will give you going into a race.
If you are seeing 5-7% better numbers at sea level
prior to a big race you will simply have more
confidence (even if they aren't necessarily "better"
numbers). The confident athlete will likely outrace
the other of equal fitness.
Hopefully over time I can develop my own conclusions
based on experience, but regardless of all that, I
still believe that altitude training is best because
of the things that cannot be quantified. Training in
the mountains just makes me happy every day I'm out
p.s. I had lunch today with Coach V and he talked more
specifically about training and the 'intangibles'
which I'll address later.