I am now back in Lake Placid and relishing being back home after having been gone for a month. My training camp in Utah finished up well after the races. I got the chance to mountain bike a few times and spent some time up in the mountains above Heber Valley. The weather was exactly the same every day; blue skies, perfect 60-70 degree weather, and no foreboding fall weather in the forecasts; it made for ideal training conditions. Everything was quite pleasant really. Easy days were kept easy and were used to take a break from the shooting range, so that as we grew tired at the end of the camp, we could harness our focus for shooting and technique workouts.
Looking up at the Timpanoogas, Utah.
Training at a higher altitude is quite different from training at lower altitudes, and below is just a brief description of my experiences. The Soldier Hollow venue is just above 6000 ft (just a bit higher than Mt. Marcy). The mixture of gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen) at this level is the same as what we breathe here in Lake Placid. However, there is lower atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes. This pressure difference alters your body’s ability to transfer the oxygen you breathe in from your blood to your tissues. Oxygen is a part of an important energy producing process in your body. At a cellular level, this is how your muscles are able to “fire,” to make you jump, run, and ski.
Your body adapts in order to account for less oxygen. During the first two weeks at a higher altitude, these are some of the changes that occur in the body:
- You will breathe more heavily, so that you can take in more oxygen.
- Your blood volume will increase so that you have more red blood cells to carry the extra O2.
- Your heart rate at first will increase to pump more oxygenated blood through your body, but then returns to normal.
In Utah, compared to Lake Placid, my body is working harder to perform each function – thus taking more energy to do the work. This triggers an increase in carbohydrate metabolism to ensure that my body is getting enough fuel for basic metabolic functions and for training. With this, my bowl of oatmeal, raisins, cinnamon, and milk in the morning over the course of the three weeks also increased to give me more carbohydrates and protein for workouts such as long bike rides or high intensity rollerski intervals. I paid a lot of attention to how I fuel my self, how often, with what, and how much. I needed to take in enough carbohydrates for my muscles to not only stay fueled, but to also replenish muscle fuel supplies after training. Basically, this means: I ate a good breakfast (as mentioned above) drank a lot during each training session, had a small PB&honey sandwich or granola bar and fruit after training, ate a great sandwich with lots of veggies, cheese and meat for lunch, had a snack before afternoon training (bowl of cereal usually), drank more during training, enjoyed a balanced dinner, and had some yogurt and cereal before I went to bed.
The air is also dryer in Utah. You can feel it in your lips, skin, and the overall general feeling when you are dehydrated. So, needless to say I was drinking quite a bit of water, sports drink and getting in a lot of raw fruits and veggies to help me stay hydrated.
So what is the benefit of training in Utah?
Well, first of all it is a great place for the Junior, Development and National Team to train. Soldier Hollow offers a high quality biathlon venue. It just so happens to be at a high altitude. So – our coaches and staff accommodate for this and we take advantage of the metabolic changes in our bodies when we return to sea level. A temporary increase in oxygen-carrying blood cells when you return back to sea level means your body has an increased ability to produce energy. This week, I have four high intensity training sessions planned. I won’t necessarily ski faster and be stronger, but under these conditions, I will help teach my body to work efficiently with a higher heart rate, higher lactic acid production and under greater physical stress. These workouts mimic racing, when I will need to depend on my ability to perform well despite these adverse effects. There remains a myriad of changes and benefits which take a more extensive scientific explanation, so I will leave it at that and see you in class on Wednesday!
Myself, Sara, Lanny, Tracy and I on a run in Utah.