I’m in Colorado Springs with my swim team: SwimMac TeamElite. It’s a beautiful city in the US but don’t let the tranquility fool you. This is home to the United States Olympic Committee and their Olympic Training Centre. It should be the kind of place you come to sit by the fire, sip on hot chocolate and dive into a good book but nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, it is the place for altitude training and this means getting your butt kicked.
My entire body is aching, I can’t lift my arms, my head is spinning, my chest is heaving and my legs won’t move. That was only day 1 of camp. How on earth we lasted 10 days I don’t know! The first week of camp was brutal, a constant fight with against fatigue and the ongoing two-and-fro mental games with myself… you can do it… no you can’t…you’re only half way up the stairs… thats okay… not if you’re already out of breath… keep pushing… dig deep… now do it all over again.
I’m an athlete which means most of the beautiful places I travel will always have memories pain or success, never failure. We like to get over failure quickly so we can pour our energy into our next goal. The goal here was just to survive.
What exactly is altitude training?
- There is not as much oxygen at altitude as there is at sea level and oxygen is important fuel for the muscles.
- When there are reduced oxygen levels, more red blood cells are produced from the bone marrow. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying this oxygen (fuel) to your muscles.
- When you come back down to sea level the combination of the increase in red blood cells from the altitude, plus the larger amount of available oxygen at a lower altitude, increases fuel to the body. This is what increases the athlete’s performance.
Basically your body struggles with the initial adjustment in altitude and has to acclimate. This is horrible. As the red blood cells build up and carry more fuel, you begin to acclimatize. This is still horrible because your coaches know this so they increase training. There are different opinions about how long the benefits of altitude training last when the athlete returns to lower altitudes but the body does feel good. How good? I will know in the next couple of days as we’re off to compete at the Arena Pro Swim Series in Minneapolis from 12 to 14 November.