Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Altitude and Intensity

Because I'm currently residing at an elevation that is known to kill brain cells, and because I have so few to begin with, I thought I'd write down a few more of my lamebrain thoughts on the matter of altitude, specifically the whole live high/train low philosophy…Though it's a pretty substantiated one a philosophy it all it really is, especially when it comes to true endurance performance (and not simply physiological acclimation). Remember, not all changes in physiology---even when positive---result in improved performance.

For example, after all those surgeries, I'm an extremely good-looking guy, as my outward composition clearly proves in the photo above. But does all this good-lookingness make me a faster athlete? Of course not! Still, to me, it's a worthwhile trade.Anyway, the key point here, besides shedding some light on my devastatingly handsome (albeit yak-like) appearance, is that positive changes don't always bring about positive results. In the case of altitude, there needs to be further research to show a direct link between altitude and athletic performance.

While I believe there's benefit to be had by living at altitude (as it relates to race performances) it has yet to be "proven". (Please disregard the throngs of Olympians and World Champions living and training at altitude, this is NOT proof!)Proof, of course, it tough to find in sports. Proof of drug use, proof of training methodology, and proof of what brought an athlete to the top (or to the bottom) are all hard to, well, prove. And while I tend to think that proof is as simple as looking at the final race results (i.e., the bottom line is the finish line), there will always be something else to prove long after the fact.

But back to the live high/train low thing and its relationship to us endurance types. One of the key points always mentioned in the live high/train low studies is the intensity of exercise, in particular, the "fact" that an athlete is unable to train as "intensely" up high as he or she would be able to at a lower elevation. This is controversial at best and I'll get to that shortly. First, a primer on "intensity".Not only is "intensity" a relative term (for example, one can train intensely long or, and this is perhaps a better example, one man's intensity may be another man's yawn) but it is also vital to understand that, no matter how high or low we live or train, we, as triathletes, are ENDURANCE athletes.

Our training must therefore be geared toward training our endurance, not our short-term capacity. Training intensely, despite all its merit to scientists, is secondary to building a motor (and chassis) that can last. Training intensely can help with this, of course, but first comes basic endurance (i.e., the ability to endure). Long and strong baby!