Saturday, September 1, 2001 - Perspective
NSDT Athlete Update - Altitude Training, The First Year

- By: Dan Roycroft

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In his first installment of Training at Altitude, newcomer Dan Roycroft gives an athletes perspective on training in Canmore. Although not a high elevation in terms of traditional altitude training, coming from sea level and living in this small mountain town has meant some big changes for newcomer athletes.

Having spent the majority of my ski career at sea level, the thought of moving out to Canmore was a little daunting. Not only was moving stressful, but facing a higher elevation and much more challenging terrain meant that I would have to rethink and restructure many of the training habits and philosophies developed at sea level. Now that I have spent 3 solid months training and adjusting to this new environment, there are 3 specific areas that I feel important to highlight as critical factors in making a successful transition.

The first major factor is volume. The higher elevation plus the much hillier terrain means that training here is much tougher than at sea level. I am finding that a 2hr roller ski or 2hr run in Canmore will produce the equivalent fatigue as a 3hr workout did at sea level. This has huge implications for the overall hours that you aim for in a year. Traditionally we expect to increase our overall volume by about 10% a year, but when moving to altitude, the most that you should aim for is a 0% increase and I would personally recommend a slight decrease in yearly training volume.

Intensity Zones
The second factor is training intensity. The most common references to training intensities refer to zones or heart rate ranges. Most easy workouts are carried out in Zone 1 (less than max-65 bpm.) At altitude, because fatigue happens earlier and easier, it is even more important to stick to your prescribed training zone and not train even a few beats above that. I have found that even going out of my zone for a few minutes can affect how I feel the next day or later in the week. I have actually dropped my zone 1 training pace and accompanying heart rate to ensure that I do not go too fast.

At sea level I took advantage of the zone 2 training zone (max-65 bpm to max-35 bpm) quite often for tempo work and technique drills. It was also good for legs only or double pole only strength specific workouts. At sea level, though, it was much easier to recover from these workouts. Even at the relatively low elevation in Canmore, an athlete can pay dearly for training in zone 2 too much. It takes a larger toll on the body and is hard to recover from. So far this year we have saved any workouts out of zone 1 for higher intensities where there is also a speed benefit.

All of my intervals thus far, apart from time trials, have been in zone3 (max-35 bpm to max-15 bpm). The reason for this is that, during the first summer at altitude, there is a danger of going too hard and burning one's self out. It is far better to take a cautious approach and keep the intensity workouts in a comfortable range. I have found that this approach has kept me healthy and not too tired.

The third factor is by far the most important. Recovery is everything in this sport and at altitude, it is simply harder to do. At sea level, I could be thoroughly rested after a 12 hr rest week. At altitude, this same recovery week has been reduced to 8 hrs. Even more importantly, though, is the daily recovery that is required. Every workout takes just a little bit more out of you and requires just a little bit more recovery. All of this adds up over an entire summer. I have noticed that it is harder to stay hydrated here and it is harder to get enough sleep. Afternoon naps should become a common part of your daily schedule. I have found that it is imperative to eat right and to keep the body's energy stores well topped up training here. The body cannot perform well unless nutrition is closely monitored.

Part of the monitoring that we do specifically targets recovery to keep us informed of how well our bodies are adapting and whether or not we need more rest. The simple Rusko Test has been a valuable tool in assessing recovery.

The bottom line here is: respect even moderate altitude. It may seem like a small change and you may not feel much of a difference, but your body will notice it in the long run.

Dan thanks his sponsors:

(After a solid 2000-2001 season, Dan Roycroft moved from Thunder Bay to Canmore, where he trains as a member of the National Senior Development Team.)

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