Greetings from Boulder, Colorado – the Gateway to the Rocky Mountains! I’m here for altitude training, to clear my head and sharpen my focus on Kona 2015… and it’s good to be back! I first came to Boulder for back in 2007 and I think I’ve only missed one year since then. Basically, I love it here. It’s a good place to train, it’s awesome getting up into the mountains and there are heaps of trails to run. It doesn’t get much better than this.
A bit about Boulder
I think one of the reasons that I love coming to Boulder is that it reminds me a bit of Byron Bay near home – just minus the beaches. I’m staying in North Boulder, so the mountains are only a 20-minute ride away. It’s great having the ocean in summer at home and then coming over here and having the mountains in the northern summer. It’s the best of both worlds.
Boulder’s had a pretty colourful history – from the Wild West stuff in the early days to the hippy days in the 60’s and 70’s. Boulder was a bit of a Mecca for the alternative culture… I almost called this blog post ‘High in the Rockies’ for exactly that reason. It’s still got that hippy flavour about it – definitely not your typical American town. One thing I’ve noticed is that it’s a lot busier than it was when I first came here. Heaps of people have moved here, but the town itself hasn’t expanded – it’s just got a little more hectic.
Boulder is a university town so there’s plenty of nightlife, lots of bars and restaurants and Denver (the closest city) is only 30-40 minutes away. Boulder is also full of triathletes at the moment – Callum, Tim Don, Tyler Butterfield, Crowie, Appo and Griffo are all here. We see each other around and although we’ve all got our own training schedules it’s good to have a bigger base of people to train with. Boulder gives me a new environment, something different and I find it’s always refreshing to mix things up a bit.
Altitude and Attitude
As well as creating a fresh attitude, the real benefit of coming to Boulder each year is the altitude training aspect. I’ll talk a little more about the science behind it in a moment, but the simple reason why I keep coming back to Boulder is that it works for me. You certainly notice the difference that the increase in altitude makes. The City of Boulder sits at an elevation of 1655m at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, but it’s only a short ride to get up into the hills to train at a higher altitude.
People ask how much difference it makes being that far above sea level. The short answer is – a lot. I find my heart rate is always 10-20 beats higher for sessions and my body definitely has to work harder. It takes a couple of weeks to get acclimatised and everyone reacts differently. For example, I take iron supplements here, whereas I don’t at home. You seem to tire a little more too.
The bottom line when it comes to training up here is… it still hurts! After the adjustment period my training regime is pretty similar to what I’m doing at home. It’s interesting – although you’re pushing out the same power, it feels like you’re working a lot harder. And that’s one of the dangers – if you maintain the same intensity that you feel at sea level, you’re actually not working as hard as usual and won’t get the training benefits. While you think you’re pushing hard, the reality is you’re losing form. Definitely one of those times when you need to monitor the numbers, not rely on how you’re feeling.
Altitude training became popular around the time of the Olympics in Mexico City back in 1968, so it’s been around a long time. Mexico City sits at an altitude of 2200m – a height that would have had a huge impact on the performances of the Olympic athletes. Interestingly, the coaches knew that altitude training delivered benefits for their athletes, but the research hadn’t yet been done to explain exactly why it worked. Just goes to show that good coaches are often way ahead of the science.
The basic theory of altitude training is that training in a low-oxygen environment will force the body to adapt and ultimately these adaptations will deliver improvements to performance. Having said all that, before you book your trip to Boulder, the mountains of Nepal or buy an ‘altitude training chamber’ for your home gym, it’s worth knowing that every person manages hypoxic stress – a lower oxygen environment – differently.
This is why there are a variety of different strategies which athletes and coaches use to maximise the benefits of altitude training: live high/train high, live low/train high, live high/train low. In the end, you need to discover what works best for you. At present I’m living high and training high, but it’s quite likely that I’ll be spending a couple of weeks right up in the mountains later in July. Oh, and if you’re wondering why live low/train low wasn’t one of the options listed… think about it – you need to have some altitude for it to be ‘altitude training’!
What I would say to anyone considering altitude training is this – don’t push yourself too hard, get used to the increased altitude for a couple of weeks, take iron supplements and be careful – you can get pretty sick if you don’t monitor things properly. Talk to a good coach and check in with a doctor who knows what he or she is talking about when it comes to altitude training. Apart from that – go for it! It certainly works for me.
Although I’m surrounded by mountains here in Boulder, the biggest thing on my horizon is Kona. As the World Champs get closer I’ll give you more of an insight into my preparations on the road to Kona. Until then, train hard, go hard, have fun and I’ll keep you posted.