Last year I had big plans of training at high altitude a few times during the year, both in Whistler and down at my friend Marshall's place in Colorado. Both plans were quelled with a mononucleosis diagnosis last August (you have to wait until August for the snow to melt on the mountains around Whistler). This year I wanted to put my previous plans into action. All of the top cross country skiers spend bouts at altitude throughout the year. With that, I bought a $60 unlimited gondola-use hiking pass for Whistler, and contacted my buddy Marshall Ulrich, who I met as a youth ambassador on impossible2Possible's inaugural youth expedition to Baffin Island in 2009 when he was an inspirational ambassador and guide on the trip. Being more than accommodating to my ambitions for an altitude camp this fall, Marshall invited me to make his home, nestled high in the mountains above Idaho Springs, Co, my training base for a few weeks this October.
Marshall and his wife are some of a small handful of folks who live above 3000 meters of elevation here in North America. The altitude allows for easy acclimation for Marshall's mountaineering trips and offers great training for Marshall's ultrarunning. For me, the high altitude was a stress on the body simply sitting on the couch, not to mention how it reduced some training sessions to feeble, gasping carcass drags. Luckily, I had the option of training down at 2300 meters, which over the course of my two weeks at Marshall's came to feel "low" despite being a vertical kilometre higher than Canmore, AB, a place where I normally struggle with the thin air. During the final 4 days of my stay, I finally noticed a change in my hemoglobin's oxygen saturation levels. At rest, it finally jumped up from 90 to 94%. Training session sensations never truly improved.
My gracious host for the week, the indomitable Marshall Ulrich (his wife, Heather, is also gracious and indomitable). Marshall's feats of endurance are truly mind boggling. Just look him up on Wikipedia.
Scouting up in the high country for biking and running routes. The Ulrich's place has easy access to running terrain above 3500 meters, as well as some of Colorado's fabled 14,000'ers (alas, a nagging knee problem inhibited me from summiting one)
Many of my days were spent toiling up the 15 km, 800 m vertical Fall River Road that leads up to the Ulrich's. Some pitches are 16%!
I swear I didn't photoshop this. A looming storm front moves in over Lake Quivara, up by St. Mary's Glacier.
Very characteristic fall Colorado colours. Browns and dark greens. This is just up above Marshall's place. The lake is fed by the meager snow patch that is St. Mary's Glacier (out of frame).
Am I happy that I completed this stint of altitude down in Colorado? Part of me says yes: it was a great opportunity to visit some beautiful states on my 3,000 km drive down there, and to get to know Marshall and his family. But at the same time, I experienced solitude and loneliness on the 5-day drive down to Colorado, camping and roughing it every night. And even though the training down there was very good and challenging due to the somewhat extreme altitude, I am not yet noticing any huge changes in how training feels. I guess that comes after this next period of hard, intense work. The increased hemoglobin mass and other improved parameters will shorten recovery time after hard sessions and will help me maximize the higher intensity training of the coming weeks. Any gains will take a bit of time to materialize and present themselves. Racing season is a little over a month away. The gains should be showing by then. Keep the nose to the grindstone...