Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Altitude: so it's not what I thought it was

So I've been assuming that my altitude issues were getting worse as I seemed to hit a wall just above 7000'. I'm discovering that that's not the case and what I've been observing is something that's always been around and something I can work past.

The 7000+' issue is there but it's something I noticed a long time ago when climbing up Sentinel Dome at 8122' in Yosemite from the Valley floor (~4100'). I gallivanted up to Glacier Point at 7214' no problem, but when I did the rest of the distance up to the top I struggled some though was able to do it. This was 15 years ago. Now that I look at the numbers I see it would be a great training hike for Shasta though that trail is technically closed in Winter (though some leap over the barrier). Anyway, this is [mostly] not the issue i was having on Shasta.

The reason I've never really noticed the magic 7k' before is more of my climbs start above 8k', so in all cases I had to acclimate some. Once on Lassen I didn't acclimate, but just went up and was fine till about 9k and then hit a wall. Maybe I just need to pace myself better knowing that I've going to run out of reserve oxygen.

Last weekend we went snowshoeing on Shasta and got up to above Spring Hill (over 8500'), and sure enough right around 7200' I felt the oxygen dissipate from my muscles. Mentally I was like: Hey wait! Come back! But it was like the air had been let out of a balloon and all I could do was sort of observe it happening. The cool thing though was that I was then able to feel that even without that oxygen reserve I could keep going, though did a lot more pressure breathing and the weight training I've been doing is helping.

So I'm still left with - what happened on Shasta last year? I really thought I was ready but I was actually in good sealevel shape, but not able to cope with the stresses of higher altitude and also pushing myself to keep up with a group (something I'm probably not going to do much of now). It appears that to compensate for low oxygen, you have to over train and Courtenay, the Body Results trainer I'm consulting with, is emphasizing heavier that typical weight training and intervals.

The relevant Body Results pages are:

And a good altitude reference (and description of pressure breathing) is

But I can't escape the feeling of futility. The fear that no matter what I do I'm going to fail. I also can't do the full program and do all the dog related things I like to do. It's striking a balance and it's really tough. I'm down on myself for not keeping up and I have to stop myself and say "Hel-lo! You just did 100 lb squats after doing RPM and then you walked both dogs. That's pretty cool in and of itself - give yourself a break."

One issue is that if I don't get enough intense aerobic exercise (like the RPM spinning class), I start to get depressed. My exercise program does include aerobic training, but not in the quantity that my brain apparently needs. It sneaks up on me gradually but became clear this week. I did RPM today and feel good but I need to do it very consistently for a while to keep me from getting worse even at the expense of training. If I get depressed then everything stops, my perspective goes to hell, and I would need to go back on medication which I'd rather not do if I can avoid it. One thing that helped me realize that I was tettering on depression is that I don't seem to realize that the fact that my altitude issues are not worse is really great news. More correctly I know it's great news, but I don't feel it. The joy just isn't there and that's a red flag.

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