The theory is simple: when more oxygen is delivered to working muscles, the body can metabolize more fuel and perform more intense aerobic work. The traditional way to do this is to train; the body adapts to the stress of exercise by expanding its network of capillaries and its volume of oxygen-rich red blood cells, called the hematocrit. Another method is to take performance-enhancing drugs to artificially increase the hematocrit. But these drugs are banned and increase the risk of stroke and heart attack.
A safer method is to live at high altitude. When exposed to thin air, the body naturally increases its hematocrit, so athletes who train at high altitude can have an enormous advantage over athletes who don’t. For those of us not living in Colorado, there is the altitude simulator, which pumps oxygen-thinned air into an enclosed area, tricking the body into thinking it’s at altitude.
Does it work? I tested the MAG-10 Mountain Air Generator by Higher Peak, LLC, to find out.
It arrived in two enormous boxes; one containing the generator, which looked like a humidifier on steroids, and the other containing a tangle of hoses, PVC pipes, and plastic sheeting. When set up, one hose led from the generator through a pocket-sized digital oxygen monitor and an inflated bag, and a second hose led from the bag to either a face mask, or a small tent, called a snowcap, which covers a user’s head and shoulders in bed.
The User’s Guide explained that the MAG-10 could reduce the percentage of oxygen in the air from about 20.9%, which is sea level, to 9.6%, found at 20,400 feet. Charts showed the various air-flow and oxygen mix settings, and an 8-week schedule recommended starting at 5,000 feet and progressing to 13,000 feet.
There was also a list of safety instructions and warnings. People with conditions such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, and pregnancy, were urged to not use the MAG-10. Users were also warned that they might experience dizziness, nausea, headaches, and other symptoms of altitude sickness. But it was warning no. 13 that got my attention: “Use of this device might have a negative effect on your marriage or relationships. Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Good luck.”
When switched on, the unit hummed and began to breathe, sucking air in and out like a patient in ICU. Heeding warning no. 13, I pushed the generator as far from the bed as possible, and used the face mask, hoping that even though it made me look ridiculous, it wouldn’t be a threat to my marriage. But I found it uncomfortable, and in the middle of the night I ripped it off and flung it across the room.
Luckily, my wife was also intrigued by the MAG-10, so she didn’t object to setting up the snowcap on our bed, since it was big enough for two. We followed the training chart, but didn’t feel anything. We actually would have felt better about it if we had felt worse, since we would have known that something was happening. We cranked up the settings over the next few weeks, taking us up to the equivalent of 12,000 feet. Still, we felt nothing, although my breathing might have gotten a bit labored.
I ran several races after I started using the MAG-10, and I have to admit that I ran them well. Since the effects of altitude simulation aren’t usually felt for several months, I can’t say whether this is coincidence or not, but I’m willing to keep an open mind about it. My wife, however, is over it, and I have to admit that it’s starting to get on my nerves, too.
So does it work? Maybe. But is this a sustainable lifestyle? Not a chance!
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- QUOTE OF THE DAY by Steve Prefontaine: “A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected by in as many ways as they are capable of understanding.”
- Is there a benefit to the 4-hour marathoner from doing two-a-day workouts? Yes! Perhaps the main benefit is logistical. For those of us who are not professional runners, fitting in a long run can be difficult when it has to be balanced against work and family obligations. This is especially true for all of us who need more time to complete our 18-mile run than Meb does. Many of us find it easier to squeeze in two shorter workouts in the same day. Also, a split workout provides the same endurance benefit as one long workout. This is because your body cannot replenish its glycogen stores during the short break between runs, so it has to rely just as much on burning fat for the second run as it would have done in one long run. In other words, you’d be teaching your body to rely on burning fat for fuel – a main goal of the long run – just as effectively on a split-run program as on a single run schedule. (A single long run does give other benefits, however, such as more closely simulating your race, which would leave you even more prepared). Another benefit is that quite often we can run each of the two segments of a two-a-day program faster than we would be able to run one long segment, giving us the benefit of that extra tempo work. For example, you might be used to running your 14-miler at a 9:30 pace, but feel comfortable running an 8- and a 6-miler at an 8:45 or 9 minute per mile pace. The faster tempo of your split workout will help improve your race-day speed.
- Check out the video for the BIKE TO BROOKLYN challenge! This past fall I was invited to join a team of endurance athletes for an amazing adventure: cycling from Washington DC to NYC to run in the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. We left early on a Friday morning and biked through the night, arriving at the start line for the race just minutes before the gun. And the best part is that this was all done in support of a great nonprofit youth mentoring program called RunHopeWork. To find our more about this event, watch the video at https://youtu.be/O0YMY4gfCUo, and visit www.RunHopeWork.org.
- EVER WANTED TO TRY A SPARTAN RACE? Here’s your chance to experience this event at a big discount. Sign up today for any Spartan race and use the code HOLIDAY to receive $40 off any Spartan race. For more information visit them at www.Spartan.com.
- QUOTE OF THE DAY