June Training Blog: Fine-Tuning and Altitude

June-uary indeed – that’s definitely snow.

Hi there, everyone. I hope you’ve been able to get out and ride. It finally looks like June-uary is turning into summer, just in time for our last push before OBR and IBR.

We’ve got five weeks until the Oregon Ride, and seven weeks until the Idaho Ride, so now is the time to start fine-tuning your training and looking at the specifics of our rides. In addition to being sure your equipment (tent/sleeping bag/pad, bike clothing) is well suited to you and your riding style, we need to look at the terrain on each of the rides. The longest ride on Idaho is 81 miles, while the longest day on Oregon is 93 one day and 94 the other.

One thing that comes to mind for both rides is altitude: How do you train for altitude riding, and how do you deal with altitude when coming from sea level? Looking at both rides, on the Idaho Ride we’ll spend more time sleeping above 5,000 feet and the last day we ride from Stanley to almost 8,000 feet on our ride back into Hailey. On the Oregon ride we’ll have the optional day at Crater Lake where the rim is up to almost 8,000 feet; climbing up and over Mt. Bachelor takes you over 6,000 feet; and McKenzie Pass takes you to 5,300 feet. But during this ride we don’t sleep above 5,000 feet, so we’ll only spend short amounts of time at that elevation.

First, if you have any history of difficulty with altitude, you may want to arrive at altitude up to three days early so your body can start the acclimatization process. A lot of the body’s changes happen in the first 72 hours, so sometimes that can be the most difficult time.

What happens at altitude? The partial pressure of oxygen decreases in the air at higher elevation. As a result of this, at 10,000 feet of elevation the amount of oxygen in the air is 29 percent less than at sea level.

How do we compensate for this change? The body increases our ventilation (we breathe faster) and increases our heart rate and blood pressure to send more blood in hopes of releasing more oxygen to the tissues. From a physiological perspective, we produce an increase amount of lactate for a given workload (i.e., it feels a lot harder to push yourself, and you can’t recover as well after you go above a certain effort level). For every 100 meters over 1,500 meters (4,800 feet, as 1 meter = 3.2 feet) our body’s VO2 max (the ability to circulate and use oxygen) decreases by 1 percent. So you may start to see those changes anywhere around 4,500 feet or so.

After being at altitude long-term (weeks/months), the body compensates for these changes and therefore increases our red blood cell production via the release of EPO (erythropoietin) naturally.

So what will that look like for us on the ride or in camp?

  1. Your sub-max and resting HR may be higher at higher elevations the first few days, but then should recover.
  2. Your VO2 max decreases at elevation, so you won’t’ be able to push it as hard as you think you should be able to. You will not be able to reach your max heart rate.
  3. It is normal to have to urinate more the first couple of nights as part of the body’s compensation, so you may want to limit your intake of liquids after a certain time in order to sleep better.
  4. It’s normal to have some difficulty sleeping the first 24 to 72 hours at elevation if you come from sea level. This is due to multiple physiological changes taking place.
  5. It’s also normal to have extra gas in your gut due to the pressure changes. This will get better as your body adjusts.

In general, here are my tips for dealing with altitude:

  1. Drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes.
  2. Limit your use of alcohol, as it decreases your body’s natural breathing drive, which can worsen the sleep disturbance the first few days at altitude.
  3. Increase your intake of carbohydrates. Your body tends to use more carbohydrates as a fuel source at higher elevations.
  4. Pace yourself and don’t go too hard the first few days. Unless you live at elevation (greater than 5,000 feet), your body is not used to the altitude and will be trying to adjust.


Next let’s talk about our training focus this month and next. The primary focus this month should be to maintain your endurance while you also continue to work on hill climbing at your

Conquering feels good.

tempo/endurance pace. At elevation, your body will not tolerate going above your lactate threshold (that point where your body produces more lactate than it can use and/or eliminate) effort level, so you need to work on going faster at lower intensity. What does that mean? Basically, the more you ride at your endurance or tempo pace, the faster you should get at that pace. As I mentioned last month, doing tempo effort is harder to recover from, so you must have easy days between tempo workouts. Also, you need to build up to the longer tempo intervals, which has been a focus over the past couple of months.

Here is a suggested schedule:

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Tempo Hill Repeats: 8-30 minutes at tempo effort, with 1/3 that time for recovery in between intervals. You can work up each week to doing 2-3 sets of the intervals. Also try for the longer-length tempo intervals since some of the climbs will be long on the tour.

Wednesday: Core Strength + Endurance Ride: 1.5 hours or strength-maintenance full-body.

Thursday: Shorter Hill Repeats: 3-6 min subthreshold, with recovery between at the same length of time as the interval. Work up to 5 or 6 of these over the course of the next month.

Friday: Off or Recovery Day (yoga/swim/walk/hike).

Saturday and Sunday:  Endurance Rides: Work up to longest one-day distance on the tour one day, and on the other do another Endurance Ride (2-4 hours) but not as long the other day (you want back-to-back endurance days).

I usually recommend doing one day the same length of time on the weekend (2-4 hours), while on the other day you build by 5-10 miles until you get up to the mileage of the longest day on the tour. Both tours have one long day of 80-100 miles, so if you can get in one or two centuries the last 3-5 weeks before your tour, that will help you a lot. In addition to building fitness, it will help point out any weaknesses in your choice of clothing/saddle/bike fit.

As always, this is a guide that assumes you have been following my recommendations since the blog in January. If not, go back to previous months’ blogs and review the training recommendations.

And, as always, do not do any of these workouts unless you have been cleared by your healthcare provider.

Happy riding! I look forward to meeting you on the rides.

Here is a reference about altitude: http://www.altitudemedicine.org/



If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at annelinton@gmail.com or go to wenzelcoaching.com if you want more in-depth coaching and/or training plans.