Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Texan in Tibet - Altitude Conditioning

I'll be spending the majority of my three weeks in Asia above 5,000 feet.  In fact, the altitude by my second riding day will be above 17,000 feet and will go up an down as I traverse various mountain ranges.  I've snow skied at 12,000 feet and didn't realize any diminished capabilities, but the whole result of skiing is that the skier drops back into thinner air quickly.  Besides, that was more than ten years ago.  But I digress.  According to the chart above, I'll be hanging out in the "Extreme Altitude" zone which sounds ominous, but at least it's not the "Death Zone".  I have that going for me.

They key to my success on the Alaskapade and my Outback ride was preparation in terms of proper equipment and especially with physical conditioning.  I lost a few pounds before Alaska and a lot of pounds during the trip, but for Australia, I was jacked; having dropped sixty pounds.  Of course, I had sixty pounds to lose because I had let myself drift into a horrible physical condition.  My weight ballooned to 240 pounds.  Realizing I would fail miserably if I attempted the Outback crossing at that weight, I plunged into a disciplined eating and workout regimen that catapulted me into shape.  Five years later, I'm not as fat as I was then, but it's not an overstatement to say I gained some of it back.  So here I go again.  I have all the exercise gear I need in my home and I have the healthiest food I could hope for at my fingertips.  I'm on my way and I am convinced that I'll be least from a weight perspective.

While Alaska and Australia presented physical stamina challenges, these trips did not include the altitude riding I'll face in Tibet.  Always one to be prepared, I started looking into various means of altitude conditioning and found that there is an entire industry built around it.  The foundation of preparedness is being physically fit and I'm on my way there. But, no amount of exercise and eating right will prepare my body for the physiological effects associated with increased altitude.  There are numerous options available in the marketplace that cost a fortune.  One such machine that chemically alters the atmospheric composition to reduce oxygen content to specified altitudes runs about $5,000.  Not gonna happen.  Another alternative would be to have pints of my own blood drawn at my home altitude and then transfused back into me when I'm at altitude in Tibet like pro athletes do.  I have plenty of blood.  I just need thousands of dollars and a professional medical staff.  Once again, not gonna happen.  It's no secret that I'm too big of a wuss to even get a tattoo, much less voluntarily endure 18-gauge needles repeatedly to exchange my own blood.  I found a less expensive alternative.

A company called VikingStrength sells a mask that limits oxygen intake while conditioning and simulates altitudes from 2,000 to 18,000 feet.  It doesn't alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere like the $5,000 device, but it will make me work harder to take in the air around me.  I picked up one of the masks and will train with it on my elliptical and rower, and on my hikes.  I typically row three miles and climb three miles five to six times a week.  I put in a few miles in my pastures and the woods near my property a few days a week.  With the VikingStrength mask, I can selectively dial-in a gradual increase in the resistance in airflow through the mask as I continue to train over the next few months.  The mask appears to be well-constructed and VikingStrength's responsiveness and customer service has been excellent. The mask could be all hype, but I don't think so.  Reviews are good and the concept is sound.  It's worth a shot even if its only effect is making me look as ripped and badass as the model in the ad <grin>.  Now I can look like an even bigger dork climbing on my elliptical while wearing my motorcycle riding boots and a "Bane" mask.

I'm hoping the mask and my training regimen will facilitate me meeting my physiological expectations, but as an added insurance policy, I'll be seeing a doctor and getting a prescription for Diamox. Climbers take it to prevent and reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. Headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath are common when reaching altitudes above 10,000 feet.  I'll also be taking a portable pulse oximeter with me to keep tabs on the oxygen saturation level in my blood.  This simple, $10 device, powered by two AA batteries could be a real life saver.  If nothing else, it could validate my excuses for throwing up my toenails if my training is insufficient and/or the Diamox doesn't work.