High altitude training: Kilian Jornet’s doctor tells us more - Skyrunner® World Series

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At 4,600m, the high-altitudes of Yading Skyrun make it one of the most arduous races in the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series calendar. Here, Dr Daniel Brotons, sports medicine specialist, head of Unitat d’Esport I Salut del Consell Catala de l’Esport and doctor of world-famous, high-altitude runner Kilian Jornet, tells us more about the effects that altitude can have on an athlete’s performance and how to prepare for a race like Yading.

©MRSWS / Ian Corless

The diminution of the percentage of oxygen in the air at high altitudes means there is less oxygen for your body to deliver to your muscles compared to what you have at sea level. This drop in oxygen levels can have a negative effect on the body resulting in higher heart rate and lower power output as the body attempts to find ways to compensate for the lack of oxygen.

At 4,600m, the highest point of the Yading Skyrun, there is a chance that athletes could experience symptoms of altitude sickness like headaches, sickness or vomiting, if they are not used to it. Due to the significant diminution of the percentage of inspired air, there are gas expansions that can cause problems in the digestive system.

Non-trained athletes or people with a poor level of fitness are at risk of suffering from a decrease in their iron levels due to insufficient levels of red blood cells. During training, the heart rate will increase rapidly, as if he or she was doing a sprint with the added difficulty of incorrect breathing.

Dr. Daniel Brotons, sports medicine specialist, head of Unitat d’Esport I Salut del Consell Catala de l’Esport

When it comes to high altitude training, otherwise known as acclimatizing, athletes have two options: one is to train and sleep at high altitude for a minimum of three weeks. If this is not possible, which is usually the case, they should try sleeping in an altitude tent where you can stimulate different altitude levels, starting at 2000m and going up to 4500m for a period of 4 weeks.

It’s all related to the evolution of oxygen saturation and individual tolerance. There is also something called “Intermittent Hypoxia Training” which is 3 sessions of training per week simulating different altitudes.

Athletes who live and train at high altitudes all year round, obviously have a better level of tolerance because they have a higher amount of red blood cells than those who live at sea level.