Few things wreak more havoc on your biological hardware than altitude. And we're not just talking about those who claw their way up to the 20,320-foot summit of Mount McKinley. Heights as modest as 4,000 feet above sea level can affect physical performance, too. Add another eight grand (roughly the top of the Norway Chair at
Colorado's Arapahoe Basin ski area) and full-bore acute mountain sickness could nail you with loss of appetite, fatigue, and vomiting. Even if you don't experience AMS, once above 8,000 feet your VO2 max decreases approximately 3 percent for each thousand feet gained. Put simply, the higher you go, the harder pedaling, running, trekking, or climbing is
going to feel.
24-hour mountain-bike race that crosses four 10,000-foot passes.
PLACE: Montezuma, Colorado
DATE: July 14-15, 2000
CONTACT: 970-668-8900 www.montezumasrevenge.com
LEADVILLE TRAIL 100:
A 100-mile bike or run that peaks at 12,600 feet.
PLACE: Leadville, Colorado
DATE: August 12 (bike) and August 19 (run)
CONTACT: 719-486-3502 www.leadville-100.com
PIKES PEAK ASCENT:
A 13.32-mile run to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,110 feet.
PLACE: Manitou Springs, Colorado
DATE: August 19, 2000
CONTACT: 719-473-2625 www.pikespeakmarathon.org
"World's Highest Marathon" with a 14,158-foot halfway point.
PLACE: Namche Bazaar, Nepal
DATE: November 26, 2000
CONTACT: 44-1539-445-445 (UK) www.btinternet.com/~bufoventuresLtd/
135-mile footrace from the bottom of Death Valley to 8,360 feet on Mount Whitney.
PLACE: Death Valley, California
DATE: July 27-29, 2000
CONTACT: 310-312-1841 www.badwaterultra.com
MARATHON DES SABLES:
A seven-day, 150-mile ultramarathon across the Sahara Desert.
PLACE: Ouarzazate, Morocco
DATE: April, 2001
CONTACT: 202-478-0218 www.sandmarathon.com
130-mile foot, ski, bike, and snowshoe race through the Alaskan bush.
PLACE: Big Lake, Alaska
DATE: February 24, 2001
CONTACT: 907-345-4505 www.iditasport.com
Now for the bad news. "There's really no way you can prepare for events at altitude, except by training at altitude," says Peter Hackett, a professor at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle and an expert in
high-altitude medicine. While mountain climbing involves gradual ascents, participants in events such as Colorado's Leadville Trail 100, which takes place above 9,200 feet, frequently sabotage their performance by arriving from much lower elevations just a day or two before the race.
If it's not possible to train at altitude at least two weeks prior to your trip or event, finding a way to sleep at altitude (any cabins for rent in the mountains near your hometown?) will also speed acclimatization. Or, for a mere $14,500, you can order a Colorado Mountain Room (Colorado Altitude Training, 303-440-4102), which uses a "molecular sieve"
to suck the oxygen out of any room in your house, thus simulating high-altitude. The most practical suggestion for athletes heading to thin-air events is to simply back off your regular race pace during the event. Ignore that advice and you may be surprised at who's blowing by. "A lot of athletes enter these kinds of competitions thinking they're immune to
problems because they are fit," says Hackett. "But we call altitude the 'great equalizer' because a slob from Chicago can show up and do just as well as an expert triathlete." —NICK HEIL
Work on your aerobic fitness: A better base means more endurance at all altitudes.
Hydrate: But avoid becoming, as Hackett puts it, "a water Nazi." For events lasting more than four hours, drink an electrolyte-replenisher such as half-strength Gatorade.
Don't overdo the Vitamin C: "There's a myth that Vitamin C helps adjust to altitude," says Hackett, "but that's not true."
Submarine environments are among the least hospitable locales on the planet. They're cold, unbreathable, and the immense pressure threatens to implode the body. At only 33 feet, the air pressure in your lungs is doubled. By 100 feet, that pressure has increased by a factor of four. We have Jacques Cousteau to thank for
inventing scuba gear, which offsets pressure with gas mixtures contained in your tank. Regardless, deep water immersion can still be punishing, particularly in that fringiest of water sports, free diving, where competitors try to outplunge one another on a single breath. How do you make these activities more bearable? Start with healthy pipes: "First off,
don't dive with a cold," warns Bill Clendenen, vice-president of training for Divers Alert Network in Durham, North Carolina. "The key when adapting to this environment is to have clear airways, ear passages, and sinuses."
|F. Stuart Westmoreland
Going deep new Lihou Reef in the Coral Sea
Beyond fit airways, general conditioning is more important than you'd think. If you're planning a reef dive in the Bahamas, or hoping to explore the Andrea Doria, a humming cardiovascular system is essential—not
because diving demands high aerobic exertion (though you'll expend less oxygen if you're more fit), but because it can help prevent or cope with an emergency. "A swimming program using fins, a mask, and goggles is a great way to train since it simulates what you'll be wearing under water," says Clendenen. "The better your VO2 max, the better your
metabolism's going to be on a dive, especially if you get caught in a current with 50 pounds of gear on your back." For breath-holders who dive without the help of pressurized gases, performance hinges on preparation and prevention. Start with good health and supervised dives says Glennon Gingo, manager of the U.S. Freediving Team, "then you can try various
breathing exercises like those used in yoga to help you relax and lower your pulse. Some of our divers can get their heart rate down to 35 beats per minute [average resting pulse for adults is 60 to 80]. That'll help you stay down longer, and it can also really help de-stress your day." —N.H.
Build leg strength. Swimming with fins is faster but can be strenuous; the more fit your legs, the less tired you'll be.
Stay off planes for at least 13 hours after diving: Even pressurized cabins in commercial aircraft can bring on decompression sickness, i.e., the dreaded bends.