Climb High, Sleep Low…Go Slow

We’ve confirmed our accommodation in Leh, India.  It’s a blessing to return to Leh again.  It’s really exciting for us because we are going to see our friends again.  The walking street in the center have been completed and we look forward to visiting the center!  The last time we were there which was 2 years ago, the streets were all torn up and major construction was in place.

There’s a lot of good reasons we go back in Leh.  It’s a very peaceful area.  It is also a city at high altitude.  Leh city is part of the Ladakh region of Jammu Kashmir.  The word “Ladakh” means “land of high passes” and indeed they are many!  We will be living at 11,800 ft (3,575 m) for 40 days.

Acclimatization takes time for that altitude coming from sea level.  One thing we noticed over the 2 years of spending majority of our time at altitude is that the body adapts.  The first time I was exposed to really high altitude was our first trekking trip to Everest Base Camp from the Nepal side or the Khumbu region.  It was rough because we made the wrong decision of climbing over Kongma La (5528 m/18,242 ft) to get to Lobuche (4,940 m/16,210 ft)‎ which is two villages away from Everest Base Camp.  I developed AMS but managed to continue on to complete our journey.

The next year, we went back to Nepal to conquer Renjo Pass (5,300 m/17,490 ft) and Gokyo peak (5,480m/18,080 ft).  We didn’t have any problems at that altitude with a much better acclimatization plan.  We both felt really good when we got to Gokyo Lake.

The third year back to Nepal, we raced a stage race in Manaslu and again, we planned our acclimatization for the race.  It went really well and we both finished the race feeling strong with results we expected based on our fitness.  The more important goal for us in that race was managing illness or minimize AMS going at a much higher intensity than normal.  That was an incredible experience!

Two years ago, we stayed longer in Nepal’s Himalayas and then circumstances led us to a mountain bike race in the Himalayas of Nepal climbing the highest motorable road in India.  This is where we discovered a beautiful place called Leh.

The plans for acclimatization was easy because we had a lot of time to train in Leh.  We put a training plan together and had two block training multi-day trips to simulate the race.  The two trips were incredibly hard because it was completely self supported and the weather up in the mountains constantly changed.  It was great training and gave us good confidence that we can finish the Manali-Khardungla mountain bike stage race.  We did finish and felt strong.

On our way back to Leh, we are climbing high and sleeping low here in the French Alps to help the body adapt to Leh’s altitude.  The body will in time adapt once in Leh, however what ever we can do to help speed up the process can be done with lots of climbing high and sleeping low in the alps.  A perfect place for acclimatization and training.

Just like any training program, you stress the body then allow it to recover.  That is where the body starts to adapt, gradually.  Climbing up high for instance to Tete Rousse at over 10,000 ft/3,030 m is great acclimatization for Leh.  Other areas around Chamonix is good and climbing slow up, spend some time high then coming down low.  That is normally how acclimatization is done.  The body will react to the pressure at high altitude and at some point produces a way to increase transport of oxygen to the body once it adapts.  That’s where more red blood cells are produced to carry more oxygen.  The higher we go, the higher the stress is to the body so we have to be careful.  Stress at high altitude will lower the immune system therefore it’s easy to catch bugs and get ill.  This whole high altitude training have always been so fascinating to me because of all the variables in play.

So, what do we do during our acclimatization training?

Here are some tips that really helped us:

  1. Take Iron supplement consistently.
  2. Climb efficiently keeping heart rate at Zone 2.
  3. Practice breathing deep and push breath out while climbing.
  4. Manage hydration.  Too little or too much is not good.
  5. Sip on warm plain garlic and salt soup the first 2 dinners.
  6. Eat.  The higher up you go, the more calories burned.
  7. Always wash hands.
  8. Sleep and rest as much as possible.

One of the things we’ve done also is to eat a lot of yogurt before going to altitude.  Digestion slows down and breaking down food is very difficult unless food is very soft.  The bacteria also helps prevent stomach bugs specially in social settings.  Stomach problems is very common at high altitude specially at high effort.  Good gut bacteria helps.

Sleep is number one on my list for recovery.  If one can sleep well the higher up they go, it’s a good sign.  It’s amazing what sleep does to the body.

We had no issues at Tete Rousse overnight and that is a good sign.  The body remembers where it’s been in life.  It learns and adapts.

We are so looking forward to our next training camp in Leh, India!

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