Alejandra’s Going to Kill Me!!! 3-28-16

So I bought an altitude tent…
Well the correct term would be “oxygen deprivation tent,” as the unit pumps out O2 at a concentration less than we breathe at sea level. Either way, I bought a frickin altitude tent!
Some friends and great local runners, the Dube’s, told me about the Hypoxico tent they had purchased in an effort to better prepare for Western States (the initial climb to the Escarpment tops out over 8,000ft). Living in San Luis Obispo, we’re privileged to have access to an absolute paradise with everything to offer the avid outdoorsperson, unless you’re training for a high altitude ultra (early miles of Western States, Leadville, Wasatch, Hardrock, etc.). Sleeping in their “altitude tent” for the past several months, both Eric and Tera were proponents of the results they’d seen… easier to run at a higher elevation, stronger on normal runs and no issues with altitude.
Sold!
In preparing for Western States, we’re trying to prepare for all the variables present in the race:
      – Early climbing miles at high elevation
– A fast start by the majority of runners
– Extreme heat in the canyons
– Over 23k of downhill running
– The high potential for blowing out the quads early
– Late, very runnable miles
– Nutrition and hydration issues
Nearly all of the abovementioned variables can be targeted in training and race prep (heat management, packing freaking salt tabs, food choices, training plan modification, etc.), except the altitude. Not having raced an ultra significantly higher than sea level, I’m stumbling into uncharted territory, which fittingly breaks the first rule of ultrarunning…
Don’t try anything new on race day!!!
To best prepare for racing at a high altitude, the most effective option is to live and train at a high altitude. Since we reside in San Luis Obispo and we’re not moving anytime soon, if ever, living and training at a high altitude isn’t likely going to happen. Another option for preparing for altitude is to “Live High, Train Low.” This approach requires runners to live at a higher elevation, and then perform their training at a lower elevation. Again, please read the first sentence of this paragraph to determine if this is a viable option. The altitude tent is the third option.
There are a few different versions of this tent. The most popular option is a thick plastic, tarp-like material that covers the entire bed. When initially asking Alejandra about sleeping in this type of tent, I can’t recall her exact words, but we’ll paraphrase it as, “No chance in hell.”
Some of you may have seen the picture of Michael Phelps’ bedroom, as it’s a fully contained glass structure surrounding his bed. This is another option for the Hypoxico system, albeit the most expensive. Can’t remember my exact thoughts on this system, but we’ll paraphrase it as, “No chance in hell.”
There is also a slimmed down version of this system that utilizes a mask, similar to a C-pap machine. Trying to get a solid night of sleep with this ridiculous mask covering your face, sounding like Darth Vader looked like a challenge, so I went with the fourth option.
The “Head Tent” a term coined by Hypoxico, is essentially just what it sounds like. With several poles  creating a frame of approximately half the width of a California King, 18ish inches high and about the same depth, a thick plastic tarp folds over the structure, with a chain weaved into the bottom to keep the tarp in place. Placed inside the tent is a filter connected to a hose that plugs into a rolling compressor. This is the engine and brains of the device, as it determines the amount of oxygen to distribute to the user. Hypoxico did a great job designing this compressor, as there is chart on the unit which has a number that corresponds to a given altitude. As an example, a setting of 8.5 would equate to sleeping at an elevation of approximately 10,000ft. Unfortunately, these types of systems can’t mimic the pressure of higher altitudes, but lowering the amount of available oxygen has a few effects.
IMG_1222
Can’t believe I’m sleeping in this…
Physiologically, when you breathe in less oxygen than what is normally available (i.e. living/sleeping at altitude), the oxygen saturation or amount of oxygen in the body starts to lower. In order to compensate, the respiratory and heart rate increases to extract and supply as much oxygen as possible to vital organs. The body also begins to develop more red blood cells, as these guys transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Over time, a person living at altitude will develop an increased amount of red blood cells, making them able to theoretically function at a higher capacity than that same individual living at sea level.
So how the hell do I sell this to Alejandra???
      – Being the Super Bowl of ultrarunning, Western States is a race that is incredibly difficult to get into, and this system could help in preparing for early altitude issues
– The head tent looks super small in pictures, so they’ll be plenty of room in the bed
– The compressor would be nearly silent… barely white noise
– It wouldn’t bother Omar… our cat
The last point sealed the deal.
With only one picture that I could find of this head tent, as I didn’t know the specs before ordering the system, it truly made the unit look small. After looking at the picture, Alejandra thankfully didn’t banish me to the guestroom, and allowed the tent as long as it met the topics we discussed.
Arriving a few days later, the UPS driver asked what the hell was in this giant box he carted up to the house. Uh oh!!!  I sure hoped there was a lot of packaging material in this behemoth, or the whole “small” debate I’d used when describing the system wasn’t going to hold much water. Thankfully, I had beat her home from work, so I was able to set the unit up before heading out for a run.
Returning home a couple hours later, Alejandra “greeted” me at the door. Normally Carly and I hear, “how was your run?” Not today…
“This thing is huge!” Unfortunately I don’t hear those words too often. Stumbling through my earlier selling points, I promised it wouldn’t be that loud. Shit, I haven’t even turned this thing on yet!
In talking with Dylan Bowman, Hypoxico’s rep and also an absolutely ridiculous ultrarunner, before purchasing the Hypoxico system, my first question was “Seriously man, how loud is this thing?” Dylan explained that his layout was similar to mine, and that it didn’t hinder sleeping. His exact words were, “it’s like a white noise.”
Ok, let’s fire this thing up…
IMG_1225
Bye Bye Oxygen…
Thankfully the house didn’t rattle when we started up the unit, Carly wasn’t too scared and most importantly, Omar didn’t mind.
So 8 weeks later, I’m still sleeping in an altitude tent and Alejandra hasn’t banished me to the guestroom… yet.
IMG_1223
“Sleeping” at 10,000ft.
What I learned:
– Before purchasing something that will be in your bedroom, meticulously check the specs
– Don’t trust pictures when trying to determine size
– Altitude tents get warm… really, really warm, so plan accordingly
– Building red blood cell volume requires a lot of iron, so if your numbers are already low, supplementation is a necessity
– As with running, taking your time to acclimate is essential. Firing up the tent to 8,000ft out of the gates isn’t the smartest move if you want to breathe
– Maybe it’s a placebo or more likely the oxygen deficit to the brain, but I sleep like an absolute rock and have some vivid dreams in the tent
– If higher oxygen saturation levels and a lower resting heartrate at the same elevation is a sign of the Hypoxico tent working, then we’re on the right path
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