Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Colorado Mountain High
Only someone who just arrived on the planet Earth would not know that increasing elevation impedes performance. It’s not that the percentage of oxygen is lower at higher elevation; it’s that the partial pressure (PP) of air is reduced the higher you go. Barometric pressure is what drives oxygen across the membrane of the alveoli and onto the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. The higher you go, the more “disbursed” or spread out are the molecules.
So, what are the implications for competing at altitude for the Challenge? And, doesn’t the SCBA help? Since many of the competitors run the course in less than 2 minutes, the energy requirements come from a breakdown of ATP to ADP, and from
ADP to AMP. These are energy bonds that do not require the presence of oxygen to create energy. But, the payback, or recovery system is aerobic. The positive pressure SCBA helps slightly, but everything is relative. Since the second stage regulator operates on a slight “delta” or difference above ambient, you’re not getting much of a boost.
Theoretically, if you could maintain the PP of sea level inside the face piece, altitude would not be a factor. On a similar note, I’ve written a short proposal on climbing Mt. Everest in a Scott SCBA. If you could keep your sea level atmosphere with you, you could scamper up the peak in short order since the distance and terrain from the last pitch is pretty much a walk in the park. What makes things so difficult is that every step. even on bottled oxygen represents a near-maximal contraction. So, even breathing 100% oxygen, you have only about one-third of the pressure driving the molecules across the alveoli’s membranes. Of course, switching out bottles presents the logistical challenge. You’ll need a lot of Sherpas.
Our recent experience in Vail (8000’ or 2438M) precipitated an acute metabolic acidosis response in everyone. While we claim the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge to be the “Toughest Two Minutes in Sports™” at sea level, it can be a real butt-kicker at elevations above ≈3500’.
We noted that about 30 competitors who played last year did not make the return trip this month. We think we get it. If you already have your ass kicked at sea level, imagine what altitude will do. Vail is a world-famous destination. Many of us have tagged a white water rafting trip to the event, or found other exciting forms of recreation. To keep this venue alive for the out years, we need to hear from you. We have a simple survey form that will help us better plan for the future.
Please follow this link to take this one-minute survey.
Maybe this venue should be exclusively the “Colorado Rocky Relay Championships”? Take just a few minutes and tell us what you think.