USA Cycling Masters Nationals Altitude

Masters Nationals at 6900ft: Air Force Academy 2019 Course Prep

For 2019 Masters Nationals lands at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs Colorado. The course is 18k in length per lap, has 968 feet of gain per lap.  In total, Men age 35-65 will race for 110k, with 6 laps and a total of 5,808ft of climbing. Women age 35-65 will race 4 laps, 73.2k, and have 3,872 ft of climbing. Here’s the link to the details of the schedule and a picture of the course map below.

Course Description

The climbing on this course is not a straight up and down. Looking at the map above, from the start finish, Stadium Blvd is pretty flat. Having personally raced this course about a dozen times, it feels easy here and if you’re a flat lander, you’re yearning to attack. While Stadium Blvd can be exposed and somewhat windy, it’s even sometimes easy to get away but most of the action happens on the climbing portions of the course. Making the right turn onto Pine Drive is fast and the turn is gradual. Pine Drive starts “the climb.” Pine Drive is gradual and ramps a bit steeper with each quarter mile. The right turn onto Interior Drive sees the course continue to climb. There is about a half mile descent between the end of Interior Drive and the end of Cross Drive. Then the final pitch to the top of the course happens on Parade Loop. From there we descend back to Stadium Blvd with a brief kick on the way.

Strava Hacking

That’s the course by the numbers and described. You should look at Strava, find someone your size and look at power numbers. This course is raced every year in Colorado by masters, pro’s, and collegiate racers. There’s a ton of data on it for your consumption. Now we will get into some prep advice and some physiology behind how to get your best result on this challenging course. These tips should be considered IN ADDITION to your normal training, coaching, training peaks, and total plan. If you’re shopping for home saunas and altitude tents but you have no idea of your current chronic training load or your power profile in comparison to the length of climbs on this course, you’ve got work to do but please read on and add these tips to your training plan.

Addressing Altitude

Altitude. This is probably the number 1 fearful question I’m getting from my athletes from the lowlands. This is serious altitude. The average course altitude is around 6900 feet.

How do you prep for that when you live in Texas!?!?!?!

Let’s lay out some options.

  • Move or live at altitude. Yes, not the most practical but it is the best option for a course as it lays. The people who live at 6000 feet that come down to heat and strong anaerobic efforts for nationals will have their own issues, and another blog post outlining those, on a different year but for now. Living at altitude will have benefits on this course because it’s one of the only legal ways to have an erythropoietin (EPO) response creating more red blood cells in your body. If you can’t move to altitude, being here for a couple months would work. If you have more straight up altitude physiology questions, see some of our other articles on that at our blog.
  • Heat Training. When you train in the heat and get a proper heat overload stimulus (not to be read as heat exhaustion) your body’s response is more blood volume. When training effectively in the heat or with a sauna, what you’re doing is exposing your body to higher levels and durations of heat than you’re used to and your body’s response is to create more ways to cool your body. One of these overload stimuli is high blood volumes. With more blood volume, to maintain homeostasis you will in effect have a higher absolute number of red blood cells. If you don’t have access to an altitude tent, training in the heat, usually at over 90 degrees F or doing 20-45 minutes in a non-infrared sauna a few times a week can produce this overload stimulus in your body.
  • Do nothing about the altitude. Maybe this will not leave you at 100% the best overall you can be, but as humans we are rarely at 100% and freaking out about what you will lose at altitude and what you have access to in an attempt to change your outcome can be more stress than its worth. Again, these tips are on top of your normal training and maybe your normal training is already a step above most of your competition. If you do your best at training, increase your percent of completed workouts, work on losing a few pounds of body fat, then you may be better off than the added stress of finding a sauna or altitude tent or any of the other methods searching for a few more percent in oxygen movement in your blood. You will feel the impact of the altitude but if you’re fit, and a bit lighter, that will be the couple percent more watts per kilo you need to do well vs all the frills of the other bio hacks.

Power & Altitude

What is the actual percent loss of 6900 feet on power? With all things being constant, the data is showing about 7-10 percent. Some people adapt less or more to altitude as far as hormone response over time. If you clone yourself right now and do a V02 test at 6900 feet vs 0 feet above sea level, that’s the percent difference we’re seeing.

Everything we’ve outlined above can have a few percent difference in your V02 via how much oxygen we can bring to your muscles. A couple percent with quality heat training. I haven’t seen any studies looking at heat training in addition to altitude training. The “do nothing” training group is known but can be very effective in having a low stress race day where you know you’ve focused on training and weight loss where you needed. 8-10 percent is also not outside of the realm of possibility of “riding efficiency.”

Maybe the rider that did the heat training and bought a $10k altitude tent also attacked on Stadium Blvd. in a headwind and accumulated so much acid in their attack that they got dropped in the first 10 minutes of the climb when the group brought them back, while the “do nothing” rider rode more conservatively and had a well thought out attack on the final pitch of the climb to win from a small group on flat Stadium Blvd. All plausible outcomes, making bike racing an amazing dynamic sport, and also leading us into our third part of this article, how to race this course.

How to race this course

While some sorts of riders react differently to altitude, everyone is under the same conditions. Every racer has to climb about 6000k feet over 110k of racing. You’ll race this race depending on what type of rider you are. If you’re a sprinter, you’re trying to make it over the climb every lap with the leaders to sprint on flat Stadium Blvd for the finish. If you’re a climber, you need to drop these sprinters on the climbs and punish the field until there’s only a few climbers left at the finish.

Rarely are there real team tactics at these levels of masters events. Know what type of rider you are, know your goal and ride as such. If you’re a sprinter and you find yourself in an early break on the climb, you’re probably in the wrong palace and you have time to get out of it. If you’re a climber and the race is easy on the climbs you should be thinking of how to change that. There’s no way to tell here who will win or how they will do it. There is not so much climbing that there will for sure not be a larger sprint finish, but have some semblance of plan based on your strengths and the course conditions.  

There’s a diverse set of physiological functions involved and simplified in this article. Feel free to email Zack at zallison@source-e.net with specific questions.  

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