Living in Co, we get a lot of questions from athletes regarding how to train for or what to expect from the altitude on race day.
Again, whenever possible, I'll provide links. Right now, I don't have the time to put the links here.
First, the most current research is showing that even if you don't live at altitude you can get some of the benefits of training at altitude by heat training. If you don't want to read the article (which I recommend that you do), here are the key points:
*Heat training causes the same stresses on the body that altitude training does.
*Cyclists who underwent heat training showed greater power output than those who did not when they tested at altitude. Obviously the athletes who trained at altitude had the greatest speeds. Those who did not go through heat training, did the worst of the group.
*This testing was done at an altitude of 10,000 feet! If you come out to race at Boulder, Boulder is 5430. Imagine the boost an athlete can get if they live at sea level but do heat training. (I'm looking at you Texas athletes).
NEXT, the higher the intensity of a race, the bigger the impact altitude will have.
That means, if you are coming out to do a Sprint or an Oly, you will feel the altitude more. This is simply an O2 issue. When you are racing at threshold and harder, your need for O2 is greater. If you come out for a 70.3 or full, you will feel the affects of altitude considerably less.
But here's the deal, up to 5000feet, an athlete's VO2max is the same as it is at sea level.
So what gives? Why do people worry incessantly about altitude?
I suspect, and I have no research to back me up. It has to do with two things:
1.) The intensity of the sun.
2.) Low low low humidity.
When athletes come out here, many times they have no idea how intense the sun is, living at +5000ft. CO has the highest rates of skin cancer in the US. Sunscreen is critical to keeping the skin protected and cool. Likewise, ice ice baby at every damn aid station.
Often times, athletes are pretty excited to race in a dry climate. They are tired of wearing a layer or two or three of sweat every day. However, they are ill-prepared for the effects of a dry climate. Lip balm is actually a thing we use here. Your hydration needs might be different....they might be the same, but you won't necessarily know by how much you are sweating. This is because, as you are racing, the sweat is going to evaporate.
Dehydration and sunburn can negatively and seriously affect your performance.