How to acclimatize

Posted in Triple Bypass at 17:08 by RjZ

First the good news. I didn’t just complete the Triple Bypass. I all but breezed through it. I spent under 8 ½ hours on the bike and completed the ride, including stops, in just over 10 ½ hours. Average speed was 14 miles per hour. Not so much impressive in and of itself, rather the surprising part is how I wasn’t really all that tired when I finally rode into Avon, Colorado. The ride is loooong and I certainly noticed that riding up what actually is the easiest climb: Vail pass, but I had been saving energy (afraid I might not be so fresh for the whole ride) up all the climbs, and even without eating enough, (the aid stations weren’t much in comparison to the MS150) I had enough strength to jump in a very fast pace line for the last 25 miles to the finish.

The Triple Bypass did prove to be quite a bit different from other rides I’ve been on. Nine out of ten of the riders were men. Men on expensive bikes with jerseys from previous Triple rides. It isn’t a race, but there’s no way to finish the sheer size of the ride without being in shape enough to go pretty fast, and it showed. Very few riders were just cruising along and while I surprisingly passed quite a few of folks both up and down the hills, I think some of the folks who passed me were going so fast that they were red shifted as they receded off in the distance in front of me. The ride also turns out to be somewhat technical. Passing slower riders on curving bike paths is no picnic and staying focused during 15 mile descents at 40+ mph isn’t much better. If finishing was easier than expected, the Triple Bypass was hardly boring.

That’s all fine and good, I trained for it, training worked…not such an interesting story, is it? We’ve established from previous posts that I am sensitive to altitude and I was determined to do something about it, but up until finishing the ride it was anything but clear if my efforts would be successful.

As planned, I set up camp at around 10,500 feet two days before the ride. I went for a couple of easy laps up to the pass and back, just to get some thin air in me. It was gorgeous. I took cellphone pictures of my smiling face with a stunning mountain backdrop. I took it easy. I drove my car up Mt. Evans rode, the highest paved road in North America, to over 14,000 feet ,and took pictures of yellow bellied marmots, big horn sheep and kids feed twizzlers to mountain goats (that’ll be another post….) I returned to camp and enjoyed a simple hot meal by the fire pit with the melody of noisy campers swirling around me.

That’s when the headache started. An hour later I lay whimpering in my sleeping bag wondering how bad it was going to get. At around 11:30 that night I  unzipped my tent door and leaned out to vomit up my dinner — right next to the tent. Not pretty. I slept poorly and I threw up yet again in the morning, (although this time, I made it to the toilet a few hundred feet away.)

I awoke feeling terrible. It took me fifteen minutes to eat a banana. If the ride had been that morning I would have been forced to bail out. I had planned on hiking, or maybe riding some more and enjoying the mountains. Instead I sat around while my headache slowly receded to a dull roar and I ate tiny amounts of food trying to refill my stomach. I was pretty down about ruining the whole thing, even before I got started.

I was mostly better by the evening, after sitting around doing absolutely nothing the whole day, and just hoping the headache would fade. I forced down a pasta dinner I had brought with me and went to bed early. The alarm was set to an evil 3:40 in the morning. As I lay there with the last light of day fading, I could finally move around without my head weighing me down like a pile of rocks, but as I fell asleep I was still unsure how the ride was going to go.

But like most of my posts, nothing exciting actually happens in the end.

So, is this what I have to do? Spend an extra day or two acclimatizing just to complete a challenging activity at higher altitudes? Is it worth it? I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem fair that all the training has so little effect on altitude and while I don’t want this to change what I can do in the beautiful mountains, everyone’s got to deal with their limitations.

If you had throw up every time you exerted yourself above 10,000 feet, would you bother? I know, in spite of the success, I’m in no rush to repeat the Triple Bypass next year. I’ll find something else stupid to do. Don’t make any suggestions though—I’d hate for another “stupidity ensues” series on this blog.

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