Swimming at Altitude

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Much has been written about the effects of running at altitude and rightfully so. However, one thing I have often heard is how at altitude (or elevation—technically different things) there is a lower percentage of oxygen in the air. Actually, the percentage of oxygen (~21%) stays the same until about 10,000 feet; it’s just the volume of oxygen in the air which decreases. So there is less air to breathe when you are working out, regardless of which workout you are doing.  But I digress.

Where was I?  Oh yeah. Running at altitude. Can be tough stuff. Even if you are used to it, trying to get the same level of performance when you are 6,000 above sea level can make you feel like a little nancy. However, it wasn’t until rather recently that the act of swimming at elevation would be just as difficult (if not more so). As with most things, this is obvious once you think about it. Yet until a friend/acquaintance, pro triathlete Jessi Stensland (who lives in San Diego at sea level) was recently in Park City, Utah (elevation ~7,000’) and she posted on her twitter account how hard it was to swim here, it hadn’t dawned upon me.

Then I went to Jackson, Mississippi, where the humidity made me wilt like something that wilts very easily (note to self: find an analogy) and my running was atrocious. My swimming, though, in the one workout I did half-heartedly felt like a hot knife through butter. It was this workout that led me to get in touch with a friend who had been struggling with trying to take on swimming to tell her my revelation. She too lived in Park City and had never really tried swimming at a lower elevation. I guaranteed that while she might not become AquaMan without a doubt her training up high here in the clouds would inevitably make her a stronger swimmer.

My hypothesis is going to undergo greater experimentation over the next few months as I:

  • Begin to swim a lot more than I have in the past 15 years.
  • Hit the pool in Park City every once in a while.

Situated nearly 2,000 higher than Salt Lake City, this will be the perfect place to quickly see what affect swimming up high will have on my training. Then, when I go and do the Lake Titicaca Triathlon, I will have no excuses.


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