Wednesday 2 October 2019

13. My Kilimanjaro Training: 6 Months In - Getting High at The Altitude Centre

Howdy folks!

 I'm coming near to the end of my Kilimanjaro training journey with just one week to go before I board the plane to Tanzania! Thank you to everyone who has followed the long slog over the last 6 months but the bigger journey is yet to come!

I've decided to braid my hair too! Just to keep it out of the way and make it easier not being able to wash it for days up on the mountain.

Despite training for 6 months and having the right gear on the mountain, many people don't reach the summit of Kilimanjaro because of the misfortune of genetics and biology with their bodies not being able to respond well to the thinning air as you climb higher up the mountain - Altitude

So, as luck would have it in this case - I won a voucher for a free altitude training session at The Altitude Centre  

Would be a waste to waste a taste of altitude right?

The Altitude Centre down on Trump St, (believe it or not), is said to be the #1 Altitude training specialist in the UK with a few of them dotted around in Manchester and Ireland, how lucky to have the HQ in London! The centre gives users the opportunity to experience training in a simulated altitude of 2,700m - which is said to be the equivalent of being up in the The Alps for all you skiers.

With Kili being 5,895 metres, its the closest I'm going to get for free! 

I was very lucky to have a free session as training at altitude sure ain't cheap - you can have mountaineering, exercise, health and well-being consultations along with group classes, solo sessions, personal training and rent or buy your acclimatising equipment. I was told that the BBC Celebrities that did Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief did some training here along with Olympic athletes and those wanting to improve their overall performance.

Of course, one session wasn't going to prepare me that much but this was way out of my budget with the amount of sessions needed to make it all worthwhile starting (they say 10 really over 5 weeks before you go), but it would be fun to check out the experience of training in altitude with a free pass. 

So with banana skin in pocket (still couldn't find a bin, even on Trump St) I confusingly paced around trying to figure out how to actually get in to the centre and precariously creeped into the sports shop next door which was the gate way to the stairs for the Altitude Centre.

Low and behold on Level 2 was the centre, but I was still disorientated and I hadn't even been put into altitude yet! Fortunately one of the staff were out in the foyer, or piece of space between the two gyms, lets call it the lounge with chairs, wound me in with my free voucher and took me into the 'chamber' for my free 'solo session'.

Behold the 'Altitude chamber' at just 15% oxygen 

I don't think, well, apart from going to the glacier of Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador in 2009 which was pretty high I can't really say what I was actually expecting the air should be like in the chamber at 15% oxygen - but walking through the push button slide doors, very futuristic indeed, the sounds of machinery running and pumping music meeting the cool air inside, there is a man being trained on the next treadmill inside the chamber with a breathing mask, I was surprised to to be told the oxygen just inside the chamber was actually at 15%, you hardly would have noticed!

'So you all good to go? asks the staff member in the black, her name in Caitlyn. She'd done Kilimanjaro herself only last month and even she got Altitude sickness having trained here.

'Well, I've never done it before' I semi-shout over the chugging noises of the machinery and air con rushing in, having a feeling she assumed I knew what I was doing and was about to abandon me in the 15% oxygen chamber to rush off and do something else - I mean, my ignorant mind wasn't even sure how long you can last in 15% oxygen??

Was a pretty dumb thing to think anyway as she gave me the option to do cycling, rowing or running. Walking I think was going to be better for me, seeing I had my weighted backpack with me and was keen to get on the super expensive looking hi-tech treadmill which somehow changed itself into German (don't speak much Deutch) with a video of a young mute blonde woman on the same treadmill pumping her arms and talking on the screen with no sound - obviously something to do with exercise. Changing it back to English, thank god - 20% was the highest incline I could go and I wanted to make the most of the session. In fact, they are so laid back there, my free session was only meant to be 45 minutes but I was told I could have as long as I want! 

Its crazy how they simulate the 15% oxygen into the room through a pressurised filter in the piping from the ambient air outside and through the door - technology hey. The man next to be wearing the fancy hi-tech breathing mask was also training for Kilimanjaro next week! he had been doing quite a few sessions at the centre and was having his oxygen simulated though the mask to be the same as Kili. 

I was however given some good advice from his personal trainer to wear a blood/oxygen level reader on my finger as I walked - monitoring how well the body distributes oxygen from the lungs to the cells. The higher your reading the more your body can cope with the thinning air. At sea level, it should not really drop below 90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) otherwise you're not doing great!

In fact, on Kilimanjaro - at 5,000 metres the air pressure is only 55% of that at sea level and you can start to experience Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) like headaches, vomiting, nausea, dizziness if you don't respond well to it. You have this level monitored daily and if you're level drops to 75 then you are told, well no, ordered to descend off the mountain by the guides or you risk your body shutting down.....crikey, sometimes summiting Kili is not actually totally in your control.

But if you never try, you'll never know right?  

 Pretty normal reading of mum had her's read once and it was 99! Not sure I have her genes there though!  

Another useful piece of advice was to practice walking at 1.2km/h as this was the realistic pace to climb Kili to acclimatise properly, slowly, slowly, slowly. Seeing as I was practicing at 3.1 in the gym - this is really slow, almost slow motion! But I don't mind slow at all - I'm prone to chronic knee pain (runs in the family) so in my opinion, the slower for me the better, even if it is painfully slow!

So I decided to plod along and follow the advice, milk the machinery with the photos of the ice cool lofty mountains strewn along the walls, making me feel I'm walking among the clouds closer to heaven....or just a really good psychological trick!

I decided to do 45 minutes without the mask and a 45 minute challenge of wearing my own little one that has been pretty much glued to my face the past 6 months and will be glad to give it a break from next week! I wanted to try and focus on my breathing technique and restrict my air flow even more,  and experiment getting the maximum amount of oxygen into my lungs - if its going to work who knows!

I think I overcooked my privilege as I watched different people come in and race or cycle away on the other treadmills and bikes, sweat pouring from their skin cells as I was told I would sweat more in this air conditioned chamber than I will on the mountain. I soon found myself unable to get off the treadmill as I was surrounded by a fitness class, doing squat jumps and push ups on the floor around me!

Time to come back down to earth....

I figured 90 minutes was long enough training in the altitude (otherwise I could have gone on forever) and ticked it off my training list. I didn't feel any real affects at the time but just a bit of nausea on the tube home - or maybe that was just the dirty tube air! 

With friendly staff and cool equipment, I think if you have the budget and the time to get yourself to The Altitude Centre for an event preparation programme over a matter of months - I would recommend it, but even though that one session will likely not help me that much and I'm fully expecting to get AMS, getting a chance to see and use the facilities at altitude was awesome and who knows how I will react to extreme altitude, but I will try and put the odds in my favour and do my best.....

Thanks for reading about my experience at The Altitude Centre - just one more final training blog to come before I'm jetting off to deepest darkest Tanzania to start my Kilimanjaro Challenge in one weeks time!

If you would like to please help me with any last donations towards my chosen charity 'Action For M.E'  who help sufferers like my sister cope with living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and can only dream about going to Africa and climbing a mountain, please see my Just Giving page with anything you can afford and I'll be high as a kite like at altitude!

And to those who have already donated, thank you ever so much for supporting me and the 250,000 people suffering with M.E in the UK today.

Till next time, farewell from on high.....:)

Training Distance : 1.5km (at altitude!) (0.93 miles)

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