Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Week 34 Update: Climbing on Purpose and other updates from my week

Week 34 Update: Feb 05, 2014 for the week beginning on January 26th, 2014

The ball is starting to gain momentum. All the tiny things are finally getting sorted out and I feel better than ever. Friends of mine are battling colds, flu, and all sorts of maladies. Me? I feel great . There are a few updates from last week. Here they are….

  • Summit Sundays are a blast…well, at least they are a challenge and I love that sort of thing. Each Sunday I feel as if I am about 100 calories away from bonking. It is difficult to eat and drink while wearing my hypoxic mask. Next week I intend to take scheduled breaks to keep the calories coming in on a more regular interval.
  • I have two groups I intend to support on my climb. See below for more details. Please consider donating to their causes. I have no intention of taking money from any of you but I would love it if you would consider donating to these causes.
  • New tent and more isolation. Yep, I got a new tent but do not plan to sleep in it until I go above 15,000 feet. More on those details below.

Workout Progress

A big Sunday followed by busy week at work. That busy week kept me from getting in some of my workouts during the weekdays; thus, I had to add a bit to Saturday. Also, I had a horrible swim practice on Tuesday night. I just never felt great so I left after an hour. Stress at work really affects my workouts in the evening.

plot of chunk WeekEx

Despite the bad Tuesday swim practice, I continue to recover well from all my workouts. See more about this point below. Look at the pile of lines below. Each one represents a week of activity! Sheesh. Only 10 more weeks to go.

plot of chunk DailyWL

Ten more weeks…ten more weeks. Something about these numbers makes me excited - more excited than other numbers. Ten seems like a more meaningful milestone than 11 or 9. Might be the hypoxia setting in finally. Another milestone is 600. Yep, at this point, I have accumulated 600 hours (as of today, Tuesday, February 4th). Last week I ended just shy of 600 but my “Summit Sunday” put me well over the mark.

plot of chunk CumWL

Weekly Summary

Still cannot eat enough. I returned to my omnivore days where I eat anything and everything within reach. There is nothing about my current diet that even hints at healthy. Yeah, sure I eat fruit and vegetables but I also consume a few bags of chips, a few beers each week, and whatever special is on the menu at the pub on Friday night. My apetite is non-existent. I eat to recover now. I can't wait for the day when food gets restored to its rightful place in my heart. Until then, I eat to recover.


It is amazing how stressful teaching can be when training this hard. I find myself completely exhausted after only a 75 minute course. Teaching requires me to be “on” and present; there is little down time. I have to teach for almost 6 hours each week, meet with my students regularly (another 5 hours/wk), and continue with all my projects (yet another 10 hours/wk) while also pressing forward with over 5 different papers leaves me exhausted. Training is only one part of my life now. One thing I found is that the time demands make me far more efficient. I no longer have any luxury time for myself. 'Tis a small price to pay for this adventure. My mood suffers though….it just does not show on the figure below.

plot of chunk Mood

Hypoxic Training

I trained last week at 18,250 feet for all my in-house sessions (i.e., elliptical and bike). The remainder of my training was higher intensity (swimming and running sessions) to maintain my lactate threshold and anaerobic fitness. My running is really going great. Late last week, I ran a 5:15 mile at a 162 heart rate. Can't recall those running times since they were a distant memory. Hypoxic training seems to work. I am not sure if it is the “Live High/Train Low” or the actual hypoxic workouts or both that contributed to my improved performance. Later - after my climb - I might start to test out different combinations to see what works best. For now, I am very happy with the results.

I also started some hypoxic intervals after reading about the effectiveness in several journal articles. In previous posts, I mentioned the trade-off between (an)aerobic conditioning and hypoxic acclimatization. The more you focus on the latter, the less fit you get and vice versa. Why? Hypoxia reduces your workload and takes away from your fitness level because you are less productive with your training time. I started to feel a bit sluggish after all the hypoxic training so I decided to investigate some way to maintain my conditioning without compromising my acclimatization. Well, I stumbled upon IMIHT (Intermittent Maximum-Intensity Hypoxic Training). Many researchers (e.g., Benjamin Levine) believe that IHT or Intermittent Hypoxic Training does little to add a well-conditioned athlete. The reason for the lack of benefit probably results from lower workloads during hypoxia. More recent evidence suggests that the jury is still out. Specifically, Vogt and Hoppeler (2010) stated that “[i]t is conceivable that the global functional markers such as Vo(2)max and (maximal) power output are too coarse to detect more subtle changes that might still be functionally relevant, at least to high-level athletes.” That potential may prove quite prophetic when it comes to a newer form of IHT - IMIHT. With IMIHT, you perform several high intensity, short duration bursts followed by a brief recovery interval. Last week I did 10 x 10 seconds all out followed by a 20 second rest interval. The entire session lasted 5 minutes but I was exhausted. I'm no sprinter and I rarely push myself that hard but the evidence from several recent publications indicate that the detractors of IHT are probably correct and yet the supporters of IHT might have something with their calls for more measurement. IMIHT offers a nice balance between acclimatization and conditioning. I only have one week of data but plan to monitor my “coarse” biomarkers for any signs of improvement/degradation.

With respect to sleeping, I am not sleeping well. Too much on my mind and not enough hours of restful sleep are beginning to pile up. Also, we are starting to gradually ascend in altitude from 12,000 feet to our eventual peak of 15,000 feet. Last week was a mix between 13 and 14,000 feet. Kathy and I both felt the effects of the increased hypoxia during our sleep. One night I went to bed so tired I left the tent wide open. That was a good break and one I probably needed.

plot of chunk Hypoxia

Recovery (Restwise Data)

The figure below shows a pretty simple relationship if you look very closely. My weight and my recovery score (RWscore) are positively but weakly correlated. The best predictor of my recovery score is my morning resting heart rate (restHR) followed by spO2. Both have correlations in the high range (r=-.63 and r=-.48 for restHR and spO2, respectively) - at least for these types of biomarkers. I figured weight would have a stronger relationship but it does not (r=0.19). Oh well.

plot of chunk RestwiseData

Updates for the week

As I stated above, it was a great week and I have more posts for this week after I submit this one. I have some great news from last week. Here are the news updates:

  • Climbing on Purpose: - my new title for my climb - integrates my research and my philanthropic interests. Many of you may know that my colleague Todd Kashdan and I are interested in the concept of purpose in life. We published several papers on the topic and plan to pursue more basic and applied research in the near future. Purpose is a word that many mountaineers use to describe the important element that keeps a climber dedicated to the climb. If you climb for something other than a mere check on a list of things to “bag,” you are more likely to be successful, feel a sense of fulfillment, and continue pursuing similar objectives. I typically climb with others in mind but this time around, I am climbing on purpose with a purpose - actually two.

    • Olivia: The first is in support of the Olivia Constants Foundation (click here for more information). I am deeply committed to this group and their cause. Please visit the website and consider donating. The Constants family has been part of my family since I can remember and their cause is our cause. I hope you spend a moment reading about Olivia. Purpose 1 is to climb for Olivia. It is an honor and a privilege that the family agreed to let me represent the organization during my climb.
    • Pancreatic Cancer Research: The second purpose is to support pancreatic cancer research at Johns Hopkins University. My mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1991. Back in the late 80's early 90's, cancer care was barbaric. There was little relief for patients and almost zero chance of life after 1 year post diagnosis. Upon my return from climbing Denali, my father announced that he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. With the aid of our entire family and friends in the medical community, we managed to get him into see the world's experts in pancreatic cancer at Johns Hopkins. They offered him the best care and, to this day, he remains healthy and upbeat about his long-term prospects. In particular, I would like to point out the three experts who helped my dad. Dr. Cameron performed my dad's surgery, Dr. Herman oversaw the radiation treatment (and responded to countless email messages and questions), and Dr. Laheru who continues to see my dad throughout his ongoing chemotherapy treatment. These doctors are truly remarkable and I want to support their efforts the best I can during my climb.
  • Send-off party: No great event starts with a lonely trip to the airport. I want to celebrate the end of preparation and the beginning of the adventure with all my friends, supporters, and family. The purpose of the send-off party will be to raise awareness of my two causes and to enjoy a few pints with those of you who wish to join me. The tentative date is March 29th at the Auld Shebeen in Fairfax, VA. Festivities will start at 4:30pm and continue until 10pm. Expect an update with any changes shortly. For now, you can book it in pencil.
  • New tent: I mentioned a few posts ago that I intend to keep moving up in altitude while sleeping so I can fully acclimatize to at least 20,000 feet before leaving. Our current tent works fine for us but has too much volume to produce the hypoxic environment needed above 15,000 feet. Thus, I got a smaller, lower volume tent for our downstairs (guest) bedroom. I intend to move to that bed once I need to go above 15,000 feet. Hopefully that will not be for a while. I love my bed and I love having my wife close to me. There will be enough alone time on the mountain where I do not need more experience sleeping alone. The acclimatization process, however, is a priority though and I want to make sure I am all set for Everest. A few weeks sleeping alone won't be so bad….I hope.

I have plenty of people to thank but today's post I focus on two (groups) rather than the long list of those who I want to acknowledge. I have 9 more weeks to thank everyone; this week I want to thank the Constants for agreeing to let me represent the Olivia Foundation. While I was working out at 18,000 feet on Friday, January 31st, 2014, Steve Constants and I exchanged a few email messages. He wrote “You made my morning! Olivia would love to travel with you to the top of Mt. Everest. We are honored that you would choose Olivia' s Foundation and that it is worthy of your consideration. I'll get you whatever you need. This fits Olivia perfectly- she gets to go to Everest Without training for it!!!!!!!” I was thrilled to say the least. Steve's enthusiasm for life is infectuous and I cannot say enough to thank him and his wife Dorothy for this great honor.

I also want to thank Marie Jo Corry and the group at Johns Hopkins for allowing me to represent them. Marie Jo was so enthusiastic with her supportive emails that I found myself getting so excited to part of their group. Drs. Joe Herman and Dan Laheru ought to be proud of her great efforts. Thanks Marie Jo for the wonderful support.

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