Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Air Up There

I went skiing. Once.

This happy little Texan – living at an altitude of 430 ft – flew up to visit a cousin in Denver – altitude 5,281 ft – and subsequently ended up in Breckenridge, CO – elevation 9,600 feet. We immediately proceeded to a local ski rental shop, donned a pair of 322 pound ski boots, hefted a pair of 197 pound skis, and trooped across the road to the nearby ski resort. Well, my cousin trooped across the road. I made it to the curb, roughly 4 steps.


Sunland Park in Where-ever-it-is, New Mexico, is at an elevation of 3,789 ft. Churchill Downs is at 440 ft. It’s noteworthy that Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, has been in residence in New Mexico since the Breeders’ Cup. Our good friends over at Thoroughbred Champions have pondered this whole “altitude training” scheme. And, speaking as a clinical laboratory scientist [who’s unwinding with a very nice merlot at this writing], I believe that the idea has some merit. Granted, Sunland Park is not exactly on a Tibetan tableau, but there are reports that acute exposure to elevations as low as 700 m, or 2,333 ft, reduces maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and utilize oxygen during exercise. Of course, the body requires a physiological adjustment or two – increasing the number of red blood cells and hemoglobin to transport oxygen to the tissue, lowering the maximal oxygen uptake. There’s gobs of papers and studies and articles and graffiti, articulating the regimen of high altitude training. However, I don’t believe that Mine That Bird fits in the “high altitude training” scenario; he’s been in New Mexico for months and has acclimated to the elevation, thus increasing his red blood cell volume/oxygen carrying capacity as well as improving the vascularity of skeletal muscle. I, for one, would be interested to know what Mine That Bird’s hemoglobin and hematocrit is compared to the other 18 Derby starters.

Uh oh. I feared that this blog entry would be filled with big, technical words. But it is something to ponder. Will the Road to the Roses someday lead through Sunland Park? Or Arapahoe Park? Perhaps Sherpas will get into Thoroughbred racing?

Just sharing some thoughts at 430 ft.

1 comment:

EdmundHillary said...

"Tenzing Norgay! That's a yak, not a horse!"