Altitude Training

So this is the first of a few blog posts about how you can make the most of the training you’re doing and some of the physiological theory behind it.

I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree in sport, health and exercise science and I’ve realised that a lot of it is helpful to me and others who participate in sport at a competitive level. I believe it is important to know why you’re training like you are and what you should be looking for beyond the scores you get on the ergo. Understanding the training is key in knowing when you’ll peak and when you will feel the benefits of different training phases. This post is about altitude training and how it helps/what it does.

There is widespread acceptance that altitude training improves performance at altitude and at sea-level, however, what actually happens when the GB senior men train for 2 weeks in Silvretta as they have been? Why do teams go to altitude?

Altitude training is tough work. When you go up to the mountains, your VO2max decreases about 8% every 1000m you go up, this means that whilst you were sitting there pulling 1:50 splits at sea level, for the same effort you now have to look at 1:58s. But there is a physiological benefit and it’s the reason the guys rack up hundreds of miles in the mountains… More blood. So here’s some biology: When you go up to altitude (around 2000-3000m) the oxygen going through your system decreases, making it harder to exercise. Starving your kidney of oxygen encourages it to produce more Erythropoietin (EPO). This goes through the bloodstream and into the bone marrow where it tells the bone marrow to produce more blood. However, blood cannot be produced without iron, so when teams go up to altitude it is important that they intake iron (up to twice the recommended) in order to improve red blood cell count.

Is it worth it?

It’s pretty costly. More than just monetary costs. Going up to the mountains for a few weeks is more likely to cause illness in athletes. It’s also very important to get the training right; if you go up there and continue the same training, you’ll burn out and any change in physiology will be undone pretty swiftly. For club level athletes, the risks outweigh the potential gains. For national squad teams with a lot of money to spare, it may be worth the 1% increase in haemoglobin although the optimal time to race after coming down from altitude is 3 weeks, suggesting the GB team may be slightly premature in their ascent.

The takeaway message from this for those of us who cannot afford a hypoxic chamber is that iron supplementation may be handy, especially for those who are deficient. Also realising that keeping organs such as kidneys in good condition is quite helpful, therefore keeping hydrated is very important. If you are lucky enough to have a spare hypoxic chamber, a good idea is to use it when you sleep and then train during the day without any hindrance to get the maximal benefit.

That’s it for the first blog post. If you want to get in touch praising me for my knowledge or indeed correcting me then please do. The next blog will be about the stress of travel, steps to avoid jetlag as well as solutions to travelling and competing for optimal performance. Ciao.

– Rich Clarke

Regatta Sport kit can help support your training with Aero-Lite, Carbon Mesh and legs that won’t ride up. Whatever conditions you’re in.

Double Beaver Report – Mike Dostal

This summer I had the opportunity to race a few awesome Surfski races on the East Coast of the US. The Jamestown Double Beaver had, by far, the best name of any of these races.

It is a 10-mile open ocean race leaving and returning to Jamestown, Rhode Island and passing a large rocky outcrop called the Beaver’s Tail. The course starts in among the sailing boats of Narragansett Bay and heads out of the protected waters into the ocean.

Once you pass the Beaver’s Tail you try to find a red (or maybe green) turn can and make a clockwise turn and head for home. For this race, I was given the second generation Stellar SES to use. I had been alternating between paddling this and the Stellar Apex K1 on a flat water lake for a couple of weeks.

On the flats, the SES was surprisingly quick and seemed to hold speeds during race pace intervals very nicely. The narrow deck also made transitioning from the K1 to the SES easy, as the catch in the SES is relatively narrow compared to some skis I have used.

Flatwater paddlers love to talk about boat speeds on flat water but as all ski paddlers know flat water speed is great, but you’ll not get to use much of that when you get out on the ocean.

Due to my location, I would say I am definitely in the flat water camp. So it is always with a little in trepidation I mount the ski and head out into the waves. For this race, I was informed, by the locals, that it really wouldn’t be rough at all. Not believing a word of what they told me I fitted the larger 8” rudder and practiced a couple of braces.

The start was flat for ocean paddlers. I was really very pleased with the boat and was able to get off fast and open up a gap in the first 1km. This was all well and good but it was still flat and I knew as we left the bay it would certainly not be.

I was correct. Like most, who spend their time on flat water, ocean waves are something of a mystery. They are always huge, and it’s always very disappointing when you check the reports to find they are in fact several feet less than your estimates.

Still, the swells from the Atlantic were large enough that when Greg in a very close 2nd place caught up with me I lost him a number of times between swells. I know Greg and know he is certainly better in mixed ocean conditions than I am, so my aim was to keep him in contact until the water flattened and I could use some of my speed to catch him.

Surprisingly, I was feeling very comfortable in the SES moving through the swells upwind and was able to relax without any worry of having to deploy the well-practiced brace or even worse the remount! I managed to make the turn, which was a red can, not green in case you were interested, still in the lead. Just.

On the downwind leg I figured Greg would pull away leaving me a mile or so in the bay to catch him. Again, I had a little surprise. The SES was surprisingly easy to control and while others may have gotten more out of the downwind conditions, I was very pleased that the boat enabled me to work hard when I needed to and catch runs when I could. As we entered the bay I had open up a lead of about half a minute and felt great knowing the SES was fast enough to take me home to a rare Surfski win.

The post-race food and drinks are always the highlight of any good Surfski race and the Double Beaver did not disappoint. Pizza with a pesto base? Artisan.

Of course I had to bring up the huge disparity between the actual conditions and those the local paddlers had told me we would experience. It seemed to me that their predictions that “it wouldn’t be rough at all” were a little misplaced. Those waves were huge. No, apparently I was wrong. The consensus was that it had been pretty flat conditions. At most, they would concede to calling the water textured!

– Mike

Tom Kay is the UK distributor for Stellar Kayaks, check out the full range of Kayaks available at  and contact us with any enquiries!

Tips For Starting The New Rowing Season

With the memories of last season fresh in the mind and the excitement of the new season fast approaching, here are some helpfulish tips to help get back into training and how to enjoy yourself:

Other forms of exercise

In the off-season, take the time to enjoy different forms of physical activity that you don’t get the chance to do during the season. There are benefits to this.

Firstly it breaks up the monotony of erging for hours, secondly it can improve different muscle groups that aren’t usually trained: Walking is a good way of burning fat and cycling is a great way to build back fitness. Go ice skating, swimming, rock climbing or even bird watching  just find as many replacements for a 12k erg as possible.

Know your aims

As next season approaches, it’s important to know what you’re aiming for. A personal suggestion is to apply for a degree in mathematics so as to understand the new British Rowing points system to know what category you’ll be racing.

Whether you are a professor of mathematics or not, knowing what races you plan to target next year is crucial in building motivation in the new season and it’s nice to know that if your target is Henley at the end of the year then you don’t have to rush up to fitness.

Fitness will come

Speaking of fitness, an essential thing to remember in these times is that the fitness will come eventually. Jacob Dawson is part of the GB senior team, he took 2 weeks off last season after returning from the States, it then took him a couple of months to get back down to fighting weight for the FISU eight. Stick at it through tough times and the good times will come.

If you have any other tips, please let us know in the comments below!

The Best Calls Ever

Of all the things you say, you never know which will make the difference.

Your most well thought-through and treasured speech can go in one ear and out the other, while the passing comment that you don’t even remember saying can have the greatest effect.

I have seen this principle in action from both sides of the fence.

Some of the best coaching I ever had was the cast-away aside at the end of a session or an unnoticed (by the speaker) thought, buried deep in a well-planned point.

Similarly I have had people tell me that once upon a time, I said something to them which really resonated, while I have had to smile sweetly and pretend that I can remember saying it in order not to offend. [To be fair it is quite possible that the really good stuff was told to them by someone else and only attributed to me…!]

Of course, none of that should diminish from the value of the comment or the skill of the person making it.

As with many things, I think, perhaps, that your deepest insights come when you are not consciously thinking about them – from your peripheral vision, as it were. Just like a physical skill is hindered if we think about it while executing, the same can be said for coaching – which is a skill that needs to be practised as much as any other.

You can’t have a pearl of wisdom buried in another thought if you don’t deliver the main thought in the first place…

An example from my time as an athlete was while training in my single scull in Nottingham with Allan Whitwell coaching me. He had been following me on his bike about 100m behind. In fact I was wondering if he was watching at all. Then as I was turning for another circuit of the lake he asked me:

“How are your finishes today?”

To which I replied (in true rower style)

“ Err, um, not sure. I don’t know really, I wasn’t thinking about them.”


Allan just turned to ride off and simply said:

“Oh. No reason”

I will leave you to work which sculler, of all the scullers in the world who were training at that moment, was thinking about his finishes hardest for the next hour or so.

Now, I don’t know if Allan planned that or if it happened off the cuff. But I am sure that he didn’t realise how long it would stay with me and how many times I would refer back to that moment during some training session in the far future.

He probably still doesn’t, as I never told him (in true rower style!).

~Tom Kay