How to Get Ready for the World’s Highest Triathlon

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After nearly a decade of planning and seeking land-use permission, the 106-Degree West Triathlon is slated to make race history on September 10, 2016 in Colorado. Not only is it the first athletic event to be held at the Lake Dillon Reservoir, which is located near Frisco, but it is also taking the title of the highest triathlon in the world. The race got its namesake from the coordinates of the reservoir (located at 39 degrees north, 106 degrees west, and 9,016 feet in elevation), and is the first ironman to pair an outdoor swim above 9,000 feet with land legs that push participants above 10,000 feet.

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And while the oxygen-sucking elevation is certainly a game-changer, that’s not the only factor making the half-ironman 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile pedal, and 5,600-foot run tougher than your average tri. Participants will be dealing with Colorado conditions — that means frigid waters and rugged land. According to private researcher Doug Silver, as reported by The Summit Daily, the surface of Lake Dillion is about 47 degrees in June, and rises up to 63 degrees by August. The winners will take home a $25,000 purse prize, but all participants will have their work cut out for them to earn their finisher’s cowboy hat and belt buckle. That’s why we got the world’s best and most iconic triathletes to share their training tips for racing at elevation.

Train Efficiently

"Any speed work at sea level will help increase your VO2 max and strengthens your diaphragm. Do the speed work you have in your training plan at near max efforts on the last few intervals. Quality speed work at sea level is going to help later at altitude, but doing workouts at altitude in the days before the race is going to hurt. Don’t think you are going to get your lungs fit last-minute — that will just put your body into recovery mode for the race." —Mark AllenSix-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion, named ESPN’s “Greatest Endurance Athlete of All Time” in 2012

Respect the Hills

"Riding up a hill on the bike is also a time to take it easy and keep your effort to a reasonable limit, as it’s not easy to stop and unclip your shoes on a hill when you are short of breath if the lack of oxygen becomes a problem suddenly." —Pete Jacobs, Winner of the 2012 Ironman World Championship in Kona

Coach Your Lungs

"As part of your training, practice breath-control breathing. For this, inhale for 10 seconds, and exhale for 10. Do this 10 times. Then increase the inhale to 20 seconds, breathing in slowly and holding it. Then exhale slowly and hold it for 20 seconds. Do this 10 times. Practice your breath control several times a day and your diaphragm learns to adapt managing less oxygen." —Mark Allen

Train With Technology

"If you can get your hands on an altitude simulation mask then you can train before the race in an oxygen level similar to what you’ll be racing in at elevation. The masks are more affordable than training in an altitude chamber, and you can take them anywhere." —Timothy O’Donnell, 2009 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Champion and Third Place Finisher of the 2015 Ironman World Championship

Slow Down on the Swim

"You’re going to feel the lack of oxygen most in the water. The water resistance is the same, but the oxygen you manage to get on your breaths will be dramatically reduced. If you’re used to breathing every other stroke, then switch to breathing on every stroke at altitude. Drag your legs behind you and only kick lightly. The reality is that you’re going to have to monitor your pace to use less oxygen. You’ll go into oxygen debt right away if you kick off at a normal pace. As you relax, a certain pace will become manageable, but swim very conservatively for 400 meters, then slowly build up to a sustainable pace." —Mark Allen

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Time your Travel Correctly

"If you’re coming from sea level, come to the race no more than three days before the race. It’s usually the third or fourth day at altitude when you’re body begins to work hard to adapt. That’s what makes you get really tired and lethargic. Get to a Sunday race on Friday, and that way you will have faked out your body and you’ll be able to give whatever you have on race day." —Timothy O’Donnell

Hydration is Key

"This means not only drinking a lot of water, but balancing that with an electrolyte drink so that you’re not flushing your body of needed minerals and electrolytes." —Ben Kanute, 2014 USAT Sprint National Champion and 2013 U23 USAT Athlete of the Year

No Gasping Allowed

"Having less oxygen in the muscles can cause people to feel the need to gasp for air, which can be a problem, especially while swimming at the start of the triathlon. Gasping for air can lead to even less oxygen getting into the muscles, and a vicious cycle begins, causing panic and anxiety to worsen as gasping for air increases. So stay relaxed, keep your heart rate well under anaerobic threshold, and breath normally." —Pete Jacobs

Hedge Your Pace

"It helps when training at altitude to go by a different parameter than pace. Everything will be a bit slower, so you need another gauge for your training or race. If you are a stickler for knowing your pace, there are calculators on run pace for altitude. When I‘ve trained at high elevation, my coach was able to give me a good idea of where I should be under those conditions." —Ben Kanute

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