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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I just completed a week of cycling in the Colorado Rockies, Summit County (Vail, Breckenridge are there), culminating with the Colorado Cyclist Copper Triangle ride this past Saturday, 8/2. Breckenridge is about 9600 feet (our base for the week), and on the Cop Tri, we went as high as 11,300+ feet (Fremont Pass). Never lower than 7800 feet, and most of our cycling (about 275 miles total, over 6 days) was spent over 9000 feet, some over 10,000 feet in altitude.

I live in the Kansas City area, altitude is about 1000 feet, maybe a bit more. I like to ride hard, have a Garmin Edge (that records everything, almost), and on rides in the KC area I will end up with avg heart rates 145-150, sometimes even over 150. My max is usually in the 165-170 range, sometimes tops 170, and if I have been off the bike for a number of days (I rode a hilly century in southwest Missouri a few weeks ago, after 12 days off, max HR was 181) might top 180, but that is rare. I am 49 years old (male), and about 205-210 pounds.

In Colorado, my HR rarely topped 150, if at all, and averages were routinely in the 120 range, well below what I see at home in KC. Did about 14,000 feet of climbing in those 275 miles, and legs rarely felt tired, though at times on the climbs it seemed like I was maxed out, yet HR wasn't, not even close. I looked at my Garmin record of the Copper Triangle, 78 miles, 6000 feet of climbing (Freemont Pass, Tennessee Pass, Battle Mountain, and Vail Pass, 2 of these climbs are extended, over 10 and 15 miles). HR never even reached 150, not once. Avg speed, which I wasn't concerned about at all, this was my longest mountain ride ever, with most climbing, was 15.2. This is lower than my riding is usually in KC (17 - 21, depending on distance and intensity). I felt like I was riding hard, but yet not at my max, or on the edge -- I wanted to save something for Vail Pass, longest climb with most altitude gain (about 15 miles, about 3000 feet, with most of that coming in the 2nd half, the first half is gradual). I didn't feel as trashed as after a fast century in the KC area. Oh yes, I ride plenty, over 3000 miles so far this year, and about 800 in the 3 weeks prior to the Copper Tri (600 in KC, 200 in Colorado mountains).

OK, sorry for the bit long ramble -- is this common, not seeing HR at usual levels, for a lowlander coming into the mountains ? Does the lack of air limit the effort the heart / legs are able to put out ? Just curious.

Doug
 

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my experience

I can't tell you it's common, but it happened to me.

Like you, I'm from the heartland. Did Ride the Rockies this year. My HR will routinely go into the 180's, and low 190's is about as high as it'll ever go. During RTR, my HR never went about 160, but I felt maxed out. Couldn't go any harder, but my heart wasn't working as hard as I know it can. The last climb of the trip over Hoosier Pass, my HR never went over 145.

I chalked it up to be generally fatigued, from riding and lack of good sleep. But maybe there's more to it.
 

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I raced the Mt Evans hillclimb this year. The race starts at 7800' and tops out at 14,100'. I live in the SF bay area (California) and spent about a bit less than a week in Boulder before the race. So I wasn't acclimated to altitude.

I found that the higher I got, the lower HR I could maintain at what felt like the same level of effort. I've done a number of uphill races like this so I am reasonably good at dosing my effort.... I didn't go any easier at the end. But instead of the ~2-5 bpm under threshold that I could normally do on something like this, by the top I was more like 17 under but feeling just as bad.

There's a lot of different signals that your body gives to let you know that you are potentially hurting it. Fast breathing may be one. I was having to breathe fast and deep to try to get enough air, and air was definately a limiter. Around 11-12,000' I tried to eat a bite of Clif bar. Just stopping breathing to chew a couple times had my head spinning. It took a long time to catch back up and I didn't try to eat any more.
 

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at Evans we're all a bit shy of our threshold HR levels.
think of it this way... your lungs can't get the O2 they are used to. Can't get the fuel to your heart so your heart doesn't work as hard as it normaly can.

Which is why us folk up high can go low and climb like it's flat. (or drink like a fish too)

Ideal situation would be to sleep high, train low. Thus the fancy tents lowlander pros use. Some guys up here use extra O2 for indoor training sessions. They can do more and harder intervals then otherwise.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The altitude

I was definitely breathing harder, no doubt about that. My theory is that, as they say, the chain is no stronger than the weakest link. As cyclists, we basically have lungs, heart, and legs. Perhaps since the lungs can't get as much oxygen into them, at higher altitudes, the heart and legs just won't / can't work as hard. My legs felt pretty fresh, with almost no muscle soreness at all, after my 6 days (riding 5) of 275 miles, with 14,000 feet of climbing (remember, I weigh over 200 pounds (not overweight, well maybe just a little, I am 6'3" tall) - which is WAY more climbing than I would get around Kansas City, and much more continual / extended climbs). After that hilly (short/steep, mostly, only one climb over a mile) century in southwest Missouri about a month ago, I rode the next 6 days straight (back home in KC), totalling just over 300 miles (wife and twins out of town, I was a FREE MAN :), to cycle as much as I wanted). My legs felt trashed after those 7 days, which were a mix of hard riding and recovery riding, they felt way worse (as in more muscle soreness) than after the week in Colorado, yet in Colorado I felt I went as hard as I could on all the days / climbs other than the Copper Triangle day (didn't want to burn out -- that was only the 8th day in my life (5 this summer, 3 last) riding in the mountains, with the feet being climbed over twice any one day I had done previously, and half of that being Vail Pass, almost the end of the 78 miles (4 mile descent after Vail Pass, to the end of the ride).

Well, those are my obversations and theory, for what it is worth :)

Doug
 

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I live at 6000ft in California, near San Bernardino, and I find my HR is higher when I ride up here than when i ride down the valley. Probably b/c there is isn't a flat rd in sight, but up here my HR is routinely in the 180s, and even the upper part of 180. Even broken into 190 a few times. But when I ride down there, I seem to max out at 180.

37 yr 163lbs male btw
 

· monkey with flamethrower
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The partial pressure of the O2 in the the air is lower the higher you are, so less O2 diffuses across your lungs with each breath. To compensate for this your body ramps up its heart rate to move more blood through the lungs to try and get more oxygen into the bloodstream. Couple the above statement with the fact that you are putting out a lot of watts trying to go up some steep hill and your heart rate can skyrocket.
Your body can adapt to higher elevations through a variety of physiological mechanisms but it takes time to acclimatize to altitude.
Its nothing to worry about that you had an unusually high heart rate when you were at an unusually high altitude for your body. Even if you were the best racer in the state of Missouri you would still see a massive heart rate spike when you worked at higher elevation. If you don't want it to happen next time, spend a month living and training at 9000 feet.
Hundreds of scientific papers have been written on the effects of altitude on the human body. Its a fascinating topic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Perhaps you misunderstood my original post.

I understand what you are saying, however just the opposite is what I experienced, my heart rate didn't skyrocket, it generally didn't get anywhere close to what it does on a hard ride back in the Kansas City area.

You seem to have gotten my (original) post backwards. My heart rate is much higher at home in Kansas (elevation approx 1000 feet) than when I was in Colorado, generally at 9000 - 11000+ feet. I would never see my heart rate up (never even reached 150 on the Copper Triangle ride, even on the big / long climbs) when in the mountains and thin air, even though, on most climbs, I didn't feel like I could go much, if any, harder. Generally, both my max HR, and average HR for the entire ride, was 25 beats per minute give or take, LESS in the mountains.

Doug

Rubber Lizard said:
The partial pressure of the O2 in the the air is lower the higher you are, so less O2 diffuses across your lungs with each breath. To compensate for this your body ramps up its heart rate to move more blood through the lungs to try and get more oxygen into the bloodstream. Couple the above statement with the fact that you are putting out a lot of watts trying to go up some steep hill and your heart rate can skyrocket.
Your body can adapt to higher elevations through a variety of physiological mechanisms but it takes time to acclimatize to altitude.
Its nothing to worry about that you had an unusually high heart rate when you were at an unusually high altitude for your body. Even if you were the best racer in the state of Missouri you would still see a massive heart rate spike when you worked at higher elevation. If you don't want it to happen next time, spend a month living and training at 9000 feet.
Hundreds of scientific papers have been written on the effects of altitude on the human body. Its a fascinating topic.
 

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when you are on an extended climb you end up settling in to your sustainable heart rate. can you ride at 160 plus for over an hour in the flats or normal rides? I have lived at 7600 plus for all my life on most passes I run at 155-165 depending on who I am with and how I am feeling. my average hr for say 75-100 miler is in the 145-150 range.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
What you say makes some sense, however

I have had rides here in KS (probably shorter, like an hour (20 miles, give or take)) where my average has been 155 or so. On shorter hills here, which I may sprint/power over, and even times just hammering on the flats, I certainly see over 160, many times over 170. I will routinely do longer rides (50 - 100 miles), in which my average HR is in the mid 140s. I am pretty sure that on none of my 5 days of riding at altitude, did my average ever end up 125. Now, long descents (coasting) surely bring the avg HR down, but the lack of any kind of high surges, at all, even when climbing surprised me.

What you say makes sense, however I find it puzzling, that on the Copper Triangle (for example -- I am pretty sure my other 4 days also saw a comparitively low HR compared to Kansas riding), even on the short steep section of Vail Pass, like 15% or so (just after starting the RecPath, after going under I-70, for those of you who know the climb), when I was standing in my lowest gear (34 x 27) just to get up it, I still didn't see even 150 HR -- my HR on that entire ride never hit 150 once. If I got on even a moderately hard ride back here in Kansas, I will surely hit over 150, 160, possibly but not always over 170. Pretty much unheard of me, even if on an easy recovery ride back in Kansas, to not hit 150 at all. And the Copper Triangle was far from a recovery ride. What I also find puzzling, and perhaps this is just cycling at altitude, is that even though my HR was lower than usual/expected, and my legs felt fairly fresh after my riding there, I don't feel like I could have gone much, if any, harder (especially up the climbs). Maybe lack of air is a restrictor of effort -- couldn't get enough air, so my heart and legs just didn't/couldn't work as hard as usual ???????????

Doug

dadat40 said:
when you are on an extended climb you end up settling in to your sustainable heart rate. can you ride at 160 plus for over an hour in the flats or normal rides? I have lived at 7600 plus for all my life on most passes I run at 155-165 depending on who I am with and how I am feeling. my average hr for say 75-100 miler is in the 145-150 range.
 
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