The Facts of Altitude Training in Ranau, Sabah

>> February 18, 2011

The idea of altitude training began in 1950's and flared up after the 1968 Mexico Olympics which lies at an altitude of 2,290m above the sea level where most athletes broke all types of record likes:
  •  Jim Hines became the first man to break 10s in the 100 metres.
  •  Tommie Smith broke the 20s barrier despite raised his arms 15m before the line.
  •  Again in the 400m, Lee Evans became the first man to break 44s barrier.
  •  Bob Beamon leapt 8.90m in the long jump, eclipsed the previous WR by 55cm.
  •  Olympic records at high jump, pole vault, shot put, javelin and hammer throw etc.
  •  17 World records in track and field and so on.
NOTE: M. Jegathesan clocked 20.92s at 200m during the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The time is notable for the fact that no Malaysia has yet been able to equal it, and has stood as the Malaysian record for more than four decades now.

Controversial Ranau sports complex as MAAU training venue for SEAG
The air is thinner at higher altitude enables athletes to sprint faster, jump higher, throw further etc. However the only problem about altitude training is that the topic has been heavily baffled by beliefs concerning its effects rather than a rational to understand of what really occurred (physiological changes) with exposure to altitude.

For general overview about altitude training see the previous article

Benefits of altitude training 

Training effects on metabolic and cardiovascular that occur at altitude are:
  • Erythropoietin (EPO) inreased - stimulate more red cells production - carry more oxygen to muscles.
  • Increase of submaximal heart rate and cardiac outputs - more volume of blood pumped by the heart (at one heartbeat)
  • Elevated (increased) capillary volume - creating more blood pathways to muscle cell.
  • Improve oxygenation - muscles activity will be more efficient and recovery time will be shorten. 
  • Body fluids more alkaline (because of less in carbon dioxide) - ability to buffer acid lactic (means lesser lactic at altitude).
  • A higher volume of mitochondria - powerhouses in cells - generate ATP - more energy.
  • An increase in the lungs' ability - exchange gases more efficient - every breath take more oxygen.
Which sports or athletes who would get the benefits?

Question arises which types of sports or events that had the most benefit for altitude training? Distance runners? sprinters? jumpers? throwers? walkers? footballers? swimmers?

Well this is really dependent on the objective of altitude training or exposure.  Runners who wish to improve the aerobic capacity may perform an altitude training stint. A pole vaulter who wish to break record may choose a competition that is held at altitude because the lower air resistant (e.g. Sergey Bubka WR 6.14m). A quarter-miler may use altitude training to improve the quality of sea level training. All athletes might need to get altitude exposure if the next important competition to be held at altitude (1968 U.S Olympic Trials at Echo Summit comes to mind).

Background of Ranau (as altitude training site)

Ranau is a district that located around 100km from the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. Ranau is known for its hilly geographic structure and has many wonderful places including the mount Kinabalu (4,095m). The average elevation of Ranau is not known but according to Sabah Tourism the place is at 1,176m above the sea level, whereby most probably measured at the town. The average temperature ranges from 16°C at night to 24°C in the day. Following is an estimate all-day temperature in Ranau (near Kundasang and some other places):

02:00 A.M - 19°C         08:00 A.M - 20°C         02:00 P.M - 25°C        08:00 P.M - 19°C

 Awesome High Altitude environment at Mesilau Ranau (6560ft above sea level)
Altitude training in Ranau, Sabah

Ranau has several potential sites for altitude training in which are easily accessible from the main road. One of the sites is at Kundasang, a small town (part of Ranau) that situated approximately 12 km from Ranau town, located at altitude (average) of 1,600m above the sea level (2,000m at Kundasang golf club) and this place could be classified moderate altitude.

Another potential site for altitude training is at Bundu Tuhan that located around 30km from Ranau town towards Kota Kinabalu. The altitude for Bundu Tuhan is around 1,770m above the sea level, also classified  moderate altitude.

High altitude meanwhile is specifically classified at any elevation of 2,500m to 3,500m from the sea level. In Ranau, the highest altitude is surely 4,095m (peak of mount Kinabalu), and there are surely many accessible areas with lower altitudes. For instance, with altitude (average) of over 2000m, Mesilau Plateau may be suitable and a possible place for runners who would like to experience training at higher altitude. This area is situated around Kundasang, not far from the main road (Ranau - Kota Kinabalu) or the Kundasang town, easily accessible and there are many lodges, hotels around (Kundasang town).

High altitude is the best done with "live high - train low" method. This method will require you to live (not train) at an altitude area for at least 8 hours a day for  4-6 weeks long. During the period, the training is done at sea level or low altitude. The physiological changes is happened while you're exposed with the environment while living at altitude.

What about at Ranau Sports Complex (RSC)? 
RSC is located  8km from Ranau town and geographically awesome. This place is surrounded by the crocker range and situated at altitude of 780m or 2560ft (measured exactly at the main stadium). Since the elevation of Ranau sports complex is classified as low altitude, athletes would probably not gaining any physiological benefit (according to scientific findings) from training at there. However, the real benefit of altitude training at this place may be environmental.

RSC has the finest condition setting as a training ground for all sports. The cooler temperature (average of 21°C during standard training times, A.M &  P.M), fresh air, and beautiful scenery and so on would be the advantages for athletes as these conditions would allow the athletes to push the body greater than that of training at less favorable places or conditions. The peaceful environments would promote more comfortableness and this would maximise the training performance.

Quick tips for altitude training
  • High altitude (2,500m - 3,500m) training shouln't exceed 4 weeks at one stay.
  • The lower the altitude, the longer time we need to get the maximum benefit of altitude training.
note: photos from unknown sources / original owners.

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