Kilimanjaro prep with Altitude Centre

Monday, February 26, 2018

One of the biggest concerns I have had is how to get my body ready for climbing Kilimanjaro.  I can buy every item on the shopping list but the actual hiking is up to me.  People usually assume that because I run marathons and am a personal trainer, I am pretty fit.  Fit is one of those things that is hard to define.  Can I run a 5K or 10K?  Yes.  Can I do a burpee?  Kinda.  Can I do a pull up?  No.

My current exercise regime is teaching a 45 min indoor cycling class on Monday nights and doing a solo track session on Tuesdays.  I try to go to Parkrun on Saturday mornings too.  I also have been working on my running technique via corrective exercise at Function360. At least four times a week, I go on 20-30 minute dog walks in the park too. I always have good intentions of doing yoga at home, lifting weights, doing my homework from Function360 but it is hard to fit everything in around work and life (as I am sure you can relate to).


Luckily for  me, there is a place in London that specializes in altitude training.  The Altitude Centre, located near Bank station, offers a hypoxic training environment where the percent oxygen is 15%.  At sea level, air contains 20.9% oxygen (You can read more about oxygen at high elevation here).  As the amount of oxygen decreases, the heart will have to work a little harder.  Breathing will feel tougher too.  Time will tell how I feel when I am also carrying a rucksack and 3 liters of water.

The Altitude Centre offers an initial mountaineering consultation to help ascertain how susceptible to altitude sickness.  Over 60 minutes, you review your current blood pressure, heart rate, fitness levels and try breathing the air simulated at 5000m.  After my review, I learned I am average at my potential risk of altitude sickness.  One red flag is that I had a poor result in the hypoxia test for both the time to recover (Tr) and time to descend (Td).  Both of these measurements suggest that I would benefit from hypoxic training.  My breathe hold indicated that I have a good tolerance for carbon dioxide.  My Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) was mildly restricted but I have always had this result with testing for work too.

Enjoying the POD before going to work
Based on my results, it was recommended that I attend three POD sessions a week and one fitness session.  POD sessions are passive training, where you sit and breathe with an oxygen mask on for five minutes at a time at a setting the trainer selects based on previous data collected about you.  During the five minutes with the mask off, the air is at 15% oxygen.  You wear a monitor on your finger to record your heart rate and SpO2 (blood oxygen level), which is also graphed and recorded into your profile.  I like these sessions as I don't have to shower afterwards and can do work during the session (yeah for multi-tasking!).  Another option is for passive training while you sleep but renting a chamber that goes around your bed.

Selfie on the bike.  It was hard to take because I was breathing so hard.
The fitness classes are high intensity intervals and can be done on a bicycle, rowing machine, circuits or treadmill.  You can also book in solo sessions where you create your own session plan.  During the session, you wear a heart rate monitor which helps measure your effort through the session and can provide an estimated SpO2.  Here is the graph from one of my HIIT cycle sessions.  We did variable sprints/recoveries over 30 minutes.  I recommend warming up before your session starts and then cooling down and stretching in the exercise room across the hall.


The team at Altitude Centre have all climbed Kilimanjaro and have answered all of my crazy questions about peeing outside, how many snacks to bring, what the temperature was like, and how much to tip porters.  They also let me know during all my POD sessions how my training was going and send me reports with my heart rate and SpO2.

I am allergic to Diamox, the medication that most people take to to help prevent altitude sickness, so am really counting on this training to help me.  My GP from Walk-In Clinic recommended daily ibuprofen as an alternative from research she did in peer-reviewed literature.  The Altitude Centre developed Alti-Vit, as a supplement to help people tolerate the altitude.  Ingredients include Siberian Ginseng, Vitamin C, Reishi Mushroom Extract and Ginkgo Biloba.  A small-scale study published in 2013 concluded that Alti-Vit improved exercise performance and helped reduce the occurrence altitude sickness in the hypoxic chamber where the experiment took place.

Sign for the summit. Let's go girls!
Even if you are not training to climb a mountain like I am, training at the Altitude Centre can also help you lose weight faster and improves your athletic performance as the cardiovascular system is overloaded.  It will improve your circulation and immune system too.  I wish I was marathon training too to reap the benefit in my running ability too.  After I get back from Tanzania, I plan on signing up for my next race.  Hopefully, I can continue my hypoxic training when I get back to London as I chase down my Boston Qualifying time.

Thanks to the Altitude Centre for providing me with complimentary sessions at their facility.  All opinions are honest and my own.

Heart rate monitors can elevate your training

Monday, February 19, 2018

When you climb a set of stairs, does your heart rate (also known as pulse) increase?  Think back to before you started exercising regularly (ages ago, I know) and was it more difficult to climb the stairs then?  With regular exercise your heart, a muscle, will become stronger and be able to stay at a stable heart rate as you climb the same set of stairs.  Your heart rate indicates how fit you are.  If you are able to keep it steady and low (which is relative to you and your age/size/gender), you are physically strong enough to complete the task at hand.



Heart rate varies from person to person and will change as you age.  A heart rate monitor can assist you in your training to make sure you are getting the most out of each session, depending on your training goals.  Resting heart rate is when you are sitting or laying still.  A god time to measure this is just when you wake up, before you get out of bed (yes you would have to sleep with monitor on).  For most people, this would range from 60-100 beats per minute (BPM).  The more athletic you are, the lower your heart rate will be.  Medications, such as beta blockers, will affect your resting heart rate.

The equation typically used to calculate your maximum heart rate (MHR) is (220- your age).  With this you can figure out your heart rate for different exertions.  For example, if you are 30 years old: 220-30= 190 (MHR)* 60% effort = 114 BPM and 220-30=190 *85% effort = 161.5 BPM.  Again, this is an estimate and will vary based on your established fitness level.  There are a few other equations out there that are a bit more completed.  You can also take part in a V02 max test or a field test, which will be more accurate at your current fitness level.  When you exercise, you can decide how much effort you want to put into a session.  The traditional school of thought is low intensity for longer duration if you want to burn fat and work on endurance (50-65% MHR) and higher MHR for aerobic conditioning (65-85%).  High intensity and interval training should push you 90-100% with sufficient rest in between to allow heart to recover.


By paying attention to your heart rate, you can train smarter to ensure each minute you spend training is benefiting your overall goals.  The data provided lets you know if you can push yourself harder up those hills or during fartleks, rather than the voice in your head telling you to ease up.   Your heart rate monitor (and resting heart rate) can also let you know that your body has sufficiently recovered from the previous day’s work out.



The lesson? Start paying attention to your heart rate during a work out and look back to data from previous rides and runs.  Look at the pattern over time and check in at a regular interval to see if your resting heart rate is dropping (which indicates improved fitness).  Don’t discount recovery or endurance rides on the timetable as these are just as important to heart health.  Finally, make sure you have rest built into your diary to give your entire body time to repair from your smarter training.

If you are in the market for a new heart rate monitor, you can read my product reviews here:

Suunto Spartan Trainer

My Zone MZ3

Mio Fuse

Mio Alpha 2

Ready to shop?  Read this post on how to select an activity tracker as a gift here

Portions of this post originally appeared on the now defunct H2 Life Blog.

Final countdown to Kili

Monday, February 12, 2018

In less than a month, I will board a plane to Tanzania.  It is hard to believe that a Sunday night tweet in September would bring me to 5895 meters.  I thought I would send you an update as to what I have been doing to prepare.  I tend to overplan things because like any good Girl Scout, I like to be prepared.  There is still plenty of time for you to borrow kit, book flights, and get your jabs though if you are still thinking about signing up.

Starting to put essentials into my suitcase.
Since I last checked in, I have been sorting out my kit and vaccinations.  I made £400 on eBay, selling stuff we had around the house but didn't use.  Not only was my husband happy because we were less cluttered but I saw my Kilimanjaro fund increasing. I also started asking my outdoorsy friends info if could borrow things, like hiking poles, gaiters, and rain gear.  These items I knew I would only use once, so it seemed silly to purchase them brand new only to store them under the bed.  For snacks and a waterproof duffle bag for the porters to carry, I hopped on Sport Pursuit to see what great kit they had on offer (you seriously need to join their flash sale website). I ended up with Bounce Balls and protein cookies to satiate my sweet tooth mid-climb.  It is going to be hard enough without Diet Coke- I can't imagine doing it without chocolate!

Walk-In Clinic reception area
The vaccines turned out to be a bit more complicated.  You can read about my experience at the Walk-In Clinic, where I reviewed in detail with the GP what the risk factors were if I got sick on the side of a mountain in Tanzania, in addition to my upcoming trip to Thailand.  Over two appointments, I ended up with three jabs, one fizzy vaccinated drink, and a prescription for anti-malaria tablets.  These treatments were divided up over two appointments to avoid lots of shots (which could result in sore arms) and one vaccine had to be ordered in.  Unfortunately, I am allergic to the anti-altitude sickness pills so I will not be able to bring them with me.

Plane ticket confirmation
My flights are now booked, which makes it seem like this is really happening.  I found flights for about £600 on Kenyan Airlines using Google Flights.  The outbound overnight flight made it very tricky not to be traveling for 24 hours straight just before some serious physical activity.  Hopefully I can catch up on my sleep the day before we start our ascent.  I could have found a cheaper flight if my work had been more flexible with time off.  But £600 is less than what I pay to go home to USA so not too bad on my travel budget scale.

I am excited about my new boots.  Oldland is not.
Doing research for this trip, I found A Walk in the Park and Kilimanjaro:Tips for the Top books to be insightful.  Both describe other trips that people with little to no experience climbing big mountains have taken.  These contained a lot of the stuff I wanted to know.  How bad are the toilets on the mountain?  Will I be able to get enough sleep?  How cold does it feel at night?  How many spare batteries will I need?  There are many blogs out there too with similar info.  I have also started looking through the Swahili phrasebook my mom got me for Christmas.  I am posting seven mini lessons up on Instagram if you would like to learn a few key phrases.

"Thank you"
We have our Facebook group set up for the women on the trip to get to know one another before we set foot in Moshi.  I am also still working with Ellis Brigham for our discounted shopping night in London for all the women who register for the trip.  This will be the perfect time to talk to experts about our trip and select exactly what you will need, while sipping on some celebratory fizz.


I would really love to have you come along.  The deadline to register for Kilimanjaro is 20 February, so this will be my last email to you about the trip.  If you have any questions or want to discuss logistics, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Please remember to use my name as a referral to receive your free gift worth £30 posted to you or I can bring it to Kili for you.

New studio alert: Body Junkies

Monday, February 5, 2018

My fitness career started as a Spinning® instructor.  The training made me what I call a purist- I don't lift weights, clap my hands or do press ups during my classes.  Unfortunately for me, in the last few years the London fitness trend has seen a big demand for the 'all-body' indoor cycling classes (if this format gets you to go to class- go for it!).  I struggled to find studios that shared my philosophy on cycling style.  My favorite studio was Cyclebeat near Moorgate but that was recently bought out by Boom Cycle.  When I heard about a free class is Islington, I was intrigued.  What sold me was that my friend, Lucy from Paddle Pedal Pace, said the Keiser instructor was great.  She and I have the same thoughts on how an indoor cycling class should be instructed.


Body Junkies is a new studio that opening up in Islington last year.  It was founded by friends, Jason and Stephen.  They have boxing, Zumba®, yoga, high intensity interval training (HIIT), total conditioning, mommy/baby classes and more. They have their own app for booking too which makes it easy to schedule your workout on the go.  The studio is one open room but very versatile as the boxing equipment hangs from the ceiling on custom tracks.  They means the bags can be moved out of the way when not in use.  There are two showers, a toilet, and cubbies for storing your kit.

The location is less than a five minute walk from Holloway Station on Holloway Road, near the Emirates Stadium and London Metropolitan University.  When I arrived, I was greeted by the owners.  The brand new Keiser bikes were set up in a semi circle around the instructor's bike.  The visiting instructor was Darren Teagles, who captivated us for 45 minutes using only two positions on the bike.  The music was banging and the light were kept low (which I prefer because then no one can see my red face).  The ambience allowed me to forget about work and simply focus on getting a fantastic workout.


These new bikes allowed us to sync to the TV screens, showing us (and the instructor) our RPMS and power rating.  Each had a digital display that allowed you to see this info on your bike, alongside a gear resistance rating.  Darren also created teams during class, where we had to push ourselves to win.  The computer program splits up the class evenly, so one team doesn't have an advantage. The energy in the studio was great!  Most of the class were Body Junkies members, with a few journalists and bloggers.  The studio team were very friendly and we got to try their smoothies after class.  I was so impressed that the class was held captive with only two simple moves and a profile that built on the previous section.  Most people have short attention spans and look bored in my class if we are sitting on the bike, even on a seated uphill climb (hopefully it isn't my teaching style).


We are talking about me teaching a one-off spin class, so if you think you would be interested, please let me know with a comment below.  Regardless, I think you should visit the studio!  Enter my giveaway below to win two Body Junkie sweat towels, a steel water bottle, branded canvas bag, and a free class of your choice.

Win this plus a free class!

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Thanks to Body Junkies for inviting me along to the complimentary class.  All views and opinions are my own.