Effects of returning to a lower elevation

Just returned from a weeklong trip to Colorado, that included significant riding anywhere from 6k ft up to 14k ft. I live at ~1k ft. Not a long enough of a trip to really acclimate. I have completed two workouts since returning. Both of which were ‘easier’ than I would have expected them to be.

My question, is this kind of bump something that will ‘stay’ or is it bound to leave? If it’s a fleeting bump from elevation, is there a way to maximize training to take advantage of the lingering effects of a trip to higher elevations?

My limited understanding of this is that your body will return to its normal status after a few weeks in your normal location; just as it takes your body time to adapt to being at the higher elevation.
I live at 430 feet ASL and recently did a week long trip at between 5,000 and 6,200 feet ASL. It was very difficult to pedal strongly until at the end of the trip when I was at or below 3,000 feet ASL. After just 3 weeks I feel pretty much back to my normal when I ride.

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From my experience, it’s very temporary. In theory, you’ll have some extra red blood cells for a couple weeks. I also find that my legs are relatively “fresh” when coming back from high altitude because more of the stress at altitude is aerobic vs. muscular strain (I don’t have any science on this, just my personal observation). My legs just don’t get as thrashed at altitude. My legs were less sore/fatigued in the days after the leadville race this year compared to my typical saturday group rides, even though my group rides are less hours and less TSS.

As far as long term benefits- I guess it’s possible you are able to stress your aerobic system more at altitude and drive some long term adaptations beyond the extra red blood cells. I’m not sure what those adaptations would be, but I wouldn’t expect much from just a single week at altitude.

I have spent time in leadville (10k feet and higher) each of the last 3 summers. One adaptation I have found - I seem to have acclimated faster each year. I’ve read some things about a “memory” affect and that the body will adapt faster the more often you go to altitude because it knows what to do. I don’t know how much of that is in my head vs. physical, but it’s been a noticeable change for me.

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It’s temporary.

What I do notice is coming from Colorado and riding at sea level, my legs tire out faster just from being able to push more watts for the same aerobic RPE.

Recovery though is immensely faster at lower elevations. My heart rate almost snaps* back after a sprint effort where it takes a bit to catch your breath at altitude.

  • snap back being relative to catching your breath at altitude.
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Giving this a little more thought - did a quick web search and didn’t find anything obvious. We all know that many professional athletes do altitude training and it’s not always done right before a target event where the short term “bump” would be beneficial. So, are they doing these camps so that they are better prepared for high altitude races later in the season (the “memory” effect) or are there long term benefits that translate to racing at sea level. My quick web search found a bunch of stuff on how the adaptations work for racing at altitude and how it can help short term after returning from altitude, but I didn’t find anything on long term adaptations. But I didn’t look that hard. I think it’s a really good question and maybe worthy of a podcast deep dive.

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:open_mouth: I think when I go to my parents I’ll do rides that star of at 75ft and get to high points of circa 1000ft and when I return to a lower elevation its just 0-350ft :joy:

Article I bookmarked with some interesting info and observations:

For Christmas I spent a week at 6500’ and front loaded the trip with a hard walk uphill that saw 20 minutes of what would have been threshold on bike (by HR). And then more walks and snowshoeing above 8000’.

After returning to sea level, I did see a performance bump (power relative to HR) for almost 3 weeks.

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There is always the focus it seems on going from low elevation to high elevation, but not much seems to be said for the reverse. I expect the feelings to be temporary(if they are related to the elevation) but I wonder if there is any benefit for the workouts following returning home being a bit harder(either higher wattage, or longer intervals) to try and ‘capture’ some of the fleeting elevation effects. I also question whether a week was long enough to really cause anything or if the extra week of basically recovery effort(muscular wise, not respitory/cardio wise) riding just helped with allowing a bit better adaptation from the work done prior to the trip.(The week leading up to the trip was a recovery week, then the riding in CO consisted of rides that were all in the .60-.70 range)

spending a week or more at elevation should increase your blood’s oxygen carrying capacity, which for a short period of time will improve Power-to-HeartRate when returning to lower elevations. A lot of individualization on how much of an increase, and how long you hold it.