Training Smarter not Harder with the WSC High Altitude Performance Lab
Oct. 1, 2009 -- The Gunnison Valley produces some of the top athletes in the world. Many of these athletes use the High Altitude Performance Lab (HAPLab) at Western State College of Colorado.
Prior to researching this article I knew these facts. What I did not know, and it’s something you may want to know too, is that the HAPLab serves anyone interested in exercise and improving their overall health.
Based out of the Exercise and Sports Science program at WSC, the HAPLab’s director is Scott Drum, PhD., who also is a professor in the program. Informally he is a ‘mad scientist’ of endurance sports and can speak for hours on science-based training, and has his hands involved in a variety of projects. He is the director of the Sage Burner trail running race (25k and 50k) at Hartman Rocks, a mentor to many endurance athletes, and he’s launched an ultra-running camp that WSC will host this upcoming summer.
He shares that the lab is used by a wide variety of people, ranging from cancer patients who want to learn about their baseline functional capacity to professional athletes training for international competitions.
“Anyone from the novice to the elite can benefit from our services,” Drum says. “One goal is to educate our clients to train smarter and not harder.”
Drum shares that with the cancer patients, who use the HAPLab via collaboration with the Gunnison Valley Hospital, the goals are two-fold: to combat fatigue from the illness and treatment, and to restore normal everyday function. He adds that baseline data collected during testing enables a prescription of heart rate training modes where exercise will be the most beneficial.
The motivation factor for getting into the lab is something that those who work in the HAPLab see as one of their positive influences on promoting a healthy, active lifestyle. Al Smith, the manager of the HAPLab, sees this first hand.
“We provide momentum for getting an exercise program started,” he says.
Smith, who moved to Gunnison from Pennsylvania last winter, has found himself immersed in the outdoor recreation of the area, “Since I am giving advice on exercise, I’ve been practicing what I preach by hiking, biking, climbing and skiing. This really helps me in working with my clients."
“The clients that I work with are those concerned with their health, people that are curious where their bodies are at and where they can go with exercise,” Smith says.
In an average week those walking through the lab’s door could be a middle-aged couple wanting to improve their exercise regimen to an athlete who has hit a wall in performance and needs some insight into what to correct in their training routine. Local professional athletes such as Dave Weins, Brian Smith, Jenny Smith and Eric Sullivan all use the services of the HAPLab.
“If someone simply wants to lose weight, they can come in and we can test their body composition,” Smith says. “After we know what their percentage of body fat is, goals can be set and appropriate exercise can be prescribed based on the individual.”
For the serious athlete, other tests can be done for insight. These involve the testing of V02 Max (the body’s ability to uptake and utilize oxygen during maximum exercise), lactate threshold (uncovering the threshold at which to train before the body becomes too acidic and fatigue hits hard), and metabolic caloric testing (finding the ideal heart rate where fat is preferred as fuel for exercise instead of carbohydrates).
Drum shares that he thinks many athletes are training too hard, too often. For many, simply finding the correct heart rate for training sessions will improve performance.
“I always say ‘running slower makes you faster.’ This technique is one example, which forces your body to learn to burn fat, versus always favoring carbohydrates,” he explains.
Jenny and Brian Smith are professional mountain bikers and tri-athletes who use the HAPLab for training.
“I’ve done the VO2 Max and lactate threshold tests, and as far as that type of testing goes, it’s probably the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done. When I had my first lactate threshold test done, it was the most useful piece of information that I’ve ever had to train, and I’ve been training and coached for over 20 years,” Jenny says.
Brian finds the lab beneficial during the off-season to see where his body is at and to get an idea for where he needs to be for competing in national and world championships.
The HAPLab also serves as a hands-on learning environment for WSC students, and many times they use the local rock-star athletes as their subjects. In 2008, Danielle Slaby, a senior at WSC, tested that year’s Leadville 100-mile mountain bike and running race winners, who both happened to be from Gunnison -- Dave Weins and Duncan Callahan, respectively. The purpose of the study was to determine the effects of cross-training. Another undergraduate research project done by Taryn Brenneman, now a WSC graduate, tested basketball players to determine the effects of anti-oxidant supplements on performance. Both studies were published in the Journal for Undergraduate Kinesiology Research, a research-based and peer-reviewed publication.
Another student, Mike McCarthy, a senior who is a certified massage therapist, offers massage services in the HAPLab to help aid athletes in recovery.
The HAPLab is also the center for the Gunnison Endurance Project (GEP), which is essentially a post-collegiate endurance racing them. Three WSC alumni, Kerri Nelson, Tim Parr, and Duncan Callahan, currently make up the squad. Drum serves as co-director with Tim Poppe, a local physical therapist.
The GEP was inspired by the Nike Oregon Project, a group that trains world-class and Olympic runners. The vision for the GEP is to organize and support ultra-runners; those who are running marathon-plus distances on trails. Races that the team members participate in include the Pike’s Peak Marathon, the Leadville 100-mile run, the local Sage Burner 50k and various long-distance, adventure races all over the country.
The 2010 Sage Burner, which is held in conjunction with the increasingly popular mountain bike race the Gunnison Growler, will take place May 29, Memorial Day weekend, at Hartman Rocks with 25k and 50k categories.
If that’s not enough, Drum and the GEP are introducing a new summer camp called the Gunnison Ultra-Running Experience (GUE). Drum shares that this camp will be for runners who are running or aspire to run marathon-plus on trails. He also says the camp would be a good ‘pre-Leadville’ experience, referring to the Leadville 100-mile trail run in late August. The GUE will cover a wide range of aspects about ultra running, including: strict, post-run recovery techniques; nutrition; sports psychology; cooking classes; and high altitude training. The dates for the GUE are July 26 - 31 at Western State College of Colorado.
For Drum, all of the tests, training and races are about the “healthy, active lifestyle” that he leads and hopes others will as well.
“For some, it’s about running more than a marathon. For others, it’s just about getting inspired enough to exercise regularly.”
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations and communications
This article was written for the 2009 winter issue of Crested Butte Magazine