Product Review: Elevation Training Mask 2.0

SubdueTheSloth Elevation Training Mask

There is a reason many of our best endurance athletes live in and train at altitude: altitude training improves performance. The real question is can amateur athletes achieve similar results without moving to Boulder, Colorado. Over the past year, I’ve tried to find an answer that question by training with the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Strange things happen to my body beyond 15 miles. In each of my 3 attempts at the Route 66 Marathon, I endured breathing that felt like a friendly grizzly bear was hugging me to death. Not only does that feeling make it tough to run, it also makes me question whether it’s just normal long mileage exhaustion or something much, much worse. At the outset of every long training run or marathon, I promise my wife I won’t die, and when you’re struggling for each breath, it’s tough to decide between keeping a promise and going for a PR.

After the 2013 Route 66 Marathon, my frustration with my breathing led me to the Elevation Training Mask 2.0.

Prior to purchasing the Elevation Training Mask, all of the reviews I read about it indicated that wearing it was not the same as training at altitude. Although I’ve never trained distance running at altitude, I have played my fair share of tennis in both Lake Tahoe and various cities in Colorado. In my experience, the Elevation Training Mask is definitely not the same as training at altitude. But…does that matter?

In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have mountains (or $2,000+ for a hypoxic air generator and tent), you don’t have any elevation for training. If you don’t have any elevation for training, how many other options do you have? We’ll get to options in a minute, but first, let’s talk abut the product itself and the benefits I’ve seen from using it.

The Elevation Training Mask is a rubber mask that fits over your mouth and nose. It has 2 intake ports with interchangeable valves to control the level of breathing restriction. The documentation equates each intake valve with an elevation ranging from 3,000 to 18,000 feet in 3,000 feet increments. There is one exhaust valve in the center that seals upon intake. It’s not unlike simple respirators available at your local hardware store.

Unfortunately, the Elevation Training Mask is not comfortable. The mask must seal around your face so that you inhale and exhale only through the 2 intake ports and 1 exhaust port respectively. The rubber-like material chosen does not feel great after a few miles of sweat, and with some facial hair, you have to crank it down that much tighter to get a good seal. The velcro strap that secures it to the back of your head does not fit me well and always feels like it’s slipping down my neck. There is also a strap that goes over the top of your head to help hold the horizontal strap in place vertically. The top strap seems more like an afterthought than a properly thought out design, but it works for its intended purpose.

Like I said above, this mask bears a striking resemblance to respirators available from hardware stores. Respirators come in 2 basic varieties, disposable and reusable. While either mask could potentially be used for this kind of training, I think you’ll find either alternative less than ideal. One is made of cloth and gets soaked with sweat which restricts breathing too much, and the other can be larger, heavier, and difficult to wear when running. In both cases, there is no straightforward way to control the level of intake restriction (i.e. altitude).

Getting beyond the product design, fit, and comfort, let’s talk about the benefits. The benefit I wanted to see was more strength in my diaphragm for the back half of the marathon, but a funny thing happened along the way. I got faster.

Within a month of occasional use of the Elevation Training Mask, I went from barely being able to run 1 lap on my treadmill at 10 mph to running 3-4 laps. I don’t know if you can attribute all of that progress to the Elevation Training Mask, but I think it’s reasonable to attribute some of it to the Elevation Training Mask (look ma, no science!).

Unfortunately, I was injured in my first marathon after beginning to use the Elevation Training Mask. The injury forced me to walk a lot on the back half of the course so it was hard to know if my breathing had improved. I can say that my long training runs went well enough that I never noticed a significant problem with breathing, but most of those runs topped out around 20 miles.  The breathing problems usually don’t show up for me until that last 10K.

Like I said, I’m not offering you any science. I’m telling you flat out that this is not altitude training, and the jury is still out on whether or not this will help with my particular endurance problems. That said, I can tell you that I do not consider the money wasted, and I continue to use the Elevation Training Mask at least 2-3x per month to supplement my training.

It might be important to note that I do have very mild asthma, and the limiting factor in my running speed is almost always my lungs. My speed improvements as a result of training with the Elevation Training Mask may be unique to my lung condition.

 

 

 

 

 

Looking Back at 2014

Where did the hair go? Oh, oops…I meant…where did the time go?

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After 20 years with a ponytail except for a brief stint when my son was born in 2003, fitness finally pushed me into getting rid of my long hair permanently. I skipped way too many workouts just so I wouldn’t have to wash my hair for a second time in the same day. With it looking less healthy and thinning significantly, I decided it was time to take the razor to it. In February, my kids chopped off the ponytail, and I buzzed it down to a #2. Now I just have to convince myself to haul out the clippers once every couple of weeks or embrace looking like I stuck my finger in a light socket.

Anyway, I’m a bit late to the party, but it’s time for a New Year’s post. Let’s look at all things Sloth for 2014.

Fitness

At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t in great shape. I was lifting sporadically and running even less. Once higher temperatures arrived, though, I started training more consistently hitting peak fitness with marathon training in September and October. During the year, I managed to decrease my body fat by about 1.5%, but I also lost a significant amount of muscle between a trip to Florida and a wrist injury.

The picture below is where I’ve been during and since marathon training. I don’t usually post progress photos, but I’m going to try to be a bit less apprehensive about my appearance going forward. Since I’m planning to run a triathlon, there won’t be anywhere to run and hide anyway.

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My goal for 2015 is not to let my fitness fall apart during the first couple of months of the year like I have in years past. So far, so good for January.

Running

I’ve been running since 2011 when I made the rather impulsive decision to run the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon with fellow Sloth Kevin. In 2012, I only attempted one race, and then again in 2013, I tried to race more but still only made it to 3 races. Were it not for a late injury, I would have been in 6 races this year.  Instead, I laced up my running shoes 4 times, 3 of which happened to my trail shoes.

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My first race of the year was Trail Madness, a new trail run from Fleet Feet Tulsa on Turkey Mountain. I had been running trails off and on through the Winter, and when I saw the race was in the middle of the day (my favorite time to run), I had to sign up.  Being the idiot that I am, I signed up for the 16k extremely undertrained.

Even though I was a bit out of shape, I learned a lot on my first trail race. I learned that if you’re focused on making the turn, a broken limb on the outside of a curve can find your eye (le ouch). I also learned that even though I’m not the fastest trail runner, I am not too shabby running uphill. Other runners would pull away from me downhill and in the flats, but if we were headed uphill, I was usually gaining ground. The last thing I learned is that I should seriously think about hanging around for awards. I took 2nd place (9:43 pace) in my age group and have nothing to show for it because I left.

After training through the Summer, I next raced Escape from Turkey Mountain, another Fleet Feet Tulsa trail race at Turkey Mountain.  Are you sensing a theme yet? I ran the 5 mile distance and ended 5th in my age group at 8:42 pace.

I’m finding it difficult to increase my pace much beyond 9:00 min. miles on trails as I’m applying the brakes way too much downhill and burning out my quads as I go. Even though I’m running shorter distances in the mid to low 7’s on the road, I’m stuck around 9 minute pace on the trails. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to figure out downhill trail running a little better during 2015 so I can move into the low 8’s for my average pace.

For my first and only road race of the year, I entered the Tulsa Run. The Tulsa Run is one of Tulsa’s biggest and oldest races. At 15k, it’s an in between distance that is scheduled perfectly as a tune-up for the Route 66 Marathon or any other late-Fall marathon. Two factors conspired to make this a great race for me. First and most importantly, it was unseasonably warm. I think it was in the 60’s at 8am for the race start and warmed up from there. Second, the route changed from previous years. Instead of the long, flat route down Riverside, construction forced the race to pick an alternate route, and they chose a portion of the Route 66 Marathon course. It was a hilly route, but the downhills weren’t too steep for me to run hard, and I’m fine with uphill.

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My goal for the race was to stay under 8:00 pace and hopefully get in under 70 minutes. I just barely met both goals by running 7:48 pace.

I ran my final race of the year one week later, the Turkey and Taturs Trail Race. I ran pretty well for about 12 miles, and then the wheels came off. Never having run 25k on trails before, I made poor pacing decisions. I attacked all of the early uphill sections and burned out all of my lower leg muscles in the process. I finished 25k at 10:23 pace.

Turkey and Taturs is where I think I knocked myself out of the 2014 Route 66 Marathon. Within a week, my achilles was injured, and it appears I may have kicked myself or been hit by something on my calf during Turkey and Taturs. Oddly enough, I didn’t realize anything was wrong until 4 days after the race.  After some rest and rehab, I tried to get back to it and ended up injured again. I decided not to run Tulsa Runner’s Jenks Half Marathon, one of my favorite races of 2013, in favor of more rest and rehab to get ready for Route 66.

Finally, the weekend before Route 66, I thought I was feeling better and did a test run. Before I finished the first 10k, I could feel my leg wasn’t right and knew I wouldn’t be able to run the race. Instead of packing it in, I decided to go ahead and run long. At 15 miles, my leg was pretty bad, but I had run an out and back route so I had no choice but to keep going or face the shame of calling my wife for a pickup.  I finished 20 miles on a bum leg in 2:54 for 8:43 pace. I realize it would have been close, but I think I could have run another 10k under 10:00 minute pace to get my 4 hour marathon.

For 2015, I hope to break 4 hours at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, and then look at significantly lower times in the Fall.

Cycling

In August, I decided to move toward competing in triathlons by getting all of the necessary equipment for training including a bike. After visiting a couple of bike shops, I found a Kestrel Talon at Legends Bicycles.

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I had never ridden a bike with clipless pedals (seriously cyclists, horrible misnomer), and I was well prepared by everything I was told and read that I would fall over a stoplight a few times before making the adjustment. In my first ride, I managed to survive an hour of riding without an incident. On my 2nd ride, though, I screwed up, and it had little to do with the pedals, but they made it much worse.

During a noon ride, I was headed into the last 3 miles when I stumbled into the Jenks Middle School track team. I came up behind 3 kids walking the shared path shortly before a downhill turn under a bridge. I went wide around them and must have lost my focus. I put my front tire in the gap between the pavement and the grass causing the wheel to lock up and flip the bike.

I didn’t have any serious injuries, but my entire right side, including my bad ankle, was injured. The worst of it was a jammed wrist which eventually knocked me out of upper body strength training for several weeks. I stayed with cycling for several weeks but also had to give it up to let my wrist heal. The great thing about what little cycling I was able to do was that it translated directly into a faster run cadence. The higher cadence translated directly into more speed.

Now that 2015 is here, I’m getting back into the saddle and heading outside. Most of my late 2014 rides were on the trainer which makes the treadmill feel positively exhilarating. Seriously, how do cyclists do trainer rides and spin classes? It feels like torture to me, but then again, I bet they despise the treadmill so to each their own.

My other goal in 2015 is to get out on the actual roads and not just the trails. I need more time in the saddle, and it’s tough to do with all of the construction on the trails in Tulsa. Most triathlons are also on roads so I need to time to practice avoiding road hazards which are less prevalent on the trails.

Swimming

Well, I pretty much punted swimming in 2014. After a couple of training sessions in August upon deciding to add swimming to my training regimen, I felt some problems in my shoulders and backed off. I’m also having trouble finding the time to get to the pool.

To cure both problems in 2015, I’m going to start swimming when my kids are already practicing with their swim team. Jenks has a masters swim program at the same pool, at the same time so it will fit well with my schedule. Hopefully I’ll be ready once TAT starts doing their open water swims in the Spring.

SubdueTheSloth GPS for iOS

I haven’t talked too much about it on the blog to date, but I am still developing mobile fitness tracking software starting with SubdueTheSloth GPS. I realize STS GPS has been under development for a long time, and both mobile hardware and fitness software are evolving rapidly. Nevertheless, no other hardware or software has stepped in and filled some of the gaps in functionality that caused us to found SubdueTheSloth originally. So, we’re still moving forward and should be needing beta testers sometime before Summer.

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