Living the high life in Limerick
The National Altitude Training Centre offers athletes the chance to breathe mountain air
IT MIGHT look like any other house from the outside, but the occupants of No 56 Kilmurry Village are living the high life.
Not only are they an elite bunch, representing their country on a world stage, but they’re even breathing different air to us. Welcome to Ireland’s first high altitude house.
Located on the outskirts of the University of Limerick, this seven-bedroom house has the capacity to simulate altitudes close to that of Kilimanjaro. Home to the likes of Irish Olympians race walker Colin Griffin and triathlete Gavin Noble prior to their London 2012 campaigns, the boon for sporty residents is that they can reap the benefits of high altitude training even as they sleep.
“We wanted to keep it as homely as possible,” says Rachel Turner, a PhD student at UL who is also the National Altitude Training Centre co-ordinator. But what might look like and feel like a regular residence is far from it.
A bespoke filtration system sucks air in from the outside and makes it hypoxic, reducing levels of oxygen. This air is then pumped around the house with athletes able to adjust oxygen levels to match their training needs.
UK-based company The Altitude Centre with which Turner has worked on assignments with the England football team and the England and Harlequins rugby teams installed the system. Plassey Campus Centre is the project’s main sponsor.
But why is altitude so beneficial to athletes?
“Training at altitude allows altitude naive individuals to increase their red blood cell capacity and increase their haemoglobin and therefore emulate some of the physiological adaptations that we see in altitude natives such as Kenyan runners,” explains Turner.
“Of course if you have more red blood cells and more haemoglobin, the idea is that you can transport more oxygen around the body. You can see how this would be useful for an athlete.”
So while watching TV, cooking dinner and sleeping, residents of the Limerick house can be on top of the world, stepping into the hallway or using the bathroom, brings them back to terra firma.
“If someone is having an issue with the altitude, they can literally step out of their room and they are in a normal environment,” explains Turner.
While travelling to “live high, train high” altitude camps has long been part of elite sport, those staying at Kilmurry can live high and train low.
“It’s popular for athletes to use the live high, train high model and in the natural environment they don’t have much choice. But what we’ve found is that there is more potential for immuno-suppression there.”
By living high from 5pm to 9am and then hitting UL’s track or pool for normal training, athletes not only avoid the cost and time of travel, but there’s also less chance of them over-taxing their systems as can happen when living and training at altitude.