In this, the second of our guest blogs, South African athlete Adriaan Geldenhuys talks about his experiences altitude training in Lesotho. Lesotho is a small country completely surrounded by South Africa, and which has the distinction of being the only country in the world completely above 1,400m altitude. And from the photos Adriaan has taken, it looks very beautiful too.
Adrian himself is a1500m runners, and started taking the sport seriously just after finishing high school. He had a successful season racing in Europe in 2012. He is studying sports science in Potchefstroom, under Jean Vester (who coached Olympic silver medallist Hezekiel Sepeng), and hopes to make the South African team for the 2013 World University Games. We wish him every success, and thank him for taking time out from his training to tell us about Lesotho and all it has to offer.
Altitude training in Lesotho
Afriski in Lesotho is a skiing resort through the winter months of June - August. The mountain adventure sport activities and training camps take place during summer months of October - April. It’s located in the Maloti Mountains 3222 m (10570 ft) above sea-level, operating in Southern Africa near the northern border of Lesotho. The resort is approximately 5 hours' drive from Johannesburg, South Africa via the steep Moteng Pass and the Mahlasela Pass. It is considered to be the highest road pass in Southern Africa.
Most roads here in the Maloti Mountains of Lesotho are gravel roads running through the scenic mountains. The road to Afriski namely the A1 is still a gravel road close to Afriski. It is best to train on this road because it's not that hilly. The other roads are mainly 4x4 tracks and run steeply into the hills and is only used by 4x4’s and the many local shepherds. In Afriski itself there is a road on top along the few condos witch is a straight flat gravel road for approximately 1200m where faster repetitions can be done, its about 3100m above altitude with no virtually no traffic.
We do a few sessions including a uphill fartlek and a uphill tempo run up the last stretch of the Mahlasela Pass reaching almost 3300m before it winds down 4km to Afriski. This is my third year and we have done some tests before and after the 21day training camp. The red bloodcell count increased a lot. The first year (2010, November) I came straight from sea level, my hematocrit count increased from 43 to 48%. Other athletes who train all year round in Potchefstroom with its medium altitude of 1400m resulted in a increased hematocrit count from around 45-46% to 48-50% in only 21 days.
We go down to do some steady runs 15km from Afriski down the Mahlasela Pass where the road run past Oxbow Lodge. The altitude is approximately 2450m and you can feel the difference in the 800m fall. If you go further down the Moteng Pass you drive through a lot of villages and huts scattered alongside the tarred road. The tarred A1 runs from the border up the Maloti Mountains and stop at Oxbow Resort 15km before you get to Afriski. Long runs can be done up in the Maloti mountains without travelling from Afriski where we base, without big hills if you follow the A1 away from Afriski. Long runs can also be done down by the villages where the altitude ranges between 1850-1900m.
The border into South Africa is approximately 85km from Afriski. We go once a week down to the border and into South Africa to the town Fouriesburg (10km from border) or Bethlehem(45km from border) to do some training on the Tartan track in Bethlehem or Fouriesburg a gravel track witch are both around 1800m above sea level.
Afriski are still developing more and more for the summer months' activities. They’re getting some gym equipment like stationary bikes, treadmill and free weights aswell. The accommodation is exceptional by any standards.
We eat three balanced meals a day at the Sky Restaurant witch is the highest restaurant in Africa. There you can find Wi-Fi aswell.
The athletes range from 800m to 5000m runners and are all top South African athletes, mostly from Potchefstroom and then some other athletes tag along aswell from other training groups throughout South Africa. Guys from France and the UK have joined us too.
The reason why we choose to train here in Lesotho are when we go back to Potchefstroom to train with the other international athletes, we can train harder for longer and recover faster, thus it results in better performances and faster times every year for everyone. It is also a great place to build some natural power for running the hills and the roads are extremely good for the legs to keep you injury free.
Ryan Sandes uses Lesotho in his preparation for endurance races aswell. In 2010 he became the first competitor to have won all four of the 4 Desert races, each a 250-kilometre (160 mi), 6/7-day, self-supported footrace through the Gobi Desert in China, the Sahara Desert in Egypt, Atacama Desert in Chile and lastly Antartica.
The Lesotho Olympic distance athletes also train here in the Maloti Mountains. It's a regular training facility for triathletes aswell.