Van Buskirk sleeps at 10,000 feet; altitude tents have “taken off” with athletes

Kate Van Buskirk sleeps at 10,000 feet above sea level, and she never has to leave her Brampton, Ont., home.

The middle-distance runner sleeps in an altitude tent, which mimics higher elevation with reduced oxygen.

“This is becoming a really popular thing, I would say in the last three to five years it’s really taken off,” Van Buskirk said. “A lot of endurance athletes have started purchasing these systems. The idea is that very few of us can afford, or it’s not logistically sound, for us to live at altitude year-round, so in order to gain some of the altitude benefits without actually having to live there, you can spend as many hours a day that you can in an enclosed altitude chamber.”

Living and training at altitude is beneficial to endurance athletes because it prompts the body to produce more red blood cells, which aid in oxygen delivery to the muscles.

Van Buskirk’s tent comes with a two-foot tall generator. She can set the unit to whatever altitude she wants. Total cost was $3,500.

The bronze medallist in the 1,500 metres in last summer’s Commonwealth Games had to work her way up to sleeping at 10,000 feet. By comparison, La Paz, Bolivia, is at 12,000 feet, while Mexico City sits at 7,300. 

“It definitely takes some adjusting,” Van Buskirk said. “My first few nights I definitely sleep worse, then the body adjusts and I sleep far better. In terms of a benefit, I had my best year ever last year, and probably attributed to a lot of different factors, but I’m sure the altitude tent helped to some degree.”

Van Buskirk also attended last month’s Canadian altitude camp for distance runner at Flagstaff, Ariz., which sits at 7,000 feet.

Sports physiologist Trent Stellingwerff, whose wife Hilary — a middle-distance runner — has used an altitude tent, said the tent is a “light version” of altitude.

“It’s better to be there because you get more total hours at altitude,” he said. “If you sleep in the tent for a week, you’ll be lucky to get 70 hours (10 hours a night). One week at altitude is 168 hours, so it can work, but training in the altitude gives you a slightly better response.”

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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