Friday, October 13, 2017

12-hour days in a tent for Hannah Miley ahead of Gold Coast 2018

“I’m going to be in it for like 12 hours a day which is going to be quite tricky, but it is just another crazy bit to add to training." Hannah Miley

Hannah Miley is at home in Inverurie lying on her bed, with a collection of books beside her. Nothing strange there.

Except from the fact she’s completely cocooned under a shelter; an oxygen tent that’s backed up by a generator and been specifically designed to help improve her performance ahead of Gold Coast 2018.

“It’s to simulate being at altitude,” Miley says. “I’m going to be in it for like 12 hours a day which is going to be quite tricky, but it is just another crazy bit to add to training.” Miley will spend around four weeks in the chamber and hopes to start seeing the benefits within a fortnight of coming out. Swimming legend Michael Phelps underwent the same regime ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

By simulating being at altitude, the air in the tent – or hypoxia chamber, to give it its proper scientific name – is thinner. This means there are fewer oxygen molecules per volume of air and that every breath taken delivers less oxygen than the human body’s muscles normally require. Therefore the body must work harder to produce extra red blood cells in order to deliver oxygen to the muscles.

By effectively allowing the blood to carry more oxygen, the extra red bloods cells enhance the athlete’s respiratory system and in turn the muscles become stronger. And then when the time comes to compete at a normal altitude, where more oxygen is available, the athlete gets a natural boost to their muscles and an increase in performance levels.

But the inventive method isn’t flawless. Dr Benjamin Levine, M.D., Professor of Exercise Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, highlights one of the problems: “[Hypoxia chambers] are intriguing, but no athlete wants to spend 12-plus hours every day hanging out in a sleep chamber when he or she could be working out – or enjoying a social life.”

To combat this, Miley opts to use the altitude tent primarily during sleep so that it doesn’t interrupt her work outs. She will allow herself out for breakfast too but for lunch and dinner she’ll be dining in her makeshift accommodation. She concedes that she’s “not normal” but her approach to preparing for Gold Coast 2018 will hopefully prove beneficial further down the line.

On these benefits, Dr Levine says: “The blood expanding effect can enhance performance in elite athletes by one to two percent. While that sounds like a tiny improvement, it can be the difference between missing the final cut for a competitive team and earning a medal.”

Miley’s already made the final cut – now can she make history and earn a medal, becoming the first Scot to win three Commonwealth titles in the same event?