Fitness Challenge: Climbing Kilimanjaro

Shape Editor Claire Turrell took on the highest mountain in Africa
So near, yet so far...
So near, yet so far...
Still smiling after 10 days in the tank
Still smiling after 10 days in the tank
Measuring oxygen levels during the workout
Measuring oxygen levels during the workout

There are certain things in life that you want to experience - whether it’s white water rafting in Nepal, skiing in Alaska or climbing Kilimanjaro. The challenge I’d set myself this year was to do the latter.

After a month of swimming and hiking in preparation for my climb, it’s now time to ramp up the training and the team who are going to help me do this are at Talise Spa and the Quay Healthclub by giving me a wellness test and then a bout of high altitude training.

The first point of call is with Jaclyn at Talise Spa for an Optimal Wellness check. First she took my weight and height measurements, then a blood test, followed by a BMI reading and finally an iris scan. The result of my top-to-toe analysis was a lack of hydration and a lack of essential oils. While Jaclyn said that I was healthy I needed to start looking more at my diet to start backing up the training that was ahead of me. My bowl of cereal and snack bar mid-morning wouldn’t wash for Jaclyn. If I wanted to make it to the top of that mountain, I will I needed to introduce more protein into my diet, so I was looking at eggs for breakfast, and salmon or chicken in the evening, as well as kiwis and avocado dips throughout the day.

Next the high altitude training begins. Tucked away inside the new Quay Healthclub at the Madinat Jumeirah is the new high altitude chamber and this was to become my home for the next 12 days. Kitted out in Life Fitness equipment, this chilled chamber was designed to help athletes by decreasing the amount of oxygen in the air. By struggling to breathe it should help increase the efficiency of my respiratory and cardiovascular system. The result of this is that I can get my bout of mountain training while still living by the sea. My first session in the chamber began with a heart rate test so that the team could see where my oxygen burning peak was. The result was I had to stay at between 125 and 135 while cycling, walking, running or using the elliptical. If my heart rate climbed any higher than this I wouldn’t be burning fat but muscle as my body would panic and reach for another energy source.

Over the next 12 days I had to spend 90 minutes each day working out in the chamber that had my body thinking it was 3000 metres above sea level. Broken down into three sessions of 30 minutes it wasn’t too terrifying and the movies on the chamber’s big screen helped pass the time more quickly. The only tricky part was keeping my heart rate at a steady level.

My oxygen intake was monitored constantly by the team by clipping a small box onto my index finger. While my diet was working against me, the fact that I’d skied worked in my favour. My body was lucky to have had an altitude hit every year so I had a chance of acclimatising faster that someone who had stayed clear of the slopes. However, they said it would be six days before I noticed a change in my fitness levels, so Day One down, five more to go.”

On the sixth day, I did notice an improvement. My morning swim became easier and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid when running upstairs. I did notice that I losing definition in my muscles however, so my body was obviously on a glycogen frenzy. After 12 days in the tank, my absorption of oxygen remained at a constant 92, while my recovery rate improved dramatically. All I had to do now was catch my flight to Kilimanjaro.

The payoff
The world’s biggest freestanding mountain and I gave myself six days to summit it. Would I be able to reach the peak without reaching for my diamox or asking a porter to carry me down? The answer was yes. I was out of breath, admittedly, but thanks to the high altitude chamber any bouts of altitude sickness were kept at bay. This gave me the chance to take in the breathtaking scenery that I’d flown thousands of miles to see.

INFO: High altitude training from Dhs200. A 12-day trial with the Talise Optimum Wellness Assessment is Dhs6000. Visit jumeirah.com for more details.