Elbrus Race 2012 Qualifier Training Considerations

Elbrus – 18,510 ft (5,642 m) is a volcano in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. It’s one of the Seven Summits, and also one of the Volcanic Seven Summits. It is generally considered the highest peak in Europe, and is included on both the Bass and Messner Lists.

In 2010 I trained to enter in the Elbrus Race 2010, and managed to successfully complete the Qualifier, despite contracting dysentery from contaminated water. It was an awesome, life changing experience, and I look back on it fondly. I wanted very badly to return last year, but because of some political unrest in the area, there was no Elbrus Race 2011.

Tram Top on Elbrus
Elbrus Race 2010 acclimatization day at top of Tram

It has been recently announced they will be running Elbrus Race 2012, with political stability and increased tourism to the area. I will talk about some of those issues, including obtaining the proper visas and logistical support in the vicinity of Elbrus, in one of my other blogs. My intent here is to focus on training for the 2012 edition.

There are three events in the Elbrus Race.

First is the Qualifier. It begins at the Barrels Huts at approximately 12,300 ft (3700 meters) and ends at Pastukhov’s Rocks at about 15,750′ (4800 meters). From the Elbrus Race website:

Qualification route goes from refuge Barrels (3708m) till the Pastuhkov Rock top ~4800 m)
Start point is on small square between 2 row of Barrales.
Terrain at September — snow + ice destoried[sic] with sun — safe to walk as the ice surface keep strong grip if one would fell down
Length of the route ~3980 meter
Vertical drop of the route ~1090 m

The participants who have passed the qualification standards will be admitted for the Elbrus Race. The standard will be calculated from the starting time until reaching the Finish line, set on the top of Pastukhov’s Rocks. The participants are considered passed if they reached the section line independently less than 2 hours of ascent and descended down to the starting place not later than at 16.00.

Me in blue #24 at start of the 2010 Qualifier

Explaining these stats, you need to climb 3576′ over the course of 13,058′ or 2.47 miles, in less than 2 hours. Even with my dysentery, which required me to somewhat waddle up while squeezing it in so to speak, I made it in 1:41, a relatively comfortable margin. That’s equivalent to a 40:53 pace, or 1.47 mph with an average ascent rate of 35 feet/minute. The fastest time in 2010 was 1:04 for a 25:55 pace, or 2.31 mph and a 56 feet/minute ascent rate.

Elbrus Race 2010 Training Objectives

Last time, I trained to merely qualify, with a time around 1:45. I did end up doing about that too. The course on Elbrus is roughly averaged to 27% grade. For my vertical training I walked at 1.5 mph at 28% grade on an Incline Treadmill for 2 hours, very close to the course stats. I also did lots of Stairmaster Stepmill work. The vertical ascent rate of 35 feet/minute is roughly equal to a 53 step/minute rate on the Stairmaster. I also used an elliptical trainer with a very steep ascent angle on the foot pads, and the guage monitors vertical step distance, but it’s not body-weight training by any means, so I was able to easily do 9,000′ in 60 minutes. Good workout, and great for the glutes and quads, but not specific enough.

My back bicep pose
Back and Biceps during Elbrus Race 2010 Training

At the time, for general physical conditioning I ran about 2 miles every other day. For weights I did box squats and straight leg deads, calf raises and lat pulldowns and bench presses. Not a lot of upper body, primarily low weight/high volume work to prepare for poling up the slope. For core work I was doing reverse hypers, reverse curls, and Roman Chair exercises. I did a little messing around and experimenting with Mountain Climbers and various planks, but the above was my primary workout.

While training for Elbrus over the course of four months I went from 195 to 175 pounds, and my resting heart rate dropped from the mid-50’s to the mid-40’s. I did splits 3-4 days a week (splits is a bodybuilding term for two workouts a day, usually a different body part or different training goal like cardio vs. weights), and a typical workout was 3 hours long. My work and home life suffered a bit (or more) because of this heavy of a training load. I did make great progress though.

running up Rainier on Muir Snowfield

I did very little training outside, with a few tests on Quandary, and one on Rainier to test my shoes and crampons out. I hadn’t really tested my outdoor clothing system out yet, and relied on the advice of a good friend from Italy, Luca Colli, who had come in 5th in the Elbrus Race 2009 for shoes, clothing, and gear.

Now it’s 2012, and a lot of water under the bridge later, I have some interesting advantages over training in 2010. I’ve sustained a weight between 180 and 185 since I recovered from the 2010 race. I have run a lot, including weeks with more than 40 miles. I’ve entered a handful of running races, and have a better feel for tapering and pre-race nutrition. I can sustain a 55 feet/minute ascent rate on the Stepmill. I haven’t had easy access to an Incline Treadmill, so I can’t say how that will go, but in small steep hills with a gradient over 20% I’ve been able to average up to 3.0 mph (20:00 pace) in short bursts.

I’m not saying I can “win” the Qualifier, but I do feel like I’m in a lot better position for 2012 than I was in 2010. In the next episode I’ll explore how I am training now, with some ideas of my programs and goals. I’ll also explore the stats from the main Elbrus Race – The Classic.

To view my reports from the 2010 event check out my old blog on [ Blogspot ]

To view some of my current outdoor training reports check out my current Seven Summits Quest [ Blog ]

I’ll do my indoor and accessory training here on this [ Blog ]