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Altitude stint heightens hopes for New Zealand swimmers

New Zealand’s elite swimmers have chalked up record mileage despite the challenge of training at altitude as they prepare for next month’s Commonwealth Games Trials.

The 11-strong squad have one week remaining in their month-long training stint at the renowned altitude training environment of Flagstaff, Arizona.

The facility, based at the Northern Arizona University, is at 2100m (7000 ft) has been home to the Japanese swim squad as well as the New Zealand High Performance squad under the guidance of coach David Lyles, physiologist Tom Vandebogaerde and biomechanist Jodi Cossor.

Lyles is pleased with both the effort and the quality of the training, with the squad completing up to 12 sessions per week, which is more than they achieve at their training bases in Auckland and Wellington.

“While it is difficult to do the same quality work up at altitude as it is at sea-level, it’s not impossible,” he said. “Our volume per session is comparable so overall we’ve done more volume that we have done at home, and some of the quality has been higher as well.

“Compared to Sierra Nevada (Spain) last year, those who were there have done comparable better this time in both quantity and quality.”

The coaching staff have monitored each athlete every morning and have made a few changes and switched some sessions to allow more recovery.

“There’s been no major illness or disasters, so in terms of adaptation to the environment we’ve had no issues.”

They face a tough final week including two days of race simulation to replicate the heat, semifinal, final load they can expect in competition.

It has not been all work and no play, with the Northern Arizona city, which has a population of 65,000 including 20,000 at the university, the gateway to the Grand Canyon.

“Four weeks is quite a long time living in the same corridor and seeing each other for most of every day. The advantage of this place is they can walk into the town and there are some other options like the Grand Canyon. They are a tight unit and look after each other quite well.”

After two or three days to re-adapt to sea level on their return late next week, the swimmers will then focus on the final three weeks.

“Most of the big mileage is done, it’s a matter of holding, reducing and refining from here to the trials and to swim fast.

“It has been a good experience and hopefully very valuable for the preparation. The more exposure to the altitude environment then the better they will be in the long run.”

The State 2014 New Zealand Open Championships, which doubles as the official trial for Glasgow, will be held at the West Wave Aquatic Centre in Henderson from 8-11 April.