Football at 7000 Feet

War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming is the highest division I FBS stadium at 7215 feet (2199 meters) above sea level.  At this level, the effects of altitude are no longer negligible, even to elite athletes.  Any amount of preparation in Lincoln will not be fully adequate with such a limited window of acclimation to the elevation before the game.  The altitude will adversely affect the Huskers, but exactly how much will it cause a problem will only be visible on Saturday.

Above 7000 feet, the body's ability to make the best use of the oxygen in the air begins to drop.  When the team arrives in Wyoming, the body will immediately attempt to adjust with an increased heart rate, and suppression of bodily functions like digestion.  The party line from coaches and players is one of little concern.

"I think it's more mental.  If you play the right way, it's not a big deal. Hydration is going to be a big thing, but our strength and conditioning staff is going to have us ready to go. The altitude and elevation won't play a factor." --Kenny Bell

"I don't give that much thought to it.  I have a lot more important things to worry about." --Tim Beck

"A few of our strength coaches and our nutritionist, they've been talking about the high altitudes and stuff. It shouldn't really matter. We only play the game for two or three hours. It's not really a big difference." --Taylor Martinez

The strength and nutrition coaches have worked out a plan to try and deal with the immediate issues.  Players this week are very likely increasing fluids, carbohydrates, and iron supplements to prevent altitude sickness.

In 2009, many of the players on this team went to Boulder, Colorado and won in a 28-20 effort.  Rex Burkhead had a then career day with 100 yards and a touchdown.  The elevation in Boulder is 5430 feet.  Altitude sickness commonly occurs in people at levels above 8000 feet, but some are affected by it at much lower altitudes, with flu-like or hangover-like symptoms.  Whereas the affects of the games in the Colorado were minimal, the differences between Boulder and Laramie are greater so than the differences between Lincoln and Boulder.

The thinness of the air has a major impact in the body's efficiencies, but it also has an added benefit.   Bodies and objects are able to move with greater ease due to the less resistance.  The effect in the kicking game may be immediately obvious, but if the athletes cannot cope with the deficiencies in oxygen, it will not be enough to offset this positive effect.

The Huskers cannot be at 100%, but will still perform around a 95% (in terms of max oxygen consumption) at this altitude with little acclimation.  If the conditioning of the Huskers does not show any issues in the first half of the game, the depth and rotation of Nebraska may still be too much for the Cowboys to overcome, even with the altitude in the way.

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Comments 14 comments so far

I agree with you Tom.  On top of all that, here is why playing this game helps the Huskers play a better game against Wisconsin and Ohio St.

Their bodies will start producing extra red blood cells.  With proper iron consumption to help the hemoglobin within those RBCs, they will come in awful handy latter on.  Studies have shown that these benefits can last 14 days or so after leaving the high altitude.  This means that these players will be reaping the rewards of increased RBCs through the Wisconsin and Ohio St. games.

Now some bad news.  Because RBCs last only about 120 days this means that toward the end of the season, a bunch of the RBCs in their circluation will be older, less capable cells.  Their bodies will slow down RBC production until the RBC counts start to normalize.  The negative affect on 7000 feet may not be evident until the end of the season.  Nothing a good nutritional staff couldn’t overcome.

Bottom line…playing at Wyoming may help the endurance for the next two games.

I played for 5 years in the division II RMAC conference.  I can tell you without a doubt that you can feel the effects of the altitude while playing.  I can tell you that I remember actually nearly blacking out due to lack of oxygen during a few games.
The good thing is that you acclimate and recover relatively quickly and by the 2nd or 3rd posessions of the game you don’t notice it anymore.  I would recommend rotating every few plays at the very beginning of the game, and then you could scale back to normal rotations as the game progresses.
When it comes down to it, the better athletes on a given day will win the game, not the altitude, or any other environmental issue.

I found an Army “Altitude Acclimatization Guide” that had some interesting information.  If you take a group of men who are not acclimated to 7000 ft, then have them do 1-3 hours of high intensity aerobic activities, 20-40% of the men will show some symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness.  It can develop within a few hours or even up to a day later.  Considering the short time periods involved here, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of our players have issues.  It sounds like some preparatory measures are being utilized, but there still could be a few players affected this weekend.

I visit Santa fe new Mexico several times a year and do the same 3mile run up their as I do down here in tx and have never felt a difference.

My question - is Brett Maher good from 65+ yards at 7000 feet? Maybe we will find out Saturday.

If you think that playing in a stadium that is 6000 feet higher than Lincoln is not going to have a drastic effect on Nebraska, you are kidding yourself. I coached in Nebraska for over thirty years and moved to the Colorado Springs area, and had to play teams with a 3000 ft. advantage in playing field sites. It makes BIG difference in performance. The U.S. Olympic training center is at Colorado Springs for a reason. Laramie is 2000 feet HIGHER than Mile High Stadium in Denver! Big Red better bring plenty of oxygen and have the backups prepared to play. This is an ambush waiting to happen between Washington and Wisconsin.

I live in Cheyenne and I can tell you the 7200 feet in Laramie is a little different. I used to live in Albuquerque and would travel to Sante Fe for business (about the same difference in Altitude as Boulder and Laramie) and would stop at the gym for a workout. I could never quite perform the same (especially in the weight room) even though I was acclimated to 5600 feet. I was in my 40’s so these young guys won’t be as affected. As long as they hydrate and rotate they should be fine. My concern is that there will be a mental letdown. It seems to matter how much coaches stress that they take every team seriously - it just seems these 18-22 year old kids can’t help to relax a little. Let’s face it - Wyoming will be more motivated than us. It’s only natural, think… Fresno St…. South Dakota St…etc If I was a coach I would put something really derogatory on the blackboard that my opponent said or didn’t say—for every game. College football is more mental than we even believe. IMHO

I lived in Laramie for 3 years, I moved to Houston in 2010.  Having moved there from Iowa I can tell you @ 7200 feet the air is thin.  The affects accumulate.  As the game goes on the recovery period gets longer and longer.  Being in great condition helps.  Also having time between plays helps.  Go with a slower pace to let the bodies get some recovery.  Watch for fatigue late in the halves.  I lived there when Texas came up for a visit.  Wyoming took it to them in the first half.  Second half Texas slowed things up and destroyed Wyoming. 

The other thing is the wind!  OMG if, and it is likely, the wind comes in it will blow 25-40 MPH swirls gusts nasty.  The flag at Perkins was destroyed and replaced every 2-3 months.  No Maher from 50 if its blowing.  Yes Maher from 65 if calm.

If your going to the game there are really good restaurants in town.  Altitude has great food and brews it’s own beer!  The library is close to campus and the stadium.  Lovejoys for burger type food and they get beer from Altitude.  Same owners. 

Enjoy

Go Big Red.

It has little effect on the outcome of games unless the teams are even. If it had a significant effect why does Wyoming not have a better winnng percentage at home?

Good luck to both teams. GBR!

Taylor played above 7000 feet in high school before.  Nothin new.

I think they are underestimating altitude.  5000 ft is one thing, 7200 is another.  I’ve lived in Nebraska, Houston, and Colorado and altitude is a big issue.

milehihuskers, Wyoming DOES have a better winning percentage at home, by a large margin.
Wyoming Home: 60.8%
Wyoming Away: 36.1%
source: Stassen.com

I believe the main effect of the altitude will be the increased potential for heart attacks for the out of shape fans attending the game.  These kids are in great shape, and the line is 24 points for a reason.  You don’t suppose the Las Vegas guys don’t know the elevation in Laramie?  Martinez will have over 300 yards offense, Burkhead over 100 yards, and Nebraska over 50 points.  Gobi Gred!!

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