As they say in the commercial: Don’t try this (what David did on Cho Oyu and Everest) at home
BUT you can do what David did at home before his climb I can almost guarantee that you will climb like you have never climbed before.
You are very right in your assessment of David’s toughness. That was his key to success from the first day I started coaching him. While no one we have worked with have managed togo from Base Camp to summit so fast we have seen similar and faster rates of ascent (m/hr) and O2-less ascents of 8000m peaks by several other athletes we work with. While David may indeed have some predisposition to acclimate quickly (Is he endowed with the altitude gene?) I do know that we have used similar training protocols with many athletes and seen many successes doing so leads me to ‘think’ that the key is the aerobic capacity. Allow me to explain.
A high aerobic capacity allows you to make the most of the limited O2 you are going to find at 8000m with minimal metabolic stress. We see this in any accomplished endurance athlete at normal altitudes. That high AeT means not having to relay on the glycolytic system (which induces a great deal more metabolic stress. Systemic stress is one thing you don’t need more of at altitude. I first began to notice this effect with myself in the 70s and 80s when compared to my partners I felt more at ease at altitude. With my extensive aerobic back ground some dots began to get connected for me. I used the same principles when I started to work with Steve and we both saw the same effects as I’d seen in myself. Since then Steve and I have used these principles on many climbers and seen nearly universal success.
As further verification, the opposite seems to hold true. It has been our observation over many years when guiding clients, or observing other climbers on big mountains who do not have the aerobic base training, that they are much more susceptible to HAP and other altitude maladies. These poorly aerobically adapted climbers were/are forced to rely heavily on their glycolytic systems for energy because the aerobic system could not provide the needed power. This disturbs the delicate homeostasis of the body’s systems not the least of which is that it greatly increases the bodies acidity. If you recall from our book; your body has a very narrow pH window in which it can optimally function. This is just one small (but potentially debilitating) part of the added stress caused by the over reliance on the glycolytic system.
While I can’t quote any study to back up my assumption, I do have some pretty strong anecdotal evidence and the theories defining how we produce ATP support my arguments. This is why we keep beating that aerobic horse. We speak to many people each week and often hear tales of how “hard” someone is training. They “leave it all in the gym”. They do “4 Crossfit workouts a week”, or some other comment, no doubt meant to impress us with how serious they are about their training. Then they tell us they have read our book and are big believers in our training methods. You can imagine the time it takes to disabuse them of so many wrong headed ideas.
David had a very high aerobic work capacity, this is the aerobic base we keep harping about in our book, on this website, in our training plans and with all our clients. David was already a very accomplished runner with quite respectable marathon and 10k times for a non pro runner. So, I knew the aerobic base was there along with the ability to suffer. However he was a Thoroughbred and needed to become a Clydesdale. There is not enough O2 at high altitude to power the Fast Twitch muscle fibers needed to move fast. To turn him into a plow horse required a mind shift for him to slow down and first; do a lot more vertical and much less flat/fast running. After a few months I began to add weighted climbs. If this sounds familiar it should, because it is the same stuff we talk about on every page of our book in virtually every article on this website. It is not rocket science but this shit works. Yes, very few will see the gains David did. But, very few will come into the program with his basic fitness. But EVERYONE who applies these training principles will see aerobic gains proportional to the time they spend training. This is no guarantee that you can may a speed ascent of an 8000m peak with little acclimatization. But, in our collective experience and judgement it will set you up for the greatest chance of success.