translated by Brett Larner
Tokai University's Shonan campus features a "low pressure chamber." With 20 cm-thick walls it is like a room on a submarine. In preparation for the Hakone Ekiden, twice a week the school's athletes work out in the chamber on running machines and other equipment. According to Tamotsu Terao, professor of exercise physiology at Tokai University's Sports Medical Science Laboratory, the interior of the 24 square meter, 3 meter-tall room can replicate altitude conditions ranging from 0 to 4000 m, and by adjusting temperature and humidity it is also simulate a variety of weather conditions. "By setting it to 3000 m you create a situation that replicates running at Mt. Fuji's eighth stage," said Prof. Terao. It is said that training in a low pressure, low oxygen environment increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, which improves the endurance and "last kick" capabilities essential in long-distance running.
During training, measurements were taken of each athlete's heart rate and arterial blood oxygen saturation, a representation of the binding rate of oxygen and hemoglobin in red blood cells, and along with their subjective assessment of whether different situations were "hard" or "easy" the study yielded valuable data. "The aim is to bring out the body's inherent adaptability to the environment," explained Prof. Terao. "Visualization of an athlete's condition via diagrams and numerical data will help us understand what are suitable goals and necessary training for that athlete."
Having been named to run Hakone's downhill Sixth Stage last year, 3rd-year Reo Kuniyuki commented, "It gave me the ability to push hard in the last part of the race. If you combine it with outdoor training you can simulate the course's ups and downs." The team dormitory also features a "low oxygen tent" that can create the same conditions found at 3000 m, improving their adaptation while they sleep and helping with recovery from fatigue.
Low pressure chamber training, also employed by Rio de Janeiro women's 200 m breaststroke gold medalist Rie Kaneto, was introduced in fully-fledged form at Tokai University in 2013 as part of its "Hakone Ekiden Support Project." Since then, the team's performances have steadily improved. "I am very excited that we have added a very strong first-year class to that this year," said Prof. Terao. "I want to help them execute their runs in perfect condition." The good professor should be considered one of the team's star members.
Translator's note: Tokai University's current roster includes fourteen men with sub-14 bests for 5000 m, eight with sub-29 bests for 10000 m, and three with sub-63 bests for the half marathon. More here.