Gasping for Air: The Edge of Hyperventilation

A conversation on the bike yesterday led me to this blog post. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, do you ever get to the point where your breathing is right on the edge of losing control of it?

Riding Buddy: No, I guess I’m not pushing hard enough.

I can confirm that the riding buddy in question can push hard, so it must be something else.

I don’t wear a HR monitor much these days, so I know what kind of effort I’m doing by a) looking at my power meter, and, b) being aware of my breathing. When cycling my ‘breathing scale’ goes something like this:

  1. Easy. Can talk all day, or at least till my bum starts to hurt.
  2. Limited to short paragraphs. Philosophical discussions become difficult.
  3. One sentence at a time. I’m usually looking at my stem by now.
  4. Hard, deep breathing. This usually relates to around my FTP.
  5. Then there’s this one: Hard, fast, shallow. I can hold this for my 20 min FTP test. I also remember being in this zone of hideous pain for a long, long time on the TT day of Haute Route in 2013, up Bonette. I’m not one to lose many body fluids when I ride, but this is when I start to drool. I feel like Tony Martin looks.

2013, Criterium du Dauphine Libere, tappa 04 Villars les Dombes - Parc des Oiseaux, Omega Pharma - Quick Step 2013, Martin Tony

Beyond this level it’s mostly anaerobic and breathing becomes totally uncontrollable.

I guess that time trialists would understand this experience more than most. Triathletes, too, I suppose. For efforts like my usual objectives (Etapes, Haute Route) it’s pretty rare to have to go this deep and I’m not complaining about that at all. I get nauseous just thinking about it. Do any of you have much experience with this sort of thing? I hope so because Tony Martin probably won’t answer my calls.

8 thoughts on “Gasping for Air: The Edge of Hyperventilation

  1. I have in the past but this year is a bit better. When I start getting to that danger zone, I look for a place to hide till I can come back a bit… And I practice exhaling fully, then letting my lungs fill without forcing it. It’s been awesome.

    • I do the same thing, but there’s a point at which it becomes faster, at least for me. I think it’s just on the cusp of that ‘danger zone’.

      • BTW… Gerry, I know you’re in France – did you get the “Sterling” reference? I know I was taking a chance there so I wanted to make sure you “got it”. I don’t know if they air Archer in your neck of the woods.

  2. On two occasions, I started tasting blood in my mouth because I was breathing too hard. One was a TT, incidentally. It had everything to do with not sufficiently warming up (not at all, actually) and nothing to do with anything else… Just a silly mistake.

    I still remember the feeling of my heart coming out of my throat when climbing Galibier because of breathing, but I still blame the giant lunch for any and all trouble I had on Galibier.

  3. HUH.. I just climbed Mt. Baldy in California… average of 345 watts, eating a bacon sandwich, red wine in my bidon reciting Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a climbing buddy…whats wrong with you?

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