I can’t believe I’ve already been in Colorado for almost a week! This trip is flying by (don’t they all?) and we’ve done a TON of stuff — breweries, ice fishing, skiing, hiking, sushi, college basketball… the list goes on. And of course, running!
I’ve run a few times here so far this trip, and I must say I was a little worried before I came about the whole running at altitude. I am over the hump of the hardest part of training, but it’s still tough as I’m hitting 40+ miles per week. So, I did not know what to expect when I came out here.
But, what I’ve found so far is that the altitude impact wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. On Friday, I ran 17 and hit my target pace —> 9:01 avg per mile. I was super shocked that I was able to pull that out and that my legs were so happy to be running.
I took a few days off and ran again yesterday –> 8 miles @ 9:30 avg per mile. This one felt a little bit harder when I first started out but I think it may have been because I was making a steady climb up? I did feel like I ran like 13 or 14 miles after I finished running because my legs and body felt beat. Which was interesting.
What the experts say
At a very basic level, running at high altitudes means that your muscles get less oxygen. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, your blood has less oxygen in it as it travels to your muscles.
So, this obviously impacts performance and means you slow down as your body struggles to get the oxygen that it needs. There are many elites who actually do altitude running for a good chunk of their training, but I found this interesting (from this article):
Research studies have explored the idea of taking advantage of the body’s physiological changes at high altitude as a “natural blood doping” effect. As the blood increases its red cell volume in response to a lower availability of oxygen, VO2 max also increases. Sea level performance has been shown to improve as a result (Journal of Applied Physiology, 1997, Vol. 83, No. 1, pp. 102-112).
On the other hand, while adaptation to altitude will improve a runner’s oxygen transport function, it does not necessarily mean faster running times at sea level. Claims to the contrary argue that since high altitude performance decreases, athletes cannot train at faster paces and therefore race times can actually suffer from high altitude training.
How to prepare for altitude running
Now granted, I am clearly not an expert at this since I’ve only been here for a few days and done a few runs. But this is what I’ve learned in my short time:
- Drink lots and LOTS of water. Every time I come to Colorado, I chug water like there’s no tomorrow. The higher altitude dehydrates you and then there’s the whole altitude sickness thing that would just suck to get.
- Lower your standards. I mentally prepared myself for weeks prior to coming here that my runs would probably not be as strong nor would I be able to hit my paces. I’ve surprised myself (so far), but I think it’s necessary to prepare yourself for the worst.
- Have a backup plan. I don’t usually run with my phone, but out here, I have been just to be on the safe side. I also texted my friend Stephanie during my runs to let her know that things are going OK — and I know I can call her to pick me up if it doesn’t turn out how I need it to.
- Give yourself some rest. I think this is the most important thing — mostly because I think it feels like your muscles are working that much harder. So, work it out in your plan that you aren’t overdoing it and giving your body a break when it needs it.
I have a few more runs I’m planning here in Colorado before I head to Albuquerque with Brooks this weekend for Altitude Camp, so I’m interested to see how the altitude continues to impact me. More details in next week’s training recap! 🙂
Have you ever run at altitude? What did it feel like?
Any other tips for altitude running?
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