High-Altitude Training Tips

By:  Nicole Esplin

Thin air, giant hills, and cold weather.  A winter trip to the Rocky Mountains can bring all three to your workout.  It can be frustrating to maintain speed and endurance while in the mountains, but the benefits from high altitude training will pay off once back at sea level.

Later today, I leave for Utah for a week to travel to the Sundance Film Festival with a class.  My family goes to Colorado every winter to ski, and I always run to benefit from the high altitude training.  While the benefits are enormous once back at sea level, it can be difficult to run at altitude, so mental and physical precautions must be taken (I learned most of these the hard way!).

Here is a list of ways to benefit the most from a trip to the mountains, and avoid dreaded altitude sickness:

1.  Do NOT run within the first 12 hours of reaching high elevation.

The mountains are beautiful, and my legs are always itching to take off on the closest trail as soon as I arrive.  I made this mistake once at Tahoe, and ran within 2 hours of the airplane landing.  I suffered altitude sickness the rest of the trip (and it was not fun!).

2.  Drink plenty of fluids.

Altitude sickness is worsened by dehydration.  Travelling on an airplane has been proven to promote dehydration, so start hydrating before you land to ensure you are hydrated the entire trip.

3.  Don’t worry about running your normal pace/hitting workout times while visiting the mountains.

I usually run 7-7:30 min/mile pace for my daily runs.  In Colorado, I have run as slow as 8:30 or 9 min/mile pace.  It takes around 10 days to feel strong on runs again, and up to 6 weeks to hit your “normal” times from sea level.  For me, I have noticed that the third day is always harder than the first day.  There is no scientific evidence to back this, but fellow runners agree with me, so don’t be discouraged, everyone has better and worse days while acclimating to altitude.

4.  Be ware of the COLD!

Negative temperatures and wind chills are common during the winter months in the mountains, and it can be shocking running in weather that cold.  Focus on keeping your extremities warm (wear wool socks and gloves, hats, and scarves).  Also, don’t venture too far away from your home base in case the weather worsens.  Instead of doing a 10-mile loop, opt for two 5-mile loops to stay in safe proximity to warmth and shelter.

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