The Newbie’s Information to Operating at Excessive Altitude

The Beginner's Guide to Running at High Altitude

Photograph: Twenty20

After recovering from a spontaneous lung collapse in 2005, I spent years rebuilding my cardiovascular endurance. I took nice pleasure in working one, two, and ultimately as much as seven miles at a time. And I’ve saved up my working observe for greater than a decade since. This consistency meant that whereas I lived and labored all around the east coast, I by no means struggled to eke out no less than a 5K any time that I ran — no matter my power ranges or the terrain.

So you may think about my dismay after I moved to the Rocky Mountains earlier this yr and found in my first week of dwelling at excessive altitude that I used to be again to sq. one. The primary time I went for a run, I needed to stroll at even the slightest of inclines. I made it via a painful (and painfully gradual), walk-break-riddled 15 minutes earlier than dropping onto the path with my head between my knees, gasping for breath.

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Seems, for those who’re a runner who’s planning to race at, trip at, or transfer to excessive altitude, preparation is vital. Learn on to find out how altitude impacts the physique, and how one can pace up the acclimatization course of — safely. Whether or not your aim is a PR at a sky-high race (we hear Leadville, CO’s “Race Throughout the Sky” is to not be missed!) or acing an on a regular basis run, our professional information will get you from the underside to the highest. 

This Is Your Physique on Altitude

“Each breath you’re taking offers much less of what your muscle tissue want as a way to preserve working…”

On the whole, “excessive altitude” is taken into account to be roughly 5,000 ft or above (though the medical neighborhood tends to outline the time period as 8,000 ft or greater), says Bruce Kirk, Proprietor and Director of Snow Shadow Gymnastics Excessive Altitude Cross-Coaching. (Kirk has educated ladies’s Olympic gymnastics opponents for over 38 years and has spent 22 years pioneering the sector of excessive altitude cross-training.)

The principle distinction between working at excessive altitude versus working at sea stage is that there’s much less obtainable oxygen within the air at excessive altitude, says Kirk. This implies each breath you’re taking offers much less of what your muscle tissue want as a way to preserve working, which requires that your physique work tougher to distribute oxygen all through your tissues and course of nutrient exchanges.

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The place It Hits You Hardest

The results of this course of fluctuate by particular person. Some individuals might expertise little to no dramatic results, whereas others might expertise average and even extreme responses to coaching at altitude. For many who aren’t already acclimatized, the results of high-altitude working can embrace decreased time to exhaustion, decreased VO2 max (or the physique’s skill to make use of oxygen for power), elevated coronary heart price and elevated threat for dehydration ensuing from stronger winds and decrease humidity than are frequent in decrease altitude environments.

Moreover, anybody coaching at excessive altitude could also be in danger for Excessive Altitude Illness or Acute Mountain Illness, the indicators of which embrace headache, fatigue, shortness of breath and confusion, says Kirk. These signs usually tend to happen at 8,000 ft or above. “Extra extreme altitude sickness happens [at] 10,000 ft and above,” says Kirk. “Excessive Altitude Pulmonary Edema [and] Excessive Altitude Cerebral Oedema are thought of doubtlessly deadly.”

Even athletes who’ve efficiently educated or raced at excessive altitude previously might uncover they expertise altitude illness the subsequent time they arrive at excessive altitude, says Kirk. Because of this, it’s necessary to pay attention to the potential results of working at altitude and to maintain your physique accordingly. “Any signal of illness or sickness noticed ought to at all times be handled as severe,” says Kirk.

The Upside to Excessive-Altitude Coaching

“Whilst you would possibly really feel superhuman once you first head to decrease altitudes, these results are, sadly, non permanent.”

Nonetheless, anybody prepared to courageous the potential uncomfortable transition to high-altitude working will reap quite a lot of advantages. “[The] principal advantages of exercising and coaching at altitude are quite a few,” says Kirk. Suppose: elevated VO2 max, elevated pink blood cells (which reinforces the physique’s skill to ship oxygen to its tissues), and elevated athletic efficiency total. To not point out decreased physique fats proportion, elevated muscle and power, and improved stamina upon returning to decrease altitude, Kirk says.

Take into account although, when you would possibly really feel superhuman once you first head to decrease altitudes, these results are, sadly, non permanent. Count on your high-altitude acclimatization to put on off inside 10 to 20 days (or two to a few months, relying on the supply you seek the advice of) of arriving nearer to sea stage. The extra time you spend coaching at excessive altitude, although, the longer the advantages will final, says Kirk.

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Learn how to Ease the Transition to Excessive Altitude

The perfect technique for transitioning to high-altitude working varies relying on a number of elements, says Kirk. These embrace the period of time it’s a must to regulate, your age and health stage. The place you’ve been coaching previous to arriving at excessive altitude, climate situations akin to temperature, humidity, and barometric strain, the altitude at which you’re planning to coach, and your targets (e.g. are you coaching for a race or for private achievement?) all matter, too. However no matter your private scenario, just a few strategies may also help you ease in.

1. Go lengthy.

For starters, giving your self an extended transition interval will assist be sure that you’re capable of acclimate efficiently. Although this may increasingly not at all times be possible, Kirk recommends acclimatizing over the course of three weeks. This can enable your physique to regularly regulate to high-altitude situations at its personal tempo. As a result of the actual fact of the matter is there’s solely a lot you are able to do to hurry up this course of.

2. Eat (and drink) proper.

One essential issue which will assist facilitate the acclimatization course of is vitamin, says Kirk. A primary high-altitude vitamin plan ought to place a powerful emphasis on hydration. The dry air at excessive altitudes can shortly zap your physique of moisture, and water is important for enabling pink blood cells to flow into oxygen within the lungs — a course of that’s already hampered by being at excessive altitude. As a result of consuming loads of water is paramount, excessive altitude runners ought to goal to roughly double their hydration consumption. Kirk additionally recommends following a low-fat eating regimen everytime you’re coaching at altitude, as there’s some proof the physique doesn’t digest fats as effectively at greater elevations.

RELATED: A Runner’s Information to Hydration (and How To not Overdo It)

3. Take it gradual.

When unsure, transition to more and more excessive altitudes incrementally, says Kirk. For those who’re going to be racing at 10,000 ft however you’ve been coaching close to sea stage, don’t simply fly to 10,000 ft just a few days earlier than a race and hope you’ll really feel OK. You’ll have a lot better outcomes for those who begin at a decrease high-altitude elevation after which regularly transition upward through 1,000-foot increments. The speed at which you transition depends upon the period of time you’ve gotten obtainable in addition to the speed at which your personal physique acclimatizes. For those who’re experiencing signs of altitude illness, then don’t go any greater till your physique acclimatizes. For those who’re feeling good (and capable of run satisfactorily), that’s an indication that you just’re able to transition upward.

4. Shirk substances.

Lastly, it’s a good suggestion to keep away from smoking tobacco or consuming alcohol. Each substances are linked to a worsening of strained respiratory at excessive altitude. And since being at excessive altitude can induce bodily and psychological fatigue all by itself, there’s no sense in giving your physique one more reason to really feel sluggish within the morning.

The primary few occasions you run at excessive altitude could also be dispiriting. However keep in mind: Excessive-altitude athletes aren’t born, they’re made. For those who observe the methods outlined above and permit your physique to transition at its personal tempo, you’ll be a VO2-maxed, red-blood-cell-fueled tremendous runner quickly sufficient.

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