The Newbie’s Information to Operating at Excessive Altitude

The Beginner's Guide to Running at High Altitude

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

So you may think about my dismay after I moved to the Rocky Mountains earlier this 12 months 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 by way of 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 purpose 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 skilled information will get you from the underside to the highest. 

This Is Your Physique on Altitude

“Each breath you are taking offers much less of what your muscular tissues want with the intention to maintain working…”

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

The principle distinction between operating at excessive altitude versus operating at sea degree is that there’s much less accessible oxygen within the air at excessive altitude, says Kirk. This implies each breath you are taking offers much less of what your muscular tissues want with the intention to maintain 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 consequences of this course of differ by particular person. Some folks could expertise little to no dramatic results, whereas others could expertise reasonable and even extreme responses to coaching at altitude. For many who aren’t already acclimatized, the consequences of high-altitude operating can embrace decreased time to exhaustion, decreased VO2 max (or the physique’s means to make use of oxygen for vitality), elevated coronary heart charge and elevated danger 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 toes or above. “Extra extreme altitude sickness happens [at] 10,000 toes and above,” says Kirk. “Excessive Altitude Pulmonary Edema [and] Excessive Altitude Cerebral Oedema are thought-about doubtlessly deadly.”

Even athletes who’ve efficiently skilled or raced at excessive altitude prior to now could uncover they expertise altitude illness the following time they arrive at excessive altitude, says Kirk. Because of this, it’s necessary to concentrate on the potential results of operating at altitude and to deal with your physique accordingly. “Any signal of illness or sickness noticed ought to all the time be handled as severe,” says Kirk.

The Upside to Excessive-Altitude Coaching

“Whilst you may really feel superhuman whenever you first head to decrease altitudes, these results are, sadly, short-term.”

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

Take note although, whilst you may really feel superhuman whenever you first head to decrease altitudes, these results are, sadly, short-term. 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 degree. The extra time you spend coaching at excessive altitude, although, the longer the advantages will final, says Kirk.

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How you can Ease the Transition to Excessive Altitude

The perfect technique for transitioning to high-altitude operating varies relying on a number of elements, says Kirk. These embrace the period of time it’s a must to modify, your age and health degree. The place you’ve been coaching previous to arriving at excessive altitude, climate circumstances reminiscent of temperature, humidity, and barometric stress, 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, a couple of strategies will 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 occasionally not all the time be possible, Kirk recommends acclimatizing over the course of three weeks. This can permit your physique to steadily modify to high-altitude circumstances 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 vital issue that will assist facilitate the acclimatization course of is vitamin, says Kirk. A primary high-altitude vitamin plan ought to place a robust emphasis on hydration. The dry air at excessive altitudes can rapidly zap your physique of moisture, and water is crucial 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 ingesting loads of water is paramount, excessive altitude runners ought to goal to roughly double their hydration consumption. Kirk additionally recommends following a low-fat weight loss program 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. When you’re going to be racing at 10,000 toes however you’ve been coaching close to sea degree, don’t simply fly to 10,000 toes a couple of days earlier than a race and hope you’ll really feel OK. You’ll have significantly better outcomes for those who begin at a decrease high-altitude elevation after which steadily transition upward through 1,000-foot increments. The speed at which you transition depends upon the period of time you may have accessible in addition to the speed at which your personal physique acclimatizes. When you’re experiencing signs of altitude illness, then don’t go any greater till your physique acclimatizes. When you’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 bear in mind: Excessive-altitude athletes aren’t born, they’re made. When you comply with 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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