Help! I Have to Run at Altitude

How to adapt when training at high elevation.

Mike asks: I am travelling for a couple of weeks, and I want to maintain my running routine. The problem is that I live at sea level and will be travelling to a mountainous region. I have heard horror stories about running at altitude. Is there anything I can do to help me better handle this change?

Altitude will dramatically increase the intensity of your runs. You will immediately notice that your heart rate and breathing rate are significantly faster. Therefore, several weeks before you leave, try adding some intensity to your training.

Short bursts of speed twice a week and some hill repeats will help expand your anaerobic threshold, which is an indication of your body’s ability to process lactic acid. Improving your body’s ability to handle lactic acid will be one key way to prep your body for what is to come.

While it usually takes weeks to fully acclimate, for a shorter trip like yours you should allow two to three days to adjust by running easy. Running at altitude requires more red blood cells that have an oxygen carrying capacity and more mitochondria, so until these adaptations occur, don’t expect running at altitude to feel easy.

Here are some more tips that should help you during your time at altitude:

Include a longer warm up: Ease into activity, as this allows your heart rate and breathing rate to gradually increase and help you avoid immediately taxing your system. It helps to imagine you are preparing for an intense workout, even if it’s just an easy day.

Run at a slower pace: Running at a slower tempo – it could be 60 seconds per km slower – will help keep your heart rate in your normal training zone. Even though you are running slower, the run will feel more intense than the pace per km indicates.

Get plenty of sleep: Getting shut eye is when our bodies repair, replenish and rejuvenate. Allowing for more sleep will assist your body in adapting to this new environment.

Increase your intake of fluids: The higher, drier climate means you are going to lose more body fluids, so increase your fluid intake to prevent becoming dehydrated. Be aware of headaches, dry lips or chapped skin as they are signs of dehydration. (You also need higher iron stores to boost your haemoglobin levels.)

Avoid alcohol and sodium: This will help you keep your body fluids in normal balance, which will help you prevent dehydration.



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