Mountain tops, pine trees, wild flowers, puffy clouds, dirt trails, thin air. Runners dig this stuff ;)
Altitude training is a staple for Olympic and professional-level endurance athletes. (Some even go so far as installing specific chambers for sleeping that simulate altitude conditions…)
I have over three years experience with living and training in high altitude. Actually, the 7,000 ft. elevation and forest trails were one of the main attractions of the collegiate cross country program I selected. For a runner, pine-lined dirt trails are the ultimate training landscape.
Altitude training is an incredible tool for cross country training. The effects of a decreased oxygen supply are immediately noticeable….you will find yourself breathing deeper and your heart beating faster after climbing a flight of stairs. (Now try moving into a top-floor dorm room with no elevator!) Every summer I spend at sea-level, and every August I have to re-adjust all over again.
When I moved back to school on Saturday, I was unsure of how my ‘Sunday Long Run’ would fair….I had 13 miles on the menu. I decided that I would not be concerned with pace. I just hoped I could breathe!
But I did have some snazzy new shoes to motivate me even more ;)
To be honest, it was one of the BEST long runs of the summer. I didn’t feel the effects of the air until after my run, most likely due to the fact that I was so happy to be running along such a beautiful route in the perfect weather. My happiness converted to adrenaline and I was done with 13 miles in no time! My 7:27 average pace which had me PUMPED! (I will admit that severe fatigue set in a couple hours later…)
Endurance sports are as much mental as they are physical. Something about being outside on a trail, surrounded by massive trees and rows and rows of yellow flowers has a calming power. Of course there are days when I struggle to get through a few miles. But there are also others where the miles fly by with such ease. I full-heartedly believe that having a positive mental state is the most influential aspect to long-distance running. :)
The Science Behind the Strategy:
As elevation increases, the atmosphere has a lower supply of oxygen. When we exercise (particularly cardio exercises) we begin to breathe heavier (duh.) because our body needs to convert oxygen to CO2 at a faster rate to keep up with our activity.
Exercising at altitude decreases the amount of oxygen available in each breath, and over time the body acclimates to these conditions. Your respiratory system becomes more efficient at the O –> CO2 conversion. Therefore, returning to sea-level (more oxygenated air) allows an athlete to perform with more ease or with more speed.
Some Factors to Consider:
- The air is also typically more dry at altitude. It is easier to become dehydrated. Fuel and water are muy importanto!
- The sun also seems to be a little harsher. If you’re not a sunscreen queen already, lather up and protect your skin! There are plenty of “Sport” sunscreens on the market that are reportedly sweat-proof.
- Mountains and trails mean nature, and nature usually includes creatures… snakes, bugs, foxes, skunks, bears, elk (oh my!). Running on trails is also secluded. If I can’t coordinate with a running buddy, I like to stick to a route that is around a residential area or main road. I carry pepper spray and stay alert!
The hype about altitude training is really all it’s cracked up to be. It definitely requires more effort and includes more fatigue in the initial weeks. But after your body begins to acclimate and your breathing is less dramatic, you can see significant improvement in endurance performance from training in elevation.
Plus, it’s just pretty!
*My new apartment isn’t quite ready yet but I can’t wait to share all of my decorative touches with you when it is :) I think this year is going to be the best one yet.*