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High Altitude Running

by Tim
(St Louis, Missouri, USA)

I have put a note on my dirt nap list (things to do before I die) that I want to run in the Mount Evans Ascent in Idaho Springs, CO. The race is run every year and I’m hoping to be involved in a year or two.

The problem is I live in St. Louis, MO. If you have never been here, the air is far from thin and crisp.

Do you have any thoughts on how I can prepare by body to run in thin air at the higher altitude ? Short of tying a plastic bag over my head and trying to run, we are pretty far from 14,000 feet above sea level and I can probably only get out there a few days before the run. I’m not overly concerned about my finish time, I just have to do it without dying! Any thoughts?

Thank you, Tim

P.S. It is a 14.5 mile run with 4000 feet in elevation change from start to finish, so it is uphill all the way. I will be running in my first half-marathon in April, so I am still slightly a novice if you will. I average about 20 miles per week right now.

Answer by Dominique:

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your running training question. What's a man to do when something is on his bucket list?
You of course have to run this race and cross it of The List!

It is good to see that you are conscious about the effects altitude will have.
I spent six months in Colorado, studying at Ft Collins (Go Rams!).
I clearly remember the first week when I decided to do a short run around the campus. Boy, that hurt.

And it is not only a run at altitude, but it is also going up quite steeply as well. Talk about a double whammy!

What I recommend you do:

  • Get fit

  • I mean very fit. A state in which you'd be able to run the distance easily.

  • Do hills

  • Make sure your legs are ready for the steep climb up. If there are no long climbs in your area, then practice on a treadmill with longer steady climbs so you get used to that feeling of having to constantly climb.

  • Run at high altitude just before the race

  • Try to get there at least three days before. This gives you the opportunity to run at least once before the race. Not for long. 35-45 minutes or so/ This allows you to feel what it is like to run at high altitude so it will serve as a good warning.

  • Take it easy during the race

  • Ignore the adrenalin and the great feeling you have got at the start of the race and take it very, very easy. Treat it as a training run. Keep your end goal in mind which is to finish it and to cross it off the list.

    Maybe this all sounds a bit over the top. But it would be a shame if you'd make it all the way over there and then run too fast at the start, let the altitude really get to you, forcing you to walk a long part of the race (I assume you want to run the race not to walk it). So, I'd say take it easy and just try to finish it at a steady, easy pace.

    Best of luck with this mountain race and any other adventures on your list and good luck with that half marathon you are planning on doing in April.

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