Altitude training. That’s not just some mumbo-jumbo coaches harp on for no particular reason. Nope, not at all. Because when you’re running, hiking, or even just setting up a tent at 8000 feet up, you’ll feel it. I literally ran just one mile – four four-hundreds around the campsite – whilst Megan cooked up coffee home-roasted by a friend. And man, after those four laps I felt like cooked chicken in desperate need of caffeine.
And this was after the day before, when we’d taken a 3 hour hike up the highest peak in Yellowstone, Mt. Washburn. That was a 2000 foot climb, topping at at over 10,000 feet up. You’d thought I’d have acclimated. Except, as our guide noted, it can actually take months to fully acclimate to a new elevation. Meaning all that training runners do for a week here or there isn’t as beneficial as we think it is. According to LiveStrong:
Distance running performance will be lower during the first several days at high altitude. Your work capacity is reduced, and the combination of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide in your body tissues may lead to acute altitude sickness. You are also more likely to become dehydrated as you adjust to high altitude, further limiting performance capacity. Low water-vapor pressure at high altitude increases sweat evaporation and you lose more water via an increased breathing rate. Symptoms typically subside after about a week, but your cardiopulmonary system takes longer to fully adapt, usually at least two weeks. A 2005 study published in “International Journal of Sports Medicine” showed increased hemoglobin mass and red blood cell volume after three weeks at altitude, suggesting significant altitude acclimatization.
So somewhere between one week and “months” you’ll find optimal acclimation time. Unfortunately I don’t have time to research it more as we’re still on the road. But know that if you go running in circles in a campground, you’re like to get some mighty strange looks. Then people will want to talk to you about your running, though. Which means you make friends. And if they’re nice friends, they’ll share their breakfast of champions with you: like brownies!