Training Tips

Running at Altitude

You are training for Colfax Marathon and you start to remember that you don’t live a mile high. You can train for the miles, you can train for the hills, but you can’t replicate the altitude. Is a mile high really that big of a deal? What’s the worst thing that can happen anyway? 

True altitude sickness usually does not affect someone unless they are ascending to 8,000 feet above sea level. It is above this altitude or change in altitude that we can see severe altitude illness with potential catastrophic ends.    

Well great, Denver is only a mile high so you are in the clear, right? Not necessarily. While I am not worried that you will suffer from high altitude pulmonary edema traveling to 5280 feet above sea level, you can still suffer symptoms related to higher altitude.  

Common symptoms that you may feel related to running at the mile high city could be headache, fatigue, muscle cramping or shortness of breath. Not to mention the frustration that you feel more out of shape than you did at the beginning of your training program just by getting on a plane and coming to Denver. 

So, what can you do? Try to get here early. If you can fly in 2-3 days before race day that can help. If you can come in even earlier, that is even better. You may not be able to completely acclimate, but it will help. Stay hydrated! I sound like a broken record if you have read any of my other articles, but hydration is huge. Hydration helps to keep the stress off the system so it can work optimally. If you are dehydrated, the system has to work even harder to accomplish the same goals. Now add altitude to the conditions and you will really struggle. Also, many symptoms of dehydration can mimic those of altitude. If you know you are not dehydrated, it helps you to figure out what is the cause of your symptoms.  

Save taste testing our local breweries until after the race. Alcohol does not help with altitude. If you can save your celebration until after the race, that will help altitude not affect your race. If you can’t wait, make sure to keep your alcohol to a minimum and drink water along side your favorite craft beer. 

Make sure to also get you rest. This will help your body recover and prep for the challenge ahead. As with the other things to help prevent altitude’s affect on your race, this is all about decreasing the stress on your body. The more you allow your body to do its thing without unnecessary work, the better you will race and the less the altitude will affect you. 

Dr. Jennell Kopp
– Medical Director of Athletics and Head Team Physician, University of Denver
– Sports Medicine Physician at Common Spirit
– Colfax Marathon Medical Director