» Runnning at High Altitudes

Runnning at High Altitudes

February 12, 2012 | Steven McElwee

I just got back from a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. After I arrived, I learned that the elevation in Santa Fe is 7,260 feet above sea level, which is over a mile higher than where I live and run. I did not factor this change of elevation into my running plans. In fact, I did not know that it would have an impact on my plans. Was I surprised.

I planned to run two three mile runs and a six mile run while on my trip. My first three mile run, I was quickly winded and found that I needed to walk for a tenth of a mile for every mile I ran. I did some quick research and found that this was caused by the high elevation. At this altitude, it is estimated that I had 12% less maximum aerobic capacity (VO2). In other words, there is less air, so breathing is more challenging.

I learned a few tips about running at high altitude:

  1. Keep Well Hydrated. Dehydration occurs more quickly at higher altitudes.
  2. Take it Easy. Until you become acclimated to running at higher elevations, plan to ease into running. Cut back on your pace, and take walking breaks as you need them.
  3. Use Sun Screen. Applying sun screen is always a good idea for outdoor running, but it is even more important at higher altitudes to protect your skin.

By my third run, I had adjusted well enough to complete my run without walking breaks, but my pace was slower than at lower elevations. My legs felt fine during each of my runs, but my breathing needed to catch up.

For my next trip, I will research the elevation before I run. I will have better expectations for myself and can set a good pace from the outset. If you want to see the elevation for a city, Wikipedia is a great place to look. Most Wikipedia city articles list key statistics, including elevation.

Have you tried running at elevations over 5,280 feet? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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