Training for half marathon and dealing with Altitude change
August 13, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

Running question - Training for a half marathon but will spend two weeks of training at a higher elevation - pls give me tips on how to adjust?

As I'm ramping up in my training for a half marathon, I will have to do two long runs while in Denver, CO. I live in DC. How do I approach running in a higher elevation - do I scrap the long run and opt for shorter ones instead? Drink more water, run/walk? Runners, pls guide me. Thanks!
posted by dmbfan93 to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
I don't think the adjustment will be that bad. If you need to walk to catch your breath do so. Just stay on your normal training program.

I went from DC to doing 14'ers out in CO, and running, with only a few days of adjustment but performed adequately.

Do drink much more water.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:24 PM on August 13, 2011

You can still run. The main difference you'll notice is that you are slower, especially when running uphill. I would suggest doing the runs you had planned but lowering your expectations of how fast you will go.

The most common effects of mild altitude sickness people seem to get are trouble sleeping and headaches - if you get these, they usually go away in a day or two.

Drinking more water will help a LOT, not because of the altitude per se but because Denver is a lot drier than DC. Personally when I visit somewhere humid like DC I drink about half the water I drink in a day in Colorado. If I'm careful to double the amount of water I drink when I come back to Colorado (that is, doubling relative to a DC amount of water), I adjust much more quickly. This may or may not sound extreme to you - I mention it because visitors to the area often can't imagine how much water they need to drink and then they are so surprised that they are dehydrated. The locals are all like, of course you're dehydrated, why do you think we keep telling you to drink water? If you're willing to not drink alcohol it's easier to avoid getting dehydrated. If you do drink alcohol it helps to just pound down the water with it, for example for each beer drink a glass of water the same size.

A few more things that may be useful, if you're not used to exercising in Colorado:

- Compared to DC the temperature varies much more in the course of a day here, and whether or not you are in the sun has a much bigger effect. Mornings and evenings can be really cool and lovely. If you can do your runs early in the morning or late in the evening after the sun has dropped behind the mountains it will be much more pleasant.

- Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a baseball cap or visor are a really good idea.

- There are wonderful places to go running on trails or dirt roads that you may want to look into.
posted by medusa at 2:43 PM on August 13, 2011

Funny. Last time i was training for a half (I was living in DC), I had to do some long runs in Denver, too.

Generally you'll be fine and may not notice a whole lot of difference, as long as you're not one of the (very) unlucky few who gets altitude sickness. If youre relatively in shape already, it almost certainly won't be a problem.

You'll be a little slower; adjust your time expectations as you would on a really hot day. The recommendations to drink a lot more water are right on; it's very easy to become dehydrated here before you notice it, and that impacts your running more than the altitude. In general, though, i find that the lower relative humidity in Colorado offsets the thinner air, perceived effort-wise.

Make sure to wear sunscreen or a hat. You'll be a lot (like thirty degrees) cooler if you run early. And if you drink while you're here, take it easy - even a drink or two can leave you with a hangover in the morning at altitude.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:07 PM on August 13, 2011

I go back and forth between sea level and the denver area regularly, and all of the comments above are spot on. I just wanted to reemphasize 1) water 2) sunscreen and 3) alcohol.

I've occasionally completely forgotten sunscreen in humid new york and barely noticed. You don't get away with that in the dry altitude.

In my experience staying hydrated and eating lighter meals really help prevent altitude sickness. Or at least, the times I've felt the altitude most are after eating a lot and not being careful to drink tons of water.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:39 PM on August 13, 2011

Give it a few days to acclimate and start out slow. I nearly black out adjusting to altitude cycling in Denver, even when coming back from an extremely active trip abroad. You'll go slower and not as far, for sure.

I also doubt that the elevation training will do a damn thing for your running. Only two runs? You lose altitude acclimation about the same rate you gain it - around 1,000 feet/day. It's a little different if you spend several weeks/months/years/generations here and then try like, the Chicago Marathon.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:32 PM on August 13, 2011

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