Altitude training can give a huge boost to runners preparing for race day. Running and living where the partial pressure, or relative concentration, of oxygen is lower causes your body to change. You become more efficient at utilizing available oxygen, producing more red blood cells and stimulating stronger respiratory muscles. Follow these guidelines to get the most from your high altitude workout regimen:
It usually takes 18–28 days for your body to fully adapt to higher altitudes. As your body acclimates, your red blood cell production increases to help transport more oxygen throughout your body. At the same time, your respiratory system works harder to deliver oxygen to red blood cells. These factors increase capillary density and enhance performance.
Dehydration is more of a risk when altitude training. Your blood becomes thicker when your red blood cell volume and hemoglobin mass increase. Also, your sweat will evaporate faster at higher altitudes because of the lower water vapor pressure. Therefore, it's crucial to increase your fluid intake to ensure that your circulatory system is functioning properly.
You can't expect to run as fast at higher altitudes as you would normally, because running at your aerobic threshold pace at higher altitudes will just feel slower than at lower altitudes. As a result, there is a greater risk of increasing your training intensity too much, too soon. Begin your training with lower intensity runs and monitor your heart rate. As you start to acclimate, include tempo or interval runs, but use a pace of 15–25 seconds per mile slower than you use at sea level. Rest intervals should also be slightly longer to allow your heart rate to drop and re-oxygenate muscles. Properly monitoring training intensity during altitude training will reduce injury risk and recovery time.
Although it takes a relatively long time for your body to acclimate to higher altitudes, when coming back to lower altitudes your body resets itself much quicker. Within a few days of returning, red blood cell mass will not regenerate at the same rate and will soon return to pre-altitude training levels. On the other hand, the increased strength of the respiratory muscles seems to last longer. So competing within days of returning from altitude training will maximize your results and help you to leave your competition in the dust.
It's not a coincidence that there is a training center for American track athletes in Colorado Springs. It was built to take advantage of the high altitude training effect. Professional runners and endurance athletes benefit greatly from training at high elevations. So take their lead, and lace up your kicks near the clouds. Your progress will speak for itself once you do.