How Altitude Impacts Runners and Why You Should Train in the Clouds

Oct 25, 2023

Running at high altitudes can have a major effect on your performance and training. Here's an overview of how altitude impacts the body and why training at elevation can give runners a competitive edge.

The Science of Altitude

Higher altitude means less oxygen - the higher you go, the thinner the air becomes. At altitudes above 8,000 feet, this starts to become noticeable as the body gets less oxygen with each breath.

Less oxygen means your body has to work harder at exercise. Your heart rate goes up as your heart pumps faster to circulate oxygen. Breathing also increases to take in more oxygen.

Over time, your body adapts to having less oxygen through increased production of red blood cells and other physiological changes. But when you first arrive at altitude, your performance will be impacted.

Benefits of Altitude Training

Because your body has to work harder with less oxygen at elevation, altitude training can have several benefits:

  • Increased red blood cell count - Training at altitude prompts your body to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells. When you return to lower elevations, your expanded blood volume allows better oxygen delivery and performance.
  • Improved running economy - You become more efficient at using oxygen, relying less on oxygen intake. Your muscles adapt to running at altitude, so you use less energy and oxygen at any speed.
  • Boosts speed endurance - Running at altitude helps buffer lactic acid and train your muscles to clear it more quickly. This improves your ability to maintain paces.
  • Mental toughness - Pushing through hard workouts in thin air builds mental stamina and resilience. This grit pays off when racing gets tough.

If you're looking to take your running to the next level through strategic altitude training, the coaching team at Phoenix Fitness can help. We create customized training plans to help you train smarter at any elevation. Please schedule a consultation to learn more about our altitude programming.

Tips for Altitude Training

To take advantage of altitude's benefits without overdoing it, keep these tips in mind:

  • Give your body time to acclimate - Don't jump into the same intensity of workouts right away. Build up slowly over 1-2 weeks.
  • Adjust pace expectations - You may be 30 sec/mile slower at first. Accept this and don't push too hard until acclimated.
  • Hydrate and refuel well - The altitude dehydrates you faster. Replenish fluids and fuel stores immediately after running.
  • Watch for signs of altitude sickness - Headache, nausea and fatigue are signals it’s time to come down in elevation.
  • Sleep low, train high - Drive up to higher elevation for workouts, then come back down to sleep and rest.

With proper precautions and coaching, altitude training can take your running fitness to the next level this season! Schedule your consultation today.