If you’re living at sea level but enjoy the challenge of races held around the country in more mountainous regions, you might be finding it harder to compete when you travel to those areas of higher elevation. Upping your game to contend in the mountains is all about forcing your body to adapt. You won’t be able to replicate the intensity of high altitude training, but you can certainly make advances in your endurance and speed.
Train by Effort
Switching from low to high altitude racing can be an unwelcome shock for your body, but you can ease the transition by transforming the way you train beforehand. Many runners like to train by pace, by keeping time with a watch or set goal on how long they want to be able to tackle a certain distance. This can actually be counterintuitive in high altitudes because they require more effort from your body than sea level races.
Instead, focus on reigning in your intensity and learn how to run by effort. Erase the thought of time from your mind and learn to pace yourself with your breaths and the demands of your body. Higher altitude races are generally slower in nature and you want to be able to increase and decrease your intensity as you go, rather than keep a steady and fast speed.
Simulate the Terrain
While you might not have any mountains nearby to train on, there are few places that are lacking entirely when it comes to hills—unless you’re in Florida, then we don’t know what to tell you. You can work on training by effort by running on smaller hills rather than flat terrain. It won’t mimic high altitude running exactly, but it’ll help you understand how your body works on varying landscapes a little better and allow you to practice compensating for the changes.
This will help you perfect your form when it’s time to start heading up and downhill. If you don’t have hills available then consider using a treadmill instead. Find out the incline of the trail you’ll be racing on and set the treadmill at the same angle. This way you can practice your form.
Okay, so it’s technically not cheating if a lot of professional athletes are doing it, but sleeping in a high altitude tent seems a little like taking a shortcut at least. However, if you really want to boost your performance it’s definitely an option. It’s costly and should only be done with the guidance of an experienced trainer, but sleeping in a high altitude tent can simulate the environment of your next race and force your body to adapt to the lack of oxygen without having to actually run or live in it.
If all else fails, arrive at your destination a week early to prepare if you’re going to be running a race. This will give your body time to adapt to the lack of oxygen and help you get familiar with the terrain. Even if you don’t plan on racing and just want the benefits of high altitude training to up your game, you can still visit mountain regions on a regular basis to vary your training if your budget will allow it.