How to “Live Low and Train High”

14087532_1202769699786866_681905292_oQuestion: How can flatlanders prepare to run a marathon at elevation? Maybe your next race will be a mountain trail run but you currently train at sea level or in a place with no hills. We find ourselves in this situation living in S.E. Missouri. There is hope.

Here’s a question we recently received about how to live low and train high.

How to “Live Low and Train High”

Hi Angie and Trevor, I recently found your podcast and have been so pleased and excited to
listen and learn from you and your guests. I am curious if you have any tips for “training low and racing high”/suggestions for building strength and stamina to climb mountains when you live at sea level? 

I signed up for my first ever marathon last week – the Moab Trail Marathon – because I wanted to run a marathon on my 26th birthday that would push me way out of my comfort zone. Naturally, a trail race through canyons and desert sounded perfect. I currently live in the mountains of southwest Virginia which is such an awesome place to train, but I will be moving to Erie, Pennsylvania at the end of August which is pancake and about 0 feet above sea level.

I plan to travel most weekends to mountains in New York for longer runs, and do some of my shorter workouts on the sandy beaches of Lake Erie at a nearby state park. My cross training workouts include cycling, swimming, and running stadium stairs each once per week, and strength training twice a week. Thanks so much! -Jessie

Coach Angie Says . . .

Great question! When you live at low altitude and are training for a high altitude race you’re better off just focusing on quality training at low elevation if you don’t have the opportunity to live or train at high elevation.

Anything above 5,000 feet is considered high altitude and this means that you’ll have a lower concentration of oxygen per breath making your heart and lungs work harder to deliver the necessary oxygen to your muscles. You’ll notice a higher heart and respiratory rate at altitude as well.

It sounds like Jessie is already doing a lot of things right by planning to head to the mountains for some long runs and including stair running and strength training in her routine. Here are some tips to have a successful high altitude race.

  1. Have realistic expectations. You’re not going to be able to run your normal pace at elevation. Listen to your body, run by effort and don’t worry about your pace.
  2. Simulate the course the best you can. If you’ll be racing on trails or gravel/dirt roads try to find something similar in your area. Be sure to find some challenging hills that you can do hill repeats on, run stairs, practice slow running at a high incline on the TM, or even run up and down a parking garage to challenge your legs. Consider wearing a weighted pack during your runs especially if you’ll be racing with a hydration pack.
  3. Do lower body strength and core training each week.
  4. Eat as clean and healthy as possible in your training and in the days leading up to the race. Make sure your iron levels are at the right levels so that your red blood cells can carry as much oxygen as possible. Eating foods high in iron and vitamin C can help with this. I notice that I’m not as hungry at altitude so if this is the case for you be sure that the meals and snacks you do eat are packed with nutrients. Be sure to hydrate more at altitude and avoid excess caffeine and alcohol which can make your body work harder than normal.
  5. Try to either arrive 7-10 days before the race to allow your body to acclimate or right before the race (within 48 hours). It can also be beneficial to get extra sleep in the days leading up to the race.

Podcast Episodes that feature marathons at elevation:

Episode #188 The Highest Road Race on Planet Earth

Episode #146 The Leadville Trail Marathon

From the blog:
How to Run at Elevation

One Response to How to “Live Low and Train High”

  1. Caolan MacMahon September 13, 2016 at 9:56 am #

    Actually, studies have shown that 14 days is the absolute minimum needed to have any acclimation. 72 hours to 10 days are the worst time to race at altitude. If you are coming from a lower elevation and can’t spend at least 14 days, preferably a month, then arriving as close to your race as possible is best, ideally running within 24-48 hours max.

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