Prep for Races at Elevation: Do’s & Don’ts

Training Advice


Unless you live in the mountains, chances are you’re going to travel to a race at a higher elevation than where you live, at some point in your running career.

Let’s talk about a few things you can do to prepare for this day. 

Do not stress about that which you cannot control.

This is simply good life advice, but also important for runners.

You may not be able to control where you live, your work schedule, or how much time you can devote to training. If that is the case, don’t worry about it! If you live at a low elevation and are concerned about how this influences your races you can either not worry about it and sign up for the events, not sign up for the events, or do one of the practices below.

Train in the heat.

It has been suggested that training at the heat of 104 degrees for ten days induces similar “heat shock responses” (not exclusive to heat alone) as training at altitude does.

For those that do not have access to 104 degree chambers to stick a treadmill in, it’s possible you may experience similar results by wearing a sauna suit or extra clothing outdoors while training. Further research is necessary to investigate if perhaps similar benefits could be derived from 90 degree temps, for example.

Chill out in the heat.

An alternative to training in the heat is a sauna or warm bath.

Studies have had runners enter a sauna immediately post run for a half hour on twelve occasions over three weeks to an hour once weekly. As David Roche put it, “Like running hard in training helps you run hard in a race, sweating hard in the sauna may help you cope with racing in the heat.”

If sitting around with scantily clad (at best) sweaty people isn’t your cup of tea, try the hot tub after a run (and a shower) instead. After six consecutive days of hot water submersion up to the neck immediately post run the test subjects experienced lowered heart rate and earlier onset of sweating during subsequent runs.

Go camping in the bed room

If you are single or have an extra supportive spouse, there is always the option to purchase and sleep in an altitude tent.

These are not cheap and kind of a hassle, but if you’re serious about training and have the income to accommodate such a purchase, it could be a beneficial purchase.

Bonus: Should you spend time at altitude before the event at altitude?

This is a tricky question for a number of reasons.

Studies have been done with athletes who visit a high altitude location for training and not all results are encouraging. Research on swimmers has found that even though spending a couple weeks at real or simulated elevation may induce physiological adaptations, these do not always translate into faster race times.

Elevation is hard on the body, and the reason these studies did not result in faster race times could be that the elevation more more of a stress than a benefit for the athletes’ bodies. This is potentially shown in studies that have found a performance benefit after seventeen days at elevation but a decline after that. The extended time at elevation may have overstressed the swimmers.


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