I have run during a vacation at elevation — nothing too crazy, between 4000 to 8000 ft — for the last three years. If you’re considering running at higher altitudes, I am joining the Friday Five 2.0 from Fairytales & Fitness and Rachel @ Running on Happy and sharing the tips that have worked to make my elevation races go well.
I know that it’s not always possible for people to take a real vacation around a race, but if you’re planning to do one at elevation, I’d definitely suggest it. Your best bet when it comes to acclimating to altitude is to actually spend time at elevation.
Rather than take your vacation days after the race, take them before the race, which gives you some time to acclimate — it doesn’t completely work, because it takes roughly two weeks to get used to elevation.
If you can’t get there until a day or two before your race, you may be able to race just fine, but most likely you won’t feel your best.
Go from lower to higher
If you’re visiting an area where there are towns at different elevations, start at the lower elevation and work your way up to the higher elevation. Mt.Everest climbers start at base camp, go to Camp I, come back down to base camp, go to Camp II, and so on.
The more gradual change in altitude allows your body to adjust a little easier.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Elevation causes you to breathe more rapidly, which actually causes you to lose more liquid due to your higher respiration rate. Humidity is also tends to be lower at higher elevations (which was quite lovely in both UT and ID). Not to mention that altitude sickness will also feel worse if you’re dehydrated.
Take a sleep aid
It is not actually recommended to take sleep medication at altitude, as your respiratory rate during sleep at altitude can already be slower — and many sleep meds lower it even further. The exception, apparently, is Acetazolamide. I did not try this medication.
I do use a melatonin supplement, Good Day Chocolate Melatonin (Amazon Affiliate link), which I’ve been using occasionally for quite a few months. It’s basically melatonin and valerian, and it tastes like chocolate M&Ms — because if something can be done in chocolate, I will find it.
I found it helped, and I made Mr. Judy try it too. We didn’t suffer with insomnia as much as we have in the past when we’ve traveled to higher elevation locations.
I also used the supplement Acli-Mate(Amazon Affiliate link) when we were in ID. I made Mr. Judy take it, too. We also did all of the above steps, and we found that this was the first trip where we spent a fair amount of time at altitude and didn’t really suffer from symptoms we’ve experienced in the past. From the Website:
Delicious, naturally colored and flavored electrolyte replacement drink mixes with added vitamins and minerals for convenient, hydrating nutrition. All formulas contain B-vitamins, calcium, and magnesium.
Rhodiola root, Schizandra berry, and Ginkgo leaf extracts are added to our Mountain formula for enhanced acclimatization and mountain performance.
We were never at a very high altitude during this past trip — I think the highest we got was 6700 ft, and my race started a bit over 5000 ft. Yes, I had some GI issues after my race, but since I ran multiple times while taking Acli-Mate over the course of the week and had no issues (other than the fact that I ran at normal paces, which is abnormal for me at elevation) and Mr. Judy had no issues at all, I’m pretty sure that the supplement was not to blame.
More altitude resources:
- Sea Level to High Altitude
- High Altitude Tips
- Why do You Need to Drink a Lot of Water at Altitude?
- Sleeping Around: How to Sleep at High Altitude
Have you ever run a race at a higher elevation?
Any other tips for acclimating to higher altitudes?
What conditions would make you pass on a race?