CRJ’s 5 Quick Elevation Tips

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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.

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Arrive early
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.

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Start at a lower elevation and then go to a higher elevation to help acclimate

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.

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Even on short hikes, I always carried water with me

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.

Try Aclimate
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:

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?

24 thoughts on “CRJ’s 5 Quick Elevation Tips

    1. We’re like 300 ft above sea level. 🙂 Not exactly high!

      Funny, we went to CO many years ago, did a fair amount of hiking, and I actually don’t remember a lot of issues other than it being hard to breathe.

      You really never know who will be effected, and just because you haven’t been before doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you, too.

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    1. So far, knock on wood, I don’t get headaches when I’ve been at altitude. Although most of what I read suggests most people don’t have problems until they’re over 6000 ft., but it’s not that unusual to feel some effects even at much lower altitudes.

      The not being able to sleep well is one of the most common & definitely one we have both battled on trips.

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  1. These are really good tips. I haven’t had to run a race yet where my body needed to get adjusted to the elevation, but I would love to run in Colorado so I’ll definitely make sure to do all of these things when planning that trip!

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    1. I’ve only done 2 races at altitude, but we also spend some time in Sedona before my AZ race. Sedona is only about 4000 ft plus has those lovely vortexes — anyway, other than running really slowly, I didn’t notice much effects there.

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  2. Definitely hydration – I still feel like I need soooo much water even though I’m obviously acclimated. Also I never felt like I needed electrolytes while running until I moved to elevation.

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    1. Some of that is I’m guessing that it’s also much drier out there — as it was in ID & UT. It’s so humid here it’s just disgusting!

      Some of it is definitely the elevation, too.

      Funny, though, I went back to drinking electrolytes this year — not during, but before & after — and it’s definitely helped me.

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  3. I found the advance tip crucial for Fort Lauderdale too. Flat as a pancake, of course, but the humidity! Especially coming from NYC winter, so I think your tips work well for a number of different runcations

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    1. I found the same thing when I did NOLA last year in March. It was a horrible day weather wise — and even friends I had who came in from MS & FL really struggled — but somehow I did ok. Not that it wasn’t hard; it was!

      That’s generally how we roll with the racecations — get out there early to get used to whatever.

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  4. I’ve raced in Denver a few times. A couple of times I ran a race that started in Breckenridge (9600′) and I crewed/paced a couple of times in Leadville (10,000′). Oh and Utah of course. Knock wood, I’ve enjoyed the thin air and of course I felt a little winded, but nothing too bad. My MO has always been to get there and race asap, before my body knows what hit it.

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  5. I didn’t realize Yellowstone was at a high elevation. Luckily I’ve been to Denver enough to acclimate quickly. Arriving early and hydrating are key, and I think I naturally want to sleep more — or maybe that’s just because I’m on vacation. 😉

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  6. No plans to race at altitude. I did run in Denver when I was there several years ago and just felt out of breath,

    I do like to start my race-cation with a race and then relax. I may not be acclimated to the climate but racecations for me are just for fun and not to PR.

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