I live in the Denver Metro Area and I am training for a marathon. My house where I live at is at ~5,900 ft. altitude. When I started training for my marathon I started speculating if training at this altitude would provide me with benefits for races at lower altitude. After all, many professional athletes and Olympian Athletes do high altitude training as well and even sleeping in hypoxic tents – special tents that simulate high altitude by reducing the oxygen content of the air inside the tent.
This last week I was in Southern California right at sea level (Dana Point – fantastic area to stay at). I was on vacation, but I continued on with my training even though my training volume was a bit less than what I wanted. However, I wanted to see if I notice a significant difference in my running performance while down there. I consider myself to be an average runner and it would be interesting to see if moving down from ~5,900 ft. to ~75 ft. would turn me into a super-human with increased running capabilities (ha, ha – just kidding of course). Seriously, I simply wanted to see if I notice a significant difference.
I read a few studies and articles about high altitude training and while on paper your performance should technically improve, it might simply not work for everyone or the increase in performance is hard to measure. Honestly I did not expect much of a difference for one specific reason: I am training for a marathon and I should be able to run it no matter where I am and I do not want to fool myself by thinking that the altitude difference makes reaching my goal easier.
So, on every run I did in Southern California I was wearing my Nike+ GPS watch. Each run that I looked at for this experiment was performed at around the same time of the day and each run was approx. of the same distance (~12 miles). As much as I like to report that my times increased dramatically compared to my runs here in Colorado, I simply did not see enough proof to support that type of statement. While my average pace was about 20 seconds faster per mile compared to my runs here, I don’t believe that the lower altitude was the reason for that. I am more leaning towards a different reason. I simply planned each run to be about 12 miles long and that’s how I ran. I did not refuel the same way as I did here in Colorado on my 20 milers simply because I knew I would be back at the condo in Dana Point after 12 miles. I did see one minor difference though – I think that I used the same effort as before and maybe that really resulted in the faster pace. Most training runs I am doing with a pace as steady as possible and I did the same thing in California. It did not even feel that I was going faster, but the GPS watch said I did.
My conclusion is that I am not counting the difference in altitude as a factor into my race plan. I will just base everything of how I am running at home. If the change in altitude brings any benefits, I would not be upset about it, I want to run a good race and counting on something that I cannot put into numbers would be a bad decision.
The Las Vegas Marathon is about 27 days away from today. I lost a bit in training volume during the last 10 days, but with the four 12 milers that I did while away I should have maintained my level of fitness. I came back home this afternoon and it is raining mixed with some snow. While I’d like to get some exercise done today, being used to beach weather this dramatic change is a bit tough to swallow (lame excuse – I know).