Monday, May 6, 2013

The Rewards of Training at Altitude

Santiago, Chile - at the foot of the Andes
Santa Fe sits at an elevation of 7,000ft which is a huge advantage if your playtime involves endurance sports. Now, it's widely known that training at altitude helps to over-develop the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, your capillaries will build out dense little oxygen carrying systems, and your resting heart-rate will impress friends and doctors. The average person in training will also produce mass quantities of oxygen carrying red blood cells to compensate for the lack of oxygen intake in each breath. Incidentally, the only other ways to spike your red blood cell count are through illegal means - by infusion (intravenously), or through the use of erythropoietin otherwise known as EPO, (think, Tour de France riders. Yes, all of them).

Having these advantages available to oneself in an endurance competition can be exhilarating. For example, when I travel to run low altitude marathons the difference in my pacing is approximately 20-25sec /mi. faster than what I could comfortably run here in Santa Fe. That's a lot over a 26mi race, and when the mile markers tick by I feel like I'm bending time as one does as they approach the speed of light. That time advantage is going to shrink for someone covering miles in a shorter interval, it may be larger for someone covering larger intervals. There are several variables in individuals and race conditions that can affect it one way or another.

Awesome brother blitzing through the streets of South America

I'm carrying forth on this topic so as to point to a recent performance that pulls this axiom to its extreme:  My fleet-footed brother Sean has been living and running around La Paz, Bolivia for the last six months and he recently competed in two marathons, four weeks apart. The first being the Maraton por La Paz (elev. 11,975ft), the second being the Maraton de Santiago (Chile, elev. 1,706ft). The guy powered through to a 4hr 6min finish in La Paz, a strong showing by any measure. His finish in Santiago was 3hr 21min, forty-five minutes faster. 100sec a mile faster than on the altiplano of Bolivia. !!! Good Lord !!!  And a 45min PR over a one month period, that has to be some kind of new alltime record. For crissakes, it doesn't feel right just typing those words in combination. For the purpose of visuals - on a track, a difference that large would amount to nearly lapping oneself at the end of each four-lap mile, twenty-six times in a row.

And that is my real world extreme example of what competing with or without oxygen looks like, as well as what competing with a maximum of red blood cells in an oxygen rich environment will do for your PR. My brother, ftw.

Related Posts:
 - First Annual Maraton por La Paz, Bolivia

View Maraton de Santiago, Chile in a larger map


  1. There's no doubt about it that high altitude training is more than beneficial when immediately followed by a low altitude race. I feel as if I can run forever with relative ease whenever I head back to the States or anywhere that's not at 12,000 feet.

    With that said I can't completely credit the altitude training as both courses were drastically different. While Santiago was a fairly flat (100 meter gradual climb over 6-8 miles) course with plenty of water and energy snacks, La Paz had a 1500 ft elevation gain (done over 9 miles) followed by a 2000 ft elevation loss with little water and no energy boosters except for what you carried. Santiago was a piece of cake with all of the advantages, comparatively speaking.

  2. Let's not be modest sir. A 1,500 ft gain is negated by a 2,000 ft downhill on the other side. We want a Highest Mile World Championship. Are you guys going to put one together down there or what? Send over the pictures and results when you do, and we'll post 'em up.



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