Altitude Apprehension

Happy Wednesday.

I apologize for my lack of post yesterday; somehow my brain has been unable to focus on anything aside prowling the internet for the perfect holiday baked goods to create—and yesterday I couldn’t quite conjure up the energy to write about running. Clearly, baked goods research will take a lot out of you.

Good thing I work for a cake magazine.

Anyways, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m traveling to Colorado for a little over a week for the holidays, and I’m going to be faced with a sea-level runner’s worst enemy: high altitude.

And not just any high altitude, mountain altitude, as in—over 6000 feet higher than the drinkable air I’m used to. If you’ve ever gone from low to high altitude, you probably have noticed the effects of thinner air and perhaps some light-headedness. As a runner, these are minor inconveniences compared to the effects altitude has on running.

In a nutshell, running at altitude really blows. I can’t think of a way to be more eloquent, because there really isn’t an easier way to describe it.

It’s kind of like being on a normal run, given a drinking straw, and told to breath through it while running. Even in my most peak physical condition, nothing can humble me quite like altitude can. The problem is that our red blood cells have not adapted to take in the amount of oxygen necessary at such a high elevation, therefore we’re left with these little baby overworked red blood cells that result in us gasping for air.

I got a C in bio by the way, I am not an expert, I’ve just learned and experienced what happens.

The adverse, going from altitude to sea level, is fantastic. Once you acclimate, and your red blood cells multiply to accommodate for the thinner air, you have these fat ole oxygen consumers that, when dropped to sea level, will still be with you for a few days. I love the first run back at sea level after I’ve been in Colorado, it’s a great Superwoman feeling. It doesn’t last long, but it’s awesome.

This is why a lot of Olympic and professional athletes train at high altitude; it’s a means of training your lungs and expanding your VO2 max. Sometimes, people take this concept to the extreme and partake in “blood doping.” If you’ve never heard this term, it’s when athletes will train at altitude and go through autologous transfusion, where they will remove large amounts of the high RBC blood and then reintroduce  that same blood right before a big race/game/etc. There is a lot of debate as to the legality of this practice, and a lot of competitions have banned it. Also, it’s effing nuts.

So no, I do not plan on using my Colorado trip to transfuse my own blood for race purposes, however I do plan on continuing to run while I’m there. Obviously, I know that my mileage won’t be as awesome, and my times certainly won’t be anything impressive, but mark my words running will be on the agenda. In fact, I’ve been signed up for a 10k race at 10 am on New Years Day! Should be fun, and hopefully my lungs can take it. Honestly, my goal will merely be to finish; mostly because of the altitude factor, but also because of the probable marginal hangover factor. And let’s get real, New Year’s Day race directors have to expect this, right?

So despite my fear of choking on the over-a-mile-high air, I plan on doing my best to keep up running in Colorado and bring back some hearty RBC.

What has your experience with altitude been in terms of running/exercise? What do you think about blood doping?


2 thoughts on “Altitude Apprehension

  1. Pingback: The Best Run of December and Gift Exchange | Run Birdie Run

  2. Pingback: Hill Hell: A Necessary Evil | Run Birdie Run

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