Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elevation Training!

Yesterday was a fun post, so I thought today we would get a little more serious.... seriously high! Western States 100 is QUICKLY approaching! With elevation starting at over 6,000 feet, peaking out at 8,720 feet and over 18,000 feet of climb through the course, you're "at altitude" for a good amount of the race. 

There are a lot of obstacles that can worry any runner going into WS100-- Technical trail, hard climbs, heat, bears, night running... oh yeah and 100 miles of running! Some of those you can train for. Some are a little harder (where oh where does one find a bear to chase them at will?), but my biggest concern is definitely elevation. 

At 9000 feet I'll struggle to breath standing, let alone trying to climb. I live in Cincinnati which, although hilly, is pretty low (below 500 ft). I don't have the opportunity to take weeks or months off to train at elevation and the week approaching the race I don't have vacation time to go out early and acclimate. So, what is a girl to do? Here is a list of some possible things to do that may help...

Training Weeks....
~Straw Breathing! Yes, I said S-T-R-A-W. Like the things you find at McDonalds. Why did I pick McD's? IDK just go with it. I found this in Dean Karnaze's book 50/50. He suggests breathing through a straw for 5 minutes a day as a way to strengthen your lungs. 
~Altitude Masks/Tents! These help your body acclimate to high altitudes while you sleep. 
~Chest Strength Training. I've mentioned this in prior posts. I read somewhere that Ryan Hall uses chest strengthening to better enable himself to take hard, strong, breaths over long periods of time without fatigue. Some suggestions...
-Chest Flys! These not only strengthen, but help to open up the chest. 
-Reverser FIy. Complete while straddling on a 45-degree bench. This exercise is good for your chest as well as building your arms to driving your forward as you run. 
~Ginkgo Biloba- To speed acclimation without side affects from Diamox. Start the process 2 weeks prior to your flight. 
~Blood Doping... thickening your blood through transfusion. Am I thinking about this? NO! For many reason-- it's illegal, it's expensive and... it's kind of icky! 

Race Week...
~Get there Early! This comes from... well, everybody! Your body needs time to adjust to the high altitude. My problem? I only have 3 weeks of vacation a year and I'll need Monday to travel back/whither in pain after the race. I'll only be able to get out there 2--maybe 3 days in advance.
~Diamox & other drugs. Prescription drugs to help alleviate altitude sickness can be a big help race week. 
~Other Natural remedies? Ginger, Coca leaves (may be illegal), and lots of H20
~ Go High or Go Home! A day or 2 before the race, driving to the highest point of the course and doing a 2-3 mile easy run. 
~Focused breathing! This is for during the race. No Matter what I try I will not be 100% comfortable during parts of this race, so I'll have to focus on keeping my breathing under control and get as much oxygen as possible to my muscles. I'll also concentrate on blowing out all of the "stale" air so I have more room for oxygen rich air.

What will I be trying and when?
1) Straw Breathing! Starting... today! (See below)
2) Sleeping Mask! Ok this is still a *maybe* but I'm very seriously considering buying one. 
3) Diamox... and a LONG talk with my Dr before I take part in this craziness. 
4) Ok sure, I'll choke down some ginger and Ginko
5) Lots of water the week leading up to the race and race day
6) 1 or 2 peak elevation runs in the days leading up to the race

Straw Breathing- Day 1!
Why breath through a straw? I as stated above, this can help strengthen your lungs to help them adjust to pulling in more air as oxygen levels in the air decrease.
Attempt: 5 Minutes
Positioning: Sitting
Strategy: Slow/careful shorter breaths. 
Achieved: 4 Minutes
-Slight dizziness after 2 minutes. Went away 5 minutes after experiment ended
-If I let out too much breath, the lack of air intake initially can be uncomfortable and cause a bit of panic. 
-Lung weakness! I felt like I couldn't pull very quickly through the straw.. hopefully this will become easier as we approach WS. 

Coming Up!
I probably should have mentioned this earlier but this weekend is the National Marathon/Bataan Death March double marathon weekend! It's in my training plan for WS100 so lets hope I catch all my planes. This will definitely be my most challenging double to date as I'm putting in a lot of miles this week, I'm flying across country between races (D.C. to NM) and let's not forget-- Bataan is a more challenging course than the average bear. More to come this week!!!!

Happy HIGH Running!


  1. You're amazing. It's an honor to know you via social networks and I can't wait to meet you!!!

  2. I've heard the straw breathing technique. several people i know do that to train for Pike's peak. Good Luck!

  3. Where is the WS100 at? Hopefully you can get there early enough to acclimate some before the race. I know when I go from WI to UT it takes about a week for my lungs to adjust. Good luck on your training and the race!!

  4. get the mask - all the cool kids are doing it

  5. Didn't realize you were coming to DC! Let me know if you want to meet up before/after the race, though I realize you'll be tight after. When are you getting in? Where are you staying? Drop me an email and let's discuss :)