Running In Altitude

You might have been following my altitude adventures in my latest posts on Healthy is Hot. I wrote about how important breathing is in altitude, how to prepare for your hike, and about my experience hiking my second 7 summit last June. Although I write about these topics, it does not make me an expert: I am continuously learning about my body and about the logistics necessary to function properly at different heights. Here, what is the most important is we each become an expert at knowing our own bodies.

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So far, my altitude adventures have taught me several things, like the importance of managing your food intake and the ways your mind has a big influence on your experiences.

Last month, I continued to learn and experiment with these logistics. We took a last minute trip to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range in Peru because my husband wanted to run a 30km race. I agreed, and little did I know that he had also signed me up to run 13km. Although I had not been really training or running much, I figured, why not! It was not my first time running in altitude, and I went there open-minded and ready for anything, or almost.

We left the big city and drove for hours, until we finally found the campsite hidden between the mountains, at some 3,500m.a.s.l. It was about midnight by the time we went to bed and I was running at 1pm the next day. I felt absolutely fine that night and the next morning. At these altitudes, you don’t really run full speed or sprint (unless you live there) and I was quite happy with my run for the first 8km. The route was well signaled, until maybe the 7th kilometer: I started doubting if I was on the right track, going back on my steps to see if I had missed a yellow flag, to continue on the route until the only hydration station for my route. After this, for the first time in my running experiences, I got lost. With another runner, we walked back and forth and in circles searching for the race’s path. After a while, I used my GPS to get us back to the hydration station. After an extra 5km, we were tired, out of water, and hungry: our 13km run cumulated to 18km. We crossed the finish line with a smile on our faces and hugged, our friends and family received us, and we went to recover.

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After these intense efforts in the mountains, the recovery period is crucial, and now more than ever I realize this. In altitude, your sweat evaporates faster, and since I was low on water, I was definitely dehydrated. Although I drank water to recuperate, it was not enough and I got quite sick when I returned to sea level.

Here are 4 tips/recommendations for future races:

-       Hydration: Always bring more water than you think you need (I originally wanted to bring my backpack and my husband told me I would be fine with a running belt. That was my first mistake).

-       Location: A GPS can help you find you way, or a compass, or downloading the route on your watch if you have one (Garmin and Sunnto allow you to do so). I don’t have one of these watches, but I am happy I had activated the GPS on my phone.

-       Food: Always have some food with you. I only had the energy gummies, and at the time, something with natural sugar like a mandarin could have been better. It takes experience and trial and error to know your body and the foods that work for you during races and in altitude.

-       Extra clothing: You never know what the weather can be like, and in the mountains especially, it can be hot, cold, raining or even hailing. Wear versatile, light, and clothes for everything.

In the end, I cherish the experience I had in many ways, especially since I had pictured it so differently. These projections and plans we have for the future are tricks played by our minds. They create certain expectations and normally we are disappointed by the outcomes. However, I am grateful for this experience that has put things into perspective and that has taught me things I will never forget. I know that next time, I will be more than prepared (is there any such thing as over-prepared?). I also know that I am one experience closer to knowing my body, taking care of it, and staying healthy.

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