I grew up and started running pretty low, around 1,100 feet above sea level. After college I moved to San Diego, which is right at sea level. I spent five years training and racing there before moving to Salt Lake City which sits at 4,200 feet (but you don’t have to go far to get even higher than that). Now having a bit of experience with running low and high, this is what I’ve learned:
- It takes WAY longer than two weeks to adjust to a higher elevation. That time frame was given to me by a “they say,” so I tested it and it failed. For me, it took about eight weeks before I felt adjusted.
- Some people don’t feel any difference training high and then racing low. Bummer! But in every case of this I’ve found so far, it’s whether or not the athlete grew up high. It seems like if you were born and raised at a high elevation, you don’t notice any benefit when you race low.
- Because it’s harder to get enough oxygen to keep up with your fast twitch muscle fiber demands, your turnover will decrease a bit. This makes being consistent with interval training important when you’re high. Some say this is why they don’t feel a benefit from going high to low in racing. Personally I’ve experienced a benefit from making the switch, but I do regular speed work, so I can’t really agree/disagree with that theory.
- The most important realization I’ve experienced is that oxygen decreases exponentially as you get higher. That means if you go from 2,000 feet to 4,000 feet, it’s harder than going from 0 (sea level) to 2,000 feet, even though they are both 2,000 feet apart. I’ve noticed this in running here in Utah where I can vary how high I train by several thousand feet.
Most professional runners doing elevation training stints seem to go for weeks at a time. That, combined with my own experiences make me think that you won’t get much of a benefit from doing just a few high runs during a training cycle. Running high isn’t just a performance benefit for me though (okay mostly). The mountains here are incredible and the views you can get by just doing a little climbing are breathtaking – see what I did there.