Not all running routes were created equal. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the overall feel of a running route ––such as unevenness, residents, shade, traffic, etc.––but today we’re going to be focusing on one component of your run: elevation!
You may feel like elevation hasn’t played a part in your runs, but this is probably because you’ve never run on a different level of elevation. Any runner that has changed up their route from high altitude to low altitude or vice versa will tell you that there’s definitely a difference, and changing up your technique accordingly comes highly recommended.
Learn some of the differences between running in high elevation and running in low elevation to discover how you can customize your running routes for the best experience.
First, what is considered high altitude?
Elevation is universally described as the distance above sea level. Areas are usually considered high elevation once they reach 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level. Think of running places like Denver or a mountain run to get an idea of higher elevation.
Next, what are the main differences between running in high and low elevation?
Temperature: Typically, the higher you get above sea level, the colder the climate will be, and the lower you get, the warmer it will be. Ensure that you’re prepared for the weather so you don’t get surprised by warmer or cooler temperatures than normal. And remember: Layers are your friend, especially if you’ll be changing altitudes during your run.
Oxygen Level: The higher you go, the more oxygen levels decrease. If you’ve ever been hiking, you may have noticed that the higher you go, the harder it is to breathe. If you’ve ever visited a place like Denver, Colorado (also known as the “Mile High City” for that exact reason), you may notice that it becomes hard to even climb the stairs at home!
Because of this decrease in oxygen, you’ll probably notice your performance start to decrease as you struggle to breathe. This is totally normal and in many cases can help you increase your lung capacity and breathing techniques.
Hydration: As oxygen levels decrease at a higher altitude, your risk of dehydration starts to increase. The higher you go, the air is dryer and the harder you breathe, which means you’ll lose nutrient-rich body fluids even faster. To combat this, make sure you pack sufficient hydration for your run and that you drink more water than normal throughout the day.
So what about altitude? What are the benefits of running at high or low altitude?
High: Many elite athletes train at high altitudes because it can increase your performance over time, due to the fact that it allows your body to produce more red blood cells, thus enhancing oxygen capacity.
Low: Breathing is easier at low altitudes, which means you’ll probably be able to go faster than you would at a high elevation. When training at low altitudes, you also won’t feel the need to acclimate over time as you would at higher altitudes, which means you can go for longer, faster runs without running the risk of altitude sickness.
No matter where your next run takes you, keep in mind that training in high elevation and training at low elevation both have their benefits. Additionally, both are needed to become the best athlete you want to be!