The lowest point of the Leadville Marathon sits at 10,200ft. And this is the start and finish line. This only means one thing. 26 miles of the 26.2 miles happen between 10,200 and 13,200 feet of elevation.
While I do make a point to head up to the mountains regularly, it doesn't happen as much as I'd want to. And I'm mostly stuck training at 5,200ft. It's a good start for sure... as most people can't even say they train at this elevation but what happens when your race is up there and you're stuck down here? Here are a few pointers based on what I've read and studied to execute at elevation.
1. Go on feel (like my coach Eric would say). This means, run by effort, not by pace. This is when training with a heart rate monitor would be helpful since you'll be able to better measure your effort level. You will usually run slower at elevation and you want your heart rate to be your guide. Start off easy, and if you're feeling good, you can slowly increase your intensity.
2. Do hill workouts. If you're running at high altitude, most likely you'll me running in hilly terrain. This means lots of uphills and lots of downhills. It's incredibly helpful to do one hill-focused workout a week (or two) to work on your form and learn how to "tackle" the hills more efficiently. Sometimes, even when I do longer easy runs, I try to push on the uphills. Just to practice.
3. Drink plenty of fluids. The air is drier at elevation so you'll need about twice as much water than you do at sea level. Staying hydrated is key to allow your body to adjust more easily... and recover faster.
4. Acclimatization... or not. Let's be realistic, while we'd all love to head up to the mountains for a 2-week vacation before our race and to get acclimated, most of us are "weekend warriors" and can't really afford to do so. It takes roughly 10 days for your body to adjust by producing more red-blood cells (which are the ones that carry oxygen). On the flip side, if you head up less than 24hrs from your event, you'll feel better. It takes 1 or 2 days for your body to start feeling the side effects of altitude. The most common side effects would be nausea, fatigue, trouble sleeping.
That's all for today... I'm off to drink some more water!