Training at altitude is no joke! If you live in a sea-level area, once you head out for a run in a high-altitude setting, you’ll find yourself panting and sweating like never before.
For many athletes, training at altitude is a tool they regularly use to boost their performance. The basic premise is that because you’re running with less oxygen available, your body pulls in oxygen at a higher rate and pumps it through your system more efficiently. This means that you’re working harder at altitude, which helps you grow stronger. When you get back down to a lower elevation, you’ll feel like you have slipped off a weighted vest.
For this approach to work, travel is often required. After all, you have to get out of your low-elevation location and into a high-elevation place. This post will look at some of the most popular high-altitude training areas that runners love, with tips and recommendations on the best places to train in each location.
is a small city in , but it is known as the center of the Kenyan running world. The city, along with the surrounding areas, offers numerous training camps for athletes of all levels. There are of course the very serious elite runners in Kenya, but there are also many training camps available to amateur and intermediate levels.
Running in Kenya is a lifestyle. Those at the elite level train all day long, as it is their only job. Striving to be an elite is encouraged throughout the community, and those that have the talent have access to some of the best coaches, training systems, and trails in the world.
The High-Altitude Training Center (HATC) is one such place. Founded by world champion Lornah Kiplagat, this center has a hotel, gym, pool, and other amenities all built around runners training their hearts out at a high elevation. Outside the facility is a trail that goes on for miles and miles.
St. Patrick’s School is another famous location in Iten. The school is well-known in the running community because several world majors marathon winners have come from there. Runners in Iten use the school as a location to start and end runs, as the dirt roads near the school are commonly used for distance training.
is a popular location for training at altitude, mainly because the trails in that area have shade! Most of the trails in Kenya are dirt roads that experience direct sunlight. If that gets to be too much, head to the Bugar Forest for a delightful run in the shade.
Many organizations offer travel packages to train in Kenya. You can book an entire trip with them to stay at a camp, meet and run with the elites, and learn from their coaches. This is a great experience available for anyone wanting to up their game.
is mostly known as a skiing destination, but the mountains are also used by the runners in training under the famous tutelage of Nic Bideau. Athletes from all over the world head to Falls Creek in order to train with the Melbourne Track Club. The club hosts camps for serious runners needing to use the elevation to their advantage.
If you’re not quite at the level to make it to one of Nic’s camps, consider checking in to the Falls Creek Resort. The resort has all the amenities but also offers three dedicated trails for runners at varying distances and difficulty levels. In addition to the three trails the resort has available, the general area has dozens of trail running options to choose from.
is the nearby accessible park in the area. If you’re feeling up for a serious challenge, consider the Falls to Hotham Alpine Crossing trail. This is a 37km trail that starts in Falls Creek and goes through the National Park all the way to Mount Hotham. There is significant elevation gain on the trail, and the distance is not something to be taken lightly. Be sure to have a support plan if you’re doing this one, and do not do it alone.
is intimidatingly huge with a population of twenty million people. At 2250 feet, it is also a great destination for altitude training. When the city hosted the Olympic Games in 1968, a lot was written about the negative impact the city’s altitude had on the athlete’s performance.
is a park in the heart of the city. It is Mexico City’s answer to New York’s . The primary section of this park has miles of paved trail that can be run in a crisscrossed pattern throughout the park. You’ll be running at a very high altitude, but on an even surface, while surrounded by lagoons, trees, and friendly people.
Look closely at the map of Chapultepec park, though. There is another section that is just down the street. This section is much less visited and has a proper 5k trail with a timer display and plenty of small hills to keep things interesting.
Mexico City does have a lot of air pollution. During the rainy season of May through October the pollution is not as bad. If you have allergies or are sensitive to air conditions, you can consider a drive to , a hiking area outside of the city that can be easily converted to a trail runner’s paradise.
, , 2100m/6900ft
Situated close to the Grand Canyon, is a popular destination in the US for those wanting to train at altitude. Flagstaff likes to refer to itself as the ‘center of the altitude training universe.’ Whether this claim is true or not can be debated. What is not up for debate is Flagstaff’s excellent combination of altitude, facilities, and weather that make it a great training destination. The weather is especially good for training, as it isn’t hot like the rest of Arizona due to the altitude.
An organization called HYPO2 runs training camps in the Flagstaff area. The majority of the facilities they use belong to Northern Arizona University (NAU). The team at HYPO2 hosts track teams from universities as well as professional teams. They bring them to Flagstaff, organize their lodging, and schedule their days using the NAU facilities or outdoor trails. The camps run by HYPO2 are well regarded, as is their location in Flagstaff.
is a training center for the Swiss Olympic team who seek out the location for the benefits of altitude training. The city has also hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice. The same reasons that make it a great skiing and winter sports destination also make it a great altitude-training location for runners in the summer.
The city itself is built around accessibility to altitude training. There are plenty of resorts in the area, all of which will have top of the line fitness facilities, but if you search for the St. Moritz athletic information, you will find maps to all of the locations throughout the city that can be used for running. These include tracks, trails, gyms, and more. The Swiss Olympic Training Base is included as one of these prime destinations.
The Engadin is one of the nicest resorts in the city, and once the winter ski season is over, it transforms itself into a summer retreat destination. They will have everything you need to engage in some serious training.
, , 1600/5200ft
is a great town to visit if you’re looking to combine your altitude training with a vacation. While not running, you can enjoy beautiful scenery as well as great restaurants and night life. Boulder has a very laid-back attitude, and a lot people that visit the city say they can easily see themselves living there. The city is a magnet for trail runners, as the hiking and trail running opportunities in the Rocky Mountains are endless.
If you don’t want to share the trails with hikers and mountain bikers, head out to . This road is a regular training ground for the University of Colorado team and was featured in a popular book about the team (Running with the Buffaloes, by Chris Lear). The entire stretch of road used for training is at an elevation of more than 2400m/8000ft. The popular distance is an 8-mile length of the road, and the 16-mile out-and-back version has become a must-do for many runners.
There are also many companies offering training camps in Boulder. Most do not have dedicated facilities but will do all of the logistical coordination to get you or your whole team to Boulder, get settled in your accommodation, and then plan a training schedule for the length of your stay. For runners, this will focus on trails, outdoor runs, and then many of the excellent indoor facilities that are available.
Images from Rafael Saldaña
and Stephen Colebourne