Thursday, June 21, 2012

Running at 8,000 feet

Last week I attended an awesome conference, actually a "math research community," at the Snowbird ski resort and conference center in Utah. It's way up in the mountains, at 8,000 feet. Before the conference, I wondered how the altitude would affect my running. Now I know.

For one thing, it was extremely hilly. Anywhere you walked outside, you were walking at least slightly uphill or downhill, and often steeply. So I became extremely acquainted with a half-mile universal access paved path to an observation deck, which had only 50 feet of elevation gain/drop (2%). Here is the view from the observation deck:


As you can see, the scenery was stunning.

I eased into the altitude acclimation process with 5 miles on the first afternoon. I wore a heart rate monitor and kept it in the 140s. This put me at about 8:15 pace. Usually, I would run about 7:30 pace with that heart rate.

The second day I was there, I did a workout. I was supposed to do 3-4 x 800m at 10k pace, so I just did repeats back and forth on my favorite half-mile paved path. I was supposed to run about 2:53 for each one. The first one was uphill and I ran 3:11. Then I had a really long rest interval because of some logistical difficulties, and I actually ran 2:53 on the next downhill one.

I was bound and determined to run a fast time for the next uphill one, so I just decided to hammer it at the fastest pace I thought I could sustain for half a mile. Bad idea. I actually put myself into so much oxygen debt so quickly that I had to stop in the middle -- stop and walk a few steps, to let my heart rate slow down. In the middle of an interval.

Suffice it to say that this has never happened at sea level.

I was hoping that my week at altitude would help me run super fast at the USATF New England outdoor track championships the day after I returned, but alas, the extra red blood cells did not outweigh the travel and lack of sleep. I ran okay, but certainly not super-duper altitude training awesome. Now we know!

Perhaps you are wondering how the week at Snowbird affected my mathematics. It was very productive! We proved a few things, and now we are writing a paper. (I went for the mathematics; the interesting altitude experiment was just a bonus.)

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