For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Advice from two-time Olympian Laura Bennett about preparing to race at a high elevation.
The 2017 running of the 106º West Triathlon (106westtri.com) is slated for Sept. 9 in Dillon, Colo., and the half-iron and Olympic distance courses promise to give athletes a new challenge—the Rocky Mountain course will max out at over 10,000 feet. Given the added difficulty, the race has enlisted Olympian Laura Bennett, who resides in Colorado, to help by creating race-specific training plans for the event. “10,000 feet is definitely NOT a joke,” Bennett warns. “Every athlete wanting to do this race has to understand that this will be a race that challenges them like no other.” Bennett answers all of our altitude questions to get you prepared for this beautiful, unique race.
Triathlete.com: What are the biggest concerns for athletes going from sea level to racing at altitude?
Bennett: The altitude and their expectations that might reflect a lack of respect for it. It’s of utmost priority to come into the race without expectations of comparisons of races they’ve done before, but treat this as a whole new beast. It is super important to look at 106 West Triathlon as probably one of the biggest challenges they will take on in the sport, because it is going to be so much about them and managing themselves, plus the competition around them. Having the right mental and emotional perspective is paramount. It is going to be a beautiful and entertaining venue, so you will have some pleasure in the suffering, but for the most part, constant calculations of effort level and nutrition, and meeting those needs, are going to be what makes you successful on the day.
Triathlete.com: What is the ideal acclimation period and/or can doing a training camp at altitude help?
Bennett: Everybody’s ability to deal with altitude is different, that is why it is imperative that you listen to your body! You can read all the articles written about altitude and get some parameters, but it’s still dependent on your own chemistry on how your body will react. Be conservative. Listen to your intuition. Go with the idea that less is more, don’t over reach.
[Husband Greg and I] have found our ideal acclimation periods have been to come to altitude (5000–9000 feet) for two weeks from sea level, train very easy/at the bottom of your aerobic effort level. Then going back down to sea level to race over a weekend, and coming back up again right away. We have felt quite adapted on our second arrival. The alternative way we have done it is coming up and build adaption slowly which usually takes 4–5 weeks. We have been fit doing both of these techniques. Therefore, if you wanted to do a camp five weeks out, that could suit.
I have read that 4+ hours at 5000+ ft a couple of times in the month before the race would be helpful. If you do take that approach, be sure that the time spent up there is taken easy to moderate.
You could also rent an altitude tent. This is the most ideal situation because you do not forfeit any speed and power, but make all the gains in aerobic capacity from sleeping high and training low.
If doing a camp, periodic training at high altitudes, or altitude tents aren’t an option, the ideal acclimation period that has been studied, is racing within 24 hours of getting to altitude or arriving at least 10 days before the race. This will give you the best opportunity to avoid the negative effects of altitude, such as altitude sickness, fatigue, and the body’s adaption to the natural production of EPO. Be aware that the first day or so you could feel zero effects—but don’t be fooled take it easy, the adaption is about to start. Take it easy for at least two days, meaning keep that heart rate low. You are moving not training.
Triathlete.com: What other tactics could help?
Bennett: If you are so fortunate to live in a hot and humid environment, you will see some crossover. We have usually kicked off our seasons training in very hot and humid environments and have found the labored breathing due to those conditions was very similar to how we feel when coming to altitude. Embrace those hot and humid days as they are conditioning you for the task you have chosen.