Reach New Heights with a Smart Race Strategy
There’s nothing quite like running on mountain trails to experience the freedom of running and the breathtaking beauty of the world. And racing on high altitude trails adds a whole new dimension to the competitive challenge of running, dishing out steep ascents and elevation gains that are rarely found in tamer road races. If you are a road racer ready for a change of scenery, keep these tips in mind as you head up high to test your mettle against challenging new terrain.
Go out conservatively
For races at altitude—and especially races with an uphill start at altitude—start out slower than usual. Less available oxygen for your lungs at higher altitude means you can run into oxygen debt that much quicker. And once you do, it can take longer to repay that debt.
Keep a high cadence
As gravity takes its toll and slows your pace, keep the cadence high. Think short but quick steps to maintain a good rhythm and proper form to propel your body upwards and onward.
Make gradual moves to bridge gaps while climbing
As you focus on catching those competitors just up the trail, be patient and increase your pace gradually to reel them in. Fast uphill surges can often prove counterproductive.
Plan for aid stations that are fewer and farther between
Typically, the more challenging the course, the more difficult it may be for race directors to provide frequent support. Even if aid stations are as frequent as you would expect for a road race of the same distance, the slower pace of high altitude trail running means it will take you longer to get from one to another.
Pre-hydrate and stay hydrated/fueled
Higher altitudes bring dryer air and the susceptibility of fluid/electrolyte loss. Prehydrate in the days before the race and stay hydrated and fueled during the race. Depending upon the frequency of aid stations, consider carrying a small water bottle and a few gels so you can drink/fuel at regular intervals.
Be prepared for shifts in the weather
Some races at higher altitudes require runners to carry a jacket. Even if they don’t, and you anticipate being on the course for a while, it’s a good idea to be well prepared for summer thunderstorms (or even snowstorms) that move into the mountains in the afternoon.
Make the most of the downhill sections
Unless you’re doing an ascent with a mountaintop finish, what goes up must come down. Use gravity to your advantage. Keep a high cadence, stay alert, and maintain good footing to make the most of the downhill sections.
Finally, breathe deeply and enjoy the beauty around you!
This article also appeared in the Colorado Triathlete.