Running high: 5 tips for your next high altitude adventure

If you’ve ever experienced altitude sickness (aka Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS), you know that it is not to be trifled with.
Nausea, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.  All classic symptoms of this condition that can impact anyone at any time, regardless of physical fitness or acclimatization status.

Whether you are training for a high elevation race, adventure run or summit chasing, learning how to prevent and mitigate AMS can mean a more enjoyable and successful experience.

Check out our 5 helpful tips for your next big adventure into the high mountains:

Before you go: 

1.  H2O!
At higher elevations your body loses more water through increased evaporation (low air pressure/humidity), respiration and urination. Make sure that you are properly hydrated before you head up to the hills. Drink extra water the two days leading up to your planned foray and pack an additional liter or two of water above your typical usage for the planned distance.

2.  Replenish and replace: 
If your excursion will last over an hour, make sure to pack electrolyte and carbohydrate replacements.  This is especially important to prevent hyponatremia (low blood sodium concentration) since you will be drinking extra H2O.  Just because it may be cooler up high doesn’t mean you don’t sweat!

3.  Get some zzzzz’s: 
Get plenty of sleep the night (or ideally the two nights) before. Sleep deprivation has been shown in recent studies to exacerbate the effects of both extreme heat/humidity AND high altitude.

Game day tips: 

4.  Warm-up!

 If you are racing this is especially critical for maximum performance and to prevent redlining too early in the event. Take about 20 minutes for a gentle warm-up (walking, functional movements, dynamic stretches) so that your lungs, legs and heart have time to adapt to the more demanding environment.

5.  Start slow: 
You are in the starting corral, hundreds of people surround you and the air is buzzing with excitement.  You can feel the energy of the crowd and your heart pounds with anticipation of hearing that starting gun sound off. And when it does, what happens?  The mob lets loose, full speed ahead and wrapped up in the hysteria you follow along, pushing much harder than you had planned and can really physically handle.
A half mile later, all of those overly ambitious athletes are walking, hands on knees, gasping for breath and their pace doesn’t change much for the remainder of the race.  They are spent.  They tapped into their anaerobic system too early and that, combined with the thin air, set them up for system overload which few can recover from.
Don’t get carried away at the starting line.  Be strategic, hang back and pace yourself and you will soon catch and pass those who started too quickly. When your body has adapted to the conditions and you’ve base-lined is the time to push a little and make your move.

– Lauren Jones, B.S., ACSM
Mountain runner and summit chaser

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