The Little Things: High Altitude Training and Altitude Tent

Introduction

There is no doubt there is a benefit to training at high altitude…. if done correctly. There’s a great book I recommend in order to be well-informed if you ever decide to utilize high altitude–“Altitude Training and Athletic Performance” by Chief Physiologist at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Spring, Dr. Randy Wilber (don’t know why the book is so pricey now, but it is well worth it). I’ve trained at high altitude several times and responded well every time, going back to when I was a hobby jogger doing research in Montana in 2003.

Not only does the research support utilizing high altitude, but the best marathoners in the world have all utilized high altitude and/or altitude tents. Bill Rodgers said in a recent podcast (listen here: Bill Rodgers and Co podcast) that he thinks the reason why the Africans are better than his era of runners is because of being born and trained at high altitude. How much of a difference does it make? According to the research in the book, there’s great variability of performance improvement, 3-33% (~seen with runners, cyclists, and skiiers)– that seems like a lot, when extrapolated to the marathon (3% = 4.8 minutes for a 2:40 marathoner). From my personal experience, I believe it to be a minimal drop of 2-4 minutes in the marathon amongst elites, if done correctly.

Below, I will take about the key factors to getting the greatest benefit from high altitude training.

Iron Status

There is research showing there are “responders” and “non-responders” to high altitude. I strongly believe the reason for this lies in iron-status. If your ferritin is low or even low-normal BEFORE you go to high altitude (lets say below 50, according to the research), you will have a difficult time responding positively to the high altitude. Ferritin is the protein used to store iron and is used when needed to make oxygen-carrying red blood cells (RBCs), one of the main benefits to high altitude. At high altitude, you have a surge in your endogenous production of erythropoeitin (EPO), which stimulates new RBC formation. If you don’t have enough iron to produce RBCs, you will have a difficult time responding positively to the high altitude. Thus, it is important to get your ferritin checked beforehand (try: www.healthcheckusa.com) and to load up on iron before and during the high altitude stint. I previous did a very detailed blog post about Iron Supplementation .

My personal experience is that at high altitude and with the kind of mileage I do (120-140+ mpw), I have to take 1 1/2 tsps of liquid iron in OJ every day. My first time living and training in Alamosa, CO (2008), I found that taking iron pills 3-4x/week and eating lots of red meat wasn’t enough– my ferritin was low-normal (41)after a month of being there– I felt like crap in workouts and races. Once I got onto the liquid iron in OJ every day, within a week I had dropped 10 seconds off of mile repeats and went onto to run a 10K PR at 6,000ft.! Contrarily, while training at sea level I only have to take the liquid iron in OJ 3-4x/week. I discovered this through trial and error.

How High You Should Go

The research says you need to go up to at least 6890 ft. and below 8200 ft. to ensure a positive benefit. If you go lower than this, you may or may not respond and get the full benefit of the high altitude. If you go too high, it may hinder recovery and not allow for solid quality/speedwork training. As an example, when my hubby and I went to train in Boulder, CO in the summer of 2004 (5430 ft.), he was very marathon fit, while I was only somewhat fit. I responded very well and had great performances in the fall at sea level, while he did not. We believe the Boulder altitude wasn’t high enough for him to get a physiological benefit. On the other hand, we have both had great success living and training in Alamosa, CO (7544 ft.), going up to Fort Garland, CO (8000 ft.), and some intermittent training at Rock Creek Rd. (up to 11,000 ft.).

Below is a list of the altitude of some popular training locations in the US (as listed in Altitude Training and Athletic Performance, but I corrected the Boulder altitude). Of course, this isn’t all inclusive. If you have the option to go live and train somewhere high, check to make sure it’s high enough to ensure a positive benefit. Some of the surrounding areas to the places below ARE above 7000 ft.. Otherwise, if you take a gamble and train lower or higher than 6890 ft.-8200 ft., you may waste away 4+ weeks of your time and not get the positive benefit (like my hubby with Boulder).

  • Albuquerque, NM– 5,000 ft.

  • Fort Collins, CO– 5,000 ft.

  • Denver, CO– 5,280 ft.

  • Boulder, CO– 5,430 ft.

  • Colorado Spring, CO– 6,100 ft.

  • Flagstaff, CO– 7,000 ft.

  • Los Alamos, NM– 7,240 ft.

  • Santa Fe, NM–7,260 ft.

  • Alamosa, CO– 7,544 ft.

  • Park City, UT– 8,000 ft.

  • Mammoth Lakes, CA– 8,000 ft.

How long you should stay

The research says you need to stay a minimum of four weeks at high altitude. My personal experience is that I start to feel fully adapted to the high altitude (Alamosa, CO, 7544 ft.)  around 6 weeks. This has been a consistent finding with the two times I’ve gone to train there. The first few days I feel great, and then I seem to “bonk” between 1-3 weeks (~having to adjust hydration, sleep, diet, recovery, etc.). Between 3-5 weeks my training picks up and gets consistent. By 6 weeks there’s a noticeable “boost” in how I feel, such that the high altitude no longer feels as stressful. By that point I see a fitness improvement and start hitting times/splits comparable to sea level (which of course means my sea level pacing will be even faster). I like to do a high quality sea level race about a month after being at high altitude.

Personally, I like to spend 2 months at high altitude. This ensure I’ve gained the benefit, adapted, but not stayed too long to get stale/overtrained. I’ve stayed for up to 4 months, and I didn’t find any additional benefit beyond 2 months. If your iron status is good BEFORE you go up, you will adapt very quickly and like myself, see a positive benefit around 4-6 weeks. If you feel like crap after a month+ at high altitude, I can nearly guarantee it’s an iron issue or overtraining/underrecovering.

 How long the benefit lasts/When to come back down 

As stated in the book, there’s great individual variability in how long the high altitude benefit lasts when you return to sea level. The research supports a benefit of up to 3 weeks. However, this may be because the research studies (at least as presented in this book, 2004) hadn’t looked at blood parameters beyond 3 weeks. Considering RBCs have a lifespan of 90-120 days, the benefits may last up to 3-4 months. Personally, I feel the benefits last about this long.

However, besides the RBC gains, the high altitude also enhances respiration (~strengthens the lungs). When you return back to sea level, this enhancement appears to last only a few days before returning to “normal” (as mentioned in the book and what I’ve personally found to hold true). For this reason, I believe it’s best to plan a big race within a few days of going down to sea level. Some recommend spending 1-3 weeks at sea level and then racing (~working on leg speed, adjusting to the heat/humidity at sea level). However, I find I lose this respiratory benefit fairly quickly and start to feel tired lethargic within a week (~maybe a hydration issue). I’d rather stay in a consistent living/training environment at high altitude, drop to sea level, and race within 48 hours.

Housing options

Having done a few stints at high altitude, I’ve experienced several different living options. When we lived in Boulder in ’04, we found a room to rent in a house on Craigslist (fairly cheap). We lived with a few post-grads.

In ’08 and ’09 in Alamosa, you can read about my experience in my previous blog post . I lived with some people we know and also lived in a crappy motel room with a kitchenette for nine weeks. Alamosa is very cheap for cost of living. Being a small town, it has easy access to trails and amenities. However, I had to drive to get mountains and hills.

Definitely, cost of housing and living can vary from place to place, $500-2000. If you’re really on a budget, it helps to network with friends to find a room to rent in someone’s house. We did Craigslist and took a risk staying with people we don’t know. If you’re going with a group, you could probably find a condo/house to rent and split the cost. I like the motel/hotel living (~Extended Stays), but of course you want to be careful and make sure you’re not staying somewhere shady. It helps to be close to trails, esp. if you don’t have a car. A lot of high altitude places are fairly far from major airports, so definitely take that into consideration.

Live high-train low, or Live high-train high?

The research supports the “live high-train low” method, as the best way to get the benefit of the high altitude, while also retaining and working on leg speed. However, this may depend on the individual, physiological makeup, the event you’re training for (need more speed/turnover?), and the feasibility of training low. Only a few places in the US (Flagstaff? Santa Fe?) may allow for the ability to live high enough and be within decent driving distance to train low.

As a marathoner, I’ve had no problems doing the live high-train high routine. I do a good bit of short interval speedwork/strides at high altitude to maintain turnover, while also doing some strength work (but not excessively, as to hinder recovery). I’ll talk about the training aspects below.

Considering the research support for live high-train low, altitude tents have allowed a lot of athletes utilize this concept while at sea level. I will discuss my experience with an altitude tent as well.

How to train

 In terms of intensity, everything you do at high altitude is slower for the same effort. You have to think about the high altitude as another “stress”– it adds an element of “resistence” to how you feel, feeling like you’re always running into a 40 mph headwind (~when you’re running beyond an easy pace). Considering this added stress, it’s very important to emphasize the recovery (~easy days between, slower easy day pace, longer recovery between intervals, less intervals and and slower, not as much long/hard threshold work)– it’s easier to become overtrained at high altitude. Resting and submax heart rate are elevated– I found a difference of around +4 beats for resting HR, and +5-10 beats for easy runs at the same effort as sea level. According the book, max HR is equivalent or slightly lower at high altitude compared to sea level– however, I still keep my progression run range the same (80-90% of max HR).

We believe in focusing more on the effort than going by splits. However, as a reference, the book states that mile intervals are 7-9 seconds slower (I find it to be ~5-7 seconds slower). Because the intervals are slower and more stressful, it’s a good idea to consider lengthening the recovery– we go with at least 1/2 or longer for the recovery (~tack on another minute or more for 1-2 mile repeats).

The great thing about high altitude is you can better sense your anaerobic threshold and learn to stay below it– this may be one huge advantage for those who train at high altitude. Longer threshold runs are exponentially slower (10-20 seconds per mile slower…. gets more difficult the longer you go)– I prefer to do these with a heart rate monitor rather than pace (see previous post about Heart rate training and HR based progression runs . The heart rate ranges are the same as sea level, but of course the pace is slower– I stay between 80-90% of HR max. The recovery for longer threshold runs is more difficult compared to sea level, so you have to be mindful not to go too hard/too long/too frequently with these runs. I haven’t done more than an hour for these runs.

Considering everything is slower, it’s a good idea to focus on short intervals, strides, and drills to help maintain turnover. I like to do all-out strides barefoot on grass twice a week, 10-12 repeats with walking recovery. I also try to maintain a regimen of drills twice a week. I’ll do 90 second pickups on the roads 2x/month and also some steady rolling hill runs 2x/month. You could also find a long downhill for doing intervals or long threshold runs, to achieve a comparable pace to what you’d hit at sea level. When I first get to high altitude, I like to focus on shorter and slower intervals first (~minutes workouts), to adjust to the high altitude– within 2-3 weeks, I’ll progress to the beefier 1-2 mile repeats (preferring up to a max of 3 x 2 miles…. anything more or longer is very stressful).

Hills– does the town/city sit on the side of a mountain or in a valley? If you’re going up and down, every day, twice a day….. that’s going to be quite stressful to the body! We like Alamosa cause it’s in a valley and pancake flat. It’s easy to recover. You have the option of driving to mountains/hills (Fort Garland, Rock Creek Rd.) when you need to… not running them every day and killing yourself!

In terms of volume, there’s various methods mentioned in the book. It’s definitely a good idea to cut back your volume somewhat (not really a set number) to let the body adjust to the stress of the high altitude. When I did a stint in 2009, I cut down from 125 at sea level to 110 the first week at high altitude. I got back up to 120-130 fairly quickly and held it there for most of the 9 weeks I was there. In 2008, I ran 98 miles the first week (wasn’t as well trained at the time), and ran less mileage for four months. It’s up to the person on what they can handle. We find that maintaining the frequency but cutting back the duration of runs is an effective way to cut back the volume. I’ve heard that aerobically/stress-wise, running 120-130 mpw at high altitude is equivalent to running 130-140 mpw (or more) at sea level.

Diet/Hydration/Sleep/Recovery

The book goes into great detail on the physiological impact of the high altitude on recovery factors and metabolism. As I mentioned, iron is of upmost importance– both supplement and eating red meat a few times a week (plus, meat is a source of B12). I buy a bunch of steaks, chicken, and ground beef and freeze it. The biggest thing you’ll notice when you first go up is how thirsty you get! It’s definitely drier, and there’s a greater need to hydrate. I always believe it’s important to have a mix of solutes. I feel better when I go up to 11,000 ft. if I’m hydrating with Gatorade– keeping the blood sugar up. Plus, chewing gum can help the ears. Generally, you need more of everything– carbohydrates, fat, protein, micronutrients. You feed your body what it feels like it needs.

The altitude also makes you sleepy– the high altitude is a stress, and the body needs more growth hormone (while you sleep) to balance it out. When I first went to Alamosa in ’08, the first month I was sleeping excessively (3 hour naps every day) and very lethargic, likely because of my low-normal ferritin. Once I got on the liquid iron, my naps got shorter and I had more energy. Definitely pay attention to things like this– you shouldn’t be dragging all the time.

I should add that I’ve had issues with the dust and hay fever (with drastic weather changes) while at altitude. My nose and ears got stopped up, right before Twin Cities ’09.

Heat Training

Going from high altitude to sea level for the first time can be a rude awakening with the heat and humidity! It’s a HUGE factor, esp. for the longer events. When we trained in Boulder in ’04 (mind you, lots of Olympians preparing for the Olympics), we’d see packs of Africans and Asians training in full track suits in July (while most casual Americans were shirtless)– I didn’t understand the reasoning for this at the time, as I wasn’t a serious runner. Of course, once I became more serious in ’08, I figured it out!

I previously did a blog post about heat training . This has, by far, been one of the most beneficial elements to my training and performance the past few years. Like the high altitude, it adds another layer of “stress”– you have to gradually build up to more layers and let your body adapt. The key is developing a layer of sweat on your skin that will keep you cool and not evaporate. It takes at least 10 days to adjust. As I mention, the biggest factor for understanding how one place compares to another is dew point. Having lived/trained/raced all over the country, the Midwest/East/Southeast is far and away steamier than the Southwest/Mountains/West Coast. Having endured heat exhaustion a few times (including Chicago ’07), this is something to not take lightly! You’ve got to overprepare. We just moved back to Oklahoma (July 2011), and despite the 100+ degree days, it feels “cooler” (and obviously drier) here compared to Indiana.

You definitely get more radiant heat in the mountains/Southwest (more exposed, closer to the sun!), so you have to protect your skin more diligently (see pic above!). This is another reason for wearing the added layers!

Longterm impact of living high

There’s been recent research suggesting that living high permanently/longterm is actually detrimental to endurance performance. However, this is a finding in a special population– I’m not aware of any longterm studies with endurance athletes. As stated in the following ,

“…an extended stay at altitude can bring a loss of the muscle’s ability to use oxygen to carry out work. The number of mitochondria, the oxygen-using powerhouses of the cell, falls with a prolonged stay at high altitude…. Studies of metabolites present in calf muscles under light exercise also indicated that CP patients experienced greater fatigue. Finally, there were differences in expression of metabolic genes in the CP patients’ muscles. This could suggest their metabolism makes less efficient use of the fuel available and may explain their reduced exercise capacity. We found that the metabolism of CP patients is different and leads to poorer physical performance and endurance,’ says Dr Formenti.

Given the above and as mentioned in the article, there might be a limit to how long you should stay at high altitude to optimize the benefit. The research supports a minimal stay of four weeks. Personally, I didn’t feel any added benefit beyond two months (stayed for four months). Thus, it’s probably a good idea for the permanent elite athletes in the mountains to spend some time at sea level. However, from my own experience the biggest adjustments to sea level training is the higher heat/humidity and the fact that you can run much faster for everything…. easy to get carried away!

My experience with an altitude tent

Not everyone can move their life and training to high altitude. To leave a spouse, kids, job, and home behind isn’t feasible for everyone. High altitude tents have allowed many sea-level runners to get the benefit of the live high-train low method, without uprooting their lives. I’ve been amazed to find out how many of my elite runner friends have one of these, but you don’t see many talk about it (is it taboo?)! I want to transparently talk about my experience with one, so far.

I absolutely do not see anything ethically wrong with altitude tents. It’s no different than other ‘technologies’ such as treadmills (~Northerners getting in speedwork and heat training in January), indoor tracks, sweatsuits for heat training, AlterGs, or strength training equipment…. an endless list! It’s a matter of fairness to those who don’t have the opportunity to live and train at high altitude. I’m also not aware of any detriments to your health, beyond what you normally experience at high altitude.

I purchased an altitude tent this year (January 2011, used, made by Altitudetech) to test out for myself. I decided to try the altitude tent, so I wouldn’t have to spend any more time away from my hubby. I used it from late-January until late-April. It was fairly difficult and complicated to put together the first time. We set the altitude fairly low (5,000 ft.) the first day and gradually built up to the max of 10,500 ft.. We’d sleep in the tent (~8-9 hours), and then I’d nap and spend as much leisure time in it as I could. I kept a water bottle in there and fit a standing fan through the velcro to circulate the air. It gets fairly warm/humid, so we cranked down the house temperature and closed the vents. We moved the generator to another room so we couldn’t hear it (the low hum really isn’t that bad).

The first week of using the tent my breathing felt pretty good and body felt good overall. However, over time I noticed myself feeling more and more tired, having breathing issues, and my legs felt abnormally sore and heavy on some days. I was trying to up my iron intake as well (my ferritin was great when I started, 92). Granted, I was running a lot of marathons, travelling a lot, and dealing with the emotional stress of losing a friend. Combined with the “stress” of the altitude tent, it may have been too much for the body to handle all at once. I consulted with the Altitudetech owner, who suggested I only use the tent on recovery days and not on workout days. I started doing this and felt like I recovered better. However, I still was having breathing issues (at rest and during races and workouts).

After getting checked out for asthma/allergies/heart, I finally decided to ditch the altitude tent and see what happens. Within a few days, I noticed my breathing was returning to normal. It was as if the tent was causing me to hyperventilate and affecting my lungs. I wonder if I’m claustrophobic, as I’ve had an issue before in a camping tent? I have not used the tent since, and my breathing has been much better.

Contrarily, my hubby had no problems with the altitude tent. In fact, he felt like it helped his breathing and made him feel really good on his runs. But of course, he wasn’t training and competing at the same level. We concluded that he may be someone who thrives on a “live high-train low” regimen, while I’m someone who needs a consistent living and training environment (“live high-train high”). My body is very sensitive to environmental changes. Apparently you can buy a mask to hook up to the generator, which allows you to basically train on a treadmill at “high altitude”. I haven’t gone this far yet.

I’m not up-to-date on the research with altitude tents, and there wasn’t as much research available when the book was published (2004). Theoretically, it should allow you to live high-train low. It may depend on the individual whether they respond to this stimulus– something you have to try for yourself. It may also depend on how you apply it and what time of the year (base training?). I was applying it at a time when my body was under a lot of stress, which may not have been ideal. We are keeping our altitude tent for now and will continue to experiment with it. I’d love to hear others experience with an altitude tent and whether it worked for you.


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Comments

  1. Very interesting stuff. Thanks so much for sharing. My wife and I live at sea level and have just started using a tent as well to train for Transrockies that goes up to 12,500ft. It’s been a pretty big adjustment the first few weeks trying to adapt, combined with a bad upper respiratory infection that I happened to get at the same time. I took a bit of time off out of the tent to get healthy again and have found that going up the second time has been easier. Have also consulted with Ka-Yu of Altitudetech and found it helpful to take one or two days off per week at this point. There have been a number of times that I’ve woken feeling pretty exhausted…but that may be due to heavy training. Have found it interesting mapping the numbers and seeing that my morning HR is generally about 10% higher in the morning while sleeping at 10,000-11,000ft compared to sea level (opening the tent flaps and turning off the generator has my HR drop back down to normal). Also interesting seeing the O2 levels in the 90% range at that elevation too. Have found that the 1-2 days off from sleeping high has helped and I feel considerably better in training on those days. We have the mask, but I haven’t started using it yet for training high. My wife has begun some easy bike rides with it though and will be interesting to see how that goes.

    I know that there is a lot of research stating that you need to spend up to 12hrs in it each day, but I just couldn’t imagine doing that much, though maybe it’s an adapted thing. Were you always aiming for that range or more with sleep, naps, free time or did you cut it back a bit when you had the breathing issue?

  2. Hi Derrick! Thanks for sharing your experience with the tent so far! I still want to give it a chance and hopefully have a better experience the second time around. Have you had the breathing issue I had, ~hyperventilating? It felt like a vice-grip on my lungs and they’d be spastic. Once I stopped using it, it was like my lungs could finally expand normally. I want to give the tent a second chance, hopefully during a less stressful period. I just need to figure out how to best utilize it, ~maybe lower the elevation (?). I also bought a new filter, but surprisingly it made my nose stuffy.

    I’m not sure how much time I spent in it, but my lifestyle allowed for at least 12 hours. I spent most of my free time in it.

    Keep me posted if you figure out anything else that seems to work for you! I’d be curious about the mask.

  3. The first time we started using it I did notice in conversations with people that I had to pause to catch my breath at times. Cutting back and then increasing again slowly, I have not noticed that this time around. I wonder if your breathing issues might have been related to doing higher intensity workouts (my volume is high, but training for ultras so only doing one tempo workout a week on average right now)? Your number of hours in the tent is certainly higher than where I’ve been at, but hoping to increase that and start working (computer) more in the tent or hooked up to the mask. I wonder if you started using it next time during a rest period or early base building period, if you’d find it easier to adapt…before adding higher quality workouts?

    I’ve been intrigued with the idea of passive intervals and going up to higher elevations at rest as well…for the higher altitude races we’re looking to do, this might be helpful.

    Oh, and you mentioned about a stuffy nose…I did notice that when we first started using it, but having built up more gradually the second time around, I haven’t noticed a thing. Strange co-incidence about your new filter though.

  4. That’s what I wonder about too– I think I had too many “stressors” going on all at once. I was doing more racing than high quality training when I started using it– obviously racing is more stressful than training (esp. multiple marathons!). When I got back into consistent quality in late-March/April, it was hit or miss on some days, whether I’d get a breathing flairup. It was scary at the time, cause I worried about having a heart issue. It was a tightness in my chest, feeling like my lungs couldn’t fully expand– felt spastic sometimes. I don’t understand what causes hyperventilation, but the tent was definitely a trigger cause once I stopped, I felt normal. I went camping a few weeks ago, and had another “hyperventilating incident” in the camping tent, where I woke up feeling like I was suffocating and needed to get out of it to breath fresh air. Totally weird! So I think the problem is me, and not the tent. I gotta figure out how to best use it.

  5. Hi Camille,

    I live and train in Denver and don’t have the option to travel to higher altitude for more than individual training runs. I’ve run at 7000-10,000′ when we’ve been up in the mountains for the weekend, but I’ve never gone to the trouble of driving to higher altitude specifically for a training run. Do you think there is any benefit to doing individual runs at higher altitude? Would there be any factors to consider such as timing prior to a goal race? Thanks for your great posts. I’ve gotten a lot of great information so far and appreciate your input on the science and your own experiences. Happy running!
    ~Dan

    • Hi Dan! The research is mixed on whether you get a benefit with “intermittment hypoxia living/training”. There is some research supporting a surge in EPO production with just a few hours of training at high altitude. It may be an individual thing, meaning you have to try for yourself to see if you feel any added benefit. When I trained in Alamosa, we would sometimes do training runs at Rock Creek Rd. (~11,000 ft.) or even ~500ft. higher in Ft. Garland. These runs always felt harder to do, so I’m assuming that added “stress” provided some benefit…. as long as I put everything into recovering too! I would go to Ft. Garland every 2 weeks. My friend Simon, the mountain runner, would go to Rock Creek Rd. every weekend during his mountain running season– alternating workouts of either “mile repeats” (run back down for recovery) or long climbs. I liked to do one last run at Ft. Garland within a week of going to a major sea level race– probably more for confidence and mental focus than anything else.

      Also, personally I would schedule a “break” (after about 5 week at high altitude) and go back to sea level for a few days-week, and then come back up to high altitude. When I would go back up, that’s when I would have my biggest fitness breakthroughs…. could kill any workout at high altitude and knew I was ready for a monster sea level race.

      So these are the things I’ve figured out! As I was just telling another friend, we’re all an experiment of n = 1! Take note of how you feel doing different things. When something makes you feel really good, that’s enough reason to keep doing it (intelligently!). Good luck with your training and racing plans! Any fall marathons? :) Camille

      • Hi Camille! Thanks for the response. I’m going to keep experimenting with single runs and maybe use a HR monitor to see if I’m getting any benefit from it. When I first moved to Denver the altitude was really affecting me during running. I spent a few days in Vail and did a couple harder workouts in Vail and everything felt great when I went back to Denver, so anecdotally I have evidence to suggest that even modest amounts have some positive impact.

        I’m planning to run the Twin Cities marathon in October. It’s my favorite race and I’m excited to get back on that course and see what I can do. I’ll be cheering you on at NYC and OT! Thanks again for all this great information.
        ~Dan

  6. Good deal! I love both Vail and Denver!!!! I can’t imagine what they look like in the winter (!), but Washington Park is really cool around this time– love the vibe! I looooovvveee Twin Cities too– best wishes for a beautiful, cool day, with the sun reflecting off the lakes and a tailwind the last 10K, lol! I still want to go back so I can conquer that last hill. :-)

  7. Any updates on the alt. tent experience Camille?

    • Hi Mark! I’ve been living and training at high altitude off and on the past 2 months, so I haven’t used the altitude tent. I had the weird breathing issue with it (~believe I’m claustrophobic and hyperventilated in it), so I’m not sure when I’ll experiment with it again– maybe after the Olympic Trials. I think I need to have it at a lower altitude setting. It will be trial and error whether it works for me. I do know I respond well living and training at high altitude.

  8. Erich M says:

    Camille, The tent is ordered and I am winding up a racing season. I am planning on easing my way into the tent for my first time dabbling in altitude. I plan on doing a little iron loading and starting off at 3500 feet a night. Would you like a guinea pig for some research?

    • runcamille says:

      Hi Erich! That will be interesting to hear what you think of the altitude tent! I actually haven’t used mine for over a year now, as I found out I’m claustrophobic and had a hard time recovering with it. My training and body has thrived since we moved back to Oklahoma, so I haven’t felt the need to use the altitude tent. If I did it over again, I’d focus on a more gradual buildup and only keep it set at 7,000-8,000 ft.. You have to hydrate really well while using it too. You have to spend a significant amount of time in it as well– 12-14 hours/day. Feel free to experiment with the altitude setting and how you apply it!

  9. Alby Taylor says:

    Hi Camille,

    have been doing some research in reference to the tent with fully fit racing greyhounds, using Altitudetech as you have. We have built them up slowly from a base starting point of 600m and slowly increased that over a period of time we also have limited their time from a start point of 1.5hours and slowly increased that also the reason for this was to acclimatise the greyhound slowly so as to avoid any dehydration problems etc.

    We are currently doing three greyhounds with a base performance indicator from what they run being fully fit without the altitude tent and we are in the process of getting them ready to see if this improves them, there is a couple of things I have noticed and that is they do seem to get tired alot more faster than they normally would and also one of the greyhounds who I might add is a very highly strung animal seemed to have a breathing problem so we backed off her a bit and only put her in the tent 3 times a week which has helped and we run her 3 times a week and 1 day off completely her time in the tent has built up to around 1200m so far and we will continue increasing that over the next few weeks and see were we get to with them maybe this will help others with our testing will stay in touch if you would like thank you.

    Regards

    Alby

    • runcamille says:

      Wow, thanks for commenting Alby! This is fascinating you’re applying the altitude tent with greyhounds! Sounds like they feel about the way I do about it– I had issues with my breathing as well. It’s definitely something you have to build up to, and I think if I tried it again I would only go up to ~8000ft. (10,500 ft. felt like too much to me… hindering recovery and making me more tired). I would be curious to hear an update on whether you think it helps their performance. Thank you for writing!

  10. Hello I came across your article and thought I would share a similar experience we had with one of our athletes at Peak7performance.com, Keri was having the same symptoms as you after doing IHT. Not sure if your still doing IHT or Tent based training. Here is an excerpt from our emails: What happened and it is very rare is your cortisol levels go sky high and you have to get a shot to block the over production. After blood work is done check the cortisol levels If they are elevated you have to in the next two days get to a endocrinologist for the medication. “So glad you hooked us up, I may get this done just in time to be able to run boston still. She said I will have immediate results. ” She = Krista Allen performcoachsd.com

    • runcamille says:

      Hi Kevin, wow, thank you for commenting on this! What would cause cortisol levels to spike from the IHT? We stopped using our altitude tent 2 yrs ago, so I haven’t experimented with it any more. I did feel extremely “stressed”, or more like unable to recover properly, but I really think it was all caused by being claustrophobic and vasovagal syncope. My body must be very sensitive to environmental changes. Being an elite athlete, I have to be very careful with any drugs I may take, since I may be drug tested. I hope your athlete found relief and maybe can troubleshoot the best approach to using the altitude tent. I’ve done fine without mine– PRed in the marathon last year, 100% trained at sea level.

      • Our Athlete is also a fast runner, we were tasked to make her faster then realized that she was suffering from the same symptoms as you describe. We started doing lots of research and came to find she also suffers from anemia, as she is also a vegetarian getting Iron levels to a healthy state required her to also take supplements as you describe. Yet this was not helping, finally we consulted Krista, she knew exactly what was happening after we had the blood tests delivered to her. She claims that this happens to very few people 1-2% that she has come across.

        Here is some good content for you:

        Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, usually released in times of stress. Cortisol helps regulate many bodily functions and processes, including regulating blood pressure, cardiovascular functioning and helping the body metabolize proteins, carbohydrates and fats, says MayoClinic.com, the website of the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic. Cortisol levels vary for many reasons, but if cortisol levels are significantly elevated, it may be a sign of an underlying medical problem.

        Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/257307-causes-of-elevated-cortisol-levels/#ixzz2WUsQHn4Z

        • runcamille says:

          Ahhh, Ok, she has confounding variables, with the anemia and vegetarianism– definitely won’t respond well to the altitude tent, regardless of cortisol level. I’m very well aware of what cortisol is– studied it in grad school, in relation to bone. They tested our cortisol levels at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs– it’s a volatile hormone, so it can rise quickly (~elevated after a hard training session), and also fall quickly (with recovery). The key is having it measured repeatedly, and if it’s chronically elevated, or abnormally very high– then it’s a red flag.

          Krista Austin– I think she used to be the main dietician at the OTC. I think I may have talked to her on the phone when I applied for an internship there as an undergrad. Ironically I didn’t get the internship, way back then… but made it there as an athlete instead! Thanks for mentioning her– would be fun to pick her brain!

          • Absolutely! Thanks for your time! Love reading what everyone has to say about Altitude training as we provide this service as well. Have a great one!

  11. Hi Camille, I came about your website when I was googeling “recovering after a high altitude race”. Despite having spent lots of time in the mts (Aspen, CO) I just recently moved here full time and ran my first high altitude 1/2 marathon. In the past I’ve always told people I was quite fortunate as I never truly felt any changes one way or another. However, I am starting to think that there might be more to truly training at this level than I had thought. I am currently training for the NYC marathon and this is my first time doing it it at high altitude. I find that my legs get heavy on long runs and today, the day after my half, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck (not my usual day after a 1/2 feeling). I have been having trouble staying hydrated and after reading your above blog, am also wondering if maybe I need to look into adding some supplements too (despite a well balance diet and never having any trouble with my “levels”. I am by no means an elite athlete but do want to make the most of my living/training opportunity so I can PR in NYC. Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • runcamille says:

      Hi TM, that’s awesome you moved to Colorado! Yesss, there’s definitely a lot of extra “concerns” with being at high altitude. I recommend getting the book Altitude Training and Athletic Performance by Randall Wilber. It explains everything you need to know. As you’re finding out, it’s harder to recover. This means you have to run slower on your easy runs, sleep more, eat more, eat more carbohydrates, and hydrate better. The biggest factor though is iron status– this can’t be stressed enough! My ferritin level is usually around 75-95 at sea level, and after only a week there… AND taking a heavy load of iron… it had already dropped to 61. You absolutely have to supplement with iron at high altitude. If you go up to high altitude and your iron status isn’t good to begin with (at least over 50), you’re going to have an even harder time adapting. Furthermore, racing at high altitude is exponentially harder! You’ll see. I raced at high altitude at the Pan American Games (2:51 in the marathon, a personal worst!), and then 2 weeks later went to NYC and ran 2:40:06! If your iron status is good, you’re recovering, taking care of yourself– you’re going to fly in NYC!

  12. What a fabulous article by someone who is so well educated! Thank you much. My 15yo son is a 10:00 3200m runner with colitis, low iron, and has experimented with the tent. My question is, if his ferritin is 30-40, can the tent do harm? Or is it just doing nothing? His iron has gone up some (serum iron, but ferritin 30s Hemoglobin 13s) but in races only, about 5-10 minutes in, he has these exact symptoms. Just today he saw an allergist who isn’t convinced it is exercise induced asthma, but is trying an inhaler before coming up with other things. Then I saw your article. I feel horrible, as a doctor had originally suggested the tent and now I wonder if that is the problem. The one race where it hasn’t happenned was done after 2 nights at sea level…However a year ago, before diagnosed with UC but suffering from it, he had spent a week in Mammoth and put together his best ever runs for 3 weeks after. Do you think also that the body changes its reaction to altitude at different times? That seems maybe to be your experience?

    • Hello Mom ;-)
      We had an athlete with the same symptoms that went though the Intermittent Hypoxic Schedule, She too had the same exact symptoms. You should talk to Dr. Krista Austin krista@performcoachsd.com. She helped our Athlete get back into the game in time to go to Boston Marathon. In short Altitude training is not good for some 1-2% of the athletes out there.

    • Hi “Mom”– sorry for the late reply… was traveling and racing last weekend! Kevin Carlson gave a good reply a few comments above, saying it could be due to elevated cortisol. He says that 1-2% may get this sort of reaction with the tent. Your son has confounding variables too, so definitely make sure the rest of his health is in check. You definitely want your iron status to be good to benefit from any kind of altitude training/tent.

      I personally do great living AND training at high altitude and then racing at sea level. However, the altitude tent did not suit me well, whether due to ~cortisol or who knows what! It sounds like your son is having the same experience. So it goes… the altitude tent doesn’t work for everyone!

      On a related note, I did another later blog post on vasovagal syncope, which your son might have. Does he ever have problems with passing or blacking out in races? I seem to have certain things that trigger this (~heat, stress, dehydration). http://camilleherron.com/2013/01/14/ever-black-outfaint-while-running-could-be-vasovagal-syncope/

      Hope this info helps you out! Your son is not alone. Hope he’s feeling good now!

      • Thanks so much for the info. We will definitely check it out, though no passing out so far, knock on wood. We have been in touch with Krista Austin, and she may be the perfect person to start guiding my son through some of this, eliminating some things and checking out others. She recommended the cortisol test–thanks for giving us all great food for thought!

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