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Running @ Altitude

October 12, 2010

I don’t know what I was thinking. Am I delusional? I figured I’m in shape, I can handle it. Oh boy, was I wrong.

It all started on last Friday morning, around noon Mountain time. I laced up my shoes, packed two Powerbar gels, hooked up my iPod shuffle for when Emily turned around on the run, and prepared to zone out for the next 2.5 hours.

You see, I’m a month out from the marathon and still in that crucial heavy training period. A few weeks ago, I did 19.75 as I added on to the beginning (but not end) of the 18 mile Marathon tune-up. Last week I attempted 20 but had to cut it at 18 to get back in time for work activities in Maine. So this weekend I had to get in 20. HAD TO. I’m not OCD but hitting that 20 was a huge mental mark I felt I had to achieve in order to get sane for the 26.2 distance.

Emily warned me about running at altitude. It takes weeks,months to fully adjust. Your mouth gets drier and you gasp for air. You tire easier and dehydrate faster.

Okay, I thought. I just won’t worry about the pace. Ill run easy and as long as I get in the 2.5 hours it’ll be a solid run still.

We set off along the High Line trail, a relatively flat (Thank God) dirt trail that runs for dozens of miles through Denver and the surrounding areas. The weather was perfect and I felt good. 15 minutes in, Emily turned around to head back since she was only doing 30 min. and planned to use the remaining 2 hours to run some errands. I clipped in my iPod and tried to focus on the scenery, snapping photos along the way to capture just how gorgeous it was, and to try to ignore just how heavy my legs were growing.

High Line Trail

I felt the pace was easy, normal…I took a gel around 45 minutes and it became goop in my dry mouth. I hadn’t seen a water fountain for miles and I could barely swallow. I trudged along, willing to hit the 75 minute turnaround point.

And then it hit me. BAM. 53 minutes in my feet just refused to move forward. I stopped and stretched for a few seconds, thinking I just needed a breather. The saltiest sweat poured down my face, burning my eyes. I thought I was going to die. And I had to turn around and run that all over again? Kill me. Now.

Instead of continuing on till 75 minutes out, I turned around and started the journey back. 10 minutes later I had to stop and catch my breath again. It was a struggle just to breathe and place one foot in front of the other. It mimicked the old symptoms from when I had low iron. This time, it was just the altitude, not my blood cells, that made it hard for oxygen to get to my lungs and muscles.

The cycle repeated all the way back. Run 10 minutes, stop and breathe. I was so dehyrated that I seriously contemplated drinking teal-tinted water from a pond and picked up a water bottle laying aside the path to see if it had some left. It didn’t. Probably better for my health, anyway.

Once I made it back, I just about kissed the ground to be done. 1 hour and 50 minutes, way short of my goal but good enough. I couldn’t go another step.

I took Saturday off to recover (hooray!) and was scared to attempt anything Sunday or Monday for the rest of my stay there. Nonetheless, I did 30 minutes on Sunday and 60 minutes on Monday. And I survived-barely.

Feeling a little nervous about not getting in that long run, with a busy week of work ahead, but life goes on… 25 days and counting!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2010 12:59 pm

    Hey LK. Yeah, I have run at altitude with @runnermatt and @chuckleberry and it is humbling indeed. I always carry water and go verrrry slowly. And, the few times I’ve “raced” at altitude, I have a completely different set of goals for myself. Us flatlanders just gotta know our limits at altitude. In any event, you put in a good effort and got yourself home safely. You WILL get in that 20-miler and then go on to enjoy your marathon.

  2. October 14, 2010 9:44 am

    Yikes! Glad you made it back from the run ok. I’ve never run at altitude but it’s no joke! I’ll remember your experience when I go to Denver for work next month 🙂

    This weekend is the perfect time to get your 20 in!


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