Running High: Avoiding Altitude Sickness on the Trail

There’s a new challenge ahead. You’re preparing for a trail race, in the mountains, at an altitude much higher than you’re accustomed to. Rather than freak out, train with an oxygen restricting mask (yes, these exist!), and risk being mistaken for Hannibal Lecter at your next pub run, take a deep breath… yes, suck in every last morsel of oxygen… and exhale all of your worries away.


Altitude is just another obstacle for you to tackle on race day. In fact, it’s a much more preferable hurdle than race day variables like temperature, wind, and your breakfast’s digestion path.

There is no doubt that running at altitude accelerates fatigue, taxes your cardiovascular system, and slows your reaction time. In order to put yourself ahead of the competition, embrace the challenge — everyone else is up against the same handicap — and follow these guidelines for elevating your race effort to new heights.

  • 1. Forget Pace. Leave your GPS watch at home! Instead of running for a goal pace, focus on maintaining a high cadence, or leg turnover rate. A shorter stride and quicker cadence will allow you to keep your heart rate steady as you dance your way over technical terrain. A steady heart rate will help you conserve energy, and ensure that you’ll have enough in the tank for the final miles of the race. *** Ultra Tip: It’s OK to walk up hills! Again, the goal is to keep your heart rate steady and power hike up the tough climbs. Take advantage of this slow pace to hydrate and suck down some fuel!
  • 2. Inhale. If you’re feeling nauseous, feeble, or stomach-y, take a deep inhaling breath. This will feed your muscles with oxygen and flush out the bad thoughts. Can you imagine some people use drugs for this kind of relief! You can use the trail: inhale, soak in the surrounding landscape, and embrace your connection with nature. Being able to compete at these high altitudes takes you to places that others can’t even fathom. Welcome the opportunity, and always remember to breath.
  • 3. Trust Your Preparation. You run hills, you climb stairs, and you push your body through extreme conditions. These intense workouts are more demanding than the steady-state trail race that we intend to throw down. It is essential that we recount the months of preparation that we have put in to fine-tune our agile bodies. On race day, it is time to uncage the beast! Release your inner animal on the mountain.: get dirty, muddy, bloody — run wild and have fun!
  • 4. Build Trail Karma. Greet everyone on the trail. Hello! On your back! Good Morning! Fuck Yeah! If you’re having a tough day on the trail, a friendly encounter could help you refocus and tick you into thinking about something positive. If you’re having a great day… let the world know! The trails are a sanctuary in which we all escape to be uplifted and discover things about ourselves. Let the mountains lift you up.

The bottom line is: You are prepared for the challenge that lies ahead — the elevation gains, the lack of oxygen, the potential dehydration — and with patience, execution, and a free spirit, you can conquer any mountain at any altitude.

Find me on the trail,

Lt. Flanniel Turboletti

north face ECS DC About the author: Lieutenant Flanniel Turboletti traded in harbor views for mountain highs after moving to Denver from Boston two years ago. His love and appreciation for the November Project movement prompted him to start the Denver tribe, dubbed #NP5280. The splendor of the mountains and his addiction to competition led him to stumble into the world of ultra running. Thus far, he’s found success in the 50K race distance and enjoys running flowy single-track, as well as, climbing steep terrain.

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