The Ridge Run is along the crest of the Bridger Range. The starting line near Fairy Lake is around 7,600 feet. The high point is Sacajawea Peak near 9,600 feet elevation. The low point is the finish line at 5,000 feet. Consider this moderately high elevation. Healthy people, even those coming from sea level, will not experience significant stress from the elevation. Above 9,000 feet is where most people just begin to feel the effects of altitude.
Nevertheless, runners that live at low elevation may wonder how to best prepare for an event at moderately high elevation. Even those living in the Gallatin Valley where the elevation is just under 5,000 feet, may wonder if there is anything they can do to better prepare.
Bottom line, my advice for all regarding altitude on the Ridge Run is to not worry about it. Don’t waste your time trying to do something special to acclimate to altitude. Concentrate on staying healthy and proper training.
Alright, if you are still curious and hungry for more details, read on…
Sleep High, Train Low
The benefits of altitude are from living or spending time at altitude, not training at altitude. Other than the time spent there, there is no benefit of training at altitude compared to training at low elevation. In fact, training at altitude is compromised because you cannot train at the intensity you can at lower elevation.
The ideal implementation of altitude training is to live at altitude and train at low elevation. Elite athletes accomplish this by living in the mountains and traveling down to the valley to do their high intensity workouts. The Mammoth Mountain Training group does this. They live up in the high sierras at Mammoth Ski Area in California, but drive down to the valley for some of their training.
Another technique serious athletes utilize is an Altitude Tent or room. This apparatus employs diluting the air in the tent with nitrogen gas to simulate the low oxygen air at altitude. Athletes then spend as much time as possible (at least their nights during sleep) in the low oxygen environment. Altitude tent systems cost many thousands of dollars. Not worth it; unless your level of seriousness and wealth can justify it.
There are drugs, (banned for athletes) such as Procirt (Erythropoietin, EPO) that mimic the body’s response to altitude. These drugs increase the red blood cell (hematocrit levels). These drugs were (are) very popular within professional bicycling. Before they figured out how much was too much, several athletes died from the complications of extremely thick blood. During the learning process, athletes had to have their heart rates monitored during sleep. If their heart rate dropped too low, they would have to get up and exercise to increase heart rate thus avoiding the risk of fatal blood clots.
There are countless (legal) supplements, mostly herbal, that supposedly help people adapt to the stress of Altitude. Some of the most popular are:
to name a few.
I’ve tried them all. In my experience their effect is subtle (not noticeable) at best. Do some research. Perhaps there are studies that show benefits. Or experiment on yourself if you have the time and money. Proper nutrition (B Vitamins, Iron etc.) is required to avoid anemia and goes without saying.
The ancient Incas chewed Coca leaves (illegal cocaine) to enhance strength and endurance in the Andes Mountains. Not recommended, but probably worked well by increasing heart rate and masking the discomfort of effort at Altitude.
Altitude’s Benefits take Time
The body adapts to being at Altitude in stages. The first adaption stage takes a couple weeks and involves increasing red blood cell count in an attempt to gather more oxygen from the thinner air as your body pumps blood through the lungs. The succeeding adaption stages take months to years and involve the body adjusting enzyme levels and altering metabolic pathways to better produce energy in a low oxygen environment.
Altitude’s Benefits Lost quickly after Return to Low Elevation
The red blood cell count benefit that takes weeks to accrue is lost in a couple days when returning to low elevation. The body quickly flushes unneeded red blood cells when you go back down to low elevation. The metabolic adaptions that took months to years to accumulate disappear within weeks to months. You can think of the gains from Altitude being like your investments in the stock market. Gains that took so long to accrue can be wiped out in short order.
What is a Flat Lander to do?
If you have the luxury of coming out to Bozeman and doing some training on the course, that is ideal. The longer you can come out before the race, the better. A few days before the race is not long enough to have much effect. Adaption starts to really kick in after a week.
If you can’t spend any time at altitude before the race, don’t worry about it. Focus on staying healthy and getting in good training:
What is a Local to do Regarding Altitude?
First and foremost, avoid traveling to low elevation regions (the Coast or Midwest) in the weeks preceding the race. Second, don’t worry about Altitude training.