Along with three feet of snow that arrived on Sunday, a large group of Canadian runners descended upon Flagstaff, AZ for our annual pilgrimage. The coveted pot at the end of the rainbow: improved fitness that comes from sucking air so high above sea level.
We are currently living and training at approximately 7000 feet in the small college mountain town of the tight knit Northern Arizona community. Flagstaff has been a haven for endurance athletes for years and continues to grow in its popularity. It has an almost cult-like mystic among runners and triathletes, with hoards of us flocking from around the world. In fact, I spoke to a local here who said that every lane in the local pool has been booked all year already by visiting triathletes and swimmers looking for the pre-Olympic training edge.
I am here with a group of Speed River athletes and affiliates as we all prepare for our respective track seasons. I am sharing a really cute cottage with my friends Hilary Stellingwerff and Marilyn Arsenault – we have dirt roads and trails right out the door and the gym across the street.
It is an Olympic year and as such, people are doing whatever it takes to get the biggest advantage possible leading into the outdoor season. Last week I chatted virtually with my two friends, American Lauren Fleshman and Australian Georgie Clarke, and discovered, low and behold – they were also coming with their respective groups! Who-hoo training party in Flagstaff! This is one of the things I love best about being a runner: the world is pretty small and the likelihood of running into long lost friends from all around the world in random mountain town in Northern Arizona is actually pretty high. I am sure we will be planning some large group potluck dinners.
As part of our acclimatization, we are on a low intensity-training week. When you first arrive at altitude, the body needs some time to adapt to the thin air. I have been running with my heart rate monitor for several runs and I have been impressed that my heart rate and pace are pretty comparable to what it is at home. However, this is my 11th long stint at altitude so my body should adapt much quicker now that in the past. I remember my first altitude camp at Mammoth as a freshman in college and how destroyed I was! It did not help that day one was a long run with tempo with the extremely fit and acclimatized upper classman!
Everyone responds differently to altitude and as such it is important to monitor and adjust training based on quality of sleep, energy, and health. Many people experience stomach problems, headaches, nose bleeds or insomnia when they first arrive. I am pretty lucky that my body doesn’t notice it very much, although my breathing rate is higher on runs. Although I am happy to not experience these symptoms, I wonder if on the flip side, if I reap the same benefits as people who are more sensitive? For example, they may be more responsive to these changes in environment and therefore experience a larger training stimulus.
Since there was so much deep snow, yesterday we decided to rent snowshoes and go on a hike instead of our second run. The snow was several feet deep, which combined with the trailhead at 9000 foot elevation, made for a challenging afternoon excursion. Nevertheless, we were rewarded with some stunning views and had a great group bonding experience.