Asses At Altitude

Posted by | Run | 0 |

I’ve never been to altitude before, so I had no idea what to expect. I assumed headaches and difficulty exercising. I also kicked in to worst-case-scenario mode and assumed I’d end up with a Pulmonary Edema. Then Tom started going on about difficulty eating, difficulty sleeping and a general queasy feeling.

When I got to Denver (5280 feet) I didn’t feel anything going on. But we walked up a flight of stairs at REI and by the time we got to the top it felt like we’d sprinted up a couple flights. Hrm. We went for an easy hour run just outside of Denver and anything more than an easy jog on the flats sent my heart rate north of 150 and started causing spots in my vision. So, I developed “Rushton’s Algorithm for Running at Altitude”

while Running {
if heart_rate > 150 or course_looks_hilly:
walk until heart_rate <= 140

Onwards to Leadville. Learning from Tom’s near death run, I did nothing for the first 24 hours there. Tom went for a short jog while I slowly meandered along the trail, taking time to read all the historical placards. I spent a lot of time pretending to be a Zen monk doing the very slow walking meditation they do.

In the morning I had a slight headache. Other than just generally feeling like a bag of smashed assholes, the headache was the only real symptom I experienced while not running. I certainly didn’t have a hard time stuffing my face with anything I saw, and my only trouble sleeping was from being too warm. I think maintaining a slight, but non-zero, blood alcohol level really helped (and still is).

Leadville’s an appropriate name for a town above 10,000 feet. Everything just feels heavy and lazy. You feel inert. I can’t imagine living up there, the weather would be ferocious almost year round. I haven’t worn a toque in months, but the first morning we were there it was ~2 degrees Celsius in the morning.

There seem to be two types of people milling around in Leadville: crazy, rugged miners or crazy, hardy endurance athletes. If you don’t fit one of those moulds there’s no reason for you to be up there. It lends itself to a very genuine atmosphere. Basically everyones some deep flavour of insane.

We did a short jog in Leadville and it was extremely hard to keep my heart rate below 150. I was checking my heart rate monitor every two or three steps and stopping to walk constantly. Our pace on this almost flat trail was 6:33/km — normally at this effort I’m almost 2-minutes per kilometer faster. It was not fun. At this point I couldn’t imagine enjoying doing 180km of this over six days.

After spending the night in Breckenridge (~9600 feet) I felt a lot better. We ran almost up one of the peaks and topped out at 11,800 feet and it was an actually enjoyable run. Other than one overly steep section it never felt like my heart was about to explode out of my eyes.

Out to Buena Vista, where the race starts and is “only” at 7,800 feet, and I feel good. We did a bit of the first section of the race and it was a comfortable jog. We actually started in the middle of a Burro Race which was totally weird. From what we can tell a Burro Race is where a runner has to drag an unwilling donkey around a really scenic trail while maintaining a constant stream of tough-love encouragement to try and keep the donkey from getting distracted by something on the side of the trail or from just giving up and laying down to die.

Damnit! Go that way!
Damnit! Go that way!

Burros aside, it was an actual normal feeling run. Sane heart rate, almost normal pace on the flats. We even ended up actually running down the finishing straight while being chased by two Burro teams who were sprinting to fight for 7th. It was a little awkward because they were actually moving quite quickly and actually chasing us. We zigged across the street to try and give them space and they followed! Stupid donkeys.

It’s nice to feel normal before the race starts. When the altitude was still causing life to suck it was hard to imagine being able to enjoy six days of long runs. Now I’m back to looking forward to it.

One more day in Buena Vista and then it’s race time. The town’s filling up with runners — it’s pretty obvious to tell because they all seem to wear their GPS watches all day. Not sure why.

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