How I Prepare for a Trail Marathon at Altitude

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Next weekend, I’ll be running (well, running and climbing) the Leadville Trail Marathon in Leadville, CO in memory of my brother, Robert. Many family members and friends join us every year to either do the marathon, the heavy-half (15.5 miles), or to cheer.

LTM is the second most difficult marathon in the country, partially because a runner gains over 6,000 feet of elevation over the 26.2 miles, but also because the race starts at 10,200 ft and peaks at over 13,200 ft. A runner is also faced with high winds (over 50 mph last year) and surfaces covered in snow, mud, and rocks.

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So, how do I, coming from sea level here in Boston, prepare for such conditions?

1. Hill repeats and treadmill incline climbs – I do lots of hill repeats no matter what race I’m training for, but I also like to do treadmill incline climbs. I set the incline to 10-12% and climb for an hour.

2. Acclimate – The day or two after arriving in Colorado, my family, friends, and I always hike to get acclimated. We usually climb Mount Sniktau, which is about a 3-hour roundtrip hike. This hike gives us a taste of even more altitude because the summit is at 13,240 feet.

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Mount Sniktau summit, June 2017

3. Race within 3 days of arriving at altitude – If you are coming from sea level to race at altitude, it’s best to race either within 3 days of arrival or after 3 weeks of acclimation. That’s when your performance is best.

4. Don’t compare times to road marathons – This is a no brainer because Leadville is just so opposite of any other race I’ve done. I mean, 3 mountains, 6,000 feet of vertical gain, snow, 50+mph winds, rocks… Leadville is a complete monster and always makes me feel like a bada$$! Elites, who are also probably Colorado natives, complete this race in 4+ hours – way different than a road marathon.

5. Eat and drink…and then eat and drink some more – A marathoner knows how important fuel and hydration is. But, metabolism increases a lot while at altitude so it’s even more important to stay on top of these.

We fly out to Colorado mid-week. So excited to run my 6th Leadville race!

Have you ever done a race at altitude?


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  1. I only tried JOGGING at altitude once when we were in Colorado on holiday. I was shocked at how hard it was–really does take some acclimating! Have a great race!
    PS–Hill repeats KILL me. Just started doing them recently and I find them quite torturous! Your treadmill incline workout intrigues me though–I’ve never thought of just climbing for that long. Do you feel like that helps you even in a road race?

  2. I am thinking of doing Leadville Heavy half. Coming from sea level Nebraska. I would arrive Wednesday or Thursday and we race sat. Thank you for the tips. Any other tips at all?

    1. Hi Sarah, The heavy half is a great race! So beautiful but definitely a challenge. I would recommend increasing your calories once you get to altitude because you burn more at elevation, bringing altitude sickness meds just in case you need them, and just going into it with a positive attitude! There’s nothing like Leadville! 🙂

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