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How To Perform High-Altitude Training Without Traveling

The Physical Effects of Running at Altitude

Why does altitude have such a potent effect on runners? 

As you get farther and farther above sea level, the makeup of the air changes, which then creates effects on our bodies. 

You’ve probably heard that you’ll experience shortness of breath at high altitudes. The reason for this is directly related to the amount of oxygen in the air as it rises. As your lungs inhale, the blood that flows through your lungs don’t get recharged with oxygen as fully as they normally do at lower levels. 

Because of the low oxygen content in your blood, the oxygen diffuses into the red blood cells more slowly, which then causes that shortness of breath. 

This whole process directly correlates to VO2 Max, which is the measure of oxygen absorbed by your blood during exercise. 

Many runners work on strengthening their VO2 Max to help them fun faster and gain endurance. When those levels drop, runners end up running more slowly. While VO2 Max is not a direct indicator of running performance, it’s a close enough method to measure your runs in greater detail. 

Other effects of running at altitude are dizziness, nausea, and altitude sickness. Altitude sickness manifests as headaches, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. For athletes who exercise in extremely high altitudes without training (the Patagonia, for example), the effects can be so strong they’ll end up in the hospital. 


Mountain Sickness

If the body is experiencing problems with acclimatization to the altitude, it is necessary to urgently go down. As soon as the body receives more oxygen, the body will begin to recover and begin to return to normal. If you stay at a high elevation, then over time, you may develop a severe degree of altitude sickness. This is an extremely dangerous condition that occurs in the form of cerebral edema or pulmonary edema, and in especially difficult cases, both. If you do not evacuate the victim in time and do not provide medical assistance, complications can be fatal.

It is critical to distinguish the symptoms that accompany normal altitude acclimatization from the symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude Sickness indicates that the climber is clearly unable to adapt to altitude and must be evacuated. The main indicator here is the level of oxygen in the blood. 

The other indicators are considered by guides in aggregate. The following factors may indicate the onset of altitude sickness:

● Severe, persistent headache 

● Serious sleep disturbance, complete inability to fall asleep at night 

● Nausea and vomiting

This may seem confusing, as these symptoms are the same as the usual acclimatization process. However, with proper acclimatization, the severity is less and symptoms should pass in a day, or less. One of the key tasks of our guides during the ascent is to determine the severity of symptoms and decide what to do next – let the expedition member breathe oxygen from a cylinder and support his/her body with special drugs, or if it is necessary to start evacuation.

Cerebral Edema 

Cerebral Edema occurs because the amount of fluid in the capillaries of the brain decreases. As a result, the brain swells and grows in size. In advanced stages, the cerebellum begins to press on the spinal cord stem and destroys its vital areas.

Like pulmonary edema, cerebral edema occurs in three stages.  

In the first stage , the following symptoms are observed:

● The head will feel like lead, acute “bursting” pains, and the brain seems to be cramped in the cranium;

● Frequent vomiting; 

● The victim begins to experience coordination problems; walking as if intoxicated, the patient cannot walk along a straight line; 

● The person becomes very apathetic, detached from everything that happening;

● The patient has difficulty answering questions and responding to requests from others.

The difference between cerebral edema and pulmonary edema is that the victim can be in a horizontal position.

If you do not descend, then in about ten hours the second stage of cerebral edema will set in, which is characterized by the following:

●  Significant increase in severity of headache

● The patient begins to behave strangely and does not understand what is happening; aggressive episodes, euphoria or bizarre behaviors may manifest.   The patient may actively resist attempts to evacuate, threaten the team and other climbers. 

● Over time, the consciousness is inhibited. The  patient may fail to recognize members of the climbing team or have other cognitive delays.

Next is the third stage, which is marked by:

● The pupils of the eyes dilate and there is no reaction to light; 

● The patient periodically loses consciousness, and, upon regaining consciousness, behaves irrationally and confused; 

● The limbs become numb and lose sensitivity;  

● The headache increases in severity.

As in the case of pulmonary edema, after the third stage, the victim falls into a coma.

All of Altezza Travel guides have received training for suspicion of pulmonary edema or cerebral edema, including appropriate response and treatment for client’s safety.

Our guides are pro-active and work from a framework of prevention. If a climber with Altezza Travel begins to feel unwell, we do not allow the situation to ever get so poor as to reach even the  first stage of pulmonary or cerebral edema. As soon as it becomes clear that a climber is feeling unwell as a manifestation of altitude sickness, and not the expected discomfort that accompanies the normal process of high-altitude acclimatization, we ensure the ill climber is escorted down to the nearest evacuation point. From there the victim will be picked up by a special evacuation vehicle or helicopter. This is why our regular medical checks performed twice daily are so important.

What happens after someone is evacuated? They will be taken to the regional hospital in the area; KCMC Hospital in Moshi. This is one of the most modern hospitals in all of Southeast Africa, whose specialists are constantly faced with “mountain” diseases. Here, a team of experienced medical doctors will treat the patient and oversee their care.

On our expeditions, such situations happen very rarely. Twice a day, the team conducts mandatory medical examinations, during which all ailments are identified. With the help of oximeters, the guides regularly measure the oxygen level in the blood of the expedition members. We also carry an unlimited supply of bottled oxygen and can always “adjust” the level to make acclimatization easier. It is precisely because of our attention to client’s health from the very beginning of each expedition, and being proactive about acclimatization that those who climb with us rarely experience health problems on the mountain.

Our guides are very attentive to monitoring the health of  climbers on Kilimanjaro. Over the past year, more than 2000 people have conquered the highest peak in Africa (5.895 m) with the Altezza Travel team. For various reasons, about a hundred participants did not reach the top. The descent was organized in a timely manner, and not a single one had delayed treatment to allow for the onset of a life-threatening situation such as cerebral or pulmonary edema.

The number of unsuccessful ascents is also undoubtedly influenced by the fact that many travelers go ascents in couples, and when, for example, the husband decides to go down, the spouse usually decides to go with him, although she may have been able to successfully reach the summit.

How High-Altitude Training Works

As altitude increases, the air gets thinner and less oxygen is available. To compensate for the reduced supply of O2, the body produces more red blood cells to carry as much oxygen as possible to working muscles and organs.

The true benefit of high-altitude training occurs when you return to lower altitudes. The elevated level of red blood cells helps your body more efficiently deliver oxygen to muscles, theoretically increasing muscular endurance and overall performance.

Landing roll and braking

Once on the runway, the story isn’t over. The high-density altitude still affects us on the ground during the landing roll.

Firstly, as the TAS is higher than normal, the ground speed on touchdown is also much faster. In addition to this, the thinner air means there is less air resistance to slow the aircraft down. The result of this is that the brakes have to work much harder to hard to slow the aircraft down.

To help reduce the energy going into the brakes, we use the other deceleration system available to us, the reverse thrust.

Read more: How pilots operate cargo flights on passenger aircraft

Reverse thrust helps reduce the energy absorbed by
Reverse thrust helps reduce the energy absorbed by the brakes. (Photo by aviation-images.com/UIG via Getty Images)

After touch down, we always activate the reverse thrust which deflects engine air forwards instead of backward, assisting the deceleration. There are two levels of reverse thrust: idle and maximum.

To keep the noise footprint to a minimum, on most landings we only use idle reverse. However, with the increased energy in a hot and high landing, we have to use maximum reverse to stop the brakes from overheating.

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The difficulties of living at altitude

Early on in any stay at altitude individuals will likely find themselves to be lethargic as their body responds to the lower atmospheric pressure. Other side effects can include headaches and difficulty sleeping but these will often wear off as the body slowly adjusts to its new environment.

In extreme cases and at the highest altitudes (usually in excess of 3000m), severe failures to adjust can result in acute mountain sickness (AMS) with a range of possible harmful effects.

Athletes will also find it difficult to replicate the pace they are able to run at sea level because of their body’s reduced ability to transport the available oxygen.

Many will therefore choose to head to lower altitude to perform much of their more intense training. This approach is generally referred to as “live high, train low” but it is an approach only possible where different altitudes exist in close proximity.

2. Amp up yourself physically

It takes both Physical & Mental Stamina to reach new heights – Michael Dauelerio

You can enhance your physical endurance by training yourself before heading to the high altitude for trek. This training program should start way ahead of your scheduled trek departure. The earlier the better. You may start your preparation by below mentioned guidelines and take it forward by intensifying keeping your goal in mind. You must focus on your cardio-vascular health and strength training. Start by planning out your exercise regime. Long walks are ideal, but be sure to increase the time every day. If you have a desk job, ensure to take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk around the office often. This will help you build your cardiovascular strength. It is also important to have an ideal body weight. If you are overweight, try eating healthy by cutting sugar in your diet and introducing lot of proteins. This will help with your stamina.

Interval training is one crucial part of getting p

Interval training is one crucial part of getting physically fit. It entails getting the heart to beater really fast and then slowing down a little. For example, you may run to push your heart rate, then walk to allow it to calm down before starting to sprint again. Do not overload, but try to increase the intensity every day. Always remember to warm up your muscles before exercising and cooling it down with stretches post training. 

The correct way of breathing will also help you reach that height easily. It will make your trek simpler. Practice taking deep breaths and holding it.  If you go to the gym, then try walking on a treadmill on the incline elevated mode. You can also prepare yourself by climbing stairs with some weight, doing squats, training your calves, doing push-ups and planks to increase your core muscle strength. Increase the intensity every day.


High-altitude training requires careful implementation to avoid problems. It’s generally recommended to have professional supervision or monitoring to observe and understand how your body is reacting to the new training environment.

Performing intense workouts at altitude can induce acute mountain sickness. Symptoms include shortness of breath, severe headache, persistent coughing, hallucinations or worse. If you experience one of these symptoms, you should immediately descend to lower altitudes and breathe pure oxygen.

The Time Commitment Elevation Training Requires

According to Randall L. Wilber’s study on varying altitude environments, the largest performance improvements came from spending 22 hours or more per day above 6,500 feet. That’s 92% of the hours in your day spent at a higher altitude. Combine this daily time commitment with the term commitment of a minimum four weeks spent at altitude, and you’re spending 616 hours over the course of a month to achieve optimal results. After spending this period of time at this elevation, athletes in his study experienced an average increase of red blood cell volume by 8% — increasing the amount of oxygen your body can facilitate — and VO2 max by 4%.

LHTL altitude training can be an effective way to

LHTL altitude training can be an effective way to improve your performance. But is it worth it? The average athlete often finds it difficult to train just a few hours a week while pursuing so many other aspects of their life. Gaining a 4% increase in your performance can most definitely help you win, but the reality of LHTL altitude training seems to harder to actually achieve when your sole focus isn’t training. 616 hours per month is a time commitment only some pros can make. So, in theory, altitude training sounds great. But to actually carry it out in an effective manner often isn’t feasible for the majority of cyclists — no matter how badly the athlete wants to win. We’ve got some good news, though.

Even if spending four weeks above 6,500 feet isn’t an option, you can still benefit from spending shorter periods of time at high altitudes. If you’re planning a race in a higher altitude, experience training at a similar elevation helps you better prepare. Plus, there’s no discounting the confidence boost that comes from getting experience in a unique environment. The best part? It only takes a few runs to get an upper hand over a cyclist racing at altitude for the first time.

Attending altitude camps are great for gaining exposure to high elevations, but don’t forget the value of training with experienced cycling coaches. The structure, discipline, intensity and mechanics of these camps can really help you improve as an athlete. In fact, sometimes these results are even more beneficial than the actual altitude training.

Are there alternatives to training at altitude?

Some athletes choose to replicate the experience of living in these locations through an altitude tent. These tents reduce the amount of oxygen within them and can be lived and slept in without the need to move location. Some see this as a less expensive and more pragmatic alternative to long trips away from home.

George Mallett for World Athletics Be Active