Preparing for the Flagstaff Marathon: Running at High Altitude

Jesse Coddington, owner of New Roots Personal Training, recommends training in high elevation before running the Flagstaff Marathon.

Are you signed up for the Flagstaff Marathon, half marathon, or 10K? Awesome! Will you be traveling from somewhere outside of Flagstaff to run this race? Well, we hope you enjoy the race and our town! Are you traveling from somewhere with an elevation less than 3,000 ft., like Phoenix? If you are, you will probably feel some differences when running at such a high altitude – like a burning fire in your chest.

There’s a reason that endurance athletes move to places with higher elevation like Flagstaff, Santa Fe or Boulder; there are serious benefits to living and training at high altitude.

The main issue when running at high altitude is a drop in the oxygen content of your blood. Because of the reduced air pressure at higher altitudes, oxygen diffuses into your red blood cells slower. This means that your blood passes through your lungs without being completely recharged with oxygen from the air. This drop in blood oxygenation corresponds with a drop in VO2 max, a direct measurement of the oxygen absorbed by your body during exercise. Over time a runner’s body adapts to these changes by producing more red blood cells, thus creating a “natural blood doping” effect, making it easier and easier to run at high altitude.

I’m guessing you aren’t going to pack up and move to 8,000 ft. just to prepare for this race, so let’s discuss your options to help make your experience at the Flagstaff Marathon a good one.

Expectations

Expect your times to be slower. Not only will you be racing at higher elevation than you are used to, (spoiler alert) you will also be dealing with a fair amount of elevation gain, along with technical trails, during the race. If you are used to running the trails in Phoenix (McDowell Mountains, White Tanks, Estrella Mountains, etc.) you are familiar with rolling, rocky terrain. Those trails will help with leg strength, but running on rolling, rocky terrain at 8,000 ft. will keep you huffing and puffing the whole way.

It’s Only 2 Hours Away

If you live in Phoenix, I highly suggest making the short trip up the mountain to get in some training runs. Doing some of your training in Flagstaff will help you adjust your expectations, and it’ll also help you gain familiarity of the course if you get a chance to run at the Arizona Nordic Village.

Be Well Trained

This race isn’t a bubble 5K, or even the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. This is a tough course that is unforgiving if you haven’t put in the proper hours on your feet. You still have time to make sure you are getting yourself in the best shape you can. Remember, the harder you train now, the more fun you will have on race day.

Heat Training

This goes out to the Phoenix runners. You have something very valuable – the intense heat. Some studies show that training in high heat can give you some of the same benefits as training at altitude. So, if I were you, I would make sure that I let that little bit of info be my mantra for the entire race: “Heat training is just as good . . . heat training is just as good . . . heat training is just as good.“ Just remember to be extra careful and listen to your body so you don’t overheat.

Attitude

It is incredibly important to make sure you keep a positive attitude during the race. Even though you might find yourself breathing a little heavier, or that your race splits aren’t as fast as you are used to, don’t let it get in your head. Remind yourself that you are doing something incredibly difficult. Focus on the fact that you are doing something that not many are willing or able to do. Also, make sure you look around and enjoy the view. When running technical trails it is easy to spend the entire race staring at the ground to ensure you don’t end up facedown in the middle of the trail. This might be one of the most beautiful courses that you ever run on, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Register Today

Ready to sign up for the race? Click here. See you in September!

About the Author

Jesse Coddington is the owner of New Roots Personal Training Studio in Flagstaff, AZ. He has over 10 years of fitness coaching experience. He enjoys spending his weekends getting lost (physically and mentally) on the trails winding through the mountains and woods of northern Arizona with his chocolate lab Daisy, and his ragtag group of trail runner friends, or pushing his two redheaded kids in the Double Bob around and around and around Buffalo Park.

One Comment
  • Great post! What are the chances there will be a scheduled training run or two at the Nordic Center before the race? I’d totally drive up from Phoenix and join others. Just not a big fan of doing it alone.

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