Advice for High Elevation Gains While Trail Running

Written by Mary Murphy
Photo courtesy of Mary Murphy

One of the greatest perks to being a student here at Colorado College is our access to the outdoors. Every weekend and block break, we all have the opportunity to get out and explore. There are many runners and hikers on campus, and while most of us are acclimated to the elevation here in Colorado Springs, running or other exercise could carry some serious obstacles if we don’t pay attention to gains in elevation.

It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner runner or a pro-endurance athlete: the altitude here in “Mile-high” country can really trip you up. So here is some advice for surviving trails with high elevation gains.

Number one: start out with a slower pace, especially if the trail is uphill. Starting out with a fast—or even normal pace—can deprive your lungs of oxygen more quickly, making it harder to breathe and harder to trail run.

Number two: Move with a higher cadence, and do not forget to breathe. Keeping a high cadence, which is basically the number of steps per minute, will make it easier to trail run to a “rhythm,” and will distribute the weight and impact of each step against the trail. Why is this important? Taking shorter but quicker steps will allow you to find a rhythm on the trail and will allow you to breathe more easily. Easy breathing means your body exerts less energy supplying oxygen and more energy moving you forward.

Number three: second to breathing, hydrating is one of the most important things when exercising at high altitude or exercising over high elevation gains. I always say, Colorado is as dry as dust, so water is a must.

If you are planning on going for a run or hike with a high elevation gain, hydrate throughout the day, as well as directly before. If you are running more than five or six miles in addition to a high elevation gain, consider bringing water along, or leaving water along your route so as not to get dehydrated. Dehydration means less energy, which will bring on fatigue more quickly and definitely affect your spirits, performance, and possibly your health.

Number four: Lastly, move gradually. It’s not a race. (Unless it’s actually a race, in which case, you should still make gradual moves). Moving gradually uphill and downhill lets your body adjust much more easily to the elevation gain, and will allow you to increase your pace more easily when you are ready to do so.

Never forget that high elevation gains are just as serious if you are running or hiking. So drink lots of water, start out slow, move gradually, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Colorado Mountains.

Mary Murphy

Mary Murphy

Mary has been on the Catalyst's layout and design team for over a year. She is a senior English major on the Creative Writing track with a minor in Journalism. She first got involved with the Catalyst when she began writing as a guest writer her freshman year at Colorado College. She is also a published author. When Mary isn't writing, she enjoys being outdoors: hiking, rock climbing, and skiing. Mary is also an avid nature photographer and occasionally takes photos for the Catalyst. She is originally from south Florida.

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