Living and training at 8,858 ft is no joke! Before coming to Ethiopia, numerous people in the running community offered me advice for transitioning to and sustaining my training at such high altitude. Here is a list of some of my findings from my experience, along with the helpful tips that were offered to me:
- Start SLOW: Coach Roy Benson, co-founder of Green Mountain Running Camp and ROO Podcast interviewee, offered this advice when he knew I was headed to Ethiopia. He said, “Start so slow on a run you almost feel like you are walking.” Starting slow meant not worrying about my pace, but instead focusing on my internal compass which registered my perceived effort. Starting slow also meant reducing my mileage in order to allow my body to adapt to stressors of the new environment. Lastly, embodying slow can, at times, mean walking instead of running.
- Enjoy your ZZZs: At sea level, I usually find that 8 hours of sleep provides me with plenty of energy for the entire day. At altitude, I noticed I needed more sleep in order to feel like myself — around 9 or 10 hours. Also, I am not sure about the scientific reasons people have crazy dreams at high altitudes, but let me tell you, it is real thing!
- Increase your carbs: As a celiac vegan, eating in Ethiopia turned out to be very easy (read more about my experience with Ethiopian food in Yaya Journal 6). I found that my body needed more carbohydrates than at sea level, which meant more injera, potatoes, oatmeal, and rice at every meal. In addition, I ate a small snack before every morning run— my favorite pre-run bars were Picky Bars or Health Warrior Chia Bars. Usually around three quarters of the way through my runs, the altitude would really start to hit me, and my body felt empty and sluggish. Having a little treat before my morning run lessened the experience of having “lead legs.”
- Stride it out: At altitude, my easy running pace was slowed down significantly. In turn, my gait cycle and form were altered to adapt to this slower pace. Although I know I gained some “surface strength” from the challenging terrain, doing strides at least three times a week helped me remember proper running form and stay injury free.
- When in doubt, smile: I am not going to say that most runs at altitude were easy, and in fact, I had some of the most challenging runs of my life in Ethiopia. However, despite the hard runs, I would remind myself to smile while running. The simple act of smiling helped me remember to be grateful for running in a beautiful environment with a healthy and strong body. Stopping to take a trail selfie (see picture on the left) also helped lighten the mood, as passing farmers and other runners watched me, giggling at the foreigner girl in a trucker hat with a weird looking phone.