Trail Running at Altitude

Last weekend I was in Pretoria for my brothers wedding and decided to do one of the Gauteng Trail Running Series runs with my mom.  Not thinking much about the 12km route and arriving very badly prepared without a cap or water – I was looking forward to running in a different area to what I am used to.

Starting on an uphill (the trail running guys seem to love doing this), it wasn’t long before my mom and I were huffing and puffing like antique steam engines.  This didn’t do much in terms of confidence, especially since I thought I was pretty fit – but then I remembered that the Cape (my home) is at sea level and Pretoria sits at roughly 1,350 metres (4,500ft) above sea level.  At higher altitudes there is less oxygen which means the amount of oxygen in your blood is reduced, which would account for me feeling tired and heavy during the race.  I am used to the more dense sea air, so when I run on the Highveld, it actually feels like the air I’m breathing in is not actually getting to where it needs to go.

Prolonged training at higher altitudes results in an increase in red blood cells, to conpensate for the reduction in oxygen levels, which has an overall positive effect on your performance because your body is being oxygenated more efficiently.  I don’t incorporate high altitude runs in my training program, but I can see the value in making the extra effort.

The trail run turned out to be one of my fastest times yet because at the 4km we came upon a man who had twisted his ankle very badly and needed help.  I volunteered to run off and find a marshal who would call in the paramedics, but the first marshal I saw was about 1km from the end.  Luckily someone had a cell phone with which they called the injury in and by the time we crossed the finish line, the ankle was already strapped.

On the serious trail runs you are not allowed taking part if you don’t have a cell phone, injuries being one of the main reasons for this, but on the less formal runs there are no specifications or procedures which need to be followed to take part.  I have always enjoyed the Trail Running Series sponsored by Salomon and Capestorm but I do feel that on this occasion, they could have had just one or two more marshals on the course.

Luckily I’m back in Cape Town now and running again as normal which I’m very grateful for, especially with a half marathon coming up on Sunday 🙂  Oh and well done to my mom who came first in her category!

That's my mom in the middle

That's my mom in the middle

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