Runner’s High – Training Tips at Higher Altitudes

Big Bear Lake is miles away from cities, which makes it a very attractive option for people looking for clean air, beautiful views, and so many options for activities. The distance from major cities is not the only benefit the area boasts. It also boasts a height just shy of seven thousand feet above sea level, which makes it a perfect haven for athletes looking to get an edge on their competition with some high altitude training. Big Bear’s own Ryan Hall has benefited from growing up and training in this altitude, becoming one of the best marathon runners in the United States. What is it about being up this high that makes it so attractive to runners, bikers and other outdoor warriors?

The views can keep you motivated.
The views can keep you motivated.

Higher altitudes in general are not friendly to the body. They can cause headaches, a drop in appetite, and a general sluggishness as the body tries to adapt to getting less oxygen than usual. According to, altitudes of around 8,000 feet can cause a drop in the amount of oxygen your body receives by 25%. To compensate for that, the body sends hormones out to create more red blood cells, which help deliver more of the precious oxygen your body needs to survive. The workouts will FEEL more difficult because your body is doing more work, but starting light is the key to building up the benefits of this style of training.

What exactly ARE the benefits of doing this to your body? Getting your body used to heavy exertion, like running a marathon or playing World Cup soccer, at a high altitude allows you to push your body harder than at lower altitudes. Because of the increased number of red blood cells carrying oxygen to your tired tissues, there is a bump in endurance. That extra endurance allows you to train harder, and decreases the recovery time you need before your next workout. This is not an eternal bump, though. If you do not continue your training in rarer air, your body returns to its normal performance levels after a couple of weeks. Just enough to get through the big event!

High endurance is a big part of the Big Bear Triathlon. Train appropriately.
High endurance is a big part of the Big Bear Triathlon. Train appropriately.

We have a few tips on how to train up here for the biggest benefits:

  1. Start off light. For the first three to seven days, keep it low key while your body is adapting. Going about half of your normal run or less will be sufficient.
  2. Keep it short. Thirty minutes to an hour is a perfect amount of time for a workout at this height.
  3. Drink plenty of fluids. The air does not hold water very well in the mountains, so dehydration can be a problem. Keep the water and juice close to you, but…
  4. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Both of these are diuretics and will dehydrate you further. Alcohol can also increase the effects of mountain sickness.
  5. Take naps. As your body changes, your sleep may be thrown off. Taking a nap during the day can help you get the sleep you need for training.
  6. Eat right! All of these new blood cells and running means your body needs fuel. Include some extra carbohydrates to get the maximum benefits.

When you get back to lower altitudes, your body is going to need that three to seven day adjustment period again, so plan appropriately. If you are coming up for one of the races in Big Bear, possibly the Holcomb Valley Trail Run, the Big Bear Triathalon, or any of the other running and biking events that are occurring, plan your training in advance.

You should also plan where you are going to rest between workouts in advance, and we know the perfect place. It is right on Big Bear Lake and close to the Village, as well as some of the trails in the area. Register for the race, then reserve your room with us. Good luck with your race!

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