How to run well at altitude

How can you sustain a consistent run effort when the gradient climbs? Coach Philip Hatzis has the training solutions to make you a master of the mountains…

A man goes trail running on a popular route in Mount Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia, Canada. He wears a trail running vest and carries two water bottles in the front. He also wears a smart watch on his left wrist to monitor his heart rate and other data.

Exercising at altitude is more challenging because the air is thinner, and you get less oxygen per breath, meaning you have to reduce your effort. To a certain degree, you can train this through altitude training, which will help.


However, you won’t be able to push the same effort. In other words, running at 5min/km on flat terrain at sea level does not have the same physiological effect on your body as it is running at 5min/km at 2,500m.

Work by Basset et al. and Peonnet et al. has resulted in some tables you can use to quantify power reductions (used for cycling, but works the same if you’re measuring power when running). So for the equivalent power running at 5min/km, you will need to drop your power by about 10-12% even if you are acclimatised at 2,500m.

If unacclimatised, you may see a drop of about 15-16% of power at sea level.

How to deal with elevation gain at altitude

After reducing your effort, the additional elevation gain may be enough to consider reducing your effort further as you climb.

Additionally, running with power has allowed us to start identifying various thresholds based on the gradient: you will have different threshold powers at different percentage gradients.

Therefore, the best way to deal with severe changes in elevation if you don’t have the power data to work off is to go a little easier than you may have thought before and try and dial into your effort rather than be forced by numbers on gradients. You may even find it as fast but easier to power walk!

Additionally, due to the reduced oxygen, you will need to drink more fluids and burn more carbohydrates. Both these factors can make your perceived effort harder.


Top image credit: Getty Images