TRAINING AT ALTITUDE
Addis Ababa is situated at 2,300m -2,400m, or 7,000-7,500 feet. When it comes to taking any strenuous physical activity, this is considered to be reasonably high altitude. What’s more, the more scenic areas for running in the hills and forests surrounding Addis Ababa can be that bit higher. Yaya Village, a popular place for runners to stay, is situated at 2,600m on the plains above Sululta town; and the settlement of Entoto Mariam (near to St. Mary’s Church), a regular place for starting runs for many of the city’s serious runners, lies at around 3,000m.
Need for acclimatisation
If you are a serious runner with plans to do some good-quality training in Ethiopia, it is wise to allow yourself at least 4-5 days to acclimatise to the thin air of high altitude before starting any faster running training. You can, however, do plenty of easy and steady running during this initial period. A useful way to monitor that you are not overdoing it is by using a heart-rate (HR) monitor during training. You should try to keep your HR during your steady runs at roughly the same level as for running at a steady pace at sea-level. At altitude it is easy to be deceived into thinking that you are running too slowly when in fact you are already working hard enough.
The forest trails around Addis Ababa are rarely flat, so you are likely to find yourself doing unofficial ‘fartlek’ (fast-slow) sessions even on your steady runs where on the uphills you will slow down but still be breathing hard and run faster and more easily on the downs. But in general, you should try to run at an easy or steady pace for the first 4-5 days. When you feel ready to do some faster running, it is good to run to your HR, so, for example, where your HR for a 20-minute sustained run approximates to your HR for the equivalent session at sea-level even though your pace will be slower. In your first week you can do faster running over short distances (striding out for up to-30s) allowing yourself good recoveries. After the first week you should be able to resume more like your normal training done at sea-level, although you might need to allow longer recoveries between hard efforts as well as longer gaps between hard sessions.
Importance of hydrating well at altitude
Because of lower humidity levels at altitude and because of the sunshine, you will sweat more and your sweat will evaporate more quickly. Moreover, lower oxygen levels mean that you will breathe faster and more deeply and this will cause you to lose more water than if you were training at sea-level. There is therefore a greater need to drink more when you are at altitude. This holds true whether you are training a lot or training very little.
Five tips to get you going
- Expect to run slower when you are at altitude
- Use a heart-rate monitor, particularly in your first week
- Take it easy for your first few days of running
- Drink plenty – “little and often” – and avoid excessive amounts of caffeine and alcohol
- Give yourself longer to recover between sessions and also for recoveries within one session