Yes, I did just steal that from Jon Krakauer (one of my favorite writers and favorite all-time books, btw). I want nothing to do with Everest, other than maybe looking at it from base camp, but I am considering running a marathon next fall that involves some altitude. And as a sea level gal, I’m wondering if that’s just dumb.
The marathon in question is Top of Utah. Erin got my wheels turning on this one. It sounds spectacular–only about 3,000 people, a net elevation loss, and the course winds through scenic canyons. I was all set to sign on the dotted line, and mentioned it to my running crew the other day when one of my wise friends questioned whether or not it was at altitude.
Now why didn’t I think of that? The name “Top of Utah,” might have been an obvious clue. But I digress. Turns out it does start at about 5,000 ft. Hmm–I’d say that’s altitude for someone like me.
As an aging runner, I don’t have much time left to PR–a few years at best, I’d guess. So this fall’s marathon choice is kind of important to me. Which brings in the question of how a marathon at altitude fits, or doesn’t fit, into the picture.
I learned in my RRCA certification course that when racing at altitude, it’s best to pretty much get off the plane and go, or spend around three weeks adjusting to the thin air. I’m fine with arriving the night before and racing the next morning. I just don’t know that even that would be enough.
I did a little digging on the topic and learned that an unacclimated runner can expect to lose around two minutes over a 10k course when racing at altitude. I also read that runner who is not acclimated will lose 10 to 12% in VO2max at an altitude of about 6,500 feet and 12 to 15% at 7,500 feet. The article also noted this doesn’t take into account the possibility of altitude sickness, which is just as likely to affect a well-conditioned athlete as anyone else.
So? I think if I really want a marathon PR this fall, that sadly, Top of Utah may not be the course for me. I haven’t written it off, but I’m definitely doing some looking around for other potential courses.
Have any of you fellow sea-level folks ever raced at altitude? How was it?