XTERRA phenom Katarina Marks knows a thing or two about acclimating to higher elevations. Before junior high, her family moved from Arizona to Colorado, making Marks’ first year as a runner even tougher.
“I had a tough coach,” said Marks. “And the altitude made it even more difficult.” But with persistence and a great attitude, Marks began to have fun. By the time she was a freshman in high school, she made the varsity team and she went on to run in college. Today, she is a coach, fitness instructor, and XTERRA athlete. We recently caught up with Kat to learn more about how to elevate your performance when the air is thin.
Even if you live at sea level, find someplace higher. “If you are on the west coast or in New England, find a mountain that is 4,000 feet or above and get some training in,” recommends Marks. “If you live far from the peaks, find the closest one you can and plan a camping trip. That’s a great way to spend time training and sleeping at a higher altitude.”
Of course, if you live in the middle of the country, it might be impossible to find a peak within a reasonable distance from you. If that is the case, then give yourself an advantage by training on as many hills as you can.
“With XTERRA Beaver Creek and the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship you look at those courses and realize, OK – lots of climbing. So no matter where you live, ask yourself where can you find places to climb. If you live at sea level, do hill repeats. Find a half-mile hill and just go up and down. Get creative.”
Take it Easy
Because higher elevations have decreased atmospheric pressure, it’s more difficult for oxygen to enter the blood. As a result you breathe faster and your heart rate goes up.
“It takes a few days for your body to adjust to the changes of being at high altitude,” said Marks. “So the sooner you can get to high altitude before the race, the greater your chances of adapting to it.”
Marks adds that the best thing you can do at altitude is nothing.
“The biggest and best thing you can do is to take it easy when you first get there,” said Marks. “If you can get to XTERRA Beaver Creek or Ogden a few days before the race, that’s great. But that first day, take it easy. Don’t go out and try to pound out a run and think OK, now I’m good. That’s just going to wear you out. It’s better to take it easy and keep your heart rate low.”
Stay Hydrated and Well-Nourished
“Whenever people come up to Durango, they have to drink lots of water. The climate is drier at altitude and the body tends to lose water and sodium as you acclimate. Drinking water will also help alleviate the headaches caused by altitude.”
Marks stresses that it’s also important to eat well.
“Maybe experiment with mini meals or smaller meals and make sure you eat high-nutrient food, and get lots of sleep to help the body recover and adapt.”
Marks says that for her, the benefits of altitude outweigh any adverse affects. “If you’re at altitude, you’re on a mountain. Make the most of the beauty around you and enjoy the view!”