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Running at Altitude - What is Altitude Sickness

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Running at Altitude - The Mountains are Calling

Are you looking to add some elevation to your workout? Whether you are training for a race, looking for a change of scenery, or seeking a challenging workout, you step into an entirely different experience as you climb in altitude.

The sun is shining and the mountains are calling. What better time to lace up your running shoes and go for a jog? But before you hit the trail, consider this: if you're not accustomed to running at altitude, you may face more than just breathtaking scenery.

If you are a novice, an expert, or somewhere in between, maybe you've heard of altitude sickness — that pesky condition that causes headaches and nausea for those who travel too quickly from sea level up into the mountains.

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude or acute mountain sickness (AMS) results from climbing in elevation and not giving your body time to acclimate. You develop symptoms caused by rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen.

Everyone can experience symptoms differently. Some may have a difficult time breathing, while others may not. Other common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, rapid heart rate, aching feet, etc.

Wait... my feet can hurt? Yupp, it's true!

Wondering what else you should be prepared for when hitting the mountains.

As a runner myself, I wanted to share some tips on how best to acclimate yourself when first hitting high elevations.

What to Know About Altitude Sickness

If you’re not accustomed to running at altitude, you may face more than just breathtaking scenery. Altitude sickness is a severe condition that can be dangerous if left untreated.

  • Altitude sickness results from less oxygen in the air. At higher altitudes (more than 8,200 feet above sea level), your body needs time to adapt to breathing thinner air before being able to perform at full capacity.

  • If you exercise too soon after arriving at high altitudes without allowing yourself time to acclimate, you risk developing AMS.

  • AMS occurs when the body produces too many red blood cells due to being under stress from exercising.

  • AMS causes headaches, nausea, and other flu-like symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea - these effects can become worse over time without treatment!

But there are ways to avoid this affliction and treat it if you do experience symptoms.

Tips For Running At Elevation - Avoid AMS Symptoms

1. Run Slower

If you're running a 5K and are used to running it in 20 minutes, that could take closer to 25 minutes or more at elevation. It's important not to push yourself too hard; if this is your first time in the mountains, don't forget that any run will feel longer than usual.

2. Fewer Miles

Start with short, easy runs. If this is your first time visiting higher altitudes, start with a couple of easy runs on flat ground. Give your body time and insight on what to expect when running uphill or downhill later on.

3. Build Endurance

After a few days of getting used to being up high and feeling out the terrain (and perhaps even carrying some luggage), try some short jogs around town or on trails close by before attempting anything much more challenging like steep mountain trails far from civilization!

4. Take Breaks

Remember, your body seeks extra oxygen the harder you work and only increases as you climb in altitude, so take breaks. Give yourself plenty of opportunities for rest during tougher workouts such as hill repeats or tempo runs.

5. Drink Water

Listen to your body. The best thing you can do for yourself is to stay hydrated and take it easy on yourself and your body for the first few days. A new environment can throw off your body's circadian rhythm.

6. Recovery Days

If you find that your workouts leave you feeling tired and worn out more often than usual, consider taking some days off from more intense exercise until your body begins adapting more fully. This helps to prevent burnout down the line.


If you are a runner who has never been to altitude before, take it slow when you first start to acclimate. Make sure you have enough time to adjust and don't push yourself too hard! Remember that you'll be able to enjoy running at a high elevation once your body adapts and becomes accustomed to the higher air pressure in your lungs.

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