Planning Your Trip To Altitude
While you may not have full control over how long you can stay at altitude, you might be able to adjust your travel plans for a day or two to take full advantage of the physiological adaptations or better prepare for your race.
What’s the minimum amount of time needed to see benefits?
Personally, I’ve seen spikes in EPO (Erythropoietin, a hormone that controls red blood cell production) production after just three to four days at altitude. Granted, they weren’t big increases, but the charts did show some movement. Therefore, you’ll need to stay at least three to four days to experience some movement in your blood profile. Understand that you won’t have stayed long enough to adjust to the altitude difference, but you’ll certainly have felt the effects.
Existing research points to seven to ten days as being the “optimal” amount of time for a short altitude stint. So, if possible, schedule your family vacation to last at least one week at altitude. While you won’t receive the maximum blood boosting benefits of a full altitude training camp, you will see changes in your blood profile.
What’s the maximum amount of time before you plateau?
EPO production spikes and then levels off after 25 to 30 days of altitude exposure. Therefore, while you’ll still experience benefits if you stay at altitude for longer than 30 days, the altitude is no longer a stimulus that increases EPO production. To experience increased EPO production beyond 30 days, you need to again change the stimulus – either by going to a higher altitude or returning to sea level for a short duration.
Racing At Altitude
If you’re not from altitude, racing in the thin air can be very difficult. While you’ll certainly need to change your racing tactics and ensure you start a little slower than usual, you can use one of two approaches to acclimatize yourself as much as possible before the race.
The optimal race arrival time is as far before the race as possible – at least 10 days. This allows the body to somewhat adapt to the demands of altitude, begin to recover from the increased stress on your aerobic system, and provides you with a better feeling of the effort levels required to run certain paces.
Understandably, this strategy isn’t the most feasible for the everyday athlete. Therefore, the next best strategy is to arrive as close to race start time as possible, preferably within 18 to 47 hours. This arrival time allows you to avoid the most detrimental performance inhibitors of altitude typically experienced in the 48 hour to 7-day window.