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How to Train for the 2016 TransRockies Race at Sea Level

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By Adventure Medical Kits’ Adventurer Heather Gannoe

As I write this post, I am anxiously counting down the days until I fly from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Buena Vista, Colorado. (12 days, to be exact). Thanks to an amazingly generous company, a ton of fantastic friends and family members, and a stroke of good luck that I totally attribute to all of the good running karma I try to put out into the world, my partner Geoff and I will be running the 2016 TransRockies Run. A 6 day stage race that had been on my racing “bucket list” for quite sometime, but had been financially and logistically out of our reach, was suddenly gifted to us, two sea-level dwelling newbie ultra runners who have never been to Colorado.

Needless to say, we are beyond excited for this amazing adventure.

I’ll be the first to admit that training at sea level for such a race, one that spans 118 miles over the Colorado Rocky Mountains, and includes over 20,000 feet of elevation gain between about 7,000 and 12,500 feet above sea level, has been…interesting. Sure, we can dutifully put in the mileage and strength training sessions. But there is no denying that there are certain health and safety factors that we will face in Colorado, many of which we simply don’t have to concern ourselves with here in sunny South Carolina. When we can’t physically train for these conditions, the next best thing we can do is mentally prepare ourselves for what we might face. Here are a few of our concerns:

Altitude. This is the big one, the subject everyone wants to talk about when they hear we are headed to the mountains. The truth is, there is no sure fire way to train for running at altitude here at sea level, without investing in a high tech altitude tent, or something similar, to create a hypoxic environment. So instead, we are bracing ourselves for the possible side effects of running at high altitude.

The least of our worries include light-headedness, fatigue, numbness or tingling of extremities, nausea, and of course, feeling short of breath and completely out of shape. More serious concerns, and things we hopefully will not encounter, include everything from confusion and disorientation, severe headaches, and even life threatening conditions and high altitude sickness including  pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). In the cases of HAPE and HACE, fluid accumulates around the lungs and the brain respectively, and can be fatal if left untreated.

Fortunately for us, we will be under the watchful care of professionals who have successfully put on this race for a number of years. However, it is still important to be aware of the potential side effects, and have the ability to react to their onset quickly and accordingly.

Dehydration. The decreased atmospheric pressure at high altitude forces you to breathe faster and more frequently. Water vapor is a normal waste product of breathing, thus, it is easier to become dehydrated at higher altitudes. Further, the humidity is typically lower at higher altitudes, thus evaporation of moisture across the skin may happen more readily, and without as much notice as it does down here in the swampy South (you should smell our sweaty hydration packs!). Both of these factors will increase the potential for dehydration, and as any athlete can tell you, dehydration is never a good condition to find yourself in.

Sunburn. Ultraviolet exposure increases approximately 4% for every 1,000 feet above sea level. That means, even though we live AT the beach, our UV exposure will be upwards of 50% higher during the TransRockies Run. Sunscreen, and constant reapplication of it, will be vital to avoid painful and even dangerous sunburns.

Extreme weather changes. This summer in South Carolina has been brutal, as far as the heat is concerned. In fact, July 2016 has gone on record as the hottest July on record in Columbia SC (just inland of where we live). Needless to say, we feel pretty comfortable (well, as comfortable as one can get) training in temperatures upwards of 105 degrees. What we are NOT currently accustomed to is freezing temps. And in the mountains, the weather can change from one extreme to the next in the blink of an eye. It will be important for us to be prepared for anything, from dry, hot, heat to freezing cold rain, or potentially even snow.

Terrain. If you haven’t been to coastal South Carolina, let me describe it for you: Flat, sandy, and swamp like. We are very fortunate to have a wonderful mountain bike and running park that gives us 7 miles of fun trails to run on here in Myrtle Beach. And while the single track has just enough rocks and roots to keep you on your toes (and hopefully off of your face), it is certainly nothing like climbing the Rocky Mountains. In addition to steep climbs and equally as steep descents, we will likely face very rugged and technical terrain. From a safety point of view, this could mean anything from pulled muscles to cuts, scrapes, bruises, or worse, if we fall. HOPEFULLY, none of these ailments will occur, but it will certainly be in the back of our minds, causing us to add a little caution to our step as we tackle the trails.

Wildlife. Our biggest concern with wildlife encounters here in South Carolina is venomous snakes. And I suppose, the potential of a scuffle with an alligator, though they typically keep to themselves, as long as you stay out of the water. But venomous snakes such as copperheads, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths are incredibly common in our area. Fortunately, they typically scurry off long before we actually see them.

In Colorado, it appears we have a few much larger, much more dangerous predators to watch out for, such as bears and mountain lions. I’m certainly hoping that the large crowd of the TransRockies Run, and all of the fast elites that run ahead of us, are enough to scare off these animals. In any case, it is important to know what to do to possibly avoid attracting these animals, and what to do in the event of an encounter.

Not having the perfect terrain or conditions to train in shouldn’t be a deal breaker when it comes to pursuing new experiences or adventures. But being mentally prepared for what you may have to face, and the potential dangers in those situations, is in my opinion a very important part of training. Always be prepared isn’t just a motto for the Boyscouts, it is something that all athletes and outdoor adventurers should abide by as well.

Heather Gannoe, is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist who splits her time between working as a personal trainer and running coach, and writing as a blogger and author in the fitness and running industry.   She’s also a mom to two young boys, and is constantly encouraging them to love the great outdoors a little more, and their video games a little less.  Trail running really long distances is her true love, but she’ll never turn down an adventure.  Keep up with her adventures on www.RelentlessForwardCommotion.com.

 

 



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