Exercising at our higher altitude makes for both beautiful views and unique challenges. Is there anything better than a run, power walk or hike in the Prescott National Forest or on one of our many area trails?

The 41st Whiskey Row Marathon – sponsored by Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) – combines the beauty and challenge of exercise at higher elevations. The Whiskey Row includes a marathon, half-marathon, 10K and two-mile fun run/walk. Marathon runners start at 5,280 feet and by the course’s seventh mile, they reach an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Whether you’re training for one of the Whiskey Row Marathon races on Saturday, May 4 or committing to a new exercise program, it’s good to understand how altitude affects our bodies when exercising.

What is High Altitude Training?

Any elevation above 5,000 feet is considered high-altitude training by elite athletes’ standards. The higher you run, the lower the concentration of oxygen per breath, which means your heart and lungs have to work harder to deliver oxygen to the working muscles. It also means that if you live at a higher elevation, your body is helping you train all of the time so you have a leg up on getting ready for the Whiskey Row races.

Here are some tips for for getting in shape for high altitude exercise and a few steps to follow when you’re exercising at high altitudes:

Ease into the higher elevation
Everyone acclimates differently to exercising at higher elevation. If you are adjusting from running at sea level it is best to try an easy run in your new environment and see how you feel. Start slow and listen to what your body is telling you.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Your body needs water to help the red blood cells do their job of getting oxygen to the lungs. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking:

  • 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours before exercising.
  • 8 ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes before you start exercising or during your warm-up.
  • 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
  • 8 ounces of water no more than 30 minutes after you exercise.

Carbohydrates are your friend
Loading up on complex carbohydrates gives your body the proper fuel to run in the mountains. Carbs require less oxygen  to metabolize than fat or protein. This makes carbs a necessary source of nutrition for high-altitude runners.

Focus on effort
It’s inevitable that your running pace will be slower in the high elevation. Focus on your effort and not your pace in order to maintain a reasonable heart rate and sustain yourself throughout your run.

Wear sunblock
As altitude increases so does sun exposure. Slather on a good broad spectrum sunscreen before you head out for a run, power walk or other outdoor exercise.

Breathing techniques
If you feel like you’re gasping for air, try a breathing technique called pressure breathing. Pucker your lips and exhale deeply, releasing as much carbon dioxide as possible. This will allow for an easier exchange of oxygen back in.

Running in high elevation is a challenge many people enjoy. If it’s for you, soak in the views and take care of yourself out there. Perhaps the Whiskey Row Marathon is in your future!

To register, volunteer or for more information about the Whiskey Row Marathon: