It’s not very often I get the chance to run around in the mountains, but for a family trip this Summer, we did the most Oklahoman thing possible: drive to the nearest mountains in Colorado, the Spanish Peaks. 

As this was a family trip, I had no intention of training hard, and I really didn’t. 

On our second day, I did a 5K in the area around our AirBnB.

I wasn’t yet adapted to the altitude so there were a lot of walk breaks involved, including a brief stop waiting for an angry pooch to return to its owner. With my wife always worried about bears, I found it amusing that a snarling lab-mix was my biggest scare of the week. 

The next day, we drove up to the Bear Lake area and hiked the trails in between Bear and Blue Lake. The trails there are extremely easy with very little elevation change. 

Feeling more adventurous, we tackled the Dike Trail that skirts along the East side of the Highway of Legends near Cuchara. We only did part of the trail that day and returned the next day with one less in our group to complete the full trail. 

Like I said, it really wasn’t hard training. I didn’t expect to feel any significant change in my fitness upon dropping several thousand feet of elevation. To my surprise, I easily logged a couple of 7 minute miles in my first 5K training run.

My 3rd mile slowed down a bit, but that had little to do with my lungs and more to do with some nagging pain from the DIWHY projects that disrupted my running schedule the week prior. 

To give you an idea of how big a change this was, I had been struggling to touch low 7’s in my training runs prior to vacation, and when I did, I was usually wearing lighter weight, much “faster” shoes, running with little to no elevation changes. For example, this run from mid-May is a similar distance but follows a flat route along the Arkansas River.

In this particular run, I knew I had a limited amount of time to get in my mileage before an appointment. I was pushing hard on the pace which you can see in the 7:18 pace of mile 2 that caused the crash into the 8’s for mile 3. If I had run this route for the June 21st run along with wearing the same shoes, I likely would have run 6:45’s instead of 7:00’s.

And now just a little over two weeks from the mountains, the altitude effects are already fading.

While I’ve often experienced the debilitating effects of playing sports and exercising at altitude, this is the first time I felt a significant improvement in my performance as a result of that training. Even though the effects appear numerically somewhat small, I can’t emphasize enough how easy those first 2 miles post-vacation were to run even though I was on dead shoes. If or how that translates into a training plan, I’m not sure, but it’s easy to see why so many endurance athletes live and train at altitude.