According to our very old GPS, Washington Lake sits at 10,016 feet. According to my Garmin, once around the campground is .43 miles. And for the first run at Washington Lake, that was all I could do. Welcome – once again – to the world of high altitude running.
My first experience in high altitude running was at Hoop Lake in the summer of 2012. At that time I was training for my first 10K. Three years, several pairs of running shoes, and many miles later, I was still a wheezing slug on my first run at Washington Lake. Blame the thinner air. According to renowned running coach Dr. Jack Daniels, at an elevation of 6,500 feet you lose 10 percent to 12 percent in VO2 max (the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during exercise) and at 7,500 feet you lose 12 percent to 15 percent. By my rudimentary calculations, at 10,000 feet I was likely losing 16 – 20 percent. The good news – at least that thinner air was clean!
I built up distance over time, adding the surrounding area – including some trail running off the Crystal Lake Trailhead. And I challenged myself – before I left Washington Lake I would make it to the Bald Mountain summit: 10, 759 feet. I made it on August 20. The distance, round-trip, was 9.5 miles.
Averages are so average. When I calculated the slope of the route I ran regularly, I was dismayed with the result: 5% uphill grade. That doesn’t seem like much. But wait! While the road is pretty much all uphill, there are a few relatively flat sections. There are also a few really steep sections. Great practice for running both uphill and downhill. Once I had acclimated to the altitude, I found that my pace was similar to what I normally ran – 11 to 12 minute miles on the uphills; 9 and under on the downhills.
I had to refer to my original post, Running at 9200 Feet, to remind myself of one of the benefits of running in high altitudes. In high altitudes the amount of oxygen in the blood is reduced because there's less oxygen in the air. To compensate for reduction of oxygen in the air, the kidneys secrete more of a hormone called erythropoietin, which causes the body to create more red blood cells.
The average life span of a red blood cell is 90 to 120 days. Runners are often able to train harder and perform better for several weeks after they return from about a month-long stay at altitude because their blood still contains the extra blood cells that were produced when they were training at high altitudes.
It’s just over four weeks to the Lake Powell Half Marathon. Hang in there, red blood cells!