Friday, October 19, 2007

Top American Marathon Coaches Give Their Views on Altitude Training


Altitude is a topic we’ve been talking about for decades. What is your current thinking? Coach (Joe) Vigil says something near 7000 feet is ideal. Could you outline your philosophy of where altitude fits into the training of a marathoner?

Brad Hudson: I have two athletes at altitude and two athletes at sea level. I just want to emphasize that we believe strongly in altitude training. Some athletes do a little bit better at altitude than our others. The real reason that we’re using Eugene (Oregon) at sea level right now is because of the soft surfaces, and the last month of training, all my athletes are at sea level doing more specific work for the marathon. We believe strongly and altitude and we think Boulder is a great place for training…. It’s 5200 feet or 5300, and we actually think the stress and the time are a little bit slower than that. So I don’t necessarily believe in any sort of magic altitude…. It’s just how you use it in training and how you prepare specifically for a race. At the end of the day, the races are at sea l level, and so I think using sea level in our training takes a little bit of the mystery out of how we’re going to do in the race. We know where we’re going, especially close to the race.

Terrance Mahon: The mystery with altitude is that people get a little too complicated with it. I consider altitude as a stressor on an athlete’s typical training regimen, and I don’t see it actually as that much different than the stressor or, let’s say, weigh training or running up a hill or doing sprints. If you look at it like that, you’re obviously going to see that different athletes are going to adapt differently to different stresses on their body. For example, there are certain athletes who get quicker gains in the weight room than another athlete, and the same applies to altitude. So what we look at is altitude as a stressor component within our system, so it’s going to be different for different types of athletes. One, it’s going to vary from year to year, depending on how long an athlete has been at altitude …. I don’t think there’s a magic in terms if saying "hey, there’s an altitude of 7000 feet, and that’s the best altitude," because for a new athlete, maybe 4000 feet or 5000 feet is the stress that their body can handle at that time given all the other stresses that are going on in the training work load, be it volume, speed, intensity, density…. If we take someone like a Ryan Hall, who’s pretty much been at altitude, 6000 feet or higher, since he was a young boy, his adaptation to that stress as such isn’t as hard as the next person. What we’ve actually looked at this year Ryan is we’ve brought him up to 9000 feet because we found we weren’t getting as much of a stress at 8000 feet and we’re looking to add that tiny bit of stimulus to the system to improve his running economy.

Keith Hanson: Obviously, our group trains in the suburbs of Detroit and we like the training area because it is very soft surfaces. Eighty percent of our mileage is probably done on dirt, between trails and dirt roads. Certainly I agree with Terrence; it’s obvious that running at altitude is a stressor…. A Brian Sell, for example, counters that will running very high volume. Brian is a consistent 150-plus milers per week athlete when he’s training for a marathon. That’s the sort of thing that gives Brian confidence. Brian would be a good example, in my opinion, of somebody who would have difficulty at altitude because it would be somewhat suicidal of him to run his 150 to 160 miles per week at altitude …. It would actually be, in my opinion, a disadvantage with the mentality that Brian has and the strength that he gains from that mentality to put him at altitude.

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