Running At A High Altitude In The Mountains Is Magical, Until The Oxygen Runs Thin
Running has always been a major source of stress relief in my life. Every time I run, I can feel the mind-clearing endorphins coursing through my body, and whatever was bothering me before I stepped outside simply melts away. Even when I'm on vacation, I still try to find time to run, not just to ease my travel-related nerves, but to also explore the area and learn more about where I'm staying. So, during a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I went out for a spontaneous run, casually forgetting the fact that running at a high altitude is way different from running on my usual street in Long Island. Spoiler alert: This run was the hardest of my entire life, to put it lightly.
I guess I should've seen this coming since, as soon as I landed in New Mexico for my four-day trip, I immediately began experiencing the dehydrating and nausea-inducing effects of altitude sickness. I hadn't thought too much about this before leaving for the trip, so I was pretty confused when I started feeling dizzy and exhausted seemingly out of nowhere. However, according to Altitude.org, it's actually really common for people to experience these symptoms when spending time up in the mountains.
Running through the clouds is honestly as magical as it sounds — until altitude sickness makes it nearly impossible to breathe, that is.
According to Jason Antin, a Merrell Ambassador and certified Wilderness EMT, traveling at higher altitudes can be challenging because, the higher you go, the less oxygen is available in the air. And when there's less oxygen for you to breathe in, Antin says, your body has to work that much harder to get whatever oxygen it can grasp, into your system. In the process, you could experience some of those uncomfortable effects of altitude sickness. "These symptoms can include nausea, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, and even confusion," the EMT tells Elite Daily. And let me tell you — that is exactly how I felt when I first landed in Santa Fe, and things got even worse when I pushed my body to go for a run.
On the third day of my stay at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort in Santa Fe, I was initially scheduled to go on a hike, but it eventually got cancelled. With my newfound free time, I decided to walk through this dirt path I'd discovered near the resort, which soon led me to a winding road that seemed perfect for a mind-clearing jog.
Mind-clearing, my ass. The minute I started to pick up my pace, I felt like my legs had turned to lead, and I no longer knew how to breathe properly. You know that scene in SpongeBob SquarePants where he keeps telling himself he doesn't need water as he sits there as a sad, shriveled-up version of himself, until he ultimately cracks under the pressure? Yeah, that was exactly how I felt as my body begged for H2O and oxygen while I struggled to maintain any sense of athleticism or dignity during this workout.
The resemblance is uncanny, no? BTW, you can definitely go ahead and file the above picture under photos I never thought I'd post on the internet — but here we are.
Now, according to Antin, I was feeling especially weak during this run because, when running at a higher altitude, "your body is working overtime to fuel itself." He adds, "The more an athlete becomes accustomed to movement at altitude, the better they become at dealing with the effects as they learn how, specifically, their body will react to running in the clouds." To say the least, I wasn't accustomed to this type of running in any way, shape, or form. Bad times, my friends. Bad times.
Now, in terms of pace, I usually run at around eight minutes per mile if I'm pushing myself, and nine minutes a mile if I'm taking things a bit slower.
At the altitude in Santa Fe (which is about 7,000 feet above sea level), I ran at a 10:30 pace, despite trying as hard as I could to speed things along.
I mean, I guess I should really give myself props for sticking it out for 3.5 whole miles, despite my excessive huffing, puffing, panting, and you know, the casual feeling that my entire body was moving against some invisible current in slow motion — right? In all honesty, I couldn't have made it through the run without listening to Maroon 5 and Cardi B's "Girls Like You" on repeat the whole time. Bless you, Adam Levine. You really know how to get a girl going.
Thankfully, I managed to make it back to my room at the resort in one piece, where I proceeded to chug two bottles of water and face-plant into my bed for about a half-hour. According to Antin, I'd have to do this workout for at least three weeks before I'd actually start to adjust to the altitude and the new environment. In other words, when I got back to the resort that day, my body was basically like, "WTF did you just do to me?"
Luckily, if you're planning on or thinking about running somewhere in the mountains or at a higher altitude, reading my story will likely inspire you to be a bit more prepared than I was so your body doesn't go into total shock. In order to do that, Antin tells Elite Daily, immediately upon arrival in higher-altitude areas, make sure you really check in with yourself and how you're feeling, taking note of how your body seems to be reacting to the new environment before pushing yourself to do what you'd normally do in your workouts at home.
Antin also recommends, for both runners and non-runners alike, going real heavy on the H2O for the entire time you're up in the mountains.
"Hydration is key. The dry climates can dehydrate you quickly by zapping moisture from your body," he tells Elite Daily. "Moreover, your body is trying to balance the PH in your blood, and this happens through frequent urination. Do your body a favor — drink often, before, during, and after your adventure to [a higher] altitude."
So, even though I almost passed out in the process, I'd say running in the clouds was a great decision, one that I don't regret at all. Yes, I could have done more to protect myself and my well-being, but looking back, I loved the challenge this gave me, and I know I learned some valuable lessons from this experience.
Plus, athletes often train at higher altitudes to prepare for big events (because "normal" altitudes feel like a piece of cake compared to this kind of training), so I'm definitely curious to see if my first run back in New York will feel easier following my Santa Fe struggles.
I'm no athlete, but I do have a newfound appreciation for my badass body for carrying me through the hardest run of my life.