Saturday, 24 May 2014

Featured Country of the Month: USA

The United States has been our featured country for April and May (it got two months because there is so much on offer there), and over the last 8 weeks or so we've shared photos, facts and information about some of America's top altitude training venues.  This blog post aims to bring some of that information together, and to provide further insight into my experiences training at altitude there.

For me, one of the great advantages to training in the US, is the trails.  The country is covered with national and state parks, national and state forests, wilderness areas, and other federal lands. This means that there are large areas of lands which have free access to the public which are crossed by well marked multi-use trails, fire-roads and unpaved roads.  Towns such as Flagstaff and Boulder have a network of well-groomed trails, while towns such as Mammoth Lakes have access to a range of more rural tracks and trails. Whether your a trail runner looking for challenging single-track routes, or a speedy track runner looking for fast, flat, traffic-free roads for your sessions, there are usually plenty of options no matter where you are in the States.

Local trail maps can be purchased in most running shops and outdoor stores, or downloaded from the National Park Service website. Details of good trails for running can be found on the localeikki website, or through the websites of local trail providers (e.g. Flagstaff Urban Trail System, or City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks).

Many British athletes combine a stint of altitude training in the US, with early season track races on the US circuit.  The invitational and open meets in California (e.g. Stanford Invitational, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, Mt Sac Relays, Oxy High Performance Meet) are particularly popular, and easily accessed from any of America's top altitude training destinations.  If you want an extra special racing experience, why not spend some time acclimatising before racing at altitude.  Good options include BolderBOULDER 10km and the Leadville 100 Trail in Colorado, the Sedona Marathon and Flagstaff Summer Series in Arizona, or the Duke City Marathon in Albuquerque.

There are a large number of towns and cities at altitude in the West and South Western states, and you shouldn't have too much difficulty finding somewhere at altitude to suit your needs.  If living in a large city is important to you, Albuquerque (NM) should be to your liking, while on the other end of the scale, Mt Laguna (CA), with a population of less than 100, is the perfect retreat for those looking for isolation.

Colorado, as the highest state, has a particularly large number of venues suitable for altitude training, including Boulder (1,655 m), which is probably the most popular, Colorado Springs (1,823 m), which is home to the USOC Altitude Training Centre, Mancos (2,137 m) and Estes Park (2,293 m).  California, too has good variety with the ski resorts of Mammoth Lakes (2,400 m), Lake Tahoe (1,897 m) and Big Bear Lake (2,058 m) offering good facilities and a choice of accommodation in the summer months, and Mt Laguna (1,749 m), a mostly snow-free getaway.  Flagstaff (2,100 m) is Arizona's premier altitude training spot; Park City (2,100 m) in Utah is growing in popularity; and New Mexico's offer includes Albuquerque (1,619 m), Santa Fe (2,134 m), Los Alamos (2,231 m) and Taos (2,124 m).

Outsider magazine recently reviewed their top 10 US altitude training sites.  Their feature can be found here.

I have visited Mammoth Lakes, Flagstaff, Boulder and Albuquerque, and while each has its merits, Flagstaff shone brightest for me.  The town is small enough that you can get by without a car, and you are never more than 50 metres from a trail.  The running community are very friendly, and there are many opportunities to run with the local athletes.  Albuquerque was, for me, the most over-rated, but I'm sure it would have been more appealing if I had stayed in the foothills and had had access to a car.

Mount Laguna is such a top secret training venue that it didn't even get a mention in Notes from Higher Grounds.  However, British steeplechase international Luke Gunn, gave us the low-down during his recent training stint there.

Cost of living, particularly in ski resorts like Mammoth Lakes, or trendy towns like Boulder, can be high. Accommodation is of a high standard, but can be expensive.  Groceries are a lot more expensive than in Europe, and though eating out is cheap, finding restaurants selling good, healthy food can sometimes be difficult.  Sports massage and gum access can also work out more expensive than back home.

It's very difficult to survive in the US without a car.  Even if there are public transport links, few people know about them, so getting directions by bus or train can be difficult.  The cost of car hire should be factored into your budget.

Athletes planning to race after returning to Europe from the US will have jet lag to overcome.  Travelling east results in more greater jet lag in most people than travelling west, so care should be taken when putting together your race plan.

If you would like to hear more about travelling to and training in Boulder, Albuquerque, Flagstaff or Mammoth Lakes, get yourself a copy of my book, Notes from Higher Grounds: an altitude training guide for endurance athletes here:

No comments:

Post a Comment