An Interesting Take on Altitude

It’s probably the number one question we get from our clients before trips:  how long beforehand should I arrive to get used to the altitude?  We’ve always known that realistically, you’re not going to acclimate for our high-altitude trips (Crested Butte, Durango, Monarch Crest or Sun Valley) with only a few days of preparation, as these rides take place between 6,000 and 12,500′.  Scientifically, it’s pretty well-documented that your body takes a minimum of two weeks- and in most cases more- to acclimate and produce more red blood cells to make up for the lack of oxygen in the air.


So What’s New?


Well, nothing is “new” per se, but we did hear an interesting take on a new strategy that just might work well for our clients.  While listening to the latest Trainer Road “Ask Me Anything” podcast on YouTube, they were discussing preparation for the Leadville 100 with Hannah Otto, the winner of last year’s women’s race.  She was talking about how in 2023 she dislocated her shoulder only a week before the race, which obviously threw everything off and blew up her travel schedule; she was only able to show up to Leadville the day before the race.  Despite this, she still won in a stacked women’s field of endurance racers.

So what’s she doing this year?  After reflecting on her race-winning performance from last year, she’s decided to mirror her preparation (minus the dislocated shoulder, of course) and travel schedule, and show up the day before.  No acclimation, no getting her body used to the affects of altitude.

What’s the rationale here?  Well, in Hannah’s mind, she would rather prepare for the race with a healthy body (and mind) instead of putting her body through weeks of altitude acclimation in a decreased state.  The effects (even on a world-class racer’s healthy body) include lack of sleep and dehydration: two things that are integral to training, high-level performance and recovery.  Her rationale is that by staying home and preparing for the race with a healthy and recovered body, she can go into Leadville in prime shape.  She knows that the altitude will hurt during the race, but in reality that’s the case for everyone that’s not spending 2+ weeks at 10,000′ beforehand.

How did it work out?  Hannah finished on the podium this year in 4th place, with a race time almost identical to last year’s.


Why Should I Care?


There’s a good chance you’re not training or preparing at the same level to race the Leadville 100 – but our Chasing Epic trips are still pretty damn tough.  Four days of big rides at altitude wears even the best riders down, and it takes a lot of physical and mental stamina to crush our trips.  That said, we think this “new” strategy of acclimating – or in this case, not acclimating- could have some validity, especially for those without the freedom to take extra days off before a trip.  At the very least, it’s something to consider – but only if you prepare accordingly:

  • Arrive for your trip the night before, or even the day-of if travel allows.
  • Leading up to the trip, try to get a good night’s sleep every night.  Eliminate drinking alcohol in the evenings too, as this can negatively affect your sleep.
  • Make sure you hydrate with plenty of water for 3-5 days prior to the trip, as altitude dehydrates you very quickly and you’ll want to be as hydrated as possible.
  • Don’t tax your body too much the week before your trip.  You can still go for a ride or workout, but keep the intensity low; you want your body to be at full strength for the trip.


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AUTHOR: Steve Mokan

Steve is the owner (and founder) of Chasing Epic Mountain Bike Adventures, and contributes regularly to our blog. He's passionate about providing customers with incredible mountain bike vacations, and he loves photography and travel when he's not working. Truthfully, he loves those things when he is working too.