Got a specific race you’re looking to get in shape for? A high altitude training camp could be the secret weapon you need to nab that new personal record.
Especially for those of us trapped at sea level or other low elevation areas, the idea of training at higher elevations seems particularly alluring. Still, it’s not always easy to find these camps – and the definition for high altitude training camp isn’t exactly precise.
Just how high should an effective high altitude training camp be? How long do we need to train at elevation to get the benefits? And what kinds of costs are we looking at?
Those are all the questions we’re hoping to answer today. As a runner who’s spent a lifetime at around 29 or 30 feet of altitude, the times I’ve gotten to train high in the mountains in Colorado have been an absolute treat.
So whether you’re looking to sneak in some high altitude training in the states or you’re gung-ho and ready to go for a few weeks to an international training center, we’re excited to get you there.
For all the answers about why high altitude training works and where to go for a great high altitude training camp, lace up and read on!
- FAQs about high altitude training camps
- Top 7 high altitude training camps for runners
- Train at 2,796 meters: Yaya Athletics Village near Sululta, Ethiopia
- Train at 2,523 meters: Run camps in Colorado
- Train at 2,400 meters: High Altitude Training Center in Iten, Kenya
- Train at 2,240 meters: Run retreats in Mexico City, Mexico
- Train at 2,106 meters: Adult running camps in Flagstaff, Arizona
- Train at 2,000 meters: Kapchorwa Running Camps in Kapchorwa, Uganda
- Train at 1,856 meters: Saint Moritz, Switzerland
FAQs about high altitude training camps for runners
Before we get into the best camps for high altitude training, let’s cover some of the basics of what it means to run at high altitudes.
First things first: it’s hard. High altitude run training is no walk in the park.
(Though given how much you’ll feel like walking, that could actually be a decent analogy!)
If you’re coming from sea level or close to it, you’re going to feel the difference almost immediately. Before you hit the high altitude tracks, keep reading so you know what you’re in for.
What altitude qualifies as high altitude training?
High altitude training consists of an extended training period spent at an altitude at or above 2,400 meters, or 8,000’.
What altitude starts to affect athletic performance?
We can detect small changes in human physiology in increments of about 500 meters or 1,500’ above sea level.
At 1,800-2,000 meters, or around 6,500’, athletic performance starts being markedly improved.
The ideal range for high altitude training is between 2,000 – 3,000 meters, or 6,500 – 9,800’.
Why does high altitude training improve performance?
Because you are taking in less oxygen with each breath, your body has to compensate. That’s why when spending time at higher altitudes, your body responds by producing more erythropoietin, a hormone that increases red blood cell creation.
The degree of that improvement depends on a number of variables, including:
- An athlete’s blood’s ability to carry oxygen
- How long they train at high altitudes
- How long they live at high altitudes
Running at altitude can also increase your aerobic capacity. This 2020 study found that runners had an average of 13.6% increase in their VO2 max after 11 days of training.
To measure the physiological results, an athlete would need to understand their total hemoglobin mass. Hemoglobin, the protein that binds oxygen to blood, can be measured by a gas analysis test called C02 rebreathing analysis.
For most of us, that test isn’t going to be practical. Instead, we can guesstimate based on how long we’re at the camp for.
How long should you stay at a training camp to see results?
Two to three weeks is normally sufficient to see results. Elite athletes may want to stay for up to four weeks.
Part of the reason for the two-to-three week timeline is making sure your body fully acclimates to the altitude. The first few days of training at your new elevation should be easier days, potentially even substituting long walks for runs.
What are the disadvantages of high altitude training?
Training camps at high altitudes aren’t without their downsides. They are often time-intensive, physically exhausting, and expensive, along with offering results that can be lost within a few weeks.
The one high altitude training disadvantage we didn’t expect?
If not done well, it can even result in detraining as the time spent acclimating to the new altitude can lead to a drop in training intensity. That includes days spent traveling and the first few runs at elevation.
How long do the effects of high altitude training last?
For most adult athletes, the effects of high altitude training last between 7 to 10 days after the camp.
Top 7 high altitude training camps for runners
Below we have seven of the most impressive high altitude training camps for runners. We’ll share two notes on our ranking before we get started.
There are plenty of awesome areas to train at the elevations we have listed below. What we are sharing are those places with existing training centers and infrastructure to support you for a longer stay.
Also, while we can debate the individual pros of cons of each camp, today we are only focused on one factor: altitude. So, let’s get to it!
Train at 2,796 meters: Yaya Athletics Village near Sululta, Ethiopia
To run like the best runners in the world, you’ve got two choices: Ethiopia and Kenya. That’s why it’s only fitting that the highest high altitude run training camp is in Ethiopia.
Located at Yaya Athletics Village near Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa, these running camps feature full training schedules, talks with professional runners and coaches, and flexible scheduling. Their camps are most often scheduled about 4-6 weeks before the spring and fall marathons in the US and Europe.
For more information on high altitude training in Ethiopia, reach out to Africa Running Tours.
Train at 2,523 meters: Run camps in Colorado
Depending on where you train in Colorado, you can range from 1,621 meters (5,300’) up to 3,425 meters (7,080’). Given that, we’ll take the average and say your CO run camps average about 2,523m.
One of my favorite choices for just how varied the terrain is, Colorado offers adult running camps that are as beautiful as they are challenging.
Popular Colorado high altitude training camp spots include:
- Boulder, Colorado – 1,621m
- Salida, Colorado – 2,159m
- Estes Park, Colorado – 2,293m
- Leadville, Colorado – 3,094m
- Colorado Grand Mesa, Colorado – 3,425m
Train at 2,400 meters: High Altitude Training Center in Iten, Kenya
Easily the most popular destination for run training in Africa, Kenya is famous both for its runners’ successes and its pristine landscapes.
With the High Altitude Training Center in Iten, Kenya, runners of all skill levels can come to enjoy hard training in (relative) comfort. Why relative? You’re still at 2,400 meters (7,800’), so there’s going to come suffering, too.
This training center is designed to focus runners on success, with accommodations including a 400m all-weather track, a fully equipped gym, a sauna, swimming pool, and more.
To book a stay that fits within your schedule, send the HATC an inquiry email here.
Train at 2,240 meters: Run retreats in Mexico City, Mexico
If you want to use your high altitude training to justify some delicious carb loading, it’s time to give Mexico City a look.
Apart from being one of the world’s culinary capitals, it is also a formidable destination for run training. While Aire Libre’s run retreats are not technically running camps in the sense of staying in the same place for 3 weeks at a time their integration with the broader history, culture, and community bears consideration. If you decide to up your intensity, just arrive a few days early.
To book this running retreat for yourself, head to Aire Libre’s website.
Train at 2,106 meters: Adult running camps in Flagstaff, Arizona
With the ideal high altitude run training starting at 2,000 meters, Flagstaff may be one of the most under-the-radar running destinations in the U.S.
To get the most of the Flagstaff running experience, you have plenty of running camps to choose from. You can see some of the 2023 Arizona running retreats here, with other interesting options including Sun Dog Running’s camp, Camp Chaski’s High Desert Retreat, and Bruce Camp.
Train at 2,000 meters: Kapchorwa Running Camps in Kapchorwa, Uganda
If you want to combine some of East Africa’s most incredible wildlife with a few weeks of intense running, head over to Eastern Uganda.
While this training camp may be based at 2,000 meters (6,500’), runners here will also have plenty of access to the Teryet High Altitude Training Centre. Used by Olympic champions like Joshua Cheptegei, this track is at 2,575 meters (8,450’) and is sure to leave your lungs gasping.
From booking a full training session to just a short guided run in the area, be sure to check out Run Kapchorwa.
Train at 1,856 meters: Saint Moritz, Switzerland
Want to train like an Olympic runner? Then why not go where they go?
In Saint Moritz, Switzerland, runners can enjoy access to the High Altitude Training Base at 1,856 meters, or 6,000’. In addition to beautiful weather (how does more than 320 days of sunshine a year sound?) runners will also have the opportunity to train on trails that push them to their limits.
The one we can’t wait to try? The Finnenbahn woodchip trail, set at a lung-burning 2,500 meters above sea level.
To train at the Official Swiss Olympic Training Base, you can register here.
Finding Other Running Camps For Adults
While the allure of these high altitude training camps can be strong, we recognize that they are a serious investment. In addition to the cost of getting to these locations, you may not have the schedule flexibility to take the two-to-three weeks necessary to benefit.
Still, we hope you don’t let that deter you from planning a run vacation.
From some gorgeous European run retreats to adult running camps throughout the United States, there are still plenty of ways to stay active and explore the world (even if that world is just one state over!).