After Lotto Dstny cyclist Victor Campenaerts shared his '10 tips from the top for altitude training', we reached out to elite runners Hayden Hawks and Matt Fox to find out how they approach training and racing at 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) and above.

Matt is a 2:20 marathoner who regularly trains at altitude in Kenya, and pro ultrarunner Hayden has excelled at altitude in the past, winning the CCC UTMB 100k in 2017 and taking 2nd place at the Western States 100 in 2022...

Hi lads! First up, can you give us an insight into your approach to altitude training please?

Hayden: I’m a huge advocate for altitude training. When I was younger, I knew that altitude was a huge factor in becoming a better endurance athlete and so I picked a university that was at altitude for that reason.

I’m quite fortunate that I’ve lived at altitude most of my life and I’m currently at about 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), but I can drop down to close to sea level in 40 minutes, so I can enjoy the whole ‘live high, train low’ effect

If I need to do speed work, I’ll go down lower, and if I want to build strength, then I stay at altitude 

The key is to remember it’s not going to feel great all of the time when you’re training at altitude, especially if you’re coming from sea level, and so you’ll feel tired and recovery will be slower at first. You just need to remember to eat, hydrate and sleep a little bit more. 

Your efforts aren’t going to be as fast as they could be at sea level, but you’ll start to feel the gains and I find that when I drop down to sea level, I can go a bit harder and my pace is faster. 

Image Credit: Dave Blow ©

Matt: I’m currently training in Iten, Kenya. This is the seventh time I've done a camp out here and I always find it a real struggle at first; mainly due to the lower pressure impacting my body’s ability to extract oxygen and the hilly, as well as the rocky-under-foot terrain making my runs tougher.

It gradually gets easier over time and I find that spending three or more weeks living and training in Iten provides a boost to my aerobic endurance and general strength. 

I think it also makes me mentally stronger - it's challenging to even find a short 6km running route with less than 100m of elevation gain and, when you're fatigued from the specific marathon training sessions, you dream of just running on a flat route.

How soon before a race start will you ideally arrive for a race at altitude?

Matt: Spending four-to-five weeks at altitude, before travelling to the race around one week before would be ideal, but it's probably optimal to live at altitude full time if you're a professional endurance athlete. 

Hayden: I would give it at least 10 to 14 days. Longer is even better, but I know that’s not always possible for people who are working full time jobs. For professional athletes, I think it’s important that you give respect to the race and arrive as far in advance as you can. 

For something like Western States 100, that’s quite similar to the elevation where I live so I don’t need to arrive too early, but I know a lot of the European runners will arrive six weeks out for that one. 

Image Credit: Dave Blow ©

If I was training for Leadville 100, which reaches 3,650 metres (12,000 feet), I’d head there four-to-six weeks before as that’s when I think you get those biggest adaptations. 

So, I’ll try and get as specific as possible to meet the demands of the individual race.

How does racing at altitude affect your race strategy?

Hayden: It’s a whole different ball-game. You have to be a little bit more strategic and patient. If you start pushing too early, you can destroy your race because once you start suffering at altitude, it’s very hard to come back from that deficit.

And how does racing at altitude affect your hydration and fueling strategy?

Matt: I've clearly noticed an increased need for additional electrolytes and a higher calorie intake while living and training at high altitude - I believe you’re burning more calories than at sea level, even while sleeping. 

On my first trip to Iten in 2017, I noticed in the first few weeks that I was losing body weight at a substantial rate and also regularly feeling dehydrated. When I became aware of this and focused on eating more regularly, consuming more water with electrolytes throughout the day, I began to feel a lot better in general and my training began to advance. 

I take a PH 1000 electrolyte tablet in approximately 500ml (16oz) of water every morning and every afternoon now, in addition to adding a PH 1500 to my bottle during training sessions. 

Hayden: I fuel a little bit more at altitude. I try to get more carbohydrates in, and I also drink more because even though it might feel cooler, the effort is much harder and so you’re placing greater demands on your body. 

Does altitude racing suit you?

Hayden: I really enjoy racing at altitude. Maybe because I’ve lived at altitude most of my life and do a lot of my runs at around 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), but my coach Robbie Britton and I often talk about the fact I seem to respond really well to altitude. 

Some of my best performances have come at altitude and so I feel like I have an advantage over my competitors when racing at height.

Matt: I've never actually raced at high altitude but it's possible I will race a half marathon during this training block against the Kenyans (I'll be lucky to be able to stick with the top women), which will be an experience to say the least! 

It's likely I will use the race as a marathon effort training run so the time probably won't mean too much, but I expect to be around 12-15 seconds per km slower than at sea level (I’ll have been at high altitude for two weeks at the time of the race and I've been about that far off sea level pace in the past). 

After four weeks, it tends to be closer to 8-10 seconds per km slower than sea level (assuming a flat course).

Brilliant, thanks both! Best of luck with the training. I'll leave a few additional altitude resources for our readers here...