To start this series off I thought it may be interesting to compile a list of various stage races that are or will be conducted at high altitudes. The purpose of this is to give some context as to what high altitude is and to point out some particularly difficult races that are conducted at these elevations. Some of you may have participated in one or more of these events in the past so you understand the implications of altitude on this type of endurance event. On the other hand, some of you may have never even heard of these events. If that is the case than you may want to check them out.
So what is considered high altitude? There are many definitions out there but for the purposes of this series altitude is defined on the following scale:
- High altitude: 5,000 – 12,000 feet (1,538 – 3,658 meters)
- Very high altitude: 12,000 – 18,000 feet (3,658 – 5,487 meters)
- Extremely high altitude: 18,000+ feet (5,500+ meters)
Some define the start of high altitude at 8,000 feet (2,439 meters) therefore you may consider the gray area between 5,000 feet (1,538 meters) to 8,000 feet (2,439 meters) medium-high if you like.
The lower value is selected based on a variety of factors but one in particular of note is that approximately 94% of the world’s population lives at altitudes below one mile (5,280 ft/1,609 meters) and half below 540 feet (165 meters)! So statistically many of you do not live (and train) at high altitudes.
Given the above definition here are some summaries of a variety of stage races that are conducted “at altitude”. Be aware that the cited values are approximate due to changes in courses, etc and the stated approximate average (elevation) are very rough estimates.
The difficulty of these races can not be compared based on elevation alone. Other factors such as distance, elevation gain/loss, weather and conditions under foot also play a prominent role.
4 Deserts/Racing the Planet Atacama:
- High point: 10,500 ft (3,200 m) – at the start
- Low Point: 7,900 ft (2,400 m) – at the finish
- Approximate Average: 8,250 ft (2,500 m)
- Elevation gain: + 5,521 ft (1683 m)
- Elevation loss: – 8,228 ft (2,508 m)
This event is conducted totally at high altitude. It is however, relatively flat compared to to other events. Only the first stage is at elevations significantly above the average, all subsequent stages are within 650 ft (200 m) of the average.
- High point: 8,698 ft (2,651 m) – at the finish
- Low Point: 5,344 ft (1,629 m) – at the start
- Approximate Average: 6,000 ft (1,820 m)
- Elevation gain: + 18,041 ft (5,499 m)
- Elevation loss: – 14,688 ft (4,477 m)
This event is also conducted in the high altitude range. It has significant elevation gain and climbs from the start to the end.
- High point: 9,000 ft (2,740 m) – during Stage 4/the long stage
- Low Point: 0 ft (0 m) – at the start and finish
- Approximate Average: 4,950 ft (1,500 m)
- Elevation gain: +22,367 ft (6,778 m)
- Elevation loss: -22,367 ft (6,778 m)
The 2017 edition of this event is included here since there was a very wide range between the low and high points and it has an approximate average that is just below what is considered high altitude. It also had some serious elevation gain and loss.
- High point: 12,949ft (3,925 m) – during Stage 5/the long stage
- Low Point: 8,878 ft (1,500 m) – at the start
- Approximate Average: 10,500 ft (3,182 m)
- Elevation gain: + 29,584 ft (8,965 m)
- Elevation loss: – 27,733 ft (8,404 m)
This race will obviously have some of the highest altitudes of any stage race out there along with some significant elevation gain.
For further comparison here are some other ultra running events that are at altitude.
- High point: 8,371 ft (2,537 m) – at the finish
- Low Point: -282 ft (-85 m) – at the start
- Approximate Average: 3,000 ft (910 m)
- Elevation gain: +14,600 ft (4,425 m)
- Elevation loss: -6,100 ft (1,850 m)
Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc:
- High point: 8,200 ft (2,500 m) – at Col des Pyramids Calcaires/Grand col Ferret
- Low Point: 3,400 ft (1,035 m) – at Chamonix
- Approximate Average: 5,500 ft (1,700 m)?
- Elevation gain: + 33,000 ft (10,000 m)
- Elevation loss: -33,000 ft (10,000 m)
Hardrock 100 (100 miles):
- High point: 14,048 ft (4,250 m)
- Low Point: 7,700 ft (2,300 m)
- Approximate Average: 11,500 ft (3,500 m)
- Elevation gain: + 33,050 ft (10,015 m)
- Elevation loss: -33,050 ft (10,015 m)
La Ultra (333 km):
- High point: 17,700 ft (5,365 m)
- Low Point: 11,000 ft (3,333 m)
- Approximate Average: 14,350 ft (4,350 m)?
- Elevation gain: + ???
- Elevation loss: – ???
For those who have competed in some of the above events, how did you handle the altitude and elevation gains? Did you have a harder time than expected? What happened?
Next up in this series: Effects and what to Expect