What I Learned at Altitude Camp with Brooks Running
We were piled on a bus chatting excitedly as mountains whirred past us out the windows. The sun was about to rise, and you could feel the excitement as 40 runners all wearing the same trail shoes were about to embark on a morning trail run. Some of us had known each other for years, while others had become instant friends just hours earlier. Some of us held world records on the track, while others were back-of-the-pack marathoners. We represented just about every possible size, shape, running ability and experience level. But as we stepped out onto the soft gravel path surrounded by mountains, we were all the same.
That’s what running, a great pair of shoes and a mountain can do: Bring people together like nothing else in the world. Well, that and Brooks Running.
I just returned from a weekend at Altitude Camp with Brooks Running in Albuquerque, New Mexico (#CampBrooks). The middle distance elite runners sponsored by Brooks (known as the Brooks Beasts Track Club) train here for six to seven weeks to help improve their fitness. The Brooks team invited me, along with an amazing group of runners and industry magazine editors from across the country, to experience a taste of what the Beasts go through training at altitude for two days at 6,000+ feet. I’ve been blessed to be part of the Brooks Running family since 2013. I say often that Brooks is the best running company on the planet (and they are), but they also have a culture and a character that embody the spirit of the running community. The Brooks team has given me so many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to learn more about running and deepen my love for the sport. This special weekend was no different, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
“Altitude” traditionally refers to how high things are above sea level. After this past weekend, to me, “altitude” means soaring to new heights and reaching for our highest potential. I learned a lot in the two days I was at camp. I learned new things about myself and the runner I want to be in this next chapter as a new mom. I learned about best practices from the Brooks Beast coach Danny Mackey that gave me ideas and inspiration to improve my own coaching. I learned new strength training exercises and drills as well as nutrition tactics that I’ll put to good use personally (and share with you too). My brain is buzzing with information and inspiration.
As I think about the weekend as a whole, these are the seven things I confirmed to be true.
1. Running at altitude can maximize running performance if timed correctly. And it’s HARD!
One of the first things we did after arriving at Camp Brooks was to participate in a session with Dr. Corey Hart, the team physiologist for the Brooks Beasts.
He talked about how altitude affects the human body and its impact on running performance. He shared that we need about three weeks at altitude to optimally adjust, and that our best performance often comes after spending 10 to 17 days at sea level immediately following a three-week stay at an altitude of about 6,500-6,700 feet. He said that if we are planning to run a race at altitude and don’t have three weeks to acclimate, it’s best to get it in and done within the first 48 hours.
Normal effects of altitude on runners are shortness of breath, waking up in the night, increased urination, anxiety and increased ventilation. Signs to be concerned about are dehydration and fatigue/weakness.
I’m always humbled by how much harder our bodies have to work at altitude to produce the same result. We did a track workout with the Brooks Beasts after Dr. Corey’s talk. Everyone was huffing and puffing more than usual as it took more effort to execute the same paces here as it would closer to sea level. Although I only participated in the warm-up and drills given that I’m not ready for speed work postpartum, even the 10-minute slow jog was more taxing.
I cheered everyone on as they did the following workout after the warm-up:
- 3 x 3 minutes at current 5K pace with a 2-minute recovery in between
- 3 x 200-m at 1-mile pace with a 4 to 5-minute recovery between each
- 10-minute cool-down jog
2. Chasing sunrises is best done while running.
On Saturday morning, we ran 3 miles at the Michial M. Emery Bear Canyon Trail. I took it really slow, stopping to take photos and enjoy the scenery with my fellow running pals. I had ZERO knee pain, which I was incredibly excited about … A great sign as I map my running comeback. This run reminded me why I run. It brought me joy, inspiration and happiness!
I also tried some new gear on the trail that Brooks gifted us, including the Brooks Greenlight Running Capris (these may be my favorite new capris!), the Juno sports bra (a great one while also being a nursing mom!), the Run Happy Running T-shirt, the Cascadia Shell Running Jacket (really kept me cool even though I tend to overheat when I wear layers) and the Caldera trail shoes (I prefer the Mazama trail shoes better but these are a nice option if you want “more shoe”).
3. The running community can renew your soul.
Ok, ok. I already knew this, but it’s such a significant truth that can’t go unmentioned when talking about Altitude Camp. I’ve formed such a bond with my Brooks Running tribe. Not only do we share miles, but we share personal moments of both triumph and hardship. From pregnancies and miscarriages to family challenges and unladylike stories (trust me, there were plenty of TMI conversations), we bond through a love of running but we deepen our connection through just being friends. I’m honored to share the Run Happy spirit with the Brooks team and with these incredible women.
If you don’t follow my fellow Brooks team members, you should!
Anne of Fannetastic Food
Janae of Hungry Runner Girl
Emily of Daily Garnish
Meghann of Meals and Miles
Lora of Crazy Running Girl
Kristen (and Jenn) of Fit Bottomed Girls
Tina of Carrots “N” Cake
Ashley of Healthier Happier Bear
And the one and only Pavement Runner (Brian) managed to be one of the girls with us too. LOL!
4. There is so much I have to learn and hone on the nutrition front.
I met the Brooks Beasts’ nutritionist Kyle Pfaffenbach back in 2013 when I attended a Brooks trip in New York City. He has helped me a lot with my own nutrition strategy, and I’ve learned so much from him through the years. He’s even made appearances here on the blog with his advice (read his guest post here on nutrition). I was excited that he joined us for camp to share more about how he helps the Beasts hone their nutrition and the key takeaways recreational runners can use from this knowledge.
Kyle told us that as a nutritionist there are two things he knows for sure: 1) the human body is complicated and 2) every person’s body is different. Therefore there is no silver bullet answer (dang!) to the question “what’s the right/best approach” when it comes to nutrition. (I’m always asking Kyle to tell me what to do. The answer is different for everyone.) Kyle said that we can’t outrun a bad diet. What we eat can’t be separated from exercise and performance. The two are interconnected.
Here are a few other key takeaways from this session:
- Diet is always a work in progress. Become actively engaged with how you approach your diet and monitor its effects on your training so you can see how your body responds to what you eat and how you fuel.
- Ask yourself before you eat something why you’re eating it. What’s the intended purpose? Just like every run has a purpose, we should think about what we eat as having purpose. (And yes, sometimes the purpose may just be I really need some ice cream right now. LOL!)
- No race nutrition will be effective if your day-to-day diet isn’t in check.
- Once you’ve gotten your daily nutrition in check, the next most important thing for runners is fueling for recovery. The Brooks Beasts eat within 30 minutes of every workout and get a three to one ratio of carbs to protein. Kyle is a fan of clean whey protein powder mixed with chocolate almond milk or almond milk because whey absorbs quickly into the blood stream. He says it is even better than eating a mixed meal due to the absorption speed. Rice or hemp protein is a good alternative for those who can’t consume dairy products.
- Easy workouts also put stress on your body, so we need to think about recovery and refueling even from easy workouts with our recovery drink.
- Omega3s are important to take to help decrease low levels of inflammation that can be caused by running and to help stimulate recovery.
- Just like with running, we need to control the controllables with nutrition. There are many factors involved in weight loss, but we can’t control things like genetics or age. The factors we can control and should focus on most are diet composition, personal behaviors and physical activity.
I will be sharing more from Kyle that I’m going to implement and/or change in my own diet in the coming days related to maximizing performance.
5. Elite runners are just like the rest of us.
Well, they might be faster and a tad bit cooler, but they are just normal, everyday people. They play practical jokes. They walk around in robes (yes, we know this for a fact). They drink beer (and margaritas). They have relationship drama. They struggle during workouts. They experience self-doubt. They know how to have a sense of humor, and even wear inflatable sumo suits to prove it. And in the case of the Brooks Beasts, they are incredibly kind, down-to-Earth and all-around good people.
The Beasts invited us over to their house where they are living while at altitude camp. We participated in an energy bar competition they judged (my team came in third) and then we had a cookout. We turned our attention from running to burgers and beer.
In addition to excelling at running, the sunsets at their house are also of elite status.
6. Cookies and ice cream are an amazing combination.
Obviously this is a given, but my weekend at Altitude Camp confirmed the power of this dynamic duo. On Saturday night, Emily, Janae, Ashley and I left the friendly confines of our hotel in search of sugar. We discovered Rude Boy Cookies … and we may never be the same.
You pick two cookies from the following options and an ice cream flavor. They then proceed to make you a fancy ice cream sandwich or a deconstructed ice cream sandwich that is like a cookie-ice cream parfait. Trust me … it is life-changing. I had vanilla ice cream in between a crumbled oatmeal butterscotch cookie and a cinnamon bun cookie. There are no words! (I wish I could have taken a picture of my concoction for you, but I ate it before I could think clearly again.)
7. There’s nothing better than coming home after a fun weekend to an amazing new baby.
Going to Brooks Altitude Camp was my first time away from Baby rUnladylike for more than a date night or afternoon social activity. I missed her like crazy. I was gone on St. Patrick’s Day, and you can imagine how my heart basically burst out of my chest when Mr. rUnladylike sent me this picture.
Coming home on Sunday was better than ever returning home for any other trip in the past. Seeing her sweet face was better than any running PR.
You can read more about my past Brooks Running trip adventures:
- 2013: Running happy in NYC
- 2014: Celebrating running in Seattle and an unexpected half marathon PR
- 2015: Exploring the new Brooks HQ in Seattle
- 2016: The Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene
I am a Brooks Running Run Happy Ambassador and have received free products to test and other benefits for the past five years. Brooks paid for all my travel costs to attend Altitude Camp, and there are affiliate links included in this post. All opinions expressed about Brooks and any other company are my unbiased, uncensored opinions and always will be.
Have you ever been to a running camp? If so, tell me about it. How does your body respond to running at altitude? Who’s your favorite elite runner?