London 2017 World Champion and Rio 2016 bronze medallist Emma Coburn discusses the benefits of high altitude training as a way of boosting performance. 

As the most accomplished US female steeplechaser ever, Emma Coburn credits much of her success to high altitude training.

The 27-year-old – who raced to a bronze medal in the 3,000m steeplechase at Rio 2016 and followed that up with a world title last season – lives and frequently trains in Crested Butte, Colorado, at an altitude of 2,708m above sea level.

Here, Coburn discusses the nuances and potential benefits of high altitude training, and how it may suit other athletes…

Physiological benefits
I definitely enjoy training at altitude and my body seems to click very well with it.

With my husband Joe as my coach, we’ve figured out as long as there are enough rest days in between hard sessions, and enough rest and recovery during a hard track workout, then it is pretty feasible, and we respond well to it.

High altitude training boosts your iron levels, which in turn helps your oxygen carrying capacity. As a result, you can run faster.

Taking it easy
When I’m training, I take my easy days easy and make sure I’m getting enough recovery, calories and sleep. It is pretty easy to break down up there if you’re not eating or sleeping enough, or if you’re not taking your easy days at an easy enough pace. Treat your body well and make sure your recovery efforts are at a good pace.

I always try to drink a gallon of water a day with some electrolytes in it. Sometimes when I’m up high, it’s even more than a gallon. I eat more red meat than usual, and a lot of good carbohydrates too. I definitely eat a little bit more when I’m up there. I do everything a little bit more than I do regularly.

The perfect habitat
The decision to train at high altitude was kind of made for me. My parents’ house in Crested Butte used to be at 2,900m and now they live at 2,600m. The nearest track is at 2,400 metres so I do go a little lower to train, but that’s just because of where the track is. For us, it’s live high, train high. You definitely feel it at 2,400m, so I make that work.

Whenever I race at sea level, especially right after high altitude training, my legs definitely feel a little funky and breathing is so easy. We’ll go for a run in a park, and going up hills feels like no problem. I notice that everything feels a lot easier.