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Avish P. Sharma, Philo U. Saunders, Laura A. Garvican-Lewis, Brad Clark, Jamie Stanley, Eileen Y. Robertson and Kevin G. Thompson

Purpose:

To determine the effect of training at 2100-m natural altitude on running speed (RS) during training sessions over a range of intensities relevant to middle-distance running performance.

Methods:

In an observational study, 19 elite middle-distance runners (mean ± SD age 25 ± 5 y, VO2max, 71 ± 5 mL · kg–1 · min–1) completed either 4–6 wk of sea-level training (CON, n = 7) or a 4- to 5-wk natural altitude-training camp living at 2100 m and training at 1400–2700 m (ALT, n = 12) after a period of sea-level training. Each training session was recorded on a GPS watch, and athletes also provided a score for session rating of perceived exertion (sRPE). Training sessions were grouped according to duration and intensity. RS (km/h) and sRPE from matched training sessions completed at sea level and 2100 m were compared within ALT, with sessions completed at sea level in CON describing normal variation.

Results:

In ALT, RS was reduced at altitude compared with sea level, with the greatest decrements observed during threshold- and VO2max-intensity sessions (5.8% and 3.6%, respectively). Velocity of low-intensity and race-pace sessions completed at a lower altitude (1400 m) and/or with additional recovery was maintained in ALT, though at a significantly greater sRPE (P = .04 and .05, respectively). There was no change in velocity or sRPE at any intensity in CON.

Conclusion:

RS in elite middle-distance athletes is adversely affected at 2100-m natural altitude, with levels of impairment dependent on the intensity of training. Maintenance of RS at certain intensities while training at altitude can result in a higher perceived exertion.