Training at altitude - trackboundUSA

One aspect of the decision making process for prospective athletes may involve a consideration of moving to altitude. The idea of training at altitude has been around for years, and is incorporated into many elite athletes training programmes. UK Athletics have been doing an excellent job of promoting altitude training amongst British athletes and now offer almost year round access to training camps in Font Romeu, France and Iten, Kenya.

Whilst all of the sites contributors believe in and are experienced altitude exponents, we are not physiologists, so will not attempt to explain the science behind the theory. There are many papers on the internet as well as numerous experts in the UK. If you are considering an altitude school then we strongly encourage you to get in touch with a physiologist who will explain in full the pros and cons of living at altitude.

The table below shows schools in mid-major or major conferences that are at significant altitude. The figure listed is the height of the track. This should act as a rough guide as to the height of the school, but there is sure to be variation in and around the surrounding areas. For example, the University of Colorado is only listed as being 5378 feet above sea level. However, from personal experience we know that it is possible to do runs just outside the town as high as 9000ft.

School Feet Above Sea Level
Adams State (D2) 7544
Air Force 7048
Brigham Young 4627
Colorado (Boulder) 5378
Colorado State 5081
Montana 3199
Montana State 4926
New Mexico 4958
New Mexico State 3896
Northern Arizona 6877
Southern Utah 5782
Texas Tech 3195
Utah 4659
Utah State 4770
UTEP 3894
Western State (D2) 7703
Wyoming 7212

If you are considering an altitude school, there are a number of additional factors that you should look into:

Elevation Variation

How high and low can you train? How far away are you from sea level? What elevation are you living at? Whilst there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, it is certainly something worth looking into.


By very nature of being in the mountains, altitude schools can be victims of harsh weather conditions.  Whilst these mountain towns can be fantastic to train at during the summer, remember that you will be on campus throughout the winter so check annual snowfall figures.

Competition Fixtures

Most of the altitude schools are grouped together in the West of the country and will compete against each other fairly regularly. Some of these mountain schools can be somewhat isolated and miles away from the nearest airport, making travel to sea level meets difficult. Check to see how many races are at altitude versus sea level .

Conversion Times

The NCAA has devised a conversion system that can statistically equate performances at altitude to sea level. The conversions applied vary depending on the altitude involved, but the basic idea is that time is taken off a performance to allow for the added difficulty of competing at altitude. Whilst converted times cannot be accepted for International competition, they can be used for qualifying purposes within the NCCA system. The higher the altitude, the more time is taken off. For example if you run a 5000m in Albuquerque then 22 seconds is subtracted from your time. A 14.22 would therefore be converted to 14.00. A full breakdown of the conversion times applied is listed here

The use of conversion times is somewhat controversial. It allows people to qualify without physically running the time they are credited with. One of the contributors (John) missed out on making the NCAA Indoor Championships in 2010. Out of the 16 qualifiers that year, 5 were converted altitude performances. However, for schools that compete regularly at altitude meets, it gives them a fairer chance of qualifying for NCAA or Regional Championships.

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