This story has been archived from the Monday, August 21, 2006

Locals not so high and mighty

Flatlanders use alternative methods to conquer high altitude


Common sense says locals have an advantage when it comes to success on Pikes Peak.

The 14,115-foot mountain is in our backyard. We live at altitude. Our calves, quads and lungs are pumped from climbing hills and mountains daily.

So how can a flatlander beat us up the mountain?

An altitude tent helped Australian Emma Murray win the women’s title Sunday in the Pikes Peak Marathon. Zac Freudenburg from St. Louis was third overall in the field of 800.


Competitors make the trek up Barr Trail on Sunday during the Pikes Peak Marathon.

Julie Thomas of Tulsa, Okla., was one of more than 100 “doublers” who ran the Marathon after doing the Ascent on Saturday.

So when altitude takes their air, what gives?

Murray used the tent for three months this spring, offering herself as a guinea pig for scientists studying the effects of altitude training at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

They’d crank the tent up to replicate the thin air at 3,200 meters (about 10,498 feet). That’s as far as it would go. Then Murray, 28, would run on a treadmill.

“My performance had increased,” said Murray, an environmental scientist.

Murray isn’t exactly a flatlander — in fact, she’s the reigning World Long Distance Mountain Running champion. But before Sunday, she never had run up Pikes Peak. So she was as surprised as anyone she won.

“I thought a few locals would have dominated,” Murray said, looking fresh at the finish. “I didn’t have much of an idea. I just ran how I felt.”

Freudenburg’s Pikes Peak Marathon was his first marathon of any kind. He won the St. Louis Half-Marathon last fall and competed in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in January. But he’s from St. Louis, at low altitude.

“I’ve always had pretty good lungs,” he said, adding that he spent a few weeks training at altitude in Montana before coming here.

Still, he felt the thin air. Freudenburg was in second until being passed by Boulder’s Galen Burrell just after Barr Camp.

“I started feeling pretty bad, lightheaded,” Freudenburg said. “I said, ‘I’ll keep running until I get above tree line, then power walk.’ I knew people were going to gain on me.”

Doubler David White, president of the St. Louis Ultra Runners Group (aka SLUGs) runs repeats of a mile-long hill near his house.

There are other mountain-challenged groups, such as those from Little Rock, Ark., and Tulsa. They come here by the dozens to run Pikes Peak.

Thomas said they’d run a set of 25 flights of stairs in her office building 20 times, then run a treadmill set at 11 percent grade.

They’d do that whole thing twice.

“Co-workers would say, ‘You are all idiots,’” she said. “But where else are we going to train?”

Copyright 2006, The Gazette, a division of Freedom Colorado Information. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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