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Training for a Destination Race : Climate, Terrain, Altitude (Coaches Corner)

Tis the season that many runners will find themselves training for a destination race! From cold climates to warm for Run Disney or warm climates to cold, flat to hills, hills to flat, sea level to the mountains, join Running Coaches Corner this week to learn how to best prepare yourself for the changes.

A number of my “big” races have been destination races where I have flown in for the race, meaning that I trained under completely different conditions than those I found the day of the race. I trained through a Chicago winter (not as bad as the winter preceding that year or the one that we are currently in, but still, #winterwarrior) for my PR marathon in Phoenix. I have several clients right now trying to make the most of their winter training in preparation for races in drastically warmer clients, but it is also worth noting that the scale can tip the other way–I’m looking at all of you Floridians, Texans, Arizonans, etc–who come up north for destination races. While it is generally claimed to be easier to run a colder race after a warmer training, that doesn’t mean that doing so will be a cakewalk. 

Don’t miss my Year in Running Recap!

Either way, there are some steps you can take to help yourself acclimate and prepare for changes in terrain so that you can perform as well as possible the day of your race. 

Training for A Destination Race

When Training for a Destination Race, how do you prepare for different climates, terrains or altitudes? Coach @suzlyfe and Running Coaches Corner to the rescue!



Bottom Line, and yes, this is obvious: Try Your Best to Mimic Race Day Conditions During Training.

That means:

Training for a Hilly Race When You Live in A Flat Place

How do you do hill if you live in a flat area? Hill Treadmill Workouts: benefits of running hills on the treadmill, tips for getting the most out of your treadmill workouts and alternatives if the treadmill isn't an option.

There is a post for that πŸ˜€ HERE IS HOW

Preparing for a Flat Race When You Live in the Hills

Find a ridge or set of flats, or do some time on the treadmill. Work hard on learning how to activate your glutes as you run: if you live in a hilly place, your glutes might activate automatically as you go up and down the hills, so make sure that you know how to mimic that feeling on flats as well. When you run a long, flat race, your glutes might go to sleep–you will need to wake them up midrace! If you plan on running Chicago and live in the mountains, this is your kryptonite.

Preparing for a Hot Weather Race When You Live in A Cold Climate

There are a couple of different options here. I readily credit my ability to handle temps in the 60s rather than the 15-30s that I ran my long runs during Phoenix Marathon training to the fact that I ran about 40% of my runs on the treadmill. In so doing, I mimicked the race conditions because the temps in the gyms that I ran in were 65-70*F, and varying humidities due to the types of heating used. I ran my long runs outside as much as possible (I only had 1 long run done inside), and thus prepared my muscles and tendons for “real” running. But every time that I ran inside, I was essentially climate training. 

Having fun on a cold and blustery day is the mark of a true Chicagoan!

Even the thought of doing this hurts.

But you don’t have to rely on just the treadmill for heat training. Sure, you can wear #alltheclothes and overheat yourself, but that really isn’t going to do the trick. Instead, try to take a hot yoga class every week. Not only is this going to help you develop stability and provide numerous other benefits (see this post for more information!), but it will help teach your body to regulate its temperature under strenuous, hot conditions.

Training for a Cold Weather Race When You Live in a Hot Climate

This is going to be a little tricky; you can get up at the a–crack of dawn, you can plop yourself on the treadmill with fans and a/c going. You can shove ice in your shorts. But most importantly? You work on what you are going to wear, your warm up for the day of the race, and you go as prepared as possible. And you do all the other things, but really, dressing properly and knowing how to keep your muscles limber is going to go a long way.

Training for a High Altitude Race

There are a few schools of thought on this one, but you best option is to either arrive 1-2 weeks ahead of your race to give yourself time to acclimate and get over any altitude sickness, or you basically show up and race and don’t give yourself time to go through the headache etc (and taking advantage of your pre-hydration). You can even wear one of the Bane masks occasionally as you train, but do so gradually, and do not rely on the mask. Also, be aware that these masks have arguable efficacy. 

The Phoenix Marathon is a fantastic Boston Qualifier marathon or Personal Best course! |

I’m elite in my mind

In a best case scenario, you would have 2 weeks to spend in your destination area and acclimate by running outside. Life doesn’t always go that way, so you have to be crafty and prepared when training for a destination race! 

Racecation! Training for a destination race in different climates/terrains/altitudes! #runchat… Click To Tweet

Planning a destination race? If you are planning a race in condition different from your training conditions, we need to talk! @Suzlyfe Certified Run Coach

Got a destination race coming up? There is a coach for that! Let me help you minimize training headaches and have the best destination race-cation of your life! Email me or check out my coaching page for more information on my offerings and rates. This would be the PERFECT present for the runner who has “everything.” I now offer a new consultation option as well. 

Have you ever trained for a destination race? What the biggest challenge?

What is your first race of the year?

And now it is time for Running Coaches Corner!

It's time for #Running Coaches Corner! @coachdebbieruns @Running_onhappy @loramarie03 Click To Tweet
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I am linking up with myself, Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches CornerPatty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka and Angela for Food and Fitness Sunday. 

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  • Reply jennifer

    Ha, I’m all for going 2 weeks early and acclimating, regardless of the location. too bad that NEVER happens, lucky to get 24 hours!
    jennifer recently posted…Sheet Pan Maple Beef Sausage – Breakfast Win for Holiday CrowdMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 5:57 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I hear you there. But it would be nice, right?

      December 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm
  • Reply Jenn @ Run With Sole

    This a great post! It’s amazing how much we runners hate (or severely dislike) running on the treadmill but it can really make a big difference in our training and ultimately our performance.
    Jenn @ Run With Sole recently posted…A look back at 2016!My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 6:23 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      The treadmill is like speedwork–it is a great training tool, but it isn’t everything. Necessary evil!

      December 24, 2016 at 2:09 pm
  • Reply Kimberly Hatting

    I think destination races are fun, but I treat them as a vacation with a race on the side. I have learned that no matter how much prep and training (in similar race day conditions or not), you never know what kind of hand you’ll be dealt on race day. For me, with my non-racer mentality, I try to focus on the pure joy of running (sometimes that revelation comes AFTER the finish line, though LOL).
    Kimberly Hatting recently posted…Holiday Races – Fun Times with FriendsMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 6:25 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      ANd look what happened in Tulsa! You had NO control over those conditions. Still proud of you πŸ˜€

      December 24, 2016 at 2:08 pm
  • Reply Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home

    I have got to figure out what it is about Florida that messes me up! Stay tuned…
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…The Gift I’m Giving MyselfMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 6:34 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Something in the water?

      December 24, 2016 at 2:06 pm
  • Reply Ellie

    I’ve never trained for a destination race, mostly because I’ve never really gone out of NY for a race. However, I do train a lot on the treadmill for running fast and then walk outside to get the cold exposure. They don’t plow the sidewalks here so slipping is a big possibility, no bueno.

    Not sure about racing this next year, still appreciating my body for the amazing things it did in 2016
    Ellie recently posted…Starting to run again and Holiday thingsMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 6:56 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Ooo yeah PLEASE be careful. And you are totally amazing for being so appreciative of your body–so few people actually do that!

      December 24, 2016 at 2:06 pm
  • Reply Laura @ This Runner's Recipes

    Great advice! CIM was a destination race, but there were not too many climate or terrain differences from Seattle to Sacramento except their lack of rain and all of the sunshine. I know that if I ever go back to the Midwest to race, I will need to prepare for the allergens in some way.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Achieving Running Goals in 2017 & Coaching Giveaway!My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:20 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You mean except for the sun in CA, right πŸ˜€

      December 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm
  • Reply Janelle @ Run With No Regrets

    Great tips! I’ll be doing the Disney Princess 10K but just for fun…I look forward to escaping the cold weather for a few days! I definitely need to be more wise in training for flat vs. hilly races, especially since my hood is all hills!
    Janelle @ Run With No Regrets recently posted…2016 Racing AwardsMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:33 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It can be hard when you have nothing but hills–you think you have it made! It is a false sense of security, for sure.

      December 24, 2016 at 2:05 pm
  • Reply Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs

    I always avoid high altitude races simply because I basically live at sea level and the altitude really aggravates my exercise induced asthma. Though I do have nearby mountains if I need them!

    I have done destination races in Honolulu, Paris, and St. George. The only one that really was challenging was Honolulu, more actually because of the humidity than the heat. I get plenty of that here!
    Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted…Half Marathon: The Perfect Race Distance (plus a workout!)My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:34 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I was about to say. But yeah, that humidity can REALLY get you!

      December 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm
  • Reply Sarah @ BucketListTummy

    Great tips! I’m doing a destination race in Austin in a few months and I’m so excited!
    Sarah @ BucketListTummy recently posted…All The Holiday Christmas Cookie Recipes You NeedMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:50 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Whooo Hoo! That is so exciting!

      December 24, 2016 at 2:01 pm
  • Reply Laura @ Mommy Run Fast

    Great post- a lot of people don’t take the specific environment of a destination race into consideration, but it makes such a big difference- especially the weather!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted…One of my favorite 5k workoutsMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 8:12 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It isn’t just about the scenery, people!

      December 24, 2016 at 2:00 pm
  • Reply Jen @ Pretty Little Grub

    I love living at high altitude since most destination races I go to are low altitude and I get an advantage!
    Jen @ Pretty Little Grub recently posted…6 Tips to Make Cooking for One EasyMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 8:23 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      GAH you are so annoying πŸ˜€

      December 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm
  • Reply Kelli @ Hungry Hobby

    hot yoga such a good idea! I think in Arizona we train at like 4am or as soon as the sun comes up to beat the heat, but the race is usually 7 or 8 am and by then it’s HOT. I love the idea of taking a hot yoga class (okay several classes) to help prepare the body for heat.
    Kelli @ Hungry Hobby recently posted…Gluten Free Turkey Enchilada Bake + Day in the Life VIMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 9:29 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      It has really helped me in the past!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm
  • Reply Suzy

    We worked hard at replicating heat when Andrew was training for Arizona in January, but that wasn’t the race that he had trouble with the heat so much as Vancouver in May! It’s so ironic.
    Suzy recently posted…Ticking TimeMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 9:36 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You just need more hot garbage runs. But minus the broken toe.

      December 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm
  • Reply Nicole @ Fitful Focus

    I’m definitely going to need these tips now that I live in a totally different climate than I’m used to. Starting to build out my race calendar for 2017 now πŸ™‚
    Nicole @ Fitful Focus recently posted…The Second Annual Hanukkah WODMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 11:17 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      You are going to have to get really used to some SCORCHING temps, lady

      December 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm
  • Reply Caroline @lifeofendurance

    I’ve really wanted to do a Disney race so that would be my first destination one. I definitely need to work on my flat running skills. I’m so used to hills where I live that it’s easy for me to power through, but running for flat stretches throws me.
    Caroline @lifeofendurance recently posted…How to Take a Break from Running without Going InsaneMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 11:47 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I bet! It is a totally different way to run!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm
  • Reply Rachel

    I’ve had great luck with my destination races, but I’ve never run anywhere drastically different from my own environment.
    Rachel recently posted…TRI: When surviving cancer is not enoughMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I think it is time!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm
  • Reply Annmarie

    Such great tips! Make me wanna add a destination race to my 2017 calendar πŸ™‚
    Annmarie recently posted…5 Sandbag Myths DebunkedMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 1:10 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Come to Chicago!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:56 pm
  • Reply Deborah @Confessions of a Mother Runner

    Training for a race in different climates can be tricky. I attempted a race in aspen once and literally almost died from the altitude. Thanks for the link up!
    Deborah @Confessions of a Mother Runner recently posted…17 Ways To Start Off 2017 on a Healthier NoteMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 2:14 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      OMG. Aspen would be quite the challenge!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:53 pm
  • Reply Kristy from Southern In Law

    The queen of run tips strikes again! I feel like running in different climates and altitudes would be a HUGE challenge!
    Kristy from Southern In Law recently posted…The Best Healthy Christmas Recipes (with options for all types of diets!)My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 2:40 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I need that first part in lights πŸ˜€

      December 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm
  • Reply lindsay Cotter

    It’s like you knew I was moving to Utah and needed this. haha. Oh wait, you did! I must find a race. At my new destination! WOO! altitude training.
    lindsay Cotter recently posted…Toasted Coconut Bliss Balls {Paleo, Vegan}My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 5:38 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      YES YOU MUST! Especially now that you can work out again!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:52 pm
  • Reply Kerri Olkjer

    I totally struggle racing where it’s even a little bit warm! We lived in Colorado and now Idaho. I like cold races, lol.

    December 21, 2016 at 7:09 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Really? I think we should switch lol

      December 24, 2016 at 1:51 pm
  • Reply Sandra Laflamme

    I love how the treadmill can actually be such a versatile tool for training for destination races. Running at altitude when you live at sea level is definitely the biggest challenge. I did that for a race in Utah and man was the breathing tough!
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Year of Running 2016My Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:33 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I was really surprised when I ran in Denver that I wasn’t more out of breath. Utah would be a different animal, though!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:50 pm
  • Reply Anna @ Pipers Run

    I find training in winter for a hot spring race is the worst. No matter what you do, unexpected heat can really affect your run. You need to watch the forecast leading up to your race, plan, fuel and hydrate well to avoid the race heat SHOCK! And maybe readjust your goals

    December 21, 2016 at 7:38 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Well, you certainly get the worst of the winter weather, too! Great points!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:50 pm
  • Reply Lacey@fairytalesandfitness

    I love running Destination races but I think training in a different climate is the hardest part. It is cold here, but when I go somewhere warm, I struggles with the temperature difference.
    Lacey@fairytalesandfitness recently posted…Honolulu Marathon Race RecapMy Profile

    December 21, 2016 at 7:40 pm
    • Reply suzlyfe

      But you do a brilliant job, Lacey!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:49 pm
  • Reply Kathryn @ Dancing to Running

    Running destination races is always a lot of fun, but training for them when you live in a completely different area is always difficult. If only time and money were unlimited so that we could spend those ideal two weeks at our destination prior to race day in order to acclimate ourselves.
    Kathryn @ Dancing to Running recently posted…Top 5 Posts of 2016My Profile

    December 22, 2016 at 5:10 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      That would be pretty legit, right??

      December 24, 2016 at 1:46 pm
  • Reply Ilka

    Susie – this is such an important post for anybody running a destination race, especially Marathon. The climate and change in altitude can really effect your stamina in a big way. I love in Florida and I’m always surprised when people from Up North come down here for a race – it’s not easy running in heat!
    Ilka recently posted…Gluten-Free Pfeffernuesse – spicy deliciousness!My Profile

    December 22, 2016 at 7:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Especially during summertime–when the Floridians themselves are having trouble!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:34 pm
  • Reply Allie

    Thanks for this! I’m going to be in a deep freeze, training for a warm triathlon, so I will be cycling and running in the warmth of my basement for a few months πŸ™‚ Glad to know I’m doing the right thing!!
    Allie recently posted…Truth in Christmas Card PhotosMy Profile

    December 22, 2016 at 9:51 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Yes ma’am you are. A few outside runs would be good, or just crank up that incline!

      December 24, 2016 at 1:30 pm
  • Reply Jenn

    These are awesome tips! It’s really hard to train for different destinations, especially coming from Florida, where it is one terrain, one temperature and just very different from everywhere else.
    Jenn recently posted…tuesdays on the run: 2017 in blingMy Profile

    December 23, 2016 at 8:09 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      I have friends who live down there, I don’t know how you manage πŸ˜€

      December 24, 2016 at 1:36 pm
  • Reply Lindsay

    I ran the St. Jude Memphis Marathon at the beginning of December and that was rough. I don’t know what was so different. I live in IL after all and it was cold during most of the training so I think it was just the aspect of it being a race and being nervous about my ability to finish that scared me.

    December 26, 2016 at 9:40 am
    • Reply suzlyfe

      Could be. If you ever wanted to discuss it and look a bit more into what happened, let me know! I do consults by the phone!

      December 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm
  • Reply How to Survive and Enjoy Treadmill Long Runs in Winter

    […] Acclimatization: Training for a destination race? Treadmill long runs can simulate the warm environment of a Texas or Florida spring race when you are training in New England or the Midwest.   […]

    January 17, 2017 at 1:03 am
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