More and more top athletes are choosing to train at altitude, but you don't have to be an Olympic hopeful to make use of some of these wonderful places to train and play. From the East African running hotbeds of Iten and Addis Ababa, to the beautiful forests of St Moritz and Flagstaff, visiting one of these altitude training options will add an inspiring and fresh approach to your training.
St Moritz (Switzerland)
Top of the World
The beautiful ski resort of St Moritz, located at an altitude of 1856 metres above sea level, has and endless variety of running, biking and hiking trails. A flat rail circles the lake at the heart of the resort, while slightly more challenging tracks and trails wind through the forests that surround the town. There is a 4-lane, 400m athletics track overlooks the lake, and competitive athletes who register in advance with St Moritz Sport can use the resort's gym facilities free of charge. Single and multi-use passes are available at the new 25m Ovaverva Pool, Spa and Sports Centre. Additional sports facilities are available in the nearby towns of Pontresina and Samedan.
Switzerland can be an expensive place to live, and as an exclusive ski resort, St Moritz is far from the cheapest altitude training option available. It is one of the most beautiful though, and with a bit of planning, costs can be kept down. Budget flights are available to Zurich from many European cities. Accommodation is plentiful and affordable in the months between the main winter and summer seasons. Self-catering options are plentiful. The main supermarket is well stocked, and you can save a considerable amount by cooking your own meals. Train connections are available from Zurich, and you don't need transport to get around the town, so money can also be saved by not hiring a car.
Hundreds of athletes in a variety of sports have used St Moritz as an altitude training base. It is particularly popular among marathon runners, triathletes and winter sports athletes, but has potential to support a range of sports people.
Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)
13 Months of Sunshine
Ethiopia is well known for its distance runners and unsurprisingly it is a great place to train. Addis Ababa is one of the safest capital cities in Africa, and the quite town of Sululta, just north of Addis, is a perfect place to sample the East African running culture, while reaping the benefits of high altitude. Yaya Village is a purpose-built training resort, which welcomes runners of all levels. Healthy meals, included in the price of your stay, are served in the camp's restaurant. Ensuite rooms, a well-equipped gym, and running guides are just some of the other perks included.
The Great Ethiopian Run, a 10km through the streets of the capital, is the largest road race in Africa. Held each November, the run perfectly captures the Ethiopian spirit, and their passion for running. You'd be unlucky to visit Addis and not meet one or more of the country's numerous Olympic and World Champions. To learn more about where the athletes come from, and to meet some future stars, include a trip to Bekoji, the town made famous by the film Town of Runners and home to many of Ethiopia's champions, in your itinerary.
Ethiopia is a beautiful country, and has many historical sites worth visiting. Though Addis Ababa itself isn't particularly well known for its tourist attractions, there are some interesting museums and sites which bring the country's intriguing, and sometimes dark, history to life.
Yaya Village, one of the best equipped altitude training resorts in the world.
Flagstaff (Arizona, US)
City of Seven Wonders
If running on soft trails through endless pine forests, then Flagstaff is the perfect option for you. Thousands of athletes, including many Olympic medallists, have trained in the town, and many of America's top distance runners have moved there to follow their dreams. Ryan and Sara Hall are among the high profile athletes currently plying their trade in the quite and friendly university city.
The Thursday morning Bagel Run, which all the town's runners, as well as visiting athletes, are welcome to join, are an important Flagstaff ritual. The local runners are, in general, friendly and welcoming, and most are happy to suggest routes and trails around the town. Swimmers, and other sports people can access training facilities, sports science support, and accommodation through Hypo2Sport.
In addition to the endless trails, great facilities, near perfect climate, and altitude, visiting Flagstaff has another advantage. It is an ideal base from which to explore some of America's most iconic natural sites. The Grand Canynon, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest National Park, The Painted Desert, Sedona, Wupatki National Monument and Barringer Meteor Crater are just some of the sites within driving distance of Flagstaff.
Home of Champions
Kenya has produced more world class distance runners than any other country in the world, and a large number of these choose to train in Iten, a small town on the edge of the Rift Valley.
Lornah Kiplagat, herself a multiple world champion and a former world half marathon record holder, set up the High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) with her husband in Iten in 1999. Today the centre runners of all levels, from veteran fun runners to Olympic Champions, from across the world. A pool, sauna, well-equipped gym, WiFi, table tennis facilities, use of the town's only synthetic track and warm showers are some of the attractions to staying at the camp.
Iten is a great place to train if you want to get away from the trappings and distractions of modern life. If you're lucky, you'll spot some monkeys in the nearby forests, and there is a giraffe park not far away. You can't miss the beautiful views of the Rift Valley, and you're sure to befriend a famous athlete or two.
These are just 4 of the best places in the world to train at altitude. Further inspiration and advice can be found at Altitude Training Camps. When training at altitude, remember to reduce the volume and intensity of training during the first 2 weeks, keep hydrated, and get more sleep than normal.
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(price as of Jul 15, 2016)