In much the same way that New Haven has become famous for its abundance of quality pizza restaurants, Boulder, Colorado, has garnered attention as a premiere training location for elite runners. The city’s high altitudes and clean air draw high-profile athletes from all over the world in search of a training advantage.
Over the summer, two rising seniors on the Yale women’s cross country team decided to put this training to the test. Melissa Fairchild ’18 and Dana Klein ’18 spent over two months in Boulder training and working at various jobs to fund their stay. They were joined by women’s cross country alumni Emily Barnes ’17 and Meredith Rizzo ’17, the latter of whom is continuing her running career as a graduate student at Georgetown. Though without a coach, the quartet lived and trained together in the hopes of getting in top form for their upcoming endeavors: cross country seasons for Fairchild, Klein and Rizzo and a marathon for Barnes.
“We felt that going out there would be the best place to get really good training in and … put all of our efforts towards that for once,” Rizzo said. “It’s beautiful out there, and it’s different learning how to train at a high altitude.”
The women’s trip to Colorado mirrored a similar training program by some athletes on the men’s cross country team a few years back. Having heard about their counterparts’ experiences for some time, the women decided to experience training in Boulder for themselves.
Hesitations about going to Boulder over the years centered around having to forgo important internship opportunities during the summer, according to Rizzo. However, this June, the four runners were ready to take the leap.
The attractiveness behind training in Boulder lies in the challenges that the high elevation level of the city presents. At higher altitudes, air pressure levels drop, making it more difficult for oxygen to enter the body and therefore harder to breathe. Training under such conditions forces a runner’s body to adapt to running in situations when oxygen is hard to come by, like at the end of a cross country race.
High altitude training has become an increasingly popular trend among endurance athletes for Yale’s athletic teams, according to Dr. Yao-wen Eliot Hu, Yale’s director of athletic medicine and head team physician. Research suggests that this type of training leads to small positive improvements in endurance.
However, the fruits of this training may not show immediately. Although Boulder stands more than 5,000 feet above New Haven, the athletes said they will probably perceive increased endurance over the course of the season, as opposed to noticing immediate results in the near future.
“I’d say with this sort of training, it’s not necessarily something that you’re going to feel the moment you step back onto the East Coast, where you’re a lot lower. I think it’s something that’s going to show later in the season,” Rizzo said. “But I don’t think that it’s something you need to focus too much on measuring — you need to look more at the bigger picture of the summer. And I think that we really made the most of our time.”
For Fairchild, however, Boulder was actually at a lower elevation compared to her hometown of Wrightwood, California. Her primary reason for training in Boulder was more mental in nature.
“The choice to go to Boulder was more in the spirit of seeing somewhere new and gaining some independence,” Fairchild said. “[I wanted to] be somewhere that would provide better mental stability for me.”
The women’s cross country team has its first meet this Friday, Sept. 15, against Harvard and Princeton.
Contact Won Jung at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ruiyan Wang at email@example.com .