High Altitude Training in the Andes
Before major tournaments or events, you’ll often hear that professional athletes have been doing some training at altitude, even when the tournament itself is taking place at or near sea-level. Why? Well, the progressively lower amounts of oxygen as you increase your altitude means that your body (and particularly your heart and lungs) have to work even harder than usual to maintain performance. The theory is that if you can do your 10k run in 35 minutes at altitude, you can be pushing to get it under 30 minutes once you’re back at sea-level. Of course, most people can’t just head to the mountains for a day, and so an increasingly popular activity is to book a holiday somewhere you can continue your regular training programme, but at altitude. Holidays in Argentina, for example, can be perfect if your partner wants to enjoy great food and amazing scenery, but you don’t want to disrupt your training, or even take it to the next level…
The entire western side of Argentina is dominated by the imposing Andes Mountains. This continent-spanning chain stretches all the way from Tierra del Fuego down at the southern tip of Argentina, up through Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia and all the way into the Darien Gap in Panama. South America’s highest mountain, Aconcagua is found here, and climbing holidays in Argentina are very popular, particularly because many of the peaks are scalable even without technical experience. Aconcagua is at nearly 7000m above sea level, however, so for most people who are just looking to work on their fitness, slightly lower elevations are more suitable.
A good way to get into things slowly is to start in the area around Bariloche. This picture-postcard little town, filled with chalet-like wooden houses and (ahem) chocolate shops, is many people’s favourite place in Argentina, situated on the clear cool waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi. It’s in what is often referred to as the Argentinian Lake District, and as well as trekking and running in the surrounding hills, you can also enjoy rowing on the lake for some resistance work. The town and lake are located at just under 1000m but obviously once you get up into the hills you can add another few hundred metres to that, making it the perfect place to acclimatise before heading somewhere more strenuous.
Some of the best trekking in Argentina is found in Patagonia, a stunningly beautiful region of glaciers, mountains, lakes and meadows right in the south of the country. You’ll almost certainly want to visit Patagonia as part of your Argentina holidays, and it’s also great for fitness work. If you like fell-running or other cross-country running then you’ll find the well-marked trails and easy to navigate loops are just perfect for those new to training in the area, and with the altitude getting up to around 2000m, you’ll really feel the extra resistance.
Further up in the northern Andes, around the town of Salta, you can start to really push yourself. The scenery here looks like something out of a Spaghetti western, with cactuses everywhere and huge red sandstone cliffs jutting out into scrappy scrubland. It’s a tough, uncompromising environment but the arid conditions are perfect for real hard work, and it’s where Argentina’s football team regularly come to prepare for matches at altitude. It’s also one of the top holiday destinations in Argentina, so your other half will be happy too!
And of course, one of the real joys of holidays in Argentina is that at the end of a hard day’s training you can look forward to one of Argentina’s famous steaks as your reward!
Dan Clarke works for www.realargentinaholidays.com, the UK specialists in tailor made holidays in Argentina, from Tierra del Fuego to Cafayate!