The higher the mountain, the sweeter the air—so goes the sentiment for plenty of top-ranked elite runners. Thanks to the theory that training in high elevation benefits performance, many Olympic athletes make their homes in mountain towns. Elevated locations around the world have thus become hubs for professional runners who traverse the variety of trails and terrain these peak regions can offer.
That doesn’t mean the thin air is only for pros, however. Everyday athletes have taken to the top elevations for a new view on training. Some visit for brief periods, while others make a home in these up-high ZIP codes.
Elevation: 7,900 feet
High up in Kenya’s Rift Valley lies a small town dotted with mud huts, donkeys and some of the fastest women and men in the world. Though this training mecca draws an international who’s who of elite runners, athletes of all levels are welcome in their quest to unlock the secrets of speed. Morning runs on dirt roads with rolling terrain come with a built-in cheering section: Children on their way to school stop to greet runners putting in work.
GO: Make the trip in December, when dry 75-degree weather allows you to maximize your time on Iten’s red dirt roads.
RUN: Visit the Kamariny Stadium to see the elites effortlessly ﬂy through mind-blowing paces during their speed-work sessions, then use that inspiration to knock out some blazing repeats of your own.
STAR SIGHTING: Desiree Linden spends six weeks in Iten every winter as preparation for the Boston Marathon, calling the community “a culture that really embraces running.” This year, her time in Kenya paid off when she snagged the top American spot in the Beantown race.
SAN LUIS POTOSI, MEXICO
Elevation: 6,200 feet
San Luis Potosi is a particularly good place to visit for those hoping to mix running and culture. This charming town in central Mexico features rich history and incredibly beautiful routes. The La Loma Altitude Training Center boasts one of the ﬁnest training facilities in the world, with 24-hour access to tracks, pools, workout facilities and cafeterias catering to the needs of athletes.
GO: Escape your winter weather with San Luis Potosi’s February sunshine and 70-degree temperatures.
RUN: A 6-mile loop around beautiful Parque Tangamanga allows you to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the central city.
STAR SIGHTING: American record holder Shalane Flanagan has spent many valuable winters in San Luis Potosi, sharpening her skills for spring races.
ST. MORITZ, SWITZERLAND
Elevation: 5,900 feet
This Swiss town, home to one of the oldest ski resorts in the world, has twice hosted the Winter Olympic Games. The lakes, forests and mountains surrounding the resort aren’t just a snowy playground, however. St. Moritz offers ideal alpine climbs for distance runners seeking big vertical gain, while the sun-drenched Engadin Valley is a perfect place to log some ﬂat miles on recovery days.
GO: April is the perfect time to sneak in an affordable trip to St. Moritz. Tourism is heaviest during winter ski season and the high-traffic summer months.
RUN: Start at the St. Moritz train station and follow the Emerald Trail, a 9-mile route winding around lakes, through marshlands and peat bogs, and past historic landmarks like Eglise au Bois—the “church in the forest.”
STAR SIGHTING: Kara Goucher has long loved the trails of St. Moritz, making the pilgrimage from the U.S. for high-altitude tune-ups before many of her Olympic and World Championship appearances.