High Altitude – Mexico City
I’ve spent the last 3 years living at 1200m altitude in the French Alps, and anecdotally I’ve always felt that training at this level has always helped me when I’ve spent time running at lower elevations. On my regular trips to various European cities, running at near to sea level, on paved roads with little change in gradient has always felt very easy and I think that is thanks to the mountain training.
Last week I was in Mexico City on a business trip. It was the first time I had ever been there, but I knew that it was famously quite high, and also polluted. It is also infamous for congested, traffic snarled streets and lack of green space so I wasn’t exactly holding out great hope for fun training runs.
I arrived on Saturday night after an all-day flight from Europe, so had an early night and met my colleagues on Sunday morning to find out they had arranged a tour of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. This was a great way to acclimatise and get used to the jet lag – but meant I didn’t get to run.
The Lungs of Mexico City
My hotel overlooked the Bosque de Chapultepec – the largest park in Mexico City, and one of the largest city parks in the Western hemisphere. Each Sunday the roads that run through the park are closed to motorised traffic and the area, already a haven for runners, is completely taken over by cyclists, rollerbladers and runners.
I had to wait until the Monday evening after our first day’s meetings to go for a run – and since I only had 30 minutes I thought I would run a brisk pace rather than do the steady 10km I had planned – after just a few minutes I could really feel my lungs burning with the altitude and pollution – I was genuinely shocked at the effort it took to maintain a decent pace, since I’m used to being able to run more quickly on the flat pavement of the city. Unfortunately I’d left my HRM back at home so I couldn’t see how hard I was working but I felt like I was in the red most of the time and actually felt very dizzy at the end of the 8km.
The park is gated and closes around dusk, so unfortunately I couldn’t get into the main section and had to run around the small outskirts, which wasn’t the most inspiring, and hugged some of the main roads which were clogged with rush-hour traffic. I made a note to get up early and go for a morning run later in the week.
Later in the week I ran a circuit of the park (at a more leisurely pace) and found it to be a fantastic place – full of runners, well signposted and lots of quiet trails. In the centre is the Castillo de Chapultepec, once an imperial residence but now a museum. During the cool mornings the park is full of runners, and there are plenty of places to explore with some well marked paths and trails.
The park is gated and so you can only access in a few places, and there was quite a visible police presence throughout, so even though Mexico City isn’t one of the safest place in the world, this felt like a part of town where you could run in relative safety.