It’s generally accepted that living and training at high elevations can be beneficial for endurance athletes. The higher you go, the lower the concentration of oxygen that exists in the air. Your body responds by producing more red blood cells that stick around once you drop back down to sea level—and normal-density air—leaving you theoretically more efficient at moving oxygen.
Accordingly, elite runners flock to Boulder, Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona; Park City, Utah; and other mountainous locales in preparation for racing season.
But some runners opt to stay home, at sea level, instead. They reap the same benefits of living in the mountains by sleeping in an altitude tent, which pumps low-oxygen air into a tarp that fits over a bed. When athletes—most notably those coached by Alberto Salazar, based in Portland, Oregon—began using them, some cried foul.
In 2006, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) weighed in on the issue, sort of. Officials did not ban the tents, but did express vague concerns over athlete well-being and potential dangers associated with altitude tents. There is limited research on the long-term effects of their use, and some worry about a risk of high blood pressure and all the pitfalls that accompany it. The result? Altitude tents are frequently the butt of jokes about pampered runners, because they are so pricey. And that’s about it.
It’s difficult today to imagine the sport of running without water, without shorts, without women, and without money. But it’s also humorous to imagine a tweed-clad, 1880s man of noble lineage stomping on his pork pie hat in disgust over Flanagan winning the New York City Marathon. She slept in an altitude tent to prepare, wore shorts, is a woman, consumed liquids mid-race, and took home a $135,000 payday.
Oh yeah, and she wore the Zoom Vaporfly Elite.