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Mammoth Lakes: training ground for U.S. Olympic distance runners!

Meb Keflezighi moved from San Diego and bought a house at Mammoth Lakes, California (Google Maps), 11 years ago. That was before his three daughters, before an American record, and before an Olympic medal.

If everything works out, Mammoth Lakes could have seven of the 24 U.S. Olympians who run flat races between 1,500 meters and the marathon.

“We had a vision to be able to change U.S. distance running by coming here,” says Keflezighi, the Olympic trials marathon champion and a medal hopeful at this summer’s Games in London. “And the vision came true. This was a distance runner’s heaven.”

Physiologically, the thin air at high altitudes causes the body to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which increases the endurance of these athletes at low altitudes (like London’s). This observation can also explain the the dominance of East African marathoners many of whom were raised in Kenya’s Rift Valley or Addis Ababa, Eithopia, both of which are above 7,500 feet in altitude.

Keflezighi and his trainer, Bob Larsen (who has trained him since he won four national titles for the UCLA Bruins in the late 1990s) have been exploring a corollary to aerobic training at high altitude. That corollary says that living above 7,500 feet and ANAEROBIC training at half that altitude will produce even BETTER results.

Mammoth Lakes is at 7,880 feet and is only 35 miles from Bishop (Google Map), which is half as high.

“The beauty of Mammoth is the high-low,” says Keflezighi, who broke the U.S. record at 10,000 meters less than a year after moving to Mammoth. He then saw training partner Deena Kastor destroy the women’s national record in the same event the next spring. “For me, it’s been very successful.”

“I’ve been traveling the world since I was 15 competing for this sport, and I haven’t found a place I like better,” says Kastor, a three-time Olympian who broke six national records and won a bronze medal in the Athens Games after moving to Mammoth from Alamosa, Colo., in 2001. “I love my job, I love where I live, and I think the combination is what allows me to be successful.”

Mammoth Lakes, a town of 8,000 people, has found its population swollen by the influx of athletes from Boulder and Fort Collins, Colorado and Flagstaff, Arizona, for at least part of the year, with “…more than a dozen national-caliber distance runners as well as cyclists, race walkers and triathletes. The U.S. Rowing team talked about moving its training camp to Mammoth, and runners from Japan, Hungary Kenya and Ethiopia have visited.”

As for the area itself – it’s not only the low levels of oxygen that are breath-taking, with snow-capped mountains in winter and running trails around crystal-clear lakes in summer, when the snow melts.

Read the L.A. Times Article about Mammoth Lakes, Keflezighi, and Kastor. Who knows? Mammoth Lakes might be your kind of place….

(I noticed on the Google Maps page that Mammoth Lakes is near the Devils Postpile National Monument. The “postpile” is on my list to see, with its formation of columnar basalt from lava cooling less than 100,000 years ago [“almost yesterday” in geologic terms :-) ]. “If the lava had cooled perfectly evenly, all of the columns would be expected to be hexagonal, but some of the columns have different polygonal cross-sections due to variations in cooling. A survey of 400 of the Postpile’s columns found that 44.5% were 6-sided, 37.5% 5-sided, 9.5% 4-sided, 8.0% 7-sided, and 0.5% 3-sided.“)

-Bill at

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