Skyrunning: For Those Who Want To "Touch The Sky"
Skyrunning is the leg-burning, lung-busting extreme sport that takes running to a whole new level. In this sport athletes compete to see who can present the best speed while running outdoors at high elevation and with uneven and steep terrain to complicate matters.
A Skyrunning competition basically looks like a group of the most insanely physically fit runners in the world showing their stuff my racing up the sides of mountains. These races all take place at an elevation of at least 2,000 meters, or close to 6,000 feet. This means that even at the time the runners are lacing up their shoes they are experiencing the effects of high altitude. When in high altitude the concentration of oxygen in the air is lower and people experience dizziness, confusion, sluggishness, and disorientation. Imagine feeling all of those things and then having to run a race of a lifetime.
Skyrunning first came to be in the 1990s where the Italian Alps offered the perfect setting for this test of strength. Over the course of the following decade the sport grew in popularity, with runners the world over now looking to test their strength with a high altitude race. There are currently around 200 internationally recognized Skyrunning competitions. The Federation for Sport at Altitude is the governing body for this extreme sport, making sure that all races occur at above 6,000 feet and have the same changes in elevation that are deemed necessary to be considered official ‘Skyruns’.
The Skyrunning World Championships are the biggest events in the sport and have been determining the world’s best of the best for years. This year’s races are set for September and will be taking place in Scotland where jagged cliff sides and rugged mountains dot the northern edges of the country. This venue will be where thousands of runners battle the elements and become the holder of a Skyrunning World Championship medal. This year there are three separate races set to occur, each looking to challenge the runners in different ways.
The first of three races is the traditional Sky Marathon.
This race is 29 kilometers long and has a total elevation change of over 7,000 feet. This means that over the course of these 29 kms runners are climbing steep mountain sides as well as racing down the sides of ridges. The wear and tear on the body because of the difficulty of the course is considerable. Runners wear a whole host of supportive gear that causal runners would never even have heard of. This includes aids for altitude discomfort, additional padding in their shoes, and strong sun protection that can stand up to the direct sun exposure they are sure to see.
The second race is called the Ultra Sky Marathon
As you might expect, it is an insanely impossible ultramarathon. An ultramarathon is a race that is over 42 kilometers in duration. The Ultra, on the other hand, takes even this to the next level. The Skyrunning Ultra is around 65 kilometers in length and has over 13,000 feet in total elevation change.
This elevation, to give you reference, is over twice as high as El Capitan, the famous Yosemite cliff face. This race is among the most challenging in the world. Imagine trying to beat hundreds of world class runners while at high elevation and with rocks and crevices along the trail offering ample opportunity for runners to fall.
And the final race is the Vertical Kilometer
In this race the athletes race up 1000 m vertical climb over variable terrain with an important incline (very steep paths, ski slopes or even disused funiculars) and a length of less than 5 km. Then the required average slope is at least 20.4%
So, after all of the reasons why Skyrunning is basically the hardest thing one could possibly do, you still want to give it a try? Luckily it’s a pretty easy sport to get involved with. So long as you have running shoes and sunscreen you are ready to go. You can practice some of the skills necessary for this type of athleticism by running on treadmills at a high incline, spending time in high elevation environments, and by running on uneven terrains that test your motor control and athletic prowess. We’re not saying Skyrunning will be easy, but that it’s definitely easy to give a try to!