Skyrunning has quickly become my favorite form of trail running. The rules are simple: start from the sea and run to the sky and repeat. This form of racing is popular in Europe and is growing popularity in the US and around the world.
Besides the views, I love this race style for its simplicity. Courses are encouraged to find the most direct (and steepest) climbs, exposed ridge-lines and most direct descents, usually technical. The challenge is something I love.
I’m competing the the Skyrunner® world series this year, in races all around Europe. The first race kicked off with Transvulcania, an epic 75km race across a volcano! This race is one i’ve wanted to compete in ever since I started ultra running. Not only does it bring the world’s best ultra runners, but the trails are stunning and unrelenting.
photo credit: Meghan M. Hicks
This year at Transvulcania, the women’s filed was stacked. I was nervous to compete, but excited to explore new trails. Getting around on La Palma is quite difficult, so the course is actually the most efficient way to see the entire island.
photo credit: Jordi Saragossa
The variety of terrain on La Palma is incredible, including lush forests, ferns, pine trees, sand, ridge lines and volcanic terrain. But the best part of this race, for me, was literally running into the sky. La Palma is situated such that thick layer of fog roll in constantly and just sit at around 5,000ft. The result is an inversion. We ran through this dense mist to the ridge-lines above. All I could see for miles and miles were ridges, rock and sky. This is sky running at its finest.
The course at Transvulcania is quite runnable and pretty fast. It’s famous for its unrelenting 8,000ft descent off the high point of Roque De Los Muchachos, about 51k into the race. The descent is technical and once you reach the cities by the harbor of Tazacorte there’s a fair amount of pavement to fully annihilate your quads. I was severally undertrained for this downhill. I couldn’t practice this amount of descent, nor steep grade on my Colorado trails due to snow. I was quite surprised when I moved into 5th position on this descent and finished the race with a lot of energy remaining. I left a lot out there, so i’m encouraged to see how fast I can run next year. Ian Corless does a great write up of how the race played out. Stellar performance from the winner, Ida Nilsson.
The second race in the Skyrunner® World Series was the Madeira 55km in Madeira, Portugal. This island, although quite near to La Palma, is completely different. Even though it’s volcanic, it lacks an arid environment and is entirely green, lush, humid and wet. It’s a perfect location for a sky race, since the island is filled with mountains and ridge-lines. Plus the organizers weren’t afraid to make some new trials especially for the race; adding in more distance, vertical and technicality. The competition was top notch again.
I have to say this was on of the hardest races I’ve done yet. It’s unrelenting. Climbing over 5000ft in the first 8k of the race was just the warm up. The race ended up with about 13,000ft of elevation gain over the 34 miles (55km) it covered. Even with those extreme stats, there was a fair amount of flat running as well. The technicality was top notch too. Good thing I got in my sight seeing before the race started.
Although I tried to put myself in a good position in the beginning of the race, I wasn’t feeling that strong so I held back. Thankfully, I was able to catch up in the back half of the race and I caught Anna Frost on last climb of the course (which was a vertical kilometer – super steep, on tired legs). This was after we had run through a river for 1/2 mile 🙂
Overall I was very happy with my patience and overall race. However, what I remember most from these tough races is the incredible terrain, the challenge and how much I enjoyed the journey. Another aspect I was impressed with was the organization of this race. They had everything dialed and I can’t wait to go back to Madeira to explore and compete again.