Aaron Knight was ANZ’s sole representative in the Vertical Kilometer at the 2016 World Skyrunning Championships. Here he provides a bit of an insight into the experience and some of the lessons he learnt.
What got you interested in the VK discipline?
I like the simplicity & challenge of it. Racing uphill at your limit! I love climbing and this is all about being the fastest up a course. Short & intense with legs & lungs screaming!
A VK is a race up a mountain to gain a vertical Kilometre in altitude. The course must be under 5kms in distance but race directors look for shorter routes. Most of the European VK’S are under 3kms with a few under 2kms!
What does it involve and how do you train for it?
Training for a VK is about developing the aerobic capacity of an elite 10,000m runner but with strong mountain legs! Most races are won in under 35mins. The VK World record is under 30mins!
What was it like racing in Europe? Is there anything that compares to it in Australia?
Racing in Europe is amazing. Mountain runners are highly respected and everyone can relate to the effort required to charge up a mountain. The course are brutal. I studied maps, elevation profiles and I was still shocked when I saw them. The closet to it in Australia for me was the UTA 951 Race at Ultra Trail Australia….but steeper, longer & 5 times the vertical !
What’s your favourite thing about VKs?
I loved the atmosphere on the courses and competing against the world’s best. To see the top guys and girls running up incredibly steep tracks was mind blowing and inspiring! I also love that you catch a chairlift down most times so there is minimal recovery so you can run more!
How did the courses you did differ?
The course do vary quite a bit. Chamonix had lots of switchbacks but then some ladders and metal stairs to climb. Val d’Isere is pretty direct up the mountain so in places straight up 50% plus slopes. The Skyrunning World Championship course had a very runnable first half but then just got steeper and steeper. The finish pinch was super steep! But the winner, Stian Angermund ran that last section!
What’s your advice for an aspiring VK runner?
To do one you just have to be fit enough to hike uphill for an hour or so. To RACE one you need to get super fit & strong and be prepared to suffer! If you want to race & do well you need to run as much as possible of the course. This is my focus for my next Europe trip.
I highly recommend experiencing a VK. Even if you prefer longer races the things you go through physically & mentally experience in a VK will make you a better runner.
Thanks to La Sportiva Australia & Skyrunning ANZ for the support to allow me to race VK’S and the Skyrunning World Championships in Europe this year!