What on earth, or above it, is SkyRunning? If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably thinking it’s some form of extreme sport or a new age health movement. In actual fact it’s essentially mountain running…on steroids!
It’s basically all about covering long distances up and down mountains, generally on technical trails where you occasionally find yourself scrambling over boulders and practically freefalling down hillsides. It’s not a sport for the faint of heart.
What’s the difference between SkyRunning and mountain running? Well I asked Sean Greenhill, race director of Australia’s first SkyRunning event The Buffalo Stampede, to please explain.
“SkyRunning is an aesthetic as well as a type of race. A SkyRunning course has to be in alpine areas, with a minimum of sealed surfaces underfoot, meeting some fairly challenging criteria for elevation change over distance. The SkyRunning theme is ‘Running where the earth meets the sky’, which just about sums it up. So some mountain running is SkyRunning, but not all mountain running is SkyRunning.”
There are three disciplines in Skyrunning: SkyRace/SkyMarathon, Ultra SkyMarathon and Vertical Kilometer. A SkyRace has to be more than 22 km and less than 50km long with at least 1,300m positive vertical climb. The Ultra version involves races greater than 50km long that exceed the SkyMarathon parameters. Then there’s the Vertical Kilometer, where courses feature 1,000m positive vertical climb and do not exceed 5km in distance.
As a sport, it’s the new kid on the block in Australia. But since the 90’s it has been popular in Europe and now in the US where there are iconic races up many of the most famous mountains in France, Italy, Spain and the Rockies. There’s even a world championships that attracts runners from across the globe.
Australia’s first foray into this new format of running is The Buffalo Stampede. If the course description is anything to go by, it will quickly become one of the most iconic and tough trail races in the country. Race Director Sean sums it up for us. “The Buffalo Stampede course is basically a lollipop, a big out and back with a small loop at the turnaround. In between it starts and finishes in the town of Bright (behind the brewery!) and sends runners over some very steep climbs and descents with hundreds of metres of gain. Some of these are very tricky underfoot. Up on Mount Buffalo itself, runners will pass through some thoroughly unique alpine scenery.”
Marcus Warner, the president of SkyRunning Australia and New Zealand, says the Buffalo Stampede exemplifies what SkyRunning is all about.
“Elevation is really what drives the difficulty of it. [The organisers] have really sought out the most extreme mountain in Australia that really embodies SkyRunning because of how steep it is. Nearly 5000m [of elevation gain] over 75km is up there with some of the best races in the world. [Elite overseas runners] are going to go away pretty sore and pretty beat up from this race.”
If you think you’re up for the SkyRunning challenge, then make sure you enter the Buffalo Stampede. Held on April 5th and 6th in the Victorian high country, this weekend of racing features an ultra distance event (75km) as well as a marathon (41.4km). Even if you’re not a competitive runner, with the right preparation anyone can do it….it might just take you a little while longer than pros!