Skyrunning: an introduction

Skyrunning: an introduction

Words: Conan Marshall

Fancy a change of air? If you're willing to go beyond the local woodland trail, running along mountain ridges might become your new favourite pastime.


Skyrunning is an adventurous sport to say the least. Competing in an ultra-marathon is a huge feat in itself, but running above 2,000 metres, climbing gradients that can surpass 40% and negotiating difficult terrain is just part of the job when running up and down mountains.

Its not hard to understand why the idea of running above the clouds is gaining popularity. Competing in a skyrunning event pretty much guarantees two things. Stunning scenery (well, if the weathers kind) and a huge sense of fulfillment at the finish line, knowing you've just ascended up treacherous trails and down rocky descents. But away from the smooth soft tarmac roads of civilization, things can get tough, very tough.

As with many other adventure sports, running above dramatic wilderness is only getting more popular especially in North America and the mountainous regions across Europe.

The main governing body for skyrunning is the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) based in Switzerland. Since its formation in 2008, the ISF has a total of 41 member nations. They hold three main events every year including the World Skyrunning championships with three disciplines contested for: Verital, Sky and Ultra. Both individuals and national teams can enter. As for the National Series, this year alone offers 65 individual races in over 8 countries from Portugal to Japan.

It doesn't stop here. There are over 200 annual races worldwide attracting more than 50,000 trail runners. So yeah, this type of ultra-marathon racing is becoming evermore competitive.

It wouldn't be right not to mention the Tromso Skyrace. Described by the organizers as "a place to run between the sky and the earth", the Norwegian landscape offers some of the most scenic views a runner could experience. The route includes snow fields, forest sections and sustained loose terrain to keep an runner alert. 

We can't talk about running up mountains without mentioning the dangers. For a start, most races are capped to 250 participants to minimize the risk of fatal accidents due to overcrowding. Having the balance of confidence and maturity to negotiate the trails fast but with a high degree of safety is key to a professional skyrunner.

One of the most important ways to ensure success is investing in a specialist pair of running shoes. A rubber studded outsole that can take harsh rocky terrain, mud and wet stones will serve as a crucial part to keeping safe and progressing further. Many sky and mountain runners consider using trekking poles to aid those long uphill sections. A versatile and lightweight pair is an obvious preference.


Photo from Kenn Lokkegaard, Danish mountain runner.

Photo from Kenn Lokkegaard, Danish mountain runner.


Getting involved in this type of racing yourself isn't too difficult. Start small, keep it simple. In the UK we're spoilt for choice. The Lake district and Scottish highlands are obvious areas to explore. But you don't have to burn yourself out on 2,000 metres of ascent from the get-go. Find your local hill and go from there.

The Lake district Sky Trails is a good place to start for any brits willing to take to the hills. The Scafell Sky Race offers a challenge attainable to any runner with a suitable amount of training. The truth is there are some amazing landscapes out there to explore, it only takes a quick google search to find out whats going on in your local area.