Climb Your Mountain

Euro-style high-altitude running growing in North America

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Climb Your Mountain
Photo: Michael Hintringer

Runners are always seeking the next big challenge. Maybe we are easily bored, or maybe we are simply people who thrive on pushing our limits.

In recent years, North America has started to embrace European-style mountain running. It should be noted that mountain running and trail running are significantly different disciplines. While a trail race can incorporate gravel trails, non-technical paths and little elevation gain, true mountain races throw technical terrain and steep climbs and descents at racers. Often, course markings are strewn across a mountainside, rather than having an established trail, to follow. Runners also have tackle the fact that true European-style mountain courses are often held in the high alpine where altitude adds to the challenge.

Skyrunning is one of the most well-known brands of European-style mountain racing that has existed in the Italian Alps since the early 1990s, but has only come to North America in the last three years. This is the second time around for Skyrunning in North America, and it appears that it is here for the foreseeable future. Ian Sharman, director of the U.S. Skyrunner Series, says, “Europe is a few years ahead of us, but we’re moving in the same direction with highly competitive, mind-blowingly beautiful courses which people love. These races are for everyone and runners don’t need to be some kind of mountain guru to take them on. Yes, they’re harder than a standard trail race, but this just makes it more rewarding to finish.”

My experience in North American mountain races is they are challenging, but the stunning natural beauty is what makes them so rewarding. Last year, I competed in the Speedgoat 50K in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah and the Rut 50K in Big Sky, Mont. Both races took me about seven hours to complete, which is more than double the time of my 50K PB, a testament to their challenging nature. During both races, I wished I had brought my camera along to snap photos as I was reduced to something resembling a hyperventilating slug at 3,000 metres. The descents were no less challenging than the climbs; I was reduced to slow jogging as I hopped from one scree slab to another and used the specially placed ropes to ensure I didn’t go, quite literally, sliding down the mountainside. Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Undoubtedly.

There are many spectacular mountain races in Canada In both the U.S. and Canada, permitting issues in national parks are often a challenge, but race directors are working hard to establish the rugged courses that runners are keen to tackle without travelling abroad.

Training for a mountain race is easier if you live near mountains, but even if you live in a flatter area of the country these races are still possible for you.

With creative training (treadmills, stairmasters, parking garage stairwells and numerous repeats up and down your local hill) it is possible for any runner to be ready to take on the mountain.

Euro-Style Races in Canada

  • TrailstokeRevelstoke, B.C. –  55K, 3,200m elev. – Aug. 29, 2015
  • Sky PilotSquamish, B.C. – 22K, 1,000m elev., incl. metal ladder sections – Sept. 20, 2015.

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