Do you love hills? Seeing a running article titled “Learn to love hills!” or an equally enthusiastic “Hit the Hills!“, doesn’t inspire me, in fact, I avoid these articles at all costs. Not everyone loves hills or is even interested in loving them, but the idea that hills will make you a stronger, faster runner is undisputed. Will adding a few hill sprint workouts to your routine suffice? What about a vertical kilometer race?
The vertical kilometer is a type of race that has gained popularity over the last few years. According to Sky Running regulations, the course must cover 1000m elevation gain in less than 5km of distance. Competitors rally for first place, to the highest elevation, of a point-to-point course. In this type of uphill battle, it’s not uncommon to see elite athletes covering the course in 30 minutes, a feat that might normally take them less than 10 on flat ground. The race will most likely finish with a stunning view of the hills below. But is it worth the view? You’ll get more than great scenery for your efforts in a vertical kilometer race. Sounds challenging? It most definitely is, but these “short” uphill endurance races can improve your fitness and your race times. Here are 3 reasons you should sign up for a vertical kilometer.
1. Simulate ascents of the most prestigious trail races in the world – If your goal is to overcome some of the most famous ultra trail races in the world, hill sprints, alone, probably won’t get you there. Races such as the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc or Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race have some serious climbs that last 10km or more. Top finishers of these 2 races last year ran a course average of 11:36m/km and 8:56m/km respectively, obviously not letting steep ascents get in their way of victory. Vertical challenges might be short kilometer-wise but they can take participants between 30 minutes and more than 2 hours to complete. Racing, in a relentless effort, uphill will improve your vertical prowess and simulate the hills in your next trail race.
2. Hone your hill strategy – There are several methods runners use to tackle hills, they run or power walk, place their hands on their hips, swing their arms, place hands on their knees etc. Hill sprints focus on running and using the hill as resistance, similar to how we use speed as resistance in interval training, over a short manageable time frame. Hill sprints will make you a better runner, but they aren’t concerned with the energy efficiency required for ultra-races. There is no single best form for long duration hill running, instead, use variety of forms to balance between the advantages of each, focusing on either breathing, speed or stifling muscle fatigue. Uphill racing will force you to become efficient at using a variety of forms when tackling tough hills.
3. Increase your mental toughness – Physical strength can be built through training sessions over time, but mental toughness can mean the difference between finishing strong and burning out. As Paavo Nurmi, (winner of 9 Olympic golds) said, “Mind is everything; all that I am, I am because of my mind”. Exercises that build our mental toughness, or “grit” are difficult to pinpoint but can make all the difference in performance. Hills are daunting and pushing yourself to tackle one in quick speed will improve your ability to overcome similar challenges in the future. Grit is formed by making habits that routinely challenge our abilities and is reinforced when we acknowledge our strength in overcoming key obstacles. Following this, a grueling vertical challenge can be a perfect addition to the arsenal of things you are certain you can accomplish.
Check here for a race report of a locally held vertical challenge or check out the Taiwan Beast Runner’s page to see if you can sign up for a future vertical race. If you are looking for something more international, check out the sky running page (vk) for a list of events held globally.