Skyrunning – Ben Nevis Race

According to the Federation for Sport at Altitude (FSA) , skyrunning is

Running from the sea to the sky, from the plains to the earth’s highest peaks.

Outdoor sports such as running, biking, skiing, duathlons, triathlons which are undertaken at altitudes above 2000 m are collectively known as Skysports. Typical locations for Skysports are The Alps, Tibet, Nepal, Kenya, Colorado, Mexico or

anywhere that the sky and mountains meet.

And there was me thinking that Skysports was about watching football, rugby or cricket on a widescreen LCD TV at home or down the pub.

The Federation for Sport at Altitude, set up in 1995, is primarily concerned with sporting events above 4000 m. According to the FSA:

True sport means looking beyond the confining restrictions of individual disciplines, beyond self-limiting boundaries.

After the race for survival, the hunt, civilization, today, these ancient rituals have been transformed into sport.

A sport with precise rules and regulations qualifying athletic performance, safeguarding man and the environment – in the true spirit of the Olympics.

The FSA membership card is only issued to people who successfully finish a SkyMarathon.

The International Skyrunning Federation

Founded in 2008 the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) represents Skyrunners and organises a number of Skyrunning events, including Skyrunner World Series which is a series of 14 annual racing events staged in 12 countries. The ISF also organise the bienniall European Championships, the four-yearly World Championships and the SkyGames held every Olympic year. The ISF definition of Skyrunning includes additional points regarding the severity of the mountain slopes, as follows:

Skyrunning is defined as running in the mountains above 2,000 metres altitude where the incline exceeds 30% and the climbing difficulty does not exceed II° grade

2011 Skyrunner World Series Races

The 2011 Skyrunner World Series Races kick off in May, with the Vertical Kilometre on Mount Elbrus. Located in the Russian Caucasus mountain range, between the Black and Caspian seas, Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) is Europe’s tallest mountain. Other Skyrunner events are set to take place across southern Europe as well as the USA, Japan, Venezuela and the Philippines.

The 2012 Skygames will be held in the Pyrenees, Spain, and include SkyMarathon, Vertical Kilometer, SkyBike and SkySpeed events.

The ISF is an Observer Member of the UIAA (International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation).

A running race taking place on a mountain.
Skyrunning Races take place in mountains above 2000m. Source: Wikimedia Commons by Sondrekv.

The Ben Nevis Race

Since the United Kingdom’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, is well under 2000m, it is not actually possible do any proper Skyrunning in the UK. However, one of the Skyrunner trials does take place on Ben Nevis anyway. The annual event, known as the Ben Nevis Race, will next take place on 3rd September 2011. The race starts at New Town Park, Fort William, and is up to the summit and back down.

To take part in the Ben Nevis race you must be be a member of a bona fide Athletic Club, over 18 years of age and have completed three Category “A” hill / fell races as defined by the Scottish Hill Runners or the Fell Runners Association.

Once you’re in the race you need to be quick since you must reach the summit of Ben Nevis in two hours and any competitors who do not complete the course in 3 hours 15 minutes will be refused entry to subsequent races. The current fastest record holders are Kenny and Pauline Stewart, from Keswick AC, who in 1984 completed the race in 1hr 25min 34sec (mens record) and 1hr 43min 25sec (ladies record) respectively.

What gear do you need for Skyrunning?

To compete in the Ben Nevis race you are required to take full waterproof body cover, including head covering and gloves, and a whistle.

The most important part of your kit are your trail running shoes. These must have a good grip and a protective upper to resist water and snow. Trail running shoes such as The North Face Fire Road and Salomon Pro 3D are recommended by the ISF.

In warm climates when the race is short and without much altitude, a singlet and shorts can be adequate. Generally Skyrunners will wear more protection such full-length tights or long, microfibre pants and a long sleeved top or cycling shirt with pockets for carrying a lightweight windproof jacket. Other recommended and sometimes compulsory gear includes gloves, sun glasses and a head band or hat.

Other essential equipment includes a compass and altimeter or GPS, energy bars and water.

Going lightweight is a must for Skyrunners, with shoes and equipment typically weighing in at less than 1 kg.


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