A VK (Vertical Kilometer®) is no ordinary race. The rules are simple – run uphill as fast as you possibly can! Every VK is different and unique, but MUST always include 1000m of climb, in less than 5km of distance.
Such is the popularity of this type of race, there is now even a Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit, with fixtures all over the globe, most commonly held in the mountains of the Alps and Pyranees. There are now even two Vertical Kilometer® races in the UK – the Salomon Mamores VK and the Snowdon VK.
There is even such thing as a K3, a triple VK race, with a jaw-dropping continuous climb of 3000m. I wouldn’t recommend tackling this beast until you’ve completed a standard VK. However, if you are interested, check out this Red Bull blog for more info.
The Trentapassi VK, Lago d’Iseo, Italy 2017. Photo credit: Lessons in Badassery
In 2017, Italian Philip Goetsch set a new world record for the discipline at the Kilomètre Vertical® de Fully, in Switzerland. At 1.9km and reaching an altitude of 1,500m, he completed the 1,000m lung-busting ascent in an astonishing 28’53”!!!
Earlier this year, at the Vertical® du Grand Serre, in France, in a super-human time of 34’01”, Axelle Gachet-Mollaret became the new women’s world record holder for the VK, smashing her own previous WR from 2018. This particular race is famously known as the world’s shortest and steepest VK, with an incredible 1,000m of vertical climb over a distance of just 1.8 km!
The Piz-Tri Vertical, in Malonno, 2018. Photo credit: Justin Britton
I consider myself to be an experienced trail runner, having trained and raced for most of my life. But it wasn’t until last year that I completed my first ever VK.
In all honestly, it was one of the toughest, most challenging and excruciatingly painful experiences of my entire life. It took me over 41 minutes to complete the 4km route – my lungs were burning, my legs were on fire and I was gasping for breath for the entire duration of the race…but in a strange and very sadistic way, I absolutely loved it!
For anyone reading this and still wanting to try a VK, there are a good number of reasons to sign up and take part. Firstly, they’re an amazing challenge – a race completely different to anything that you’ve ever done before.
To run a fast VK, it requires lots of training and maximal effort during the race, from start to finish. But you could always just run (or walk) for fun! They always finish at the top of a mountain and the panoramic views are always incredible. The PizTri Vertical, in Malonno, Italy, even has a mobile bar at the finish, serving Bèpete BAM mountain beer – definitely worth the effort to get to the top! Please remember that at some point you will need to return to the bottom of the mountain and drinking at altitude usually makes the 1000 metre descent more challenging than the uphill race itself.
MY VK TOP TIPS!
- Practice makes perfect!
Power to weight ratio is the key to VK success. Training your body and legs to climb continuously at pace for 1000m takes serious commitment and effort.
Ideally, the best training is on a VK course or a hill over 1000m. It takes practice to train your body to climb for this length of time and you need to know how to pace your effort. However, if you live in the UK, then obviously you might struggle to find a climb over 1000m, especially if you live in England! In all the VK races I’ve competed in so far, I’ve always felt strong up until around 700m of climb and the last 300m is my ‘death zone’!
It’s also important to vary your training as running up and down too many long mountains all of the time is not always good for the specific demands of a VK. I would recommend regular hill reps, but varying the gradient, distance, terrain and speed, especially as every VK race is different and unique. Leading up to an event, sessions below 60 minutes will help keep you sharp and ready for race day. Check out this article for some ideas for hill training.
Kirsty Hall competing in the Salomon Mamores VK, 2017. Photo credit: James Mackeddie
- Poles apart!
Most of the top European mountain runners use poles during VK races. That said, you don’t have to run with them! Poles help to balance your centre of gravity and are advantageous when gradients become much steeper, but only if you know how and when to use them. Personally, I’m no expert with poles, but I would recommend trying them if you’re serious about improving your climbing performance, particularly on the steeper VK courses. You will need to practice your technique before using them during a race. Check out this blog by Ian Corless for some handy tips.
- Strength exercises!
All the best runners have a super strong core. It’s what drives everything during exercise and is essential when you’re climbing the hills. If you improve your core strength, it will help to improve your technique and ultimately this have a positive impact on your results. You don’t even need to go to a gym to improve your core strength, as exercises can be done in the comfort and convenience of your own home. Try and challenge yourself to doing a certain amount planks, sit ups, press ups, burpees etc. daily or a few times a week. There are lots of websites that provide good ideas and guidance on core and cross workouts for runners.
The more consistently you train, the easier it gets. My good friend, Peter Maksimow, Team USA international trail and mountain runner, has the perfect daily routine – 15 minutes of planking, 50 pull-ups, along with 160 pushups (2 sets of 80-with and narrow stance) and 320 sit-ups/crunches (varying types). His plank record is 2hrs 22min 22sec and he admits to drinking several beers during that time. No matter what he’s doing, or where he is in the world, he will always make sure he completes these exercises – even if it means planking on the floor in an airport!
Most importantly, you need a strong pair of legs for competing in Vertical Kilometer® races. Exercises such as lunges, calf raises, leg press, leg extension, squats and box jumps are all great ways to help improve your leg strength. Check out this simple strength plan from Runners World if you need a few handy tips.
- Treat your feet!
Running light = running fast in the world of Vertical Kilometer®. So it’s incredibly important to wear and use the right kit – this includes clothing, poles and especially shoes! My top recommendations are the inov-8 X-Talon 210 and the Hoka Evo Jawz. Both are incredibly lightweight and have unbeatable grip, especially the former.
Also look out for the new inov-8 X-Talon G 235 shoes, available to buy at Sportsshoes.com from the beginning of December 2019. They share the same incredible grip as the 210 model, but with the addition of graphene in the sole, meaning they will last up to 50% longer. The uppers are also more durable, with greater protection from sharp rocks. They are my perfect choice for VK racing!
The Puig Campana VK, 2019.
- Have fun!
Choosing and racing a Vertical Kilometer® is tons of fun! There are loads of races to choose from and it will give you a great opportunity to visit somewhere new and exciting.
You don’t always need to race either. Some VK routes, like the 1000m climb to the summit of Puig Campana, in Alicante Spain, is marked with permanent signs. You can have a go at your own leisure, without having to compete in a race environment. Visit the official website of Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit to see the official fixtures for next season, or check out this blog on the Trail and Kale website, for some top VK recommendations.
Finally, just a word of caution…VK’s can be addictive and can seriously improve your health!