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Runners High

Epic challenge and spectacular views draw more athletes to skyrunning

By Hillary Allen

Although I had heard of skyrunning in Europe—running ultra distances over technical terrain with crazy elevation gains of at least 3,000 meters (around 9,000 feet)—I never anticipated running a series of these races across the US last year.

But when I learned that the US would be launching its own Skyrunner Series in 2014, I became interested. I love uphill running, and I live just a short drive away from Colorado's high country, where I can get in a lot of vertical training. The technicality is an added bonus; sky racing demands both concentration and a sense of playfulness. So last season I leaped into sky racing, and ended up falling in love with the demanding terrain that defines these ultras.

Here's a recap of a few of my favorite 2014 sky races:

Speedgoat 50K (4th place female), my first skyrunning ultra, was my crash course. With 11,000 feet of vertical over 33 miles, Speedgoat did not disappoint. The course had almost no flat sections and required a ton of off-trail "running." (I felt more like I was throwing myself down the mountain at times rather than running!) It included exposed ridgelines and dried up riverbeds with loose rocks . . . so much fun!

Run the Rut (5th place female), the World Championships for the Skyrunner Series, was next. Some great competition showed up to run the technical talus fields up, down, and over Lone Peak. This race most closely resembles the essence of skyrunning in Europe, and I can't wait to run it again next year - if only as an excuse to return to Montana.

Flagstaff 55K (1st place female), the US Skyrunner Series finale, featured a very different course. The biggest climb of the day was at mile 31 - 2,000 feet in 2 miles and 2,000 feet straight down to the finish. This was after already climbing 8,000 feet. It's super hard to stay focused, especially if you hit a low point mentally and physically (falling) at mile 24.

But those moments also make it fun. Pushing myself, I wonder if I can make that climb or descent, and then when I do, I feel so proud crossing the finish line. It makes me want to come back for more.

Fueling for the heights

For every race, I followed the same general nutrition plan: 2-3 Hammer Gels an hour, water, and electrolytes. I begin replenishing electrolytes using Endurolytes Extreme early in a race. Especially when it's hot, these can be a lifesaver! Espresso and Vanilla (and now, the new Nocciola) Hammer Gel are my go-to fuels. Hammer Gel doesn't upset my stomach even late in the race.

On the steep uphill sections, when I need to power hike and want a break from gels, I incorporate Oatmeal Apple Hammer Bars. After each race, I refuel with a Chocolate or Vanilla Recoverite smoothie and HEED.

In 2015, I plan to run as many sky races as I can. I'm most excited to travel to Chamonix, France, in June to compete in the Mont Blanc 80K. HN

Hillary Allen began road running 3 years ago when she entered graduate school, working toward a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Last year she discovered trail running and ran her first ultras.

Photo credits: Myke Hermsmeyer, Elizabeth Sasseman, Derrick Lytle Media - Facebook, Instagram

US Skyrunner Series® expands for 2015

Building on the success of the inaugural US Skyrunner Series in 2014, the 2015 Series will expand to include 19 races (seven sky, seven ultra, and five vertical), with $50,000 total prize money. Read more about the 2015 races at www.usskyrunning.com.

"The events are some of the toughest around but leave runners wanting more, from the leaders to the back of the pack," says Ian Sharman, US Skyrunner Series director. "I'm excited and honored to bring the original skyrunning concept to the US on a wider scale with some of the most exciting races around."