Skyrunning - A healthy antidote to lockdown
Updated: Sep 1
You could be forgiven for not knowing what skyrunning is. However, if you're fit, active and looking for a challenge, this niche mountain running activity is well worth trying out. It offers runners the opportunity to take their running to the next level, whilst experiencing spectacular scenery and mountain landscapes.
We asked Dean Russell, owner of Adventure Awaits, and active skyrunner to explain more…
What is Skyrunning?
Skyrunning has its own international governing body that has defined the sport as “ running in the mountains above 2,000 metres where the climbing difficulty does not exceed grade II and the incline is over 30% ”. Although we don’t have mountains over 2,000 metres in the UK, you can still enjoy skyrunning in the truest sense. For me, skyrunning encompasses trail running in the mountains but includes using your hands and feet to scramble up ridges and ribs in breathtaking settings.
Like all mountain activities, skyrunning carries a risk. You should put the time and effort in to ensure you have built up your mountain skills and knowledge before you start, but the rewards you get travelling through skyrunning terrain in the mountains are enormous.
If this hasn’t scared you off then where do you start?
Being able to navigate in the mountains is the most important skill you will need to learn. In this digital world we live in there are handheld and watch GPS systems and a number of phone apps available. These are great tools to have, but shouldn’t be relied on. Being able to use a map and compass is essential to safely navigate complex terrain especially in poor visibility. Don’t let this put you off though as once you have learnt the basics, navigation is 25% map reading, 25% compass work and 50% confidence in the other two! A good place to start is at one of the many permanent orienteering courses around the country or by completing an introductory navigation course.
When the terrain gets steep and there are rock steps to negotiate you will have to use your hands in addition to your feet and this is called ‘scrambling’. The terrain can be exposed in places with long drops so a slip or mistake can be serious. If you have never done any climbing before then take some tips from an instructor or friend. Alternatively, there are a number of scrambling guidebooks on the market that suggest easy scrambles for an introduction. Essentially, take your time and don’t rush on the steep sections. It’s good practice to always have three points of contact - 2 feet and one hand or 2 hands and one foot - at all times. Climbing up is easier than climbing down so make sure you don’t climb yourself into trouble. Always think to yourself ‘could I reverse this to escape’? If the answer is no, think twice about continuing.
Any journey in the mountains requires you to be self sufficient and capable of looking after yourself. Water and food is essential to keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Experiment with food to find what works for you and stick to the mantra of ‘little and often’, as a rule of thumb. I try and snack every hour and drink every 30 minutes. Always carry a waterproof jacket and trousers. Rain may not be forecast, but they also act as wind-stoppers and are easy to throw on when it gets cold high up. Also carry a hat and gloves. Buffs work well as multi functional clothing and their weight is minimal compared to the benefits of having them. Your feet are the main points of contact that are going to keep you on the mountain. Running trainers are an obvious necessity. There are so many brands and so many styles that it can be a bit daunting but ensure they are good on all terrains and in all conditions.
Poles are a personal choice but for me I never leave for the mountains without them. They reduce the stress on your muscles and joints while spreading the load more evenly across your body. They also aid your balance and provide extra stability on uneven trails (which is particularly noticeable when you are tired). In addition you should be carrying items for an emergency such as a rescue blanket, a mobile in a waterproof bag, a bit of money or a card incase you find yourself tired and on the wrong side of the mountain, and a small first aid kit.
You’re also going to need a light rucksack or vest with a capacity of 5-10l to hold everything in. It’s worth having side pockets so you can reach items such as water and snacks without having to stop, and must have a chest and waist strap to keep it close to your body while running.
There is only so much you can read about getting started and so the time will come where there is nothing better than getting your running kit on and getting out. Training locally will give you the required fitness in the mountains but even with the best hill rep sessions you will find it difficult to match the height gain you will experience in the mountains. North Wales, the Lake District, Northern Ireland and Scotland have an abundance of incredible skyruns with magnificent ridges and awesome views.
If you are keen on giving skyrunning a go, contact the Natural Britain team. We can introduce you to the Adventure Awaits team who offer skyrunning weekends on some of Wales’ finest mountain trails, guided by qualified mountain leaders.
Find out more about Adventure Awaits.