Level Up to the Sky
What is skyrunning? Are there opportunities like this for endurance athletes in the Philippines? Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested to take your endurance sports adventure “high above the the ground”.
I vividly recall my first-ever encounter with Mount Ugo. It was in 2002 when I first climbed it—2,150 meters—as a final requirement to earn the distinction of “Loyola Mountaineer.” It’s a major climb that takes three days to scale up and down, including pitching a tent for two nights, and carrying liters of drinking water in accordance with the Basic Mountaineering Courses we learned. In the years that followed, I turned to road running and occasional adventure races. These gave me the mileage that city living conveniently allowed. But the road can be hard on the body and the monotony left me wanting for something new.
Fast track to 2005, when I tagged along with fun and outdoor-loving friends for a different kind of long-slow distance run. They convinced me that it would help cure the monotony of road running. The plan was to run from Baguio City up to the peak of Mt. Ugo and run down its Kayapa side, then back to Baguio all in one day. With only a light day pack consisting of water, energy gels and some trail food, we claimed a fantastic and energizing experience—all 60 kilometers of it. Definitely one for my books.
Little did I know that this escapade would be the humble beginnings of my entry into Skyrunning.
Skyrunning is high-altitude mountain running at heights reaching at least 2,000 meters above sea level. The distances range from 20 kilometres to 42 kilometers. Skyrunning disciplines include events such as—
UltraSkyMarathon (43km up)
Vertical Kilometer (1,000-meter climb over a variable terrain with substantial incline not exceeding 5 kilometers in distance)
SkySpeed (100 meters or more vertical climb and more than 33 percent incline)
SkyScraper (indoor version of SkySpeed)
SkyBike (duathlons with a MTB and a skyrunning segment)
SkyRaid (team skyrunning races over long distances combining other sports such as cycling, skiing, climbing), and
SkyTrail (races with a minimum of 15km in distance over paths and trails that are less than 10% asphalt that do not fall within the parameters of other disciplines over 2,000m).
What makes Skyrunning interesting is that it combines the sport of running and mountaineering. Nature lovers will surely enjoy this! But it can be considered extreme and not for newbies. Those who have a more competitive spirit, and long to push and be pushed can get a natural kick out of it.
It’s never too late to start learning. But you’ll be at an advantage if you’ve got some experience in trail running or mountaineering (or both). These are high-altitude trail events after all, where your stadium is the wilderness, where you can get lost, trip on a tree root, lose your balance, fall into a ravine or off a cliff. The higher you climb or run, the longer you can fall. So knowledge of trail running and mountaineering basics such as techniques in running downhill on uneven rocks, first aid or basic navigation will go a long way when skyrunning.
Adding to the risk in skyrunning is access to medical assistance. Unlike road run races where the route is easily accessed by car or ambulance, skyrunning events are on mountain terrain wherein extraction is not immediate and not without difficulty.
Another unique factor in skyrunning is altitude sickness. The higher the altitude, the thinner the air becomes. This means there is less oxygen which your body can access. Lack of oxygen in your system, which leads to altitude sickness can manifest in different ways depending on the person: headaches, nausea, sleepiness, edema. These affect one’s concentration which is doubly critical when treading on high altitude trail.
The best way to prepare and train for skyrunning is to do trail running over progressive distances and altitude while observing the effect of fatigue and less oxygen on your body, so you can adjust accordingly.
On February 5, 2017, the Philippine Skyrunning Association (PhilSky) brings back the Pilipinas Akyathlon, the first skyrace in the Philippines, in partnership with the local government and Department of Tourism. Staged in Mt. Ugo, Benguet, the event which was first held in 2012, is an out and back race that starts at the barangay hall, through the lush pine tree forest and vast views, up the peak and back. This year, there is a 20-km short course to complement the more challenging 35-km course.
The Pilipinas Akyathlon event is a pioneering adventure race that brings to its participants the warmth of the local community of Barangay Tinongdan and the rejuvenating beauty, and fresh air of the Cordillera range. If you’re an endurance athlete who wants to up your game in 2017, try out skyrunning. The Pilipinas Akyathlon can take your mountaineering, road running and trail running skills to their next natural progression.