Sky run / running: what is all this about?

The Drakensberg Skyrun started in 1991 as a Skywalk by John Michael Tawse when he completed the trek from Lady Grey to Wartrail. John Michael is truly hardcore. Hell of a nice guy but did I mention he is hardcore? The First Offical Skyrun was held in 1997 with 15 participants. This remains by far the hardest single day trail event in the country. Notice I say event and not race. This years conditions (and some competitors inadequate preparation) demonstrated.

Just to COMPLETE the route is a huge feat in itself, irrespective of time!

I first heard of the Skyrun when one of my early mentors was rumoured to have attempted it. He only made it to half way and did not continue. The infamous Balloch wall looming above. This was before GoPro and Facetube where we share our every emotion. The days of when we sat around campfires and talked in hushed voices about monsters and dragon slayers.

I was in awe but I was also very nervous.

Probably completely unrelated in the early nineties Marino Giacometti from Italy pioneered records of ascents in the Alps. This lead to a circuit of events across the ranges of the world in 1993. Giacometti termed skyrunning as “where earth and sky meet” Today the sport is managed by the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF)  which overseas 200 races, in 54 countries with 30 000 participants. My understanding is that they offer SPORTS in the high mountains in a controlled way. They are dealing with soft Euros after all;) Routes are marked, marshalled and seconding is allowed. Generally it is super competitive, well supported by pretty girls and fans and has a huge following. Guys run the entire course with little more than a t shirt and shorts and grab refreshments along the way. Not quite the Skyrun vibe!

Fast forward several years:

Trail running has exploded and as such local athletes including myself look beyond our borders for the next challenge. ASA can not offer athletes that expansion of horizons. We look elsewhere.

The obvious choice is the ISF. Under James Hallet a local chapter is born in 2012 called South African Skyrunning Association. This in many ways is the future of trail running for many in South Africa. By this I in no way am saying that we should become soft and exclusively rely on well marked, well marshalled routes and races. I love the Skyrun and the more remote events and that is where my real passion is but I also want to run fast in the hills.

However these two disciplines require two setts of thinking and two very different approaches.

When I did my first Skyrun I was blown away by the fact that the first water replenishment point was 5h into the event! I bought a 3l camelbak bladder especially for this section. My pack weighed a ton and we were reduced to walking a significant portion of the way. Years of carrying a heavy pack up to scraggy cliffs did me good!

For the Matroosberg 36km Sky Marathon last month I carried two 750ml bottles (in a slim pack) and only one was filled at any time. Even that was carrying heavy by comparison to other competitors. Some only ran with a waist belt. (That attitude is not acceptable at Skyrun.)

Why this long diatribe on what is what?

I love and embrace both these forms of activity in the mountains but I believe that each have quite a different approach. Ultimately as last weekend’s Skyrun showed we need to be responsible for our own  actions in the mountains. We always need to have the resources and ability to get ourselves out of a tricky situation irrespective of whether this is our own training run or organised event. If an event organiser tells you it is safe to proceed you still need to assess and confirm whether your abilities are up to the task.

I do however look forward to running down the red carpet, breaking the tape with hundreds of screaming fans cheering me on!

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