THE VERTICAL KILOMETRE: YOUR NEW TRAIL RUNNING CHALLENGE

In trail running, the competition between runners to outdo each other in terms of distances and elevation gains has resulted in the recent emergence of a new type of race: the vertical kilometre. Although it is shorter and supposedly easier, it nevertheless has its own specific features andrequires preparation.

THE VERTICAL KILOMETRE: WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The Vertical Kilometre (or VK for the initiated) is based on the following simple idea: attaining an elevation gain of 1000m over a short distance. Depending on the organisation, the race profiles vary but the distances generally range from 2 to 5 kilometres. One of the fastest routes is located at La Fully in Switzerland: distance covered of 1920m for an elevation gain of 1000m and an average gradient of 61%! For this type of race, the gradient must be steep, in the region of 60%, to achieve the best possible race time, as this reduces the race distance. Another feature: the routes of the VK are marked out with signs every 100m of elevation gain to help you manage your level of effort.

 

WHAT TYPE OF EFFORT IS REQUIRED DURING A VERTICAL KILOMETRE?

The level of effort required during a vertical kilometre is high and, depending on your level of training, you will attain between 80% and 90% of your Heart Rate Reserve, or even a little higher for the leading athletes in the world. The level of effort required is similar to that of a 10-kilometre run and the records are close to 30 minutes (29 minutes 42 at La Fully for Urban Zemmer, the current record-holder). In order to achieve a good time on a vertical kilometre, your VO2 (consumption of oxygen used by the muscles in 1 min) must be high and you must be capable of withstanding a high percentage of this VO2 during the entire race (the aforementioned 80 to 90% range), i.e. the 2 essential qualities needed for a 10-kilometre road race. But this is where the comparison ends. Whereas in a road race, it is your running economy that allows you to perform well, here, it is the power developed by the runners that will enable them to achieve a good time. In such a race, rather than "bouncing" on the ground with each stride, which is not possible because of the gradient, the runner must develop as much power as possible.

 

HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR A VERTICAL KILOMETRE?

Given the intensity of the race that awaits you, your training must include exactly the same level of effort as you would have in your training plan for a 10-kilometre run: exercising at heart rates that are identical to those of the MAS and the threshold heart rate is needed. Although some of this exercise may be done on flat terrain, it is essential to exercise on inclined terrain and, if possible, on gradients that are similar to those you have to tackle on the day of the race. More practically, interval training is the best option for replacing "flatland" distances with "vertical" distances: 10x100m D+, 3x400m D+, etc. Although less economical in terms of energy, the training you do on these slopes will help you to achieve better times, if it is done with poles. A lot of work is required in this area because the poles bring your upper body into play. This uses up a lot of energy and requires practice in terms of the arm/leg coordination. Finally, your preparation will be significantly enhanced by doing extra weight training to develop the lower body and strengthen the abs. Don't forget the upper body if you are using poles.

On the day of the race, your pace management is crucial. The best results will be achieved by maintaining a regular and correct pace (not too fast and not too slow). Beware of starting too fast to avoid hitting the wall after about 20 minutes.

Given the current trend among trail running organisations, there is an increasing number of vertical kilometre races, giving you plenty of opportunities to try out this format. Even if it is not as part of a race, you can try it out alone or in a group in certain trail running resorts. And given that the current escalation in distances has reached VK, why not try out a 2K or 3K format (2000 or 3000 m of elevation gain). All that remains is to exercise your thighs!

Sébastien

This article has been written by Sébastien, Department leader at Decathlon Beauvais (France) and trail runner

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