About Vertical KM

  • In basic terms, a Vertical KM race (VK, and sometimes referred to as KMV for Kilometer Vertical) is an up-hill mountain running race that ascends 1000 vertical meters in the shortest distance possible.
  • VK races have a long history in European SkyRunning tradition as a popular summer activity for winter Ski-mountainteering athletes, but the concept is somewhat unfamiliar in North America. This is largely because the European alps terrain has many very steep, but often runnable routes directly up a face or spur. North America does not have similiar terrain close to urban centers; however, Vancouver is one location in North America with massive untapped potential for the VK concept.
  • The Vertical Kilometer was invented in 1994 by Skyrunning founders and is now governed by the International Sky Running Federation (ISF). The first Vertical Kilometer took place in Cervinia, Italy on August 20, 1994 and was won by Italian Ettore Champretavy in 40’44”. Two years later – at the Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère, France – skyrunning legend Bruno Brunod set a new mark of 38’29” becoming the first athlete to run a VK in under 40 minutes.
  • For VK course certification with the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF), the course must climb 1000 vertical meters in less than 5km (5000m).
  • Originally the intention for the concept was scientific research, as the Skyrunning website outlines:
    One of the objects of the creation of the Vertical Kilometer® was to carry out scientific research on the new sport of skyrunning. In 2000, the first-ever studies on human uphill performance were carried out at Geneva University by the FSA Medical Commission together with a number of eminent physiologists on ten top level skyrunners on a special treadmill with a 45% incline – the only instrument of its kind in the world. The aim of the studies was to assess the maximum performance levels on a steep incline. The results, entitled, “Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes”, were published in 2002 by the American Physiological Society. See here.
  • By 2010, VK racing had risen to become a highly popular short-course racing format and was a regular on the summer calendar and record times were plummeting to the seemingly unimpossible mark of 30 minutes. This mark was smashed for the first time in 2014 by an Italian VK specialist and 2010 VK world champion by the name of Urban Zemmer. Read more about him here. Since then Zemmer's mark was lowered by 46 seconds by fellow Italian Philip Gotsch in 2017.
  • The steepest VK courses in the world are 1.9km in distance at Fully in Switzerland and 1.8km Grand Serre in France. The race in Fully is notable for the hundreds of spectators who line the course to encourage on the competitors. At Fully, the world record time for a VK race was set by Italian Philip Gotsch in 28'53". At the Grand Serre, French woman Axelle Mollaret set the women's record of 34’44” in 2018. Kilian Jornet’s blog has a page listing the fastest mens and women’s VK records: https://mtnath.com/vk/
  • Running any VK race under 40 minutes is the benchmark for elite athletes in Europe; however, the longer the distance of the course – and the more technical obstacles on the course – the harder this feat becomes. The fastest times traditionally come about on the steepest and shortest courses that go directly up in an unobstructured line with unobstructured terrain (i.e. an open grass slope). The course at Fully runs through Swiss Vineyards and up an old railway line that was once used to haul supplies up and down the mountain. This course offers the competitors better footing for the fastest times in the world.
  • Vancouver has high potential as a world-class center for potential VK courses; and is without precedent in our opinion. We know of no other place with so many VK course variants located so close to a major population center.
  • Vancouver trail runners are more accustomed than their North American brethren to a concept very similar to VK racing through the Grouse Grind. Although the Grind is 200m short of a Vertical KM, its steepness of 2.2km and difficulty certainly makes the experience directly comparable to a VK. The Grind is incredibly popular with ~100,000 people climbing it each year and many people using it as a fitness test for fast efforts.
  • Most VK’s in Europe are not particularly technical or diverse, but Vancouver offers a more technical offering and different experience to European VK’s and VK’s in general.
  • VK races are a great fitness challenge, and while difficult, they are over relatively quickly. It requires an athlete to operate at their limit for 30-60 minutes, and is comparable in time to a flat 10-15km effort. However, VK's require far greater leg strength and strength endurance due to the gradients that can reach between 40-60% in parts. As the gradients become steeper, it is actually faster to hike than it is to run, which is often why you will see Europeans power hiking with poles in these races. VK's are the ultimate test of both fitness, stamina, endurance, and strength.
  • Ultimately, VK's are not as exhausting as other trail running events can be; therefore, athletes may use them as a warm-up or polishing/maintenance effort prior to other major races.
Here are some interesting videos on YouTube about VK racing:

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