La Sportiva VK Boa® Shoe Review

Italian brand, La Sportiva, take running shoe specialization to the next level with the VK Boa®, a shoe that is specifically designed to go mountain as quickly as possible in the lightest package available.

To understand the shoe, you need to understand its purpose.

Dolomites VK, Italy.

The VK in the name refers to Vertical Kilometer® a sport created on the slopes of Monte Rosa in 1994 by Marino Giacometti, the founder and creator of the sport, Skyrunning. Governed by the ISF, the International Skyrunning Federation, the sport is simple in concept – To cover 1000 vertical meters in a course that is less than *5km long with average incline of 20%. Double (2000m) and triple (3000m) VK’s also exist.

Initially created for scientific research the VK concept grew and it has become a staple in the calendar of skyrunning with its own specific calendar and relative world and European champions. Often, a VK would be added on to a race weekend that included another longer race, the Dolomites being a prime example where a VK would take place on Friday and a SkyRace on Sunday. Competitors often do both races. The world record stands at 28-minutes 53-seconds by Philip Goetsch set at one of the steepest VK’s in the world, Fully, which covers the 1000 vertical meters in a course that is only 1.92km long. The finish line is 1500m altitude.

The VK sport was created in Italy and the La Sportiva brand was born in Italy, the synergy between the two is obvious.

To create a specific shoe for VK not only shows the demand, especially in Italy, for such a shoe, but also the enthusiasm for the sport. The 2020 the Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit, managed by SkyMan, was cancelled however, the ISF have confirmed the sport will continue and recently they announced a new 2VK circuit – HERE

La Sportiva VK Boa®

Like track spikes, the VK Boa is a very specific shoe.

It’s all about minimal weight, secure foot hold, grip and a package that turns the eye. I have to say, the classic black/yellow/red of La Sportiva has always appealed and here in the VK Boa® that is taken up a notch to make what I think is a really ‘sexy’ shoe.

The striking look pulls you in and then you pick the shoe up, at sub 200g for a standard UK8 (230g for a UK9.5) this shoe is amazingly light.

The upper is just one seamless sock with a narrow opening from which one inserts the foot. Three wide straps come across the shoe to create the foothold and structure and conventional laces have been removed to be replaced with the Boa® rapid closure system.

A minimal toe bumper offers toe protection.

The outsole is a story of two halves: the front using a black semi-aggressive grip with relatively small lugs (25) the rear has a different configuration in red.

Cushioning, as one would expect is minimal but surprisingly more than I expected.

Drop is 4mm.

The shoe is described as being ‘universal’, but I do feel some support under the arch.

Sizing is true to size.

The Shoe

Firstly, getting one’s foot into the shoe is a little tricky. This shoe is designed like a Formula 1 car and as such, excess is taken away. One you have your foot inside, take time to wiggle your foot, make sure your heel is in the correct place and ensure that you pull the upper up, just like a sock.

There is no tongue. Tightening the shoe is done from the Boa® closure by turning the dial. Do this slowly making sure the laces sit where you want them. Taking time here will ensure a great foothold, particularly on the important Navicular bone.

The heel box is really impressive and rightly so for a shoe that is designed for going uphill. A lack of secure hold at the rear and it would prove really problematic. I’d go as far to say that the VK Boa® has the most secure and tight-fitting heel box of any shoe I have tried.

The toe box area, just like socks, is free of any reinforcement and extremely slipper like. It is not narrow and not wide, but the freedom of movement offered by the bi-elastic mesh would make this shoe work for most people. La Sportiva call it Low Volume which is designed for a tight fit following foot shape.

The outsole is very clever, La Sportiva know that when doing a VK, the front of the shoe is used almost 100% with only occasional use of the shoe rear. The outsole reflects this with two different grips and notably there is ‘rock-guard’ only at the front of the shoe. The outsole is designed to have as many contact points as possible. Frixion Red is a combination of grip, long-lasting wear and shock absorption. VK’s take place on grass, rock, stone, scree, mud and even ice, the outsole does a great job of handling each of the conditions.

The cushioning is compressed EVA and I was surprised how much cushioning was in the shoe, but it is designed for softer ground where the requirement for shock absorption is reduced. Completely understandable for a shoe designed for VK’s.

In Use

This is a very specific shoe and as such will have a very reduced market. It’s not a shoe that can-do multiple tasks, having said that, they VK Boa® may work exceptionally well on a short mountain race but downhill support and comfort would be compromised.

This shoe is designed to go up.

Considering that most VK’s are completed in 30-minutes for the elite men, around 35/40 minutes for the elite women and then 60 to 90-minutes for mortals, you get a picture that this shoe needs to be light.

Light they are; super light! They really do fit like gloves and I am still surprised at how well they hold the foot. I have had mixed experiences with Boa® closure systems previously but on this shoe it all clicks together. The Boa® (L6 type) system is a logical closure step allowing the top of the shoe to be free of seams and additional stitching and the three straps, just like in cycling shoes, comes across the foot to create a really superior hold. It’s all about efficiency and it makes a really nice aesthetic.

The shoes are extremely flexible and notably they excel in three areas. 

  1. The hold in the heel area is superb, no, it is brilliant! The lack of slipping in the heel area for a shoe designed for going uphill is absolutely crucial and the VK Boa® may well be the best I have tried.
  2. The soft and flexible upper manages to provide enough structure and support but allows the foot to move and bend in the propulsive phase without restriction. Crucial for a VK when pretty much the entire race or run will be undertaken on the front of the shoe.
  3. The outsole is designed for purpose and I love the specific grip and rock-guard just for the front of the shoe where it is needed.

Precise, reactive, great foot hold, excellent proprioception and extremely flexible, the VK Boa® really is beautifully designed for the task it was created for.

Conclusion

This shoe is not for everyone and I applaud La Sportiva for creating such a specific shoe. Light and minimalist, they excel for the designed purpose and there is little to fault.

They look great, the Boa® system is a superb addition to the shoe that maybe is the best use of this product I have seen in a running shoe.

RRP is 170 euro, so, they are not cheap. However, such a specific shoe will have a long life as they will only be used for VK racing or training. More often than not, VK’s are located close or near cable cars, so, the need to run back down is not required. Having said that, if one does need to run down, the VK Boa® does lack some of the structure a conventional run shoe would have, so, that needs to be considered.

If VK’s and going uphill as fast as possible is your think, the La Sportiva VK Boa® are most definitely worth checking out.

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New VK2 Circuit Announced

 

Exciting news from the FSA for a new VK2 circuit

The Vertical Kilometer® doubles in distance with a whole new circuit of five events all taking place in Italy, the home of skyrunning! The VK2 circuit is tailor-made for those who love vertical running and high altitude, the new circuit will bring those two elements together and yes, it will take your breath away, both visually and physically!

This new VK2 challenge brings together emblematic races, with three races that exceed an altitude of 3,000m. The circuit has 10,333m of ascent alone, with an average gradient of 30% and sections with over 50%.

The iconic Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc will provide participants the opportunity to test themselves in a truly alpine environment, fast and light, on snowfields with micro-crampons and in climbing sections with a harness and helmet.

The VK2 starts on June 20 from Alagna Valsesia with the AMA VK2 which reaches the altitude of 3,260m at Punta Indren, through pastures, stony ground and snowfields.

On June 28 the Double Vertical K2 at the highest fort in Europe on the summit of Mount Chaberton at 3,130m on the border with France.

On July 5, it’s the K2 Valtellina Extreme Vertical Race where you reach the summit of Cima Pisello at 2,272m.

In the spotlight, Mont Blanc with the UYN K2000 will be on August 1st. Starting in Courmayeur, the steep path climbs under the SkyWay cable car to Punta Helbronner at 3,460m to satisfy athletes and the public with breathtaking views.

The VK2 circuit concludes with the Gran Finale on 20 September with La Direttissima K2000 which starts from Piazza del Duomo in Trento to reach the 2,098m of the summit of Monte Bondone. Here, 25% extra points are up for grabs.

RANKING:

For the final ranking, the three best placements will be considered.  Each race assigns to the first 15 men and women, points to climb from 100 to 10 with 25% more at the Grand Finale. In all races, free entries and accommodation are assigned to the winners of the following race, and the VK2 Trophy is up for grabs, with cash prizes for the winners of the circuit.

For the many lovers of vertical, the VK2 represents a race towards the sky on steep paths, rocks and snowfields to run and climb in pure skyrunning style – all uphill!

CALENDARIO VK2

AMA VK2 – Punta Indren (3.260m) Alagna (VC)

DOPPIO VERTICAL K2 – Monte Chaberton (3.130m) Cesana (TO)

K2 VALTELLINA EXTREME VERTICAL RACE – Cima Pisello (2.272m) Talamona (SO)

UYN K2000 – Punta Helbronner (3.560m) Courmayeur (AO)

LA DIRETTISSIMA K2000* – Monte Bondone (2.098m) Trento (TN)

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Sky Erciyes VK 2018 Summary and Images

Turkey today hosted the Sky Erciyes VK – Europes highest VK reaching 3350m to the Ottoman cable car just below the incredible backdrop of Mt Erciyes.

The Vertical Kilometer covers 4.5km and climbs 1007m, starting at 2336m and reaching a highest point of 3350m. The terrain is mostly rocky. Gradients vary but in the steepest sections, a gradient of 64% can be found – average over the entire course is 23%.

The day was dominated by Ahmet Arslan who set a new course record betting the previous time by over 10-minutes (official times to follow).

Spain’s Pau Capell was 2nd running his first ever VK. On the finish line he said, ‘That was tough… painful, they just hurt,   maybe I should have run for a hour first to warm up!”

First Lady was the ever-present Elena Polyakova who races regularly in Turkey – this was another victory to who her already swelling list.

More results and information on the race website HERE

Tomorrow, Saturday 7th, the weekend concludes with a 10km, 25km and the main event, the Erciyes Ultra Trail which covers 64km and 3000m of vertical gain.

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Sky Erciyes Preview 2018

A stunning weekend of running awaits for those looking for a challenge in a unique environment, yes, Turkey hosts the Sky Erciyes all within the stunning backdrop of Mt Erciyes.

 

Four races, 10km, 25km and the two main events of the weekend, the VK which is Europes highest VK reaching 3350m and the tough and challenging Erciyes Ultra Trail which covers 64km and 3000m of vertical gain.

The Vertical Kilometer covers 4.5km and climbs 1007m, starting at 2336m and reaching a highest point of 3350m. The terrain is mostly rocky. Gradients vary but in the steepest sections, a gradient of 64% can be found – average over the entire course is 23%.

The Erciyes Ultra Skytrail is a tough and challenging 64km race with 3000m of vertical gain. It’s a high altitude race as it starts and concludes at 2200m. Over the 64km it reaches 2600m on two occasions but it rolls along repeatedly dropping and rising. With over 40km covered, the route drops to just over 1600m and then once again climbs back to 2600m over 10km – it is tough!

Heading the line up of the race is Pau Capell sponsored by The North Face, of course, he will need to fend of the local competition who will be looking to push the Spanish runner all the way to the line!

In addition to the above, there is a 25km Trail Run and a 10km.

Mount Erciyes is the highest mountain in Central Anatolia, the mountain has a radius of 18 km and covers and area of 1100 km2. The race hub for the weekend will be the Ericyes Ski Resort, near the city of Kayseri. For many centuries Kayseri has been an important hub on the silk road. In ancient times the city was famous for the fast horses bred in her stables. throughout history it took different names under different kingdoms, consecutively, Mazaka in Tabal kingdom period, Eusebia during Capadyoccian Kingdom, Caeseria in Roman period and Kayseri in under Turkih reigns of Karamanoglu, Selçuk and Ottoman Kingdoms.

RACE WEBSITE – HERE

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Transvulcania VK by Binter – 2018 Race Summary and Images

The island of La Palma today hosted the Winter Transvulcania Vertical Kilometer® (VK) one of many VK’s in the 2018 Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit.

Just last weekend in Italy the Trentapassi Vertical, rising 1,000m above Italy’s Lake Iseo took place and many of the runners who participated followed up with the VK in La Palma.

To clarify, a VK is a uphill mountain race that climbs for 1,000m over a course that is less than 5 km in length. Certain courses on the circuit do obtain special dispensation – Transvulcania one case in point.

The route here in La Palma covers over 1200m of vertical gain over a distance of 7.6km and re-traces sections of the Ultramarathon course and concludes at the forest lookout tower at an altitude of 1600m and stunning views of the Aridane valley and the north east of the island.

From sea to sky, today in La Palma, the BBinter Transvulcania VK provided a wonderful showcase for the sport as runners departed from Tazacorte Puerto. However, the usual glorious skies of blue and intense sunshine were replaced with cloud, grey and at times, light rain.

The line-up for the VK was impressive with Stian Angermund, Pascal Egli, Aritz Egea and Ondrej Fejfar heading up a world-class field.

Pascal Egli dominated with a strong performance ahead of Stian Angermund-Vik and Rui Ueda. Their times 47:55, 48:03 and 48:08.

Christel Dewalle set blistering pace and set a new course record ahead of Laura Orgue and Zuzana Krchova. Their times 56:52, 57:19 and 1:01:13.

Attention now turns to the main event of the weekend, the Transvulcania Ultramarathon that starts in the early hours of the morning on Saturday at Fuencalienti lighthouse. You can read the race preview HERE.

Full set of race images available HERE

Transvulcania Vertical Kilometer® 2017 Summary – Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit

Transvulcania VK – May 2017

The island of La Palma today hosted the 2nd Vertical Kilometer® (VK) in the new 2017 Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit.

The series started just last weekend in Italy with with the Trentapassi Vertical, rising 1,000m above Italy’s Lake Iseo with two new race records. Read the report HERE.

To clarify, a VK is a uphill mountain race that climbs for 1,000m over a course that is less than 5 km in length. Certain courses on the circuit do obtain special dispensation – Transvulcania one case in point.

The route here in La Palma covers over 1200m of vertical gain over a distance of 7.6km and re-traces sections the Ultramarathon course along the GR131 and concludes at the forest lookout tower at an altitude of 1600m with stunning views of the Aridane valley and the north east of the island.

The VK circuit is a Skyrunner® World Series spin off – previously, the Vertical Kilometer® discipline was included in the SWS, it now has its own category that will allow more races in an ever increasing market. In 2017 there are seventeen races in eight countries.

Featuring  the world’s shortest and fastest races, the first and only triple VK, some 20-year-old classics and some exciting new ones, the 2017 Vertical Kilometer® World Circuit will produce some very exciting races.

From sea to sky, up cliff faces, volcanoes, mountain summits and ski runs, this gravity-defying sport is for anyone ready to push their limits – today in La Palma, Transvulcania provided a wonderful showcase for the sport as runners departed from Tazacorte Puerto.

The line-up for the VK was impressive with Stian Angermund, Saul Padua, Ferran Teixido, Remi Bonnet and Ondrej Fejfar heading up a world-class field. Transvulcania Ultramarathon champion Luis Alberto Hernando, also toed the line along with Arley Luque, Jose Manuel Leon, Daniel Garcia, Diego Simon, Joan Freixa and many more.

Stian Angermund dominated with a strong and. course record performance ahead of Luis Alberto Hernando and Saul Padua. His time of 00:47:22. Hernando ran 48:39 and Padua 50:41.

Yuri Yoshizumi headed up the ladies’ competition with Virginia Perez, Daniella Moreno, Gabriela Sanches, Zuzana Kirchova and Zuzana Urbancova, and a return to racing for Stephanie Jimenez after giving birth to her first child recently.

Christel Dewalle from France was an entrant in the race but withdrew from the competition on Tuesday May 9th. This morning, May 11th, the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) released a communique that related to a doping infringement by Dewalle under WADA rules that related to the Skyrunning World championships in 2016. Dewalle has received a 4-month ban from the sport effective from May 8th and her results from said World Championships will be removed. See the communication HERE.

Yuri Yoshizumi pushed hard up this long course to clinch victory ahead of Stephanie Jimenez and Zuzana Kirchova, the times 00:59:28, 01:01:18 and 01:04:33 respectively.

Attention now turns to the main event of the weekend, the Transvulcania Ultramarathon that starts in the early hours of the morning on Saturday at Fuencalienti lighthouse. You can read the race preview HERE.

Yading VK – Summary and Images

Starting at 3992m and concluding at 5000m, the Yading VK covers a distance of 7km (unusally long for the VK format) and a total elevation gain 1072m.  This is a first for Skyrunning! Alpine forests, prayer flags, a glacier lake and a high pass at 5000m.

Without doubt, this is a special VK! The altitude makes this race something quite unique and very different to other VK’s around the world. It’s one to add to your bucket list!

Starting at midday en-mass, the anticipated winning time of approximately 75-minutes was obliterated by Duo Ji (吉 多) a local Chinese runner – his time of 1:01:48 stunning on a course of this length and altitude.

Pascal Egli placed 2nd and Andy Wacker 3rd in a close fought battle, their times 1:04:08 and 1:05:09 respectively.

In the ladies race, Ida Nilsson produced a dominant performance crossing the line in 1:19:45 and she placed 6th overall. Silke Bender and Angela Flynn placed 2nd and 3rd.

Full results here

Running or Walking Efficiency when Climbing

©iancorless.com_DolomitesVK2015-1039

VK world record holder, Urban Zemmer

Recently I have produced a couple of articles about how to ensure that you are an efficient walker when participating in long or mountainous events. You can read them HERE and HERE.

The first article discusses Training to Walk for Ultra, Trail and Mountain Running and the second article is about Walking, Running and Climbing with Trekking Poles.

JOIN OUR YEARLY MULTI-DAY TRAINING CAMP IN LANZAROTE with MARATHON DES SABLES 2015 CHAMPION, ELISABETH BARNES – HERE

On December 15th, the University of Colorado Boulder released a document called, CU-Boulder researchers discover optimal range of slopes for extreme uphill running.

This article made me take a look and read in-depth for two reasons: first and foremost it ties in nicely with my previous two articles but more importantly and secondly, research into VK data dates back some 16-years and was pioneered by the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) who created the VK format as a racing discipline.

To clarify a VK is 1000m of vertical ascent and the objective is to climb the elevation gain as quickly as possible. The original context of the VK always was about research and data.

VK courses vary greatly but the ISF consider a true VK to be under 5km in length. To understand the variables, some VK’s, for example the Dolomites are just over 2km in length. By contrast, Limone Extreme is a considerably longer course with a less extreme gradient.

Fully, Switzerland has long been a testing ground for VK performance and a post from the ISF which was updated 22nd October 2012 adds some very clear and specific points to consider:

“Italy’s Urban Zemmer rocketed up the 1,000m vertical course, only 1.9 km long, in just 30’26”, 20 seconds faster than the standing world record set here in 2011.”

In addition, the ladies records tumbled:

“French runner Christel Dewalle was first in 36’48” followed by Axelle Mollaret in 37’44” and third, Maude Mathys from Switzerland in 37’56, all beating the previous world record set two years ago by Italian Valentina Belotti in 38’50.”

Notably, the ISF commented:

“The new men’s record nears a speed of 2,000 vertical metres per hour (precisely 1,971m) an incredible ground-breaking performance that the ISF has been monitoring for many years in a scientific research project… Depending on the course and type of start, poles are permitted and yesterday, most of the runners used them.  However, to date, the advantages of using poles has not been scientifically demonstrated.”

In 2014, the record for the VK was once again broken by Urban Zemmer at Fully, Switzerland with the incredible time of 29’ 42”.

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Remi Bonnet prefers to run a VK and never walks

So by simple logic (I am no scientist), it would suggest that the steepest course is the fastest as Fully is only 1.9km long. To quote, Run the Alps,The Vertical KM race in Fully, Switzerland is considered to be the fastest vertical kilometer course in the world. The race, held on a former funicular route, is home to both the men’s and women’s world records.”

You can watch a YouTube clip of the 2013 Fully race HERE

Watch the video of Fully and you will see varying techniques, some walk, some walk/ jog, some (most) use poles but one thing is consistent, the effort is almost maximal for all. Therefore, in a non-scientific look at Fully, the fastest performances come from the genetically gifted who have all the elements required for an optimum VK performance: lung capacity, V02max, lactate threshold, power to weight ratio, technique and so on.

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Marco de Gasperi like to mix running and walking

But what about the optimal slopes for uphill running as questioned by CU-Boulder. They posed the question:

“Imagine that you are standing in Colorado at a trailhead where the base elevation is 9,000 feet. Your friend challenges you to race to the summit of the mountain, which tops out at 12,280 feet, roughly 1,000 meters of elevation gain. There are several different trails that go to the summit. They are all steep and some are extremely steep. One trail averages a 10 degree incline and the sign says it is 3.6 miles long. A second trail averages 30 degrees, but is only 1.25 miles long. A third trail averages 40 degrees, but only 1 mile long. To get to the summit the fastest, which trail should you choose and should you walk or run?”

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Poles or no poles on a steep gradient?

This is a question that the ISF have asked and researched for many years. A paper titled, “Energy costs of walking and running uphill and downhill at extreme slopes” looks into this:

Davide Susta, Alberto E. Minetti*, Christian Moia and Guido Ferretti

Département de Physiologie, Centre Médical Universitaire, 1211 Genève 4, Switzerland, *Department of Exercise and Sport Science, Manchester Metropolitan University, Alsager ST7 2HL, U.K.

The energy costs of walking and running (Cw and Cr, respectively, in J kg-1 m-1) increase with the slope uphill (up to +20%) and decrease with the slope downhill (down to -10%) (Margaria, 1938; Margaria et al, 1963). Outside this range, no measurements of Cw and Cr are available in the literature, even though walking and running on the mountains at greater slopes is becoming commoner and commoner practice in leisure and sport. We therefore set out to carry out the present study, the aim of which is to determine Cw and Cr on men walking and running at slopes up to +45% and -45% on the treadmill. After local ethical approval, 10 subjects (Skyrunners) were admitted to the study (age 32.6 + 7.5 years, body mass 61.2 + 5.7 kg, maximal O2 consumption 68.9 + 3.8 ml min-1 kg-1). They are all endurance athletes practicing mountain racing. O2 consumption at the steady state was measured by the open circuit method, using Leybold O2 and CO2 analysers and a Singer dry gas meter. Heart rate was measured by cardiotachography. Blood lactate concentration was determined after each run as a check for submaximal aerobic exercise.

Each subject performed up to three walking and three running trials at progressively increasing speeds on the level, and at the slopes of 10, 20, 30, 35, 40 and 45 % uphill and downhill. The duration of each trial was 4 min, and expired gas was collected during the 4th min of exercise. Minimum Cw on the level was: 

1.85 + 0.57 J kg-1 m-1 (n = 10) at the speed of 0.69 m s-1. During uphill walking, Cw increased with the slope, to attainthevalueof18.08+1.57Jkg-1 m-1 (n=9)atthespeedof0.69ms-1 andat the slope of +45%. During downhill walking, minimum Cw was lower at the slope of -10% (0.81 + 0.37 J kg-1 m-1, n = 9) than on the level. At slopes below -10%, it progressively increased. At -45%, it was 3.46 + 0.95 J kg-1 m-1(n = 5). Cr on the level was 3.40 + 0.24 J kg-1 m-1(n = 30). Cr increased with the slope, to attain 18.69 + 1.42 J kg-1 m-1(n = 6) at +45%. 

During downhill running, Cr decreased and attained its lowest value at the slope of -20% (1.73 + 0.36 J kg-1 m-1, n = 24). At lower slopes, it increased. At -45%, at speeds higher than 1.38 m s-1, it was equal to 3.79 + 0.57 (n = 7). The mechanical efficiency for vertical displacement was 0.216 + 0.015 at +45% and 1.078 + 0.275 at -45%. This data on the level and at slopes up to 20% correspond to those found by others on non-athletic subjects (Margaria, 1938). At higher slopes, the increases in Cw and Cr are such as could be predicted assuming that all energy is used to lift the body. By contrast, at -10% and -20%, both Cw and Cr are lower than in non- athletic subjects (Margaria, 1938), suggesting greater recovery of elastic energy at each step in the present athletes. At slopes below -20%, the increases in Cw and Cr are such as could be predicted assuming that all energy expenditure is for negative muscle contractions.

REFERENCES
Margaria, R. (1938). Atti Acad. Naz. Lincei 7, 299-368.

Margaria, R., Cerretelli, P., Aghemo, P. & Sassi, G. (1963). J. Appl. Physiol. 18, 367-370. This work was supported by a grant from the FSA- Federation.for Sport at Altitude

Referring back to the CU-Boulder research:

“Based on our research, we now know that choosing the second trail (30 degrees) and walking as fast as you can within your aerobic capacity is the fastest way to go,” Kram said. “For either running or walking, slopes between 20 and 35 degrees require nearly the same amount of energy to climb the hill at the same vertical velocity.”

This new study (HERE), which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, is believed to be the first to examine the metabolic costs of human running and walking on such steep inclines (suggested by the CU-Boulder researchers.) However, I would question this and refer to research by the FSA – “Energy cost of walking and running at extreme uphill and downhill slopes.” Received 29 November 2001; accepted in final form 29 April 2002. You can download this detailed documentation HERE and it is essential reading.

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Who is the most efficient?

It would appear that gradients of 20-35 degrees require the same amount of effort and interestingly, CU-Boulder research found in a study:

“A vertical rate of ascent of just over 1 foot per second, is a pace that high-level athletes could sustain during the testing. At that speed, walking used about nine percent less energy than running. So, sub-elite athletes can ascend on very steep uphills faster by walking rather than running.”

In simple terms, this is something I have found out by attempting VK’s in my own time in and around events. More often than not, the effort required to run is so hard that it becomes counter productive. I have even found that including run sections to be counter productive as this raises my heart rate, increases lactate acid and requires me to recover while still climbing. However, if I maintain a constant effort walking, this produces the best results for me.

CU-Boulder research went on to say:

“The study examined 15 competitive mountain runners as they ran and walked on the treadmill at seven different angles ranging from 9 to 39 degrees. The treadmill speed was set so that the vertical rate of ascent was the same.  Thus, the treadmill speeds were slower on the steeper angles. The athletes were unable to balance at angles above 40 degrees, suggesting a natural limit on the feasible slope for a VK competition.”

In regard to the latter point, this in some respects relates to Fully, Switzerland and brings in another element, the use of poles and if poles allow a faster ascent when the gradient steepens. One only has to look at the Dolomites VK and Fully VK where poles are used by nearly all participants. The ISF plan to do a new test with and without ski poles, but it is not easy to do a serious test. Although not scientifically proven, it’s fair to say that using poles with gradients under 20% it will mean more Kcal and a reduced performance. However, with gradients steeper than 25 or 30%, the use of poles can correct style, etcetera and can improve the overall performance.

The CU-Boulder article is available to read in full HERE.

I can quote technical papers and research all day, however, as a runner you want to know the answer to the question, should I walk or should I run uphill and should I use poles?

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Irrespective of if you plan to run a VK or not, the research and thoughts provided by the FSA and CU-Boulder confirm that running or walking uphill provides an incredible workout. Importantly though, research confirms that walking should be a key element in any training plan, (*…walking used about nine percent less energy than running) especially if you are racing or training on hilly or mountainous terrain.

When participating in ultra events, reverting to periods of walking may well produce greater results and faster times. This is very evident when the terrain steepens; running will only expend more energy and produce slower times. The use of poles appears to benefit performance when gradients steepen, this is not scientifically confirmed.

On a final note though, many other factors come into play when looking at results and as with everything, there are exceptions. Urban Zemmer, Remi Bonnet, Laura Orgue, Christel Dewalle and so many more are able to run when others need to walk. We can’t choose our parents or our genetic pool. Ultimately, find out what works for you but practice makes perfect and the more climbing you do, the better and the faster you will become.

Embrace the mountains and going uphill.

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Christel Dewalle, ladies VK world record holder

Limone Extreme VK 2015 – Summary and Images

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Laura Orgue and Remi Bonnet are crowned 2015 Skyrunner® World Series Champions for the VK distance in Limone on the shore of Lake Garda at the 4th edition of the Limone Extreme race.

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Torrential rain and thunderstorms the previous night and morning of the VK resulted in a course change instigated by the race organisation for safety reasons. The resulting course was very different to the original route and considerably longer at 6km. Less steep, less technical and considerably more runnable. Of course this may very well have changed the dynamic of the race but the usual protagonists for the VK distance still performed at the highest level.

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VK specialist Urban Zemmer dictated the early pace showing his all around ability to run and drop his hands on his knees and grind out a fast pace on the steeper gradients. However, it was rising star of the sport, Remi Bonnet, who finally made his presence felt at the front. Too many observers this was expected after his recent performances at the RUT in the USA and his most recent victory at Lantau 2 Peaks in Hong Kong. Tromso VK winner, Stian Angermund placed 3rd ahead of Hannes Perkmann VK ever-present Jonathan Wyatt in 5th.

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In the ladies’ race, Laura Orgue already had the Skyrunner® World Series title sewn up based on previous victories. Despite this, her plan was to run the VK and SKY. However, in the days before the VK, Laura had picked up a virus and decided it was best to miss the distance she loves:

Hard decision today, I need to rest instead of race in the VK. I’m not feeling 100% so I have decided to recover for tomorrow’s SKY race of 23km and 2800m of elevation!”

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Last minute entrant and VK specialist, Christel Dewalle was the fastest lady on the day and lead from the front constantly trailed by Antonella Confortola, Maite Maiora and Norwegian rising star, Yngvild Kaspersen who moved up to 2nd in the overall rankings.

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The ladies’ positions remained this way all the way to the line with Spanish runner Oihana Kortazar taking the 5th spot.

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A total of 296-runners toed the line of the VK which started at the picturesque location of Marconi lakefront on the shores of Lake Garda. The overall elevation gain of the new route was 1200m+ in a distance of 6km.

Attention now turns the SKY race which will start today, Saturday at 1200 local time. This course has also been changed due to Thursday nights and Friday mornings excessive weather. The new route has an additional 800m of vertical gain which makes what was a tough race, exceptionally tough!

RESULTS

1-Christel Dewalle (50’48”)

2-Antonella Confortolla (53’12”)

3-Maite Maiora (53’46”)

4-Yngvild Kaspersen (54’58”)

5-Oihana Kortazar (56’27”)

 

1-Rémi Bonnet (43’51”)

2-Urban. Zemmer (44′)

3-Stian Angermund. (44’13”)

4-Hannes Perkmann (44’26”)

5-Jono Wyatt (44’43”)

 

Skyrunner® World Series ranking 2015:

  1. Laura Orgue
  2. Yngvild Kaspersen
  3. Maite Maiora

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  1. Remi Bonnet
  2. Nejc Kuhar
  3. Ferran Teixido

Limone sul Garda also provided a location for the Skyrunning AGM where the 2014 calendar, 2015 calendar and the future of the sport was discussed.

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Less Cloud, More Sky!

Kilomètre Vertical Face De Bellevarde 2015 – Val d’Isere

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Val d’Isere has a great history with the Vertical Kilometer, way back in ‘96’ the ISF were the first to organize a VK here!

A time lapse of 9-years and Val d’Isere re connected with the ethos of the VK using the Olympic Bellevarde Face in 2014. For many years, Marco De Gasperi held the VK world record here of 34-minutes and 41-seconds until the Italian was dethroned by a fellow countryman and VK specialist; Urban Zemmer.

The Vertical Kilometer has traditionally started at the foot of the Olympic Bellevarde face on “the board” in the heart of the Parc des Sports Charles Diebold in the center Val d’Isere.

The route then takes the greater part of what was the route of the men’s downhill Olympic Winter Games ski route (1992), won by Austrian Patrick Ortlieb.

It’s a tough course; 2.9Km’s in length and reaches an altitude of 2809m. Average gradients over the course are 35%, however, in places it reaches 63% as presented in the first hundred meters.

Including steep passages at 49% and 56% gradient, the sting comes with the famous passage of the Columbine at 55%. Followed by gentle slopes of the Great Wall (51%) a refreshment station is provided before the push to the line passing ‘Catherine Dent’ (50%) and then a finish loop passes the Bellevarde restaurant and the arrival is at a wooden start cabin at an altitude of 2809m.

Previous Records: 

Men: Marco DE GASPERI (ITA) en 34’51” (2003)

Women: Antonella CONFORTOLA (ITA) en 42’48” (2002) 

GONON and ORGUE shine on a sunny day in Val d’Isere

Following on from the Chamonix vertical kilometre, François Gonon today once again showed his competition a clean pair of heels to take victory in the 2015 Kilomètre Vertical Face De Bellevarde. Powering up the climb with hands-on-knees, Gonon was one of the few participants in the race not using poles. A disadvantage many thought but Gonon proved everyone wrong and won the race in true style in a time of 35:09.

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Yoann Sert placed 2nd and 2014 winner Nejc Kuhar placed 3rd but it was a close race, the duo were separated by seconds! 35:53 to 35:58.

VK races often have different start procedures. For example in Chamonix, runners depart every 30-seconds. In the Dolomites (next weekend) a series of small group starts will take place with approximately 25 runners per group. In Val d’Isere it was an individual start. This can prove difficult! Similar to the race of truth in the Tour de France, the runners must pace themselves and judge their effort over 1000m not knowing if they are gaining or loosing time.

In the ladies race, Laura Orgue one again showed supreme climbing ability in winning the ladies race and in doing so set a new course record! Antonella Confortola’s 2002 time of 42:48 has now been reset at 40:57.

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Christel Dewalle has been struggling with injury recently and although on the start list we were under the impression that she would not start. Her decision to race was a good one! Dewalle placed 2nd in 41:16 which also broke the old course record.

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The final ladies podium place went to Vanesa Ortega who completed the distance in 44:05.

Stats: 

  • Finish Elevation: 2 809 m
  • Length: 2 905 m
  • Altitude gain: 1000 m
  • Maximum Gradient: 63 %
  • Minimum Gradient: 15 %
  • Average Gradient: 35 %

The Vertical Kilometer Bellevarde Face is part of the 2015 Skyrunner® World Series and will be followed by the Ice Trail Tarentaise 2-days later (preview for the ITT HERE)