A 5-Point Plan for Vertical Kilometer Success

My next big race is Scotland's first ever vertical kilometre race, in the Mamores. 

"An incredible leg burning and lung-busting ascent from sea level to Munro summit, the inaugural Salomon Mamores VK™ is part of the 2016 Skyrunner® UK Series and the UK’s first VK!"

What is a vertical kilometre? Basically it's a mountain race that gains 1000 vertical metres in less than 5000 horiztonal metres. Basically, steep. The Scottish race starts in Kinlochleven and bounds up to the summit of Na Gruagaichean. This VK is actually one of the less sharp ones, with a length of 4.5km. Nonetheless, the race website describes the route taken as, "impressively direct". Other VKs around the world ascend in as little as 3km (like the Limone Sul Garda trail that I attempted to hike).

Race route from the event website.

I'm not going to lie to you, I'm scared. But I have a plan. A five-point plan for VK success (with success being 'working my hardest on the mountain, and not dying').

One... Ascending

Hills, Hills, hills baby. You'll only ever get good at hills by running them. I'm trying to get on real hills a week once a week whenever possible; mixed up with hilly road routes or road reps, and the dreadmill for the closest approximation of the real steepness waiting for me in the Mamores. I've been googling the steepest streets in Glasgow for those road runs.

Lucja also suggested a treadmill workout of 2 min run/1 min break, on 15% incline. I'll be calling it the One Way Run to Pain Town... I  will also make sure to practice fast uphill hiking as it will guaranteedly be needed during the race and it's a bad idea to skip training a whole muscle movement. Therefore I may do the workout as 1 min run/1 min fast hike and repeat until 45 minutes are finally over.

The most important thing about hill workouts is that I can build my mental strength. The VK will be completely unrelenting uphill movement. I need to learn to embrace that pain, even if the burning starts only ten minutes in. I need to learn to thrive in that environment. 

Two... Explosive Power

My legs need to learn to give all the boost they've got. That's where Pylometrics come in to play. I am starting these workouts this week - I will need box jumps, squat jumps, lateral jumps, speed skaters, and all manner of other dynamic bodyweight movements.

Three... Core Stability

I've started packing in the core and stability exercise. Kettlebells a couple of times a week, core specific workouts all over the place. I'm trying to place most emphasis on stability under movement conditions, not under static holds. This should also improve my stability and range of movement for bouldering so that'll be nice. 

Four... Terrain

Ideally as my nemesis will be real Scottish rock, I want to practice my skills on real Scottish rock. I'll be heading into the hills as often as possible in the run up (after my thesis hand in). I'm lucky to have some great friends who are only too keen to get out there with me. Nature helps hugely with hill workouts- suddenly you aren't repping, you're playing in the mountains.

As far as I can tell from the race media so far the route is runnable to begin, going into fast hiking on the flanks, then runnable again along the ridge to the summit (the race director notes that, 'that's what makes it hard as you're already tired', on the newest video). It looks to be mixed rock lower and at the summit, with heather and moss mountainside on the flanks. I'm hoping to recce the route nearer the time!

Five... Recovery

Regular hard workouts need you to be just as hardcore with your recovery. I'll need to get on top of the yoga and icing and make sure to keep the rest days in.

I also want to keep cross training. I really want to cultivate variability and balance. I want to keep running a few times a week, with one becoming a dedicated hill session. I want to start Muay Thai and Boxing again (they were killing my legs too much during marathon training). I want to keep swimming - I've developed a love of swimming on rest days. I want to keep bouldering, and keep improving. I want to add in some interesting and varied strength work at my awesome gym, with a complete body focus- strong core, strong legs, strong shoulders, strong mind.


Have you ever done anything like this? If so, how did you train? 

Anything you recommend I add to my training?

Post written by Scallywag and published on Scallywag Sprints on 16/07/16


  1. I did my first vk in June. Loved it and will start getting more intense in my training starting in November for next year. I recommend stairclimber at a high speed. Out of all my various training efforts, that most closely captured the feeling of the vk (although without the beautiful scenery). Best of luck!!