Walking in the footsteps of a champion

The inaugural Tromsø Skyrace


The inaugural Tromsø Skyrace was the raw, unbridled essence of what constitutes two of the world’s best trail runners. Kilian Jornet and Emilie Frosberg invited 100 runners to Norway for what turned out to be a truly indescribably tough run. There is certainly a sense of ‘if you weren’t there then you will never know’, a statement to which this somewhat harrowing experience is applicable for its entirety.

Twenty-five different countries made up the small field of runners, all of which had to climb 1,500ft under the route of a cable car to ascend the Fjellheisen Mountain just to make the start line. Only Killian and Emilie could get away with asking runners to hike 20-plus minutes up what was effectively a ski slope without one single complaint.

Tromsø was essentially three mountain ascents, two ridge traverses and a valley crossing. Put this all together and you have an out-and-back 46-48K race with around 15,000ft of vertical ascent. Ouch. There was nothing that was going to have prepared myself and my good friend Jules Roberts for the severity and technicality of this race.

You see there is an inherent problem when you allow someone with a universe of natural ability and a soul chiseled from mountain adventures to organise a race. This was an opportunity to run in Killian’s footsteps. That meant that much of the race was ‘off the grid’. We were six miles in when we reached the top of the first climb, Tromsdalstindem at 1,238 metres and in heavy fog that would have easily brought the South West train network to a complete standstill. Three check point volunteers welcomed us and handed over a bracelet as testament to our arrival before indicating that we weren’t to follow the trail down (if you can call it that) – instead we were to drop over the back and descend; at this point I’m going to re-emphasise the heavy fog and a descent that must have been a 60-degrees slope made up mostly of rock fields. “This is too scary” was the thought going through my mind but were actually the worlds that came out of the mouth of the guy in front of us as he turned around after 15 metres of descent to climb back up.

As technical and steep as the first descent was, my heart definitely sank a little when I was reminded that, in roughly four hours time, we would be going back up. Up meant scrambling on all fours, working continuously for over an hour with your heart in your mouth. My genuine concern was that this event didn’t come with the warning that perhaps it should have. We had a dry, relatively warm day, but had the weather been wet then the already low finishing rate would have dwindled… significantly. Thirty-one racers finished within the allotted 12hrs, a further nine runners made it home after the cutoff. The real test of the race came at the furthest point of the course – a ridgeline that required a rope climb and provided heart stopping moments of vertigo. I’m not sure what your mountaineering abilities are but I’m pretty sure the last time I bought a pair of trainers, I didn’t ask the guy selling them if they were any good for free-climbing. It almost seemed mental to include something like this in a running race. Realistically the chances of a fall were slim, what with it being dry. But there was always that thought that if anything were to happen at any point things could get nasty very quickly.

With the Tromsø Skyrace, I found myself in the mind of a world champion. Killian has the words “I AM NOT AFRAID TO FAIL” blazoned on his laptop. If you take the time to watch “The Summits of My Life” you will better understand why this race has ended up so beautifully difficult. His mother calls him a ‘mountaineer’ rather than a runner. His chance to share his passion with us running mortals has ended up with a race where he doesn’t just invite you to run with him, but more importantly run LIKE him. Welcome to Killian’s world – enter entirely at your own risk.

Max Willcocks

Written by Max Willcocks | 14 articles | View profile

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