Girls on Hills guide and Operations Manager Hannah is no stranger to the mountains but she has only recently taken up skyrunning. In this blog post, Hannah reflects on her reasons for racing and why everyone should feel empowered to give it a try, rather than worrying about ability and performance…
Hannah racing at the Pinnacle Ridge Extreme 2023
Racing provides us with an incredible opportunity to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and find out what we are capable of. Stepping into this unknown is often when the magic happens. Sky racing can sometimes seem intimidating from the outside and it is so easy to focus on why not to do something, meaning we often miss out on all the reasons we should take that leap of faith.
Why I started racing
I was attracted to skyracing because I love moving as fast as I can over technical rocky terrain in beautiful mountainous places and I wanted to push myself with the challenge of doing lots of ascent in one day. I ignored all my worries about cut-offs, fitness and imposter syndrome and focused on the positives, excited to step into this new world - and I haven’t looked back!
My favourite skyrace so far is Pinnacle Ridge Extreme where I was able to combine my love of scrambling and running. The course involves 4 graded scrambles which suited me perfectly with my rock climbing background, meaning I was able to make good time on the technical sections. The course also involves some sections of very runnable trail which is something that comes less naturally to me. I was really happy to see my training had paid off and I was moving well on these fast runnable parts of the race too. Of course there are also skyrace options that don’t take in graded scrambles, so there really is something for everyone.
We all know how great we feel after getting out for a run and even more if we’ve been out running on trails and in mountains. The post race endorphin rush feels even better and really is hard to sum up in words. The surge of emotions as you cross the finish line of your first skyrace; tears of exhaustion, relief and also immense joy for how proud you are of yourself for all the hard work it has taken to get you here. These feelings leave us wanting more and as soon as the DOMS have faded, we are already scheming for the next adventure!
Guide Bethany enjoying her first skyrace at Skyline Scotland
Training can be fun
Training for skyraces can be a lot of fun because it’s so varied and includes everything from big days running or walking in the hills, to moving fast on runnable undulating trails - and also that all important strength work in the gym/at home. Practising eating whilst running is a really important part of training too as it’s really important to fuel well for big days. It’s fun experimenting with a variety of food as everyone is different, so it’s important to find out what works for you.
Developing existing skills is also a big part of preparation for skyracing; you can build your scrambling experience on sociable days out with friends and sharpen your downhill running technique on familiar local trails. This means you never get bored, as even on rest days you can use the time to plan future adventures and study the race map to pin-down your race day strategy from the comfort of the sofa.
If you're new to skyrunning but want to get involved, check-out our Introduction to Skyrunning weekends in Scotland, Wales (Snowdonia) and England (Lake District) for 2024.
Guides Hannah and Jess on a training run together
The community aspect of skyraces is amazing, everyone is so supportive and encouraging of each other. And remember it is okay to be nervous before a race and on the start line, chances are nearly everyone else is too! For every person you have been intimidated by (because of their appearance or sporting achievements), there will be someone else thinking the same about you! No matter where we come in a race, we have all made it round the same course and pushed ourselves in equal measure.
We should also try not to shy away from racing because of fears of being timed-out by cut-offs. It can be hard to take that first step but realistically it doesn’t matter at all if you get cut-off if you’ve enjoyed the process and the journey! Most likely you’ll learn a lot and want to try again!
Exploring new places
Another huge win is how racing provides us with the opportunity to travel outside our local area and run somewhere new. This adds a cool level of adventure and excitement to running. And the great thing about skyraces is they are flagged and marshalled, meaning you can focus on all the fun parts of running in the mountains rather than have our flow disrupted by having to stop and get the map out.
Race day allows us to reach our full potential as we push harder, run for longer and the atmosphere and seeing other competitors around us spurs us on even more. For most of us, it’s more about being competitive with ourselves, than with others. This is amazing for boosting our confidence levels and self belief. It can encourage us to get out of our comfort zones in other aspects of life too!
Guide Raeanne enjoying the Ring of Steall skyrace
There are lots of fantastic sky races all over the UK; The Seven Sisters Skyline in Ireland, RAB Helvellyn Sky Ultra and The Snowdon Sky Race to name a few. Most skyraces usually start at around 30km and 2500m of ascent, but there has been an increase of some more amenable distances which is super exciting to make the sport more accessible. Here are some great examples of some technical trail races and shorter skyrace options out there:
Great Langdale 10km, Lake District - 10km, 250m of ascent
Place Fell 15km, Lake District - 15km, 680m of ascent
Fairy Trail, Snowdonia - 16km, 950m of ascent
Copper Sky Trail, Snowdonia - 24km, 1750m of ascent
St Sunday Crag, Lake District - 29km, 2050m of ascent
New Races for 2025
Eryri 25k from Ultra Trail Snowdonia, 1300m ascent
Excited to see what the new Skyline Scotland Trail and skyraces will be!
Lots of events are adhering to the recommended guidelines from She Races, making racing more appealing, supportive and accessible for women. Check-out the website to see which races are committed to helping get more women on the start line.
Girls on Hills have skyrunning guides available for bespoke guided days and coaching in Scotland, England and Wales, so if you have a race route you'd like to recce or want some 1:1 instruction to improve your skills on technical terrain, just email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
What are you waiting for?! Find that race that suits your goals and that fills you with excitement, sign up and give it a try!