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The Newest Trend In Racing Has Us Reaching For The Clouds

Looking for a new challenge in 2019? Consider getting high in the new year.

Move over, color runs and obstacle course racing—there’s a new trend in town. In 2019, runners’ bragging rights will not be centered on how far or how fast, but how high. “Vert,” short for vertical gain, is poised to be the next big trend in the sport, thanks to an influx of uphill-oriented races.

The concept of vert racing is straightforward: find an incline and race up it. Vert races around the world take place on mountainsides, ski jumps and even stairwells. Some races are miles long, while others cover less distance than one loop of a standard track (though significantly more elevation). It’s a fun departure from traditional road running, where the words “flat and fast” all but guarantee a sold- out race.

Though vert races are far from fast, many runners find the challenge immensely satisfying, says mountain running coach Scott Johnston. “You do not need to be an especially fast runner to be competitive in events with lots of elevation gain and loss,” says Johnston. “Many of the best [uphill runners] are not very fast on the flats. Even slower and older runners can still be competitive.”

However, taking on a vert race is more than simply doing a few hill repeats and calling it a day. “A much larger and different muscle mass is engaged going uphill than when running on a flat surface,” advises Johnston. “You need to train specifically for it if you hope to do your best. Strength training also plays a significant role for runners doing a lot of vertical.” Workouts such as uphill tempo runs, steep hill sprints and Sisyphus sessions are all ways to build the systems required for a successful vert run.

Even those chasing a PR on a flat-and-fast course can benefit from adding a vert race to their race calendar. After all, as Olympian Frank Shorter famously said, “hills are speedwork in disguise.”

Where To Get Your Vert On In 2019:

Red Bull 400

Worldwide; May-October

It’s “only” 400 meters, but it might as well be a marathon. The Red Bull 400 is a lung-busting, quad-searing race up an Olympic ski jump, which can feature inclines of up to 36 degrees for a total elevation gain of almost 500 feet in a quarter-mile.

Tower Running Series

Worldwide; January-December

Skip the elevator and take the stairs instead. In tower running, athletes race to the top of some of the world’s tallest structures, including New York City’s Empire State Building (86 stories), Chicago’s Willis Tower (103 stories) and the Eiffel Tower in Paris (108 stories).

Vertical Kilometer World Circuit

Worldwide; May-October

A spinoff of the popular Skyrunner trail-racing series, the Vertical Kilometer races traverse up some of the steepest trails around the world. The precipitous grades (up to 50 percent) and technical terrain provide an added challenge to the already-arduous task of ascending 3,000 to 5,000 feet.

Pikes Peak Ascent

Manitou Springs, CO; August 24-25

Starting at the base of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs, the 13.3-mile course is a relentless uphill challenge that climbs over 7,800 feet to the summit. If the scenery doesn’t take your breath away, the altitude will—the race finishes at the thin air of 14,115 feet.

Mont Blanc K2000 Skyrace

Courmayeur, Italy; August 4

Don’t let the first few miles fool you, after departing from the city center of this quaint village in northern Italy, the deceptively flat course will creep up (and up, and up). In all, athletes will gain 2,200 meters (7,200 feet), in under seven miles.

29029 Everesting Challenge

Snowbasin, Utah; August 22-25

Stratton, Vermont; October 17-20

“Everesting,” or ascending the same 29,029 feet of elevation gain as climbing Mount Everest, is the granddaddy of all uphill challenges. The 29029 challenge brings Everest to the United States for 36 hours of epic endurance. In this unique format, athletes run (or hike, or crawl) up a mountain, take the gondola down, and repeat.