Welcome to Earth

What is Skyrunning?

WELCOME TO EARTH: Fartlek Training

Greetings and welcome to Welcome to Earth, the part of POSSESSED where we answer a letter from a goofy-ass alien from another planet. This month’s letter comes from Tefnut, who doesn’t actually hail from another planet—he lives somewhere at the bottom of our Pacific Ocean, which is where most of the UFOs you see on YouTube come from because 71% of Earth is ocean, and only 24% of that 71% has been mapped (do not get me started). Tefnut asks:


What’s the scoop on ‘Skyrunning’? Sounds crazy. Like, what is it, running in the sky? LOL. Shout out to my homies in the Mariana Trench.

Peace, Tefnut

Thanks for your question, Tefnut, and what a timely one! It just so happens that Kílian, the dude we’ve built this issue around, is a professional skyrunner! What are the odds? Kílian is actually one of the best, if not the best, skyrunners in the world. He’s won loads of skyrunning races and set crazy skyrunning records, and he’d probably give you a better answer than we can, but he can’t be reached right now because he is, in fact, skyrunning. So, what is it? What is skyrunning? Hmmm...

Skyrunning is a type of running that happens at high mountain altitudes. It’s a subset of mountain running and sort of a combination of trail running and mountaineering. More often than not, skyrunning racecourses are exceptionally technical and involve super steep ascents and descents. When we say high altitudes, we’re talking thousands of feet up in the sky. For example, Italy’s Monte Rosa SkyMarathon is almost 15,000 feet up, and you won’t see any birds up there because none of them can fly that high. Think about THAT for a second, Tefnut (correction: Andean Condors can fly at 15,000 feet; any higher than that, though, and they explode).

Technically, skyrunning has been around for as long as humans have been crazy enough to go up mountains, but to quote the International Skyrunning Federation, ‘the concept of running up and down mountains for fun (!) is much newer.’ In fact, it’s really newer. It’s about the same age as the American rock band Nirvana. Skyrunning as a sports discipline was devised somewhere between the release of Nevermind and the death of Kurt (1991—94) by mountaineer Marino Giacometti, an Italian man with a thirst for altitude and adventure. There had been high-altitude races in the past (the Ben Nevis Race, founded in the UK in 1895; Colorado’s Pikes Peak Marathon, 1954, etc), but they were all virtually unknown, so Marino and his elevation-addict buddies went about setting up races in places like the Himalayas, the Rockies, Mount Kenya, and the Mexican Volcanoes (there’s a joke there about a bad fajita but it’s too easy). These were (and are) crazy races that required participants to be highly skilled in navigation and extreme endurance.

Since those heady days of grunge, skyrunning’s popularity has grown exponentially, with some 400 races worldwide and more than 100,000 participants each year. That’s a lot of people scurrying up and down mountains, isn’t it? It’s pretty nutty. And fun, apparently. But you need to know your shit, Tefnut. You can’t just enter a skyrunning race and expect to finish, let alone live, especially when you were born and raised at the deep, dark, utterly uncharted bottom of the Pacific Ocean where all the aliens live. Disclosure 2024!

If you’re an alien from another planet and you have a running-related question you’d like answered in 700 words or less, 

 you can write to us here!