The Youth World Skyrunning Championships were developed to create a stepping-stone for young runners to transition into the senior ranks. They’re a fantastic opportunity for aspiring future champions to test themselves against the best in their age group and learn from other athletes from across the globe. In this instance, some 200 runners from 28 countries took part, travelling from the four corners to the quiet rural landscape of Gran Sasso, around 2 hours east of Rome.
For the ANZ contingent, we had Yonni Kepes from New Zealand and Brayden Funk from Australia. Both arrived with plenty of excitement, keen to get the most of the experience, which they sure did! To begin with, neither had ever done a vertical kilometre, so toeing the line on day one of racing was a daunting task. Brayden described the start perfectly, “Standing in line as the starter counted down between each runner was intense. It’s like a cycling time trial, with people setting off every 15 seconds. You just look ahead and see a mountain in front, dotted by runners grinding their way up.” Yonni recollects the experience in a colourful manner “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. So different to an ultra. You basically redline the whole way and drop dead across the finish. It was awesome and I can’t wit to do another one!”
There was a rest day between the VK and Skyrun and the team took the opportunity to relax and have a look at part of the course for the following day. Having arrived a few days prior, we had scoped out much of the trail, which was spectacular to say the least. However the remote nature of the event meant seeing the whole route wasn’t possible. The plus side of this was there would be something new to look forward to on race day.
The Skyrun (22km/2,200m+) took in a scenic alpine loop around the mountaintops, beneath the towering rocky summit of Gran Sasso. It was an exposed course, with a mix of open trail, groomed single track and plenty of technical stuff. There was even a stretch off steep, rocky escarpment that required the use of ropes to traverse. For Yonni, this was the highlight “The gnarly section at the back of the course was epic. The sheer cliffs dropped away on both sides and you were exposed at the top of a ridge. One mistake and you’d find yourself in hospital.” Brayden on the other hand enjoyed the variety of the course and sharing the trails with so many other young athletes. “For me, the best things were the variability of the trail, from super technical to fast descending on smooth forest trails. Plus it was so different being in a race where everyone else is the same age. In the few moments where you could catch your breath it was nice to chat to people from different countries.”
When asked if they’d do it again, both were overwhelming supportive of the event and thankful for the opportunity. “It was such an incredible experience. I’ve never done anything like it and the whole week was so much fun.” Said Yonni. Brayden shared similar sentiments “It’s motivated me to train harder and be better prepared for next time. I’ve also met loads of awesome people that I’ll no doubt stay in touch with in the years ahead.”
There are currently plans for a 2020 Youth World Championships to be held there again, or potentially a new venue. Our intention is to send as big a team as possible, so stay tuned for details. At this point, Skyrunning Australia and New Zealand would like to extend a huge thank you to the International Skyrunning Federation and also the organisers of the Youth World Championships. We would also like to thank The North Face Australia for supporting our team and the aspirations of these young runners.