Vertical Running Reaches Yet Another Landmark

Red Bull K3 is the first-ever 3,000-meter vertical running race. We speak to winner Marco Moletto.
Competitors running up the mountain during the Red Bull K3.
Look flat to you? Trust us, it's not © Daniele Molineris / Red Bull Content Pool
By Andy

Covering 3,000m (9,842 feet) in a time of two hours and six seconds may seem like an easy challenge, but not when the three kilometres in question are not the distance to cover, but the height of a mountain to climb.

Vertical running, a unique subset of trail running or sky running, is one of the most grueling competitions there is. It's a true test of stamina, strength and endurance. Short courses often mean all-out sprints from the get-go, but Red Bull K3 – the first 3,000m race – required some different strategy. The winner of Red Bull K3, Marco Moletto (26), explains the attraction of a race that leaves your legs feeling like rubber.

The 10km course started from 503m and finished on the 3,538m summit of Rocciamelone. Why do people do it?

I love taking in the view at the top of a mountain knowing I've climbed it in half the time most other people would take. I've got an urge to be faster, even than myself; next year I want to be even quicker. I didn't train fully for this race, but I regularly compete in vertical kilometer races of 1,000-1,200m.

Female competitors start running at the Red Bull K3.
The start in Susa © Daniele Molineris / Red Bull Content Pool

So you do this regularly?

I work clearing mountain trails, and the council gives me time off to compete in the Vertical Kilometre World Cup. I beat Kilian Jornet for third place at the finals last year. This year the finals are in Limone on Lake Garda.

What's the recipe for victory?

This is the first 3,000m race, and it was a totally new challenge for all of us. If you set the wrong pace you risk not even reaching the summit. And they eliminate the rear 80 percent of the field over two checkpoints. I was in the lead pack with five or six guys until about 1,500m and then the leader started to flag. Your mind tells you you can't go on, but part of the training is telling yourself you can. I felt good with my pace so I took the lead and managed to hold it for the rest of the climb.

Competitors running up a rocky trail at the Red Bull K3.
The run covered varied terrain © Stephane Cande / Red Bull Content Pool

Is it dangerous?

There are sections with rope rails, and you have to keep some energy in reserve to get back down after the race. When you're tired that's when it becomes dangerous. It's still the mountain with all its risks. The other danger is cramps and muscle injuries in the last 400-500m, but there's no downhill so it's easy on the joints.

Ezio Sardanapoli climbs on the rope at the Red Bull K3.
A competitor grabs ahold of the rope © Damiano Levati/Red Bull Content Pool

Are you bulky or wiry?

Vertical racing is faster than trail running. Usually 1k races are a sprint decided in 40-45 minutes so the training is less time-consuming too. I'm 1m 83cm and only 59kg, and that physique suits vertical running. Everything has to be light. I'm sponsored with La Sportiva Vertical K shoes. They have an aggressive tread which works really well on wet rock, wet grass and shale, but they're less than 200g.

Competitors running through the woods during the Red Bull K3.
Taking the tree line © Daniele Molineris / Red Bull Content Pool

Any special gear?

I carried just a 200ml drink for salts, and three gels. You have to think that every gram is seconds that you lose. We carry a jacket, hat and gloves, for after the race. When you're running up a mountain you don't have time to feel the cold.

read more about
Next Story