© Migu Run Skyrunner World Series/ David Gonthier
When it comes to versatility of racing, you’d be hard to find someone who can switch it up as successfully as Russian skyrunning and ultra trail athlete Katya Mityaeva, who has triumphed in both short but brutal vertical kilometer™ races and long, extremely mountainous ultras. She just came 4th at this year’s 170km UTMB and, although you’ll mostly find her on a mountain trail (sometimes with her successful skyrunning husband, Dimitri Mityaeva), she’s also got a mean road marathon time of 2:36!
I caught up with the successful skyrunner via email to talk skyrunning, training and UTMB.
You recently came 4th at UTMB – your first ever 100 miler. Congratulations! How was it?
I am very happy to finish my first 100 miles at the main start in the world of trail running. This year there was a stronger female line-up than before! It is always interesting to run when there is high competition. It was important for me to take pleasure from start to finish, because there are such beautiful mountains around and I wanted to enjoy every moment. From the start, I decided not to chase the leaders; I understood that the race is difficult and the whole struggle will be at the very end, not with rivals, but with myself and most importantly to not give up.
The race as a whole, of course, was not easy. I really liked to run at night, but in the afternoon it was very hot and hard to endure! At the food stations was my husband Dima, who helped me and supported me. Without him, and without my adidasTERREX team, I would not be able to finish, because giving up is very easy – or rather, breaking down is.
There are some things to work on [going forward] and we know what mistakes to fix in order to run better. I am ready to repeat, and despite all the difficulties, I liked the race.
Rewinding, you grew up orienteering and competed at a high level. What made you stop competing?
I started orienteering when I was 14. This is a great sport for children, as it is a real game where you need to find a control point and run to the finish as quickly as possible. It was very interesting for me! After school I wanted to stay in the sport [of running] but understood that it would be very difficult to stay in orienteering, so I decided that I needed to try other options, after which I decided to try the road marathon.
Your marathon time is an incredible 2:36! Did you ever consider competing as a marathoner?
Back in school, when I was engaged in orienteering and athletics, I already liked to run long distances and thoughts of the marathon were that: someday I will run a marathon.
My first marathon was in Moscow in 2012, for which I was preparing and wanted to run in 3 hours, but I finished in 2 hours and 44 minutes and I was very happy about that! After that, I ran a few starts in China, where I managed to improve my time.
You also came first in the World Military Games in ski mountaineering. Do you still practice skimo in winter?
I was preparing for the World Military Games over two winter seasons (from 2016-2017), because before that I had never stood on skis, even on regular cross-country ones. In the process of learning, I liked this sport, but I understood that it is very traumatic [on the body] and where I live there is no snow in winter. After the World Military Games, I decided that in the next few years I would not practice this sport and would focus on running to avoid injuries.
You’re a versatile athlete, taking wins at short but intense vertical kilometer™ races and also extreme distance ultras. Do you have a preferred race length/discipline?
I think I like to run ultra [distance] races, where I run and enjoy all the beauty of the mountains, where I run a small journey for the race and get incredible emotions that last a lifetime.
What is it that you enjoy about skyrunning and which has been your favourite skyrace so far?
Skyrunning is an amazing sport! I really like in this sport that it is friendly, which is the most important thing – for that, I appreciate Skyrunning! And, of course, this is an incredibly beautiful sport, where every race takes place in incredibly fabulous places. There are a lot of races and it’s hard to say which one I like the most – of the short ones I like Limone, and the Marathon Du Mont Blanc, since this was my first international start, but my favourite ultra is Ultra Pirineu – it was my first ultra and so for me it is special.
Do you train by a particular philosophy or goal?
Yes, of course. In skyrunning, competition is growing every year and it is very important to correctly plan the training process. I do all the training by pulse (heart rate) and the volume of trainings is measured by watch. I try to travel more and train in the mountains. I devote a lot of time to recovery and analysing my training, as I believe that only such an approach can lead to success and provide an opportunity to perform at a high level for many years.
Skyrunning features a huge amount of vertical ascent. How much of your training is done uphill or on mountains, and do you include any hill sprints or hill speed work?
Over the past few years, 99% of my workouts have been done in the mountains, I just really love the mountains and I like to run in them. At least once a week I do interval or pace training. In general, about 10-20% of the workouts I perform with high intensity. In winter, I often do sprint workouts uphill. These are short stretches, for example 10 seconds of sprinting uphill for 40 reps; this workout develops strength endurance well.
What does your running training look like?
Usually I train 8 to 13 times a week, 2 long workouts, 1 or 2 speed, some strength and the rest is just jogging or [on] a bicycle. I use many races as a long or paced training sessions. I don’t do more than 5 hours in regular trainings, I usually have a long run for 3 hours.
Is most of your running done on the trail or is it a mix of terrain?
Most of the training takes place in the mountains, as I try to train in conditions similar to the race for which I am preparing.
Do you include strength training in your schedule?
Recently, I began to spend more time in the gym, because I see a lot of potential in this and I feel that this training’s already helped me to become stronger. I usually do some exercises with a barbell and leg press, I also do core and TRX training.
Your husband Dimitry is a leading skyrunner too – do you ever train together?
This happens very rarely, only when we are training in the gym or during a warm-up before an interval training session.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
Monday is an easy day, 90 minutes of cycling or rest.
Tuesday – interval or pace training. The second training session is 80 minutes on a bicycle or 60 minutes of easy running.
Wednesday – a long workout, up to 3 hours.
Thursday is an easy day, 90 minutes on the bike + power in the hall.
Friday – interval or pace training. The second training session is 80 minutes on a bike or 60 minutes of easy running.
Saturday – recovery cross training + short accelerations. Second workout of 60 minutes + strength training.
Sunday is a long training run.
You run your own trail running school. How’s it going?
Yes, we started it four years ago. At the moment we train 130 people online and conduct 5-6 training camps around the world. It is very interesting and brings great pleasure to help people realize their goals and make their lives more interesting.
Which big races are you excited about and will we see you at the Sky Masters in October?
I love technical races, probably my favorite distance is around 100km, but I also like fast races. I like Red Bull 400! I really hope that I will be in good shape to come on Sky Masters (the grand finale event of the Migu Run Skyrunner World Series) in October. It will be a very interesting and beautiful race!
What are your favourite items of kit for skyrunning?
My favorite sports kit is the adidas TERREX Parley line, because the material is very light and does not bring any discomfort, which is most important for running. As for shoes, I prefer adidas TERREX TWO BOA – this is the most versatile mountain shoe with a fast BOA (fastening) system. Very often small pebbles get into the sneaker and you need to remove them which takes a long time, but with the adidas TERREX system, it’s very fast and convenient! However, this model of shoe is not suitable for wet and dirty tracks, so I use the adidas TERREX Speed, which I also love! All the training I run in the same equipment as the competition (races), the only difference is the backpack which I wear only in competitions. My favourite backpack is adidas TERREX Agravic!
Who are you sponsored by at the moment?
My sponsors are adidas TERREX, Red Bull, Electrolux and Suunto.