Photo: Damiano Levati/Red Bull
Come rain or shine, skimo athlete and vertical runner Victoria Kreuzer is almost a permanent fixture on the mountains. An uphill ski-mountaineering champion during winter and a Vertical Kilometer™ runner come spring, Victoria has numerous podiums to her name (including a recent win at the Epic Ski Tour) and has completed some of Europe’s toughest uphill events.
Here, the multi-talented Swiss athlete answers my questions about skimo and vertical running, and reveals how it’s taken ten years to master juggling an all-year-round racing calendar.
Did skiing and mountain sports play a big part in your life growing up?
I grew-up in a sporty family. My father was a cross-country skier – he was in the Olympic Games and after his successful career he was a trainer for the Swiss national cross-country team for ten years.
He was also a mountain guide and took me with him for nice mountain climbs. My parents did a lot of sport with me every day in their free time, and gave me the inspiration for different kinds of sport. We went nearly every day after school together, or on the weekend, on bikes, hiking, climbing, skiing or cross-country skiing.
When did you discover you enjoyed endurance sports?
My father was training after his sporting career, and I went with him. He taught me to love sport until I couldn’t be without it anymore. I loved to be out in nature, in the mountains and to run up from the bottom to the top. The steeper it was, the more I loved it!
You compete in vertical running in the summer and skimo (ski-mountaineering) in the winter – how do you balance training and competing all year-round without burning out?
This is a very good question! I began with mountain running about 12 years ago. Before I began racing, I used to run up to my house, which is on a mountain, nearly every day. Then one day I wanted to do a mountain running race – and had my first victory! So I continued racing and had a lot of success the first year.
The following 3-4 years I had a lot of injuries and overtraining. Because of the success from the first year, I always wanted more and more, and did too much training and not enough recovery. I learnt a lot from this over the years and now I know very well that my body needs enough recovery to become faster and better, and to perform at a high level! I began with skimo races in 2010, because my village had a lot of snow in winter and it wasn’t good for running. So I found skimo and instantly loved this sport. I began racing skimo in winter and had a lot of success.
But you’re right, it’s not easy to race the full year! It’s taken about 10 years to find the right balance for me that allows my body to do quality training but also recover enough. But I am still learning now, every day. I cannot choose between skimo and running because I love both!
You’ve just won the Swiss vertical championship – congratulations! How does skimo compare with vertical running? And which is your favourite?
I love both. And both are hard. For me, every race is hard if you give your best and are running at your limit. I love them equally: running in summer and skimo in winter!
Where do you train for your ski-mountaineering?
For most of my training, I am at my home town in Zermatt, Switzerland. Here we have beautiful mountains and I can choose so many different ways to go up [them]! I think it’s one of the best places for me to live, as I can do a lot of latitude training: I can run from 1600 metres up to 4200 metres.
What kind of training do you do for skimo?
I do different kinds of training; long endurance training between 2-3.5 hours, but also short intervals from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. I think the best way to train is to change what you do as much as possible, so your body isn’t used to one kind of training.
During winter what does a typical week of training look like?
It depends if there’s a race on the weekend or not. If there is a race, than it could look like this:
Monday: 2 hours [skimo] Tuesday: 1 hour [skimo] Wednesday: 8 x 2min intervals [skimo] Thursday: 40 minutes active recovery running
Sunday: 45 minutes active recovery (home trainer, running or ski)
You’re a very successful vertical runner during summer – is all of your time spent on hills and mountains?
Most of the time I train uphill, because I love to spend the time in the mountains and in Zermatt it’s not easy to run flat! And also [because] when I am running on flat ground I get injured quickly, because I’m not used to it. But I try to run a little bit on flat parts [as well as the hills] too.
Can you describe the kind of fitness you need to be a successful uphill athlete?
It’s very different from person to person. I think there is not one optimal kind of person you can be. You should find your own ideal balance.
Do you follow a structured training programme?
I am my own coach. I’ve had different trainers during the years, but now I prefer to listen to my body and how I feel every day. Since I’ve done it like this, I’ve had less injuries and the motivation is bigger. I’ve had a lot of experience in the last year and found my ideal way!
During the vertical running (VK) season what kind of run training do you do?
I try to change my training a lot. I run a bit [on the] flat, but the most of the time uphill with poles, because it’s also good training for the winter skimo races!
Is leg power important for vertical running?
I think leg power is important for uphill and especially for downhill. If you have enough power, you can run faster uphill and you can also run down without stopping. And the risk of injury is also smaller. I get the most power in my legs from downhill skiing in winter. This helps me a lot for the summer! Winter skimo is the best training for me for the summer races.
What would be your top beginner tips for running a vertical race?
My best training tip for vertical running is to hike up with poles, even when you do longer and slower training. The most important thing for a vertical race is to not start too fast! I made this mistake so many times. But if you start slowly, you can push more and more with every metre, and at the end you are faster. If not, your legs are already full of lactate after 200m uphill and then you have lost!
Do you prefer using poles for VK running or does it depend on the race?
For me, it is always a big advantage to use poles, even for races which are not so steep. I can run with poles or hike up – they help me all the time. I always say it’s like having four legs. Four legs are faster than two legs and you need less energy. That’s my opinion!
When it gets hard in a race, do you have any mental strategies to help you keep going?
I think always of a nice thing which I will do for myself when I reach my goal. I say to myself, ‘You only have to push 20 or 30 minutes and after you can…’ So maybe eat a nice piece of chocolate, or a big ice-cream or anything else that I like. It’s important to always give something good to your body after effort!
What are your favourite items of kit for skimo and for VK running?
I always use new material from Salomon or my other sponsors. I like to change what I use, but I always use my favourite Carbo Basic Plus nutrition from Winforce.
Who are you sponsored by right now?
My sponsor for running is Salomon, Julbo Eyewear sunglasses, nutrition by Winforce, Buff Headwear, Colltex Skins, Atk Bindings, Ski Trab Ski, but I am still looking for a head financial sponsor… it is very difficult in our sport, unfortunately.
What’s the most challenging event you have completed?
The most challenging event is for me was the *Patrouille de Glacier, which takes place every two years, including this year in April, because it is very long (110km), it’s on high altitude mountains, it’s in the night, in the dark and in the cold.
[*The Patrouille de Glacier is a long distance ski mountaineering event renowned for its tough conditions, which include steep mountain gorges and glaciers. Organised by the Swiss Armed Forces, civilian and military teams compete.]
What are your goals for the 2018 season?
My goal for 2018 is to become stronger with every day, to push my own limits and always give my best in all races!
You can follow Victoria’s training and uphill skimo and vertical running via social media at www.instagram.com/vickykreuzer.