Sky Runner Review: Strength, Happiness, and Balance

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Emelie Forsberg's Sky Runner - Book Review Sky Runner Review: Strength, Happiness, and Balance

According to the International Skyrunning Federation, skyrunning is an extreme sport of mountain running that occurs above 2,000 meters. The minimum average incline is 6% over the total distance and must include sections of 30%. Poles, crampons, and hands may be used to aid progress, and technical gloves and other equipment may be compulsory for some races.

While many of us will never participate in a skyrunning race, all of us can learn from the lessons in finding strength, happiness, and balance in our running that professional sky runner Emelie Forsberg shares in her book Sky Runner: Finding Strength, Happiness, and Balance In Your Running.

Who is Emelie Forsberg

Emelie Forsberg is a four-time back-to-back Sky Runner World Series champion, and record holder for Fastest Known Time (FKT) for five different ultra-running race courses. Emelie has also earned six medals at the Ski Mountaineering World Championships. She has been a member of the Swedish National Ski Mountaineering team and the Swedish National Ultratrail team.

Although running was always part of her life (Emelie ran to cross train for ball sports and climbing) it wasn’t until 2008 that running took center stage, becoming the most important aspect of her life. 

From running various distances to reading running magazines cover to cover to understand how running truly works, Emelie describes how she became fascinated with the human body and its capacity for running in this inspirational book.

Drive or Just That Little Extra

In Skyrunner, Emelie talks about going from the girl who loves the mountains and running to competing in her first race as a professional, the Dolomites Skyrace in Italy. She shares her passion for skyrunning, and how she learned to thrive in such a demanding sport.

Emelie explains how she evolved as a runner after being asked to join the Salomon Sweden Trail Team. She emphasizes the importance of not thinking about what others are doing, or their pace during a race, and how that enabled her to catch the lead women and cross the finish line as the overall female winner of the Dolomites Skyrace. It was there in Italy that her life as a professional mountain athlete began.

“To race is something special: The motivation takes us to the start line; We are about to achieve our goal,” Emelie says in Sky Runner.  “But even more special and more important to me is finding the motivation to run without having winning as a goal.” 

Throughout the book, Emelie reminds the reader that we were all built to run and work toward our goals and includes exercises that inspire and challenge us to do just that. 

Sky Runner by Emelie Forsberg

She motivates runners to try workouts that contrast with our normal training, such as trying slower, longer intervals if we prefer sticking to fast repetitions.

The Simple, the Predictable, and the Unknown

The simple, the predictable, and the unknown are the factors that Emelie is constantly trying to combine. It is while living in a camper van in Independence Pass, Colorado, that she learns to find a balance between these three, despite the fact that they seem to be polar opposites.

Emelie also addresses concerns she had about maintaining the joy and simplicity of running if she chose to make her passion her work. She eventually made the choice to live off her sport because she ultimately came to perceive running as a privilege, whether a paycheck was involved or not.

The difficulty in downhill running is recognizing that our balance and center of gravity are being challenged, and relaxing into the unknown. Sprinkled in between stories of crossroads in her life are Emelie’s training tips for tackling the demands of running uphill, downhill, and on treacherous terrains, such as plyometrics for training a runner’s reflexes to become agile for running downhills.

Proper Play

There are times when we need to take risks in both running and life to grow. Emelie discusses how she became comfortable with taking chances, including deciding between running and a stable career. In Sky Runner, she dares to choose the unknown paths and dares to have fun running when others are incredibly serious about the sport.

Emelie’s training tips include learning to see running as something playful, insisting that if an activity is practiced with joy, we will want to return to it the next day. She talks a lot about adjusting training to make it joyful, and more than just something that we have to check off our daily list.

Returning to the Skule Forest where Emelie grew up, she challenged herself to explore new trails, follow the unknown trails, and choose to run because she wants to, rather than being driven by attaining a specific result in a certain race. 

Emelie addresses that flow which runners often talk about and how it actually requires a great amount of love, time, and effort. On the way to reaching flow, we must routinely make the effort, even if some workouts become boring at times. 

During her professional life, Emelie must continually decide what is a goal and what is just interesting. She recommends that when we have goals that we dream of and feel are important, we should write them down to focus on them every day. 

One Foot in Front of the Other

Throughout the book, Emelie talks about facing difficulties. In the case of resistance, invisible barriers, and making the bodywork in harmony when we face uphills, she has a fantastic perspective:  View barriers as thick fog. Take a step toward that mass of darkness and you’ll discover that it is only air! 

Emelie decided to try her first 100-mile race after a year of being a professional athlete, registering for the 105-mile Diagonale des Fous on the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean. After running for almost 20 hours, she seriously considered dropping of the race. 

Emelie confesses to the reader that she wasn’t in pain, injured, or struggling to eat. She was simply tired, and running for that long was harder than she imagined. It wasn’t until she sat at an aid station and looked from the outside in on herself and her situation that she realized that those reasons for dropping out were only air. Emelie encourages all of us to go back to moments when we have pushed passed what we assumed were our limits the next time we seem to hit an impenetrable wall. 

Nurturing an Interest

Sky Runner covers Emelie’s 2016 European Championships experience in Les Marecottes, Switzerland. Her training had gone perfectly and Emelie went into the Championships feeling healthy and motivated, until a fall left her injured, forcing her to make a difficult decision. Emelie chose to keep a promise to herself:  To never risk her health and the ability to run every day. Not even for the Championships.

Although understandably sad and angry, Emelie learned a critical lesson that she shares with her readers:  Appreciate running, but don’t let it be your life. Work toward balance and having other interests so if you do get injured it is not the end of the world. 

Even though running is the activity she would choose every time she has the health and free time to do it, Emelie realized that other activities could be meaningful as well. It was during this season of rehab that she began to study farming as an interest to fall back on.

We can all apply this lesson to our lives.  Start by addressing any dark thoughts floating around in your head, whether it be about a running injury or an aspect of training that you dread.

Only in processing these thoughts can they become a lesson, not a barrier. Whether you are running hills in your neighborhood, or up a mountain and back down, it is inevitable that you will spend the most time not at the summit, or on the downhill, but on the climb. Emelie reminds the reader to replace dark thoughts about uphill training with positive ones.

In her book, Emelie comes off as authentic and deep, yet also practical. She shares her philosophy on motivation alongside recipes and workouts for improving running technique. Emelie also gives us a glimpse into her yoga practice as a form of stretching, while also being a way to learn the art of accepting what is meant to be. 

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Natural Energy for a Natural Life

Emelie comes from a long line of farmers, and her love for not only playing in the dirt as a trail runner but also playing in the soil by cultivating her own garden is apparent in this book. She stresses the value in knowing that if something is important, it requires time to grow. Emelie also reflects on the importance of building long-term strength, as well as a life outside the mountain running world. 

According to Sky Runner, Emelie decides to move to the climbing and skiing mecca of Chamonix, France in 2017. It is there that she begins her own farm, Moon Valley, and deepens her understudying of cultivation as more than cultivating an interest.

Cultivation is caring for nature, for to do so makes it possible to live.

In her book, Emelie explains how cultivation and forestry gave her peace while her body and heart recovered from the race injury. With its bold, natural photos of trees and roots and leaves, the book may just give readers the nudge they need to start their own vegetable garden! 

Part training manual, part colorful diary, Sky Runner is also part cookbook. After spending time at a yoga school in India, Emelie chooses to be a vegetarian. Readers will definitely want to try her recipes for zucchini lasagna and Kilian’s favorite biscuits, and consider the importance of healthy eating. Emelie’s recipes promote foods that are a source of energy and mindful living.

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Outer and Inner Journeys

One of the best parts of this book is the parallels that Emelie draws between cultivating her farm and cultivating the best version of herself, which includes becoming as good as possible in the sports she loves. If you’re interested in becoming an ultrarunner, Emelie emphasizes the importance of cultivating that over several years so your body is sustainable enough to handle the elevation, terrain, and miles! 

The exercises she recommends for runners compliment her focus on always listening to the body. She details exercises like the scissor and the top dip, complete with photos of her performing each exercise, and reminds the reader how important maintaining general strength is to training. 

Emelie also gives the reader a glimpse of her time in India and the commonalities between running and yoga. Both yoga and running connect the body and mind. It is yoga though that really taught Emelie to breathe and listen to her body, which in turn enhanced her experience as a runner. This book contains page after page of images of the author practicing her favorite yoga poses and descriptions of how to perform each. 

Eternity and All its Possibilities

Towards the end of the book, Emelie poses a question to the reader, inspired by her time in Cho You, Tibet in 2017 and her experience staring at the snow-capped summit. 

“The feeling that something this huge and eternal even exists makes life seem simple. Maybe everything doesn’t matter that much after all?”

This concept is supported by a chapter that chronicles Emelie’s journey into the world of high-altitude alpinism. 

Even if you don’t want to give skyrunning a shot after reading this book, you will still be inspired by Emelie’s life among the mountaintops as the ultimate outdoor woman.

Her main message in Sky Runner is to embrace and cultivate the paradox between the unstable, unknown aspects of skyrunning and the predictable, and apply that balance to life. Emelie does this poetically and powerfully, and her words are complemented by soulful photographs captured by her husband, sky runner Kilian Jornet.

This book is for anyone who wants to take their running to the next level, and everyone seeking to change their perspective on success and failure, injury and health, and see all as lessons we need to learn to redefine and exceed our own limits.