On September 9, Carbondale-based runner Joseph DeMoor, 32, became the first American male to earn a gold medal at the Skyrunning World Championships, held this year in Italy’s Ossola Valley. Snatching first place in the vertical category required gut-busting it up nearly 3,500 feet across just 2.3 miles in a title-clenching 37 minutes, 4 seconds.

Upon hearing the news, our first reaction was, Sweet! Colorado runner rocks the world stage! Our second thought was, What the bleep is skyrunning? Here, the champ himself explains the sport, the mental focus it requires, and how a regular Joe can take home its highest honor.

Skyrunning involves serious elevation gain.

Trail running can be broadly defined as running on anything other than hard-surfaced roads. “Skyrunning is basically the most technical discipline of trail running,” DeMoor says. The International Skyrunning Federation clarifies further that the sport involves running at an altitude above 2,000 meters (roughly 6,500 feet) where the incline is more than 30 percent but the climbing is at most grade 2, defined by the International Union of Alpine Associations as a scramble with abundant hand- and footholds.

Skyrunning has three primary race disciplines: the short and steep vertical, the middle-distance sky, and the more-than-a-marathon distance ultra. This year’s courses gained around 3,500 feet, 8,500 feet, and 11,500 feet of elevation, respectively. “Skyrunning races emphasize altitude as one of their parameters,” DeMoor says, adding that this is one of the things he loves most about the sport. “This is one advantage training in Colorado definitely has over many places.”

The sport takes guts.

Skyrunning often involves navigating across and around boulders, talus, scree, and other forms of bumpy terrain while moving as fast as possible. Unsurprisingly, falls are common. During the championships, DeMoor happily reported that he only rolled his ankle once and had just one “small tumble after tripping on some loose rock–pretty standard for skyracing.”

Concentration and exact foot placement are essential–and beautiful–elements of the sport. “Moving fast over technical terrain requires a type of focus that can be quite meditative,” DeMoor says. “Everything outside of the present moment fades away.”

You can be a skyrunning champ and still have a day job…

DeMoor spends a lot of time running, but not all of it. He’s been Aspen Skiing Company’s summer trail crew lead for the past four years, and in the winter, he’s the lead snowcat operator on the mountain’s Cat Crew. DeMoor doesn’t mind that his job cuts into hours he could otherwise spend on the trail. “It can be a solitary existence being an endurance athlete,” he says. “I think it’s good to have other pursuits in life outside of sport.”

…but you’ll spend your weekends training.

Working four 10-hour shifts each week means that DeMoor gets in 75 to 80 percent of his mileage over his three-day weekend. On a typical training day, he’s rumbling his 2002 Toyota Tundra up to a remote trailhead (sometimes with his brother, Seth) in either the West Elk Mountains or the Sawatch Range by 5:45 a.m. After lacing up his La Sportiva Cyklons (he’s sponsored by the brand), he sets out across 15 to 25 miles, gaining between 5,000 and 8,000 feet of elevation, and bagging at least one, likely multiple, peaks. It’s not atypical for him to snag a fastest-known time (FKT) along the way.

Post-run, he heads home and relaxes with his wife, dog, and their two kittens. Around 5 p.m. though, he gets in another 5 to 6 miles “just around town” for “a little extra stimulus but also [to loosen] the legs back up for the next day’s run.” The following day–and the day after that–he does the same thing: “Run. Eat. Run. Sleep. Repeat,” he jokes.

Skyrunners love the mountains.

Raised in Buena Vista by parents who met in a Durango-based running group, DeMoor’s passion for the peaks is in his blood. Early photos show a blonde 6-year-old in sneakers heading up 14,203-foot Mt. Belford with his dad. (Note that he now holds an FKT on that same peak.) To hear DeMoor tell it, he “didn’t do anything crazy” as a kid but supposes, “We were trail running and didn’t even know it: playing, adventuring, exploring.” Certainly, that type of childhood paved–or rather, put a steep ascent and a bunch of boulders in–the way for his skyrunning success: “I was super fortunate to have that kind of foundation,” he says.