1. Learn to Power Hike
A key part of any Skyrace is power hiking, which involves getting your upper body low, putting your hands on your knees and using some force with your arms to help ‘push’ you along. Typically you do it on the steep climbs and stairs where running become too slow and labouring. Power hiking should be practiced lots in training as it’s a skill that can be a big help on race day. Plus you need to condition your arms and lower back to it.
2. Know the Course
Take the time to study the course maps and descriptions, not only well in advance of race day, but the night before too. Skyrunning events are held in remote and challenging environments, with many of the courses minimally marked. This means you have to know where you’re going and be able to navigate your way through mountainous terrain. What’s more, by knowing the course in detail you’ll have a clear picture of where aid stations are and what lies ahead.
3. Test Your Gear
There will always be some form of mandatory gear in the longer sky races you’ll do. It can be as little as a water bottle and some gels, or an entire backpack full of thermals, raincoat, beanie, gloves and more. The last thing you want half way through your race is to discover that your pack is causing chaffing, your raincoat is too small or your water bladder leaks! For this reason it’s always a good idea to train a fair amount wearing or carrying what you will on race day.
4. Practice Your Nutrition
Similar to the reasons for testing your gear, practicing your nutrition strategy will enable you to better understand how your body reacts to the fuel you consume and work out what works best for you. It’s a good idea to try different brands of gels, electrolyte replacement, food etc during your long training runs. Find what works best for you and then stick to that when you race.
5. Train Off-Road
Sky races are almost entirely on the dirt. From open fire trails and rutted single tracks, to extremely rocky and boulder-strewn goat paths. It’s testing stuff on your muscles, joints and mind. In order to prepare yourself for the challenges of this type of terrain you really need to do a fair amount of training on it. If like many an urban dweller you have limited access to such environments, take the time to travel somewhere you can find it at least once a week. It’s well worth the effort!
6. Do Downs, Not Just Ups
Skyrunning involves loads of ascending and descending. Sometimes the ups and downs are long and steady, other times they’re short and extremely steep. Conditioning your body to the rigors of climbing and going downhill is hugely important, but typically people focus only on the up. Often it’s the muscle fatigue caused by pounding descents that brings people undone. Climbing is important, but you should also do lots of downhill running to get use to the impact and being able to go from descending to ascending – it can be tough for the uninitiated!
7. Wear Quality Shoes
Good footwear goes beyond simple in-shoe comfort. A quality pair of kicks needs to be able to withstand the rigors of rocks, water, heat and sometimes even snow. Think of them as an investment in your running pleasure. Get shoes that have adequate grip for the type of terrain you’ll be racing in. If there’s lots of mud, you’ll need big lugs. If there’s rocky terrain, toe protection is a must. Wear your shoes in gradually during training and do your best to get to race day without any blisters or soreness. Toe the line with fresh feet!
8. Ask Questions
If you’re new to the sport, no doubt you’ll have plenty of things you’ll want to know. What gear do I get? What training should I do? How do I get my numbers? Is there phone reception on the course? Often, many of the simple questions will be answered by visiting the event website, but if you have anything that concerns you or you’re simply inquisitive about, then don’t hesitate to pop a question on a running forum/facebook page or in an email to the race director. You’ll find most of those that are regulars in trail running are a pretty friendly and helpful lot.
9. Be Mentally Prepared
Knowing the challenge of what lies ahead is extremely important. You need to prepare your mind for the battle between you and the trail! It’s going to be very hard at times. You’ll have highs and lows. There will be moments when you may want to quit, and if you’re mentally prepped for it, you’ll be better equipped to get through and keep pushing through the pain. Just remember, the goal is to finish. If it takes an hour or two longer than anticipated, grit your teeth and just get through it!
10. Enjoy the Scenery
Sky races take you to remarkable places. That’s a large part of the reason we do them. The mountain scenery can be spectacular and if you’re too caught up in the battle, the vistas will pass you by unnoticed. Take the time to look at the world around you. Summit the climb and look at where you’ve just come from. Splash your face in waterfall and stop to enjoy the moment. By taking on the challenge of a sky run you’re doing something very special and rewarding. Make the most of it.
Taken from issue 2 of Skyrunner magazine: