From Vertical Kilometres to Sky Ultras, the majority of any Skyrunning event will be spent ascending. Hence improving your speed and efficiency on climbs will pay big dividends on race day. Here, Ben Duffus gives us a handful of methods you can employ in training to do so!
- One of the staple ingredients of a Skyrunning training program is steep hill repeats. This is speed work for mountain runners and has a plethora of benefits. Early on in a training block, sessions consisting of a total 20min of all out efforts on hills that take 3-7min to ascend (with long recoveries in between) will develop VO2 max and hill-specific strength. As the race draws closer, slightly slower tempo efforts up longer hills for a total of 30-60min uphill running (with short recoveries in between), will increase the duration that we can sustain running uphill.
- As the gradient of an incline increases, it eventually becomes more efficient to hike rather than run at a given pace. Skyrunning events are littered with climbs which need to be hiked, so we need to develop our ability to walk quickly up hills. Doing our long runs on terrain with a similar elevation profile will offer ample opportunity to practice. It’s important to remember that we should be hiking simply because it’s more efficient, not because we need to recover. So the intensity should be the same as when we’re running. Purposefully including hiking repeats of hills at an intensity above race-pace will help teach us not to slacken off when walking. For example, a 3hour long run could start with 4 x 10min fast hikes, with an easy jog back down.
- A variety of successful walking techniques can be employed, but some offer the chance to use your upper body to assist your legs. One popular technique is push down on the leading leg with the same arm. However, poles are probably the best way get your upper body involved. The key is to plant the poles down firmly in front of you, drive down on the straps (rather than gripping the poles tightly) and push off hard. On moderately steep slopes, alternating which pole is planted (similar to swinging your arms while running) is often most comfortable. On really steep slopes it is usually most efficient to plant both poles at the same times and haul yourself up with both arms. If you are going to use poles on race day, make sure that you get comfortable using them in training.
- It not enough to just be able to run and hike well up hills, we also need to readily switch back and forth between the two. It’s a common trap that once people start walking up an incline, they feel committed to hiking and may not run another step until the top. But if the gradient of the climb eases off then we should be ready to immediately start running again (and the reverse when it steepens again). This ability can be honed during specific hill rep sessions. For example, a session of 6min hill reps could be broken into 3 lots of running for 1min, then hiking fast for 1min.
- Specific strength work can greatly increase your ability to power up hills. Exercises like step-ups and lunges closely mimic the action of running up hill and will hence target the appropriate movement patterns. Check if your next Skyrunning event has lots of steep slopes or stairs. Your foot lands flat when going up stairs but is sloped upwards when ascending an incline. So if your race has a lot of stairs then doing regular step-ups and lunges is great, but if it has more slopes then try doing those exercises onto a sloped surface.
So there are 5 tips that you can integrate into your training to develop your climbing skills and help set you up for a fun day in the mountains. If you’re after more advice on how to best prepare for your next Skyrunning event, feel free to contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s a coach in demand so make sure you reserve a place in his stable!