“Skyrunning, to me, is racing over the sort of terrain that tests your technique and mental toughness just as much as it tests your physical fitness. The sort of routes that you look at on a map, or gaze up at from the valley and wonder what if… In the UK most of these sorts of routes have until now been limited to FKT attempts by keen individuals. At its best Skyrunning brings real racing to real mountains.”
– Es Tressider
Skyrunning has boomed in recent years and with one season coming to a conclusion and the announcement of the 2016 season imminent. I asked three runners to provide their top-5 tips on becoming a better Skyrunner.
Is a former Welsh international runner specialising in mountainous terrain. Her love of gnarly conditions helped her secure the woman’s record for the classic Snowdon Horseshoe in a time of 1hr 43min. Sarah works as a guide in her business Run Snowdonia (www.runsnowdonia.co.uk), which involves anything from taking people for scenic guided runs, a hard training session or instructing people on how to run safely in the mountains.
Is a personal trainer, inov-8 athlete and has raced the Skyrunner World Series for the past 3-years. A specialist over the VK and SKY distance, Eirik has achieved world-class results in Mont-Blanc Marathon, Dolomites SkyRace, Matterhorn Ultraks and was the winner of the inaugural Tromso SkyRace.
Is a UK based runner who has embraced the challenge that Skyrunning brings and has been an ever-present participant in the Skyrunner UK series. He has raced at Glen Coe Skyline and Mourne Skyline MTR amongst others and in 2015 won the Lakeland 50.
As a runner I am mostly drawn to the mountains, in particular exposed rocky ridges and classic routes that showcase the beauty and uniqueness of an area. Races that fall under the SkyRunning banner provide that experience for me: I know I’m going to have a challenging and rewarding day out.
Study the course and train to mimic what you will encounter on race day. If the race involves a fast 9km flat prior to a Grade 3 scramble ascent, then do a 10km road race and get out in the hills as soon as possible after and do some scrambling. Get out and recce the course, but if you can’t, design a route that replicates it in your nearest wild place.
Prepare for the roller-coaster
Get used to big climbs, big descents, followed by another big climb, big descent… repeat. Get time on legs in the bank and develop strength to be able to adjust and adapt to a wide variety of terrain.
Don’t fight it
The more efficient you are in managing rough terrain the less energy you expend, which leaves more energy for simply getting the hard-enough job of the distance itself done. If you tend to “fight” a certain terrain or gradient and avoid running on it, commit to improving your technique and getting better at it.
Don’t be a fair-weather runner
Race-day date doesn’t change and the weather will do whatever it likes. If you don’t feel at ease running in driving horizontal rain encased in thick clag then you’ll feel anxious and have less energy to deal with the task at hand.
Refine your kit and fuel
Respect the kit requirements and learn how to use your gear before race day. Don’t just think about meeting the base requirement, pack things that will actually help you if things go pear-shaped: For example, if the forecast is dire, don’t scrimp on weight and go for your flimsy lightweight waterproof. Don’t neglect nutrition: practice eating and know what works for you and when to get it in.
Skyrunning for me it is about going to the mountains with no more equipment than you really need, then go up and down again as fast as you can, but in the same time enjoy the nature and the surroundings as much as possible while you are running.
The top 5 absolute must-have Skyrunning skill tips and how to obtain them.
1 . Be able to handle variation in terrain and weather conditions.
Outreach and run in different kind of terrain, everything from soft ground, hard packed surface, easy terrain and technical terrain. And make sure to train in all kinds of weather conditions. Weather will change quickly in the mountains and the surface that your run on will change with the weather.
2. Build up your engine to cope with the uphill’s.
If you really want to enjoy Skyrunning it is an advantage to have a strong heart and a set of well working lungs -most of the time spent in a race is in the climbs. Your heart and lungs can you easily sculpt trough structured cardio training with intervals and speed sessions with a higher heart rate. A couple of regular 4×4 intervals during the week are a great way to start.
3. Make sure to have strong legs for the downhill’s .
Getting to the top of a mountain is challenging, but to get back down quick and in one piece can be just as hard. Strong legs and ankles will help you to get the job done. Step inside a gym ones or twice a week during the winter and build up your leg strength with weights or just use simple body weight exercises. 20- 30 min effort is more than enough – If you throw 15 min, or so, of balance and stability training too, you will be on the safe side. It is boring but worth every minute!
4. Learn how to pace your self during a race!!
Even it is a short uphill only race or a long sky/ ultra race, picking the right pace from the beginning to the end is essential for the running experience. It is always a lot more fun to have power left in the end of a race then to suffer from the first hour and out. Pacing is something you learn a lot from experience, but if you know your own fitness level it should be possible to pic a running pace that suits you without years of experience. Be patient and listen to your body is the only way to get this right.
5. Find a good nutrition and hydration strategy and stick to it.
Skyrunning races can be short, 35 min or even less, or they can last more than a day. When you enter a long Sky Race or a Sky Ultra race a good nutrition and hydration strategy becomes important. You normally need about 60 grams of carbohydrate and a half –one liter of water every hour to work at your best. This might seam like an easy task, but to get this done during a race when your heart is beating like a drum and the adrenalin is rushing trough your body is far from easy, whit the result that you run on empty long before the finish line. Practise eating and drinking in training! And find out witch solid and liquid nutrition that works for you long before race day! Testing and failing is the way to get this right. On race day: Discipline is the key! – Eat and drink at least every 20minute if your race is expected to last two hours or more.
As a relative newbie to the world of Ultra and trail running, well running of any kind that didn’t involve carrying any webbing or rifle and stomping along in boots from past Army years, the announcement of UK Skyrunning races provided an opportunity for me to reach out of my comfort zone. My skill set lies more with mid-distance ultra races and more “runnable” terrain, though I have always enjoyed being in and around mountains given the opportunity. I felt that this was an great chance to get me into some of the UK`s more extreme areas not just to race in but spend time training and exploring.
As the courses are all marked I felt that this offered a level playing field for those who didn’t know the routes inside out. The Garmin Mourne Skyline race was a great example of this. Unfortunately I had never even heard of the Mourne mountains before, but turned up for the race and had one of the best times; the course marking was superb and the dramatic scenery of steep granite clad mountains dropping to the sea blew me away.
Now, I absolutely love the thrill of being able to travel swiftly through these stunningly rugged and often intimidating areas – all in the UK. I think due to the nature and remoteness of these races the feeling between runners becomes more about camaraderie than competitiveness. The mountains become your competition: they will exploit your weaknesses whether mental or physical. If you haven’t had much experience with this before, then here are a few things I have done which would compliment and extend any normal trail race preparation.
- Get used to extremely long and very steep climbs – both up and down. It sounds obvious but really is key because with the best will in the world that short stepped run will be reduced to a walk, so don’t be afraid to practice hard, steep walking – The best place to practice is in the mountains but can still be done on any short climbs, long flights of stairs – anything you can find that is steep. Carrying extra weight, i.e. a large rucksack will help with building strength.
- Feel confident on technical terrain, not necessarily fast, but comfortable. The more relaxed you stay the less energy you waste. Again time in the terrain helps, though you can build up some foundation first with ankle strengthening and co-ordination exercises. Take things a step further than just balancing on one foot: stand on a wobble cushion and do various movements such as one legged squats to introduce instability. Single leg jumps on and off a box are great too. My favourite is using the slackline as this works so many different elements and can help reduce that disco leg you may get traversing Crib Goch!
- Have at least a basic level of mountain skills. I feel that it is important I take responsibility for my own safety, not just for during the race but when out training. The mountains are inherently dangerous and we all get (slightly) lost or disorientated from time to time. There are some great courses run by the FRA (Fell Running Association) for navigation, independent training days/camps or you could join other more experienced people for recce days and learn from them. Some race organisations offer these so look out for details on their own websites or pages.
- Prepare yourself for the mountains mentally. Being in this environment can throw up some additional challenges; you can suddenly be alone in the fog thousands of feet up, or climbing non-stop hands on knees for over a hour, down a quick descent then back on another hour long climb, so progress can feel slow and painful. Be ready for these situations, be honest with yourself and what your fears are, imagine how you will feel and think through how you will overcome any negative thoughts – visualise and keep that end goal and sense of achievement at the front of your mind.
- Don’t just run but climb. Some of the races require climbing or scrambling, and, in a race situation the adrenaline is pumping and you are suddenly changing mind-set from runner to climber. Spend some time practicing the specific climbs or more challenging ones – obviously there is another layer of safety and planning required here so take a guide or someone experienced enough if you need it. There are also lots of indoor climbing walls in the UK so why not have some fun indoors over the winter.
The UK series has a new structure for 2016 with prize money, points per race and an overall championship with great prizes on offer, more information available HERE.