Sky Running 101 with Hector Haines
Written By: SportsShoes
If you’re thinking about venturing into the world of sky running, it’s time to find out everything you wanted to know and more. Elite athlete Hector Haines brings us his Sky Running 101 for the latest in our NoFunStandingStill AT HOME series.
Hector is an elite Sky Runner, Orienteer and Merrell athlete who has competed at high level on the world stage for a number of years. Having completed some of the world’s most iconic and brutal sky races, he has notched up an impressive number of top ten placings including 5th in the World Sky Running Series and a 6th place at Limone.
Sky running takes place on mountains at over 2,000m, with an incline of over 6% and including sections of 30%, so requires careful training and prep before taking part. Here Hector joins us to provide his key tips for newcomers to the sport, including how to get started, kit recommendations, race prep and motivation, as well as guiding us through his top mobility exercises and stretches. Pull up a comfortable chair and get ready to be inspired…
- Pro tips on how to get started
- Learn physical and mental preparation techniques
- Find out what kit to take with you
- Advice on altitude
- Learn key mobility and flexibility exercises for trail running
HECTOR’S TOP TIPS FOR SKY RUNNING
Comfort is King
Whatever you do, make sure you’re doing it in a good pair of trail shoes that fit properly and deliver optimum comfort, such as the Merrell Long Sky. The overall feeling you’re going for is one of comfort and flying and the last thing you’ll want is blisters or chafing. As you become more advanced you can then refine your choices, for example by switching to a more lightweight shoe or adjusting grip, but when you’re starting out in Sky Running, Hector advises that comfort should be your overriding priority.
Get off the Road and Get onto the Trails
Start initially by swapping the tarmac for the trails and go exploring with plenty of variation in your routes. An incredible part of sky running is going to new places and seeing new things. Take these small steps to start to build that excitement for exploring and use it to progress.
Start to Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone
As you build confidence you can start to make your trail runs a bit longer and more technical. Hector recommends starting off on big trails, then moving to a smaller trail, then to single track and eventually venturing off-trail. At all times keep exploring new routes and,as running those trails and on different terrain starts to become more and more instinctive, push yourself a little further out of your comfort zone each time.
Don’t go too long or technical for your first race
When you’re ready for your first race, Hector recommends opting for something that isn’t too long or technical, such as the Dolomites Sky Race. You need to be fit enough to finish the distance, but also bear in mind that you can walk sections and take poles for trickier segments. Crucially, it’s important to have confidence in your body and how well you can run on trails and challenging terrain when you’re tired and fatigued. Be prepared for a mental battle in the later stages of the race.
Think “Fast Feet” on Downhill Sections
When you’re training and racing on downhill sections where the descent is particularly rocky or technical, Hector recommends the mantra “fast feet, fast feet, fast feet.” This fast light movement helps the brain to focus and instinctively pick out the right place to land. It also helps to ensure that if your landing is slightly off, that you’re pushing off quickly and onto the next one.
Analyse the Course Profile to Determine Strategy
Make sure to analyse the course profile and have clear in your mind what the different sections are, how technical it is and how much climb there is. From that you can make a strategy taking into account where the steep parts are, where you can realistically recover, where the aid stations are and so on.
Segment the Course Mentally
Hector breaks every race into three different segments and assigns strategies to each, for example beginning, middle and end and within those he may break them down into further sections. At the beginning you should aim to keep something back for pushing on later, the middle section is where you are really racing and pushing hard, and the end stage focuses on damage limitation when you are hanging on and expecting to be tired. This all makes the distance mentally and physically easier to manage.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
Make sure to look at the technical sections and the type of terrain you’ll be running on, for example rock or snow, and practice accordingly. Also make sure to find the type of training that works well for you, for example Hector focuses on training that builds strength and endurance. This includes long runs at pace, plenty of long, hard hill reps and he also recommends injecting some variety, for example with cycling or skiing.