It might sound strange, but the ability to hike well in a Skyrace is an important skill and one that takes practice. You see, the terrain in these events can be so steep and challenging that you can’t possibly maintain a running action, or that with good power hiking technique you can be more efficient and fast.
Put simply, power hiking is generally the hands on knees, fast walk that’s employed when the trails get super steep. The basic method is to put your palms on your thighs or knees and push through them, using the force to help drive a long stride that engages your calves by making you almost lunge forward and toe off with each step. It’s quite different to normal hiking, in that you’re generating more force and using longer steps, generally with your chest low and head looking upward to see what’s ahead.
Power hiking is something that really needs to be practiced in training, which means finding some steep slopes or stairs and doing repeats, unless of course you have access to a longer climb that enables a single effort instead of multiple. Focus on having a long stride and maintaining a consistent, steady pace. You should be pushing down on your knees or thighs and getting your chest down low and head up.
One of the most important things to learn is ‘when to hike’ and ‘when not to’. This comes with practice and understanding what degree of slope is the point at which you are quicker or more efficient hiking rather than running. Knowing this, in a race you should always look at a hill and think “Would I run or hike this in training?” And if it’s a slope you’d have hiked, then do it straight away, not once you realize you’re moving too slow or are exhausted. Another thing to remember to do is try to run when you can, even if it’s a few strides. Too often people start a climb by hiking and even when it flattens out in sections they keep doing it, instead of having the discipline to get back to running. This too should be practiced in training. Alternate running and hiking to get conditioned to the changing rhythm and alternating muscle groups.
If you’re still unsure when or how to power hike, we suggest either running with someone experienced in the art or head to one of the Official Skyrunning ANZ training camps. These provide an opportunity to learn from the best!