An interview with the Coach behind top skyrunner, Sheila Avilés

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For the past 3 years, Sheila Avilés has been dominating skyrace podiums all over the world and 2019 has been no different. After an incredible 3 wins this year alone, the young Spanish runner is currently number 1 in the 2019 Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series ranking and hot favourite to win overall. Regardless of the terrain, distance, country and conditions, Sheila possesses the skill and strengths to conquer them all – and here is the man who has been helping her do so.

Arroyo Mazorra and Avilés prove to be a dream team
©Roger Correm

 

Meet Andres Arroyo Mazorra. When he’s not coaching elite skyrunners, as well as a handful of promising up and coming stars, he’s studying the ever-evolving world of sports science or running in the mountains himself. Here, the young and talented coach gives us an insight into what it takes to train a world-class skyrunner and how an average training week looks for an athlete like Sheila.

“What differentiates Sheila from other runners is her ability to withstand a high level of suffering for a long amount of time.”

 

 “I started coaching Sheila three years ago, so this is our third season together. Even at the beginning of her skyrunning career, I could tell she had a great deal of potential because she was already performing at a high level with a low level of training volume. I knew her natural talent combined with efficient training would be a recipe for success. What differentiates Sheila from other runners is her ability to withstand a high level of suffering for a long amount of time. In most sky races, this is a determining factor.”

Sheila Aviles Skyrunner World Series

Sheila taking home her second win of the season at BUFF® Epic trail
© Sho Fujimaki

“Although I’m proud of her every time she wins, it’s her daily grind that gives me the biggest feeling of pride.”

 

Over the past three years, Sheila has achieved more than many athletes do in a lifetime. Her impressive race resume includes 2019 Skyrace Comapedrosa champion, 2019 Livigno SkyMarathon champion, 2019 BUFF Epic Trail champion, third place at the Trail World Championships and 2017 Skyrunner World Series Classic category winner.

“Sheila performs consistently well in almost all of the races in which she competes. She’s a real all-rounder. This ability to adapt is the most important skill for a skyrunner. These races are a constant change of terrain, inclination, speed and many more elements. A good skyrunner must, therefore, be a good runner for the flat and less technical areas, be a good climber for the steep ascents and be a strong downhiller, not just for steep sections but also for the technical areas – Sheila performs well in all three of these areas. Although I’m proud of her every time she wins, it’s her daily grind that gives me the biggest feeling of pride, especially when we see her hard work and dedication pay off when we analyze the numbers and see that month by month and year by year, there is a constant progression.”

“I believe in quality over quantity.”

 

Whereas for many skyrunners, training consists mostly of long hours running in the mountains, Andres’ training philosophy is mainly based on a “quality over quantity” approach with clear objectives, structure and focusing on small details which he believes make a big difference.

“I don’t necessarily believe in methods or a closed system, but rather adapting my resources and knowledge to the athlete. I plan Sheila’s training before the season starts – that is key to ensuring there is enough preparation period between races. This year, what we have worked a lot on is running in less technical areas as this is one of Sheila’s “weakest” points. So far, we’ve seen a massive improvement. Her training varies according to the time of the season and type of week – if it’s a competition week, loading week, recovery week, etc. Pre-season usually involves 2-3 strength sessions, 60% of her training volume on the bike (we reduce the impact of running) and 40% running on foot. We constantly modify this throughout the season in order to suit the races she has coming up in her calendar. We do many short fasting sessions in order to activate the body and metabolism from the beginning of the day and then train in better conditions. A normal training plan doesn’t involve more than 3 days of training in a row. I believe in quality over quantity and sometimes knowing how to rest or give the body a break is the best training we can do.

There are always some aspects of training that are easily forgotten about but make a big difference. For me an important one is the transition phase. Most runners waste a lot of time in the transition phase (e.g. climb to flat, flat to climb) as they need too much time to adapt to the “new” type of terrain and the change in muscle work. Another important aspect is muscle assessment. Of course, running is important in training, but it’s not the only important pillar. In my opinion, it is key to know how to make a good muscular assessment, see if all the muscles work well and check whether or not there are strength deficits. When a runner has a muscle deficit, for every step or movement, they waste an amount of effort and energy in trying to correct that alteration. If we are able to reduce that deficit, the runner with the same effort will achieve a better performance, while greatly reducing the possibility of suffering from an injury.”

Andres (right) with current male overall number one, Oriol Cardona
©Sho Fujimaki

 

You can catch Sheila and Andres at Sheila’s last race of the season before the SkyMasters, ZacUP Skyrace, this Sunday, 15th September, where she will fight to defend her current number one position in the overall ranking.