Is rally driving an endurance sport?
How to win 3 British Rally Championships and 15 of 16 Rally America races.
Our athletes compete across a broad range of sports and we believe there’s a great deal to be learned about how to perform at your best by looking at how elite athletes in other sports train and compete.
In the latest in our series of interviews with elite Precision Hydration clients, we chatted to legendary rally driver David Higgins about how he’s won 15 of the last 16 races for Team Subaru USA in the Rally America series.
Naturally, he was on hands-free the whole time…
Hi David. How important is fitness for rallying? How much do you train per week and what do you do?
As a rally driver, you take a lot of bumps in the car, so your core strength is super important. I’m in the car for quite a long time, so in a way rallying is like an endurance event. Maintaining a high level of fitness is crucial for keeping my concentration levels up. I also need to keep my weight down.
During the season I tend to do one strength session a week and 5-6 cardio sessions. My cardio sessions are a mix of cycling and running, but I don’t really enjoy running, so it’s more skewed towards the bike. I tend to do around 2 and half hours on the bike, unless I’m out on a longer stint with friends, where we’ll do maybe 4 or 5 hours.
I do a lot of karting, which is fun and I don’t really count that as training, but I’m sure it helps. I also do daily mobility exercises, you know, plenty of stretching and planking etc. Oh, and I walk the dog about 6 miles a day, does that count?
Overall, I probably do about 12-14 hours of ‘proper’ training a week, excluding the more fun stuff like the rides with friends.
David wearing a Precision Hydration bobble hat during an interview (sorry, we couldn't resist...)
How fit does your co-driver have to be? Do you train with him?
Craig (Drew) is a fair bit younger than me and he prefers to concentrate more on building muscle. But, of course, he also needs solid core strength and the ability to maintain a high level of concentration. We don’t actually train together much, we spend more time working on the theory and on race prep.
What do you drink during a race?
H2Pro Hydrate 250 is my go-to on a daily basis, and I step up to 500 during races, especially in hotter climates. I tend to have a 500 with my food during the service breaks during a stage. I’ve found the SweatSalt capsules a really useful addition to my hydration plan, again especially in hot environments where water bottles tend to be handed out on the course. I can’t always keep perfect track of my fluid intake and I’ve found the capsules useful when I’m running low of fluids.
I experienced what it’s like to get hydration wrong last year when biking in high altitude in Utah; I didn’t have my H2Pro Hydrate with me and I drank something else and didn’t feel great. Luckily someone gave me a salt capsule and things improved, so I was delighted when you guys brought out the SweatSalts.
How do you manage fluid intake in the car?
We used to just use standard cycling drinks bottles, but we’re out for a minimum of 3 hours, so we recently went back to carrying a 1.5 litre CamelBak with us in the car and I’ll try to take on some fluid in a throwaway bottle on my way to the stage.
What do you eat on race day?
On a normal day I start with porridge. But I struggle with nerves on the day of a race, so I tend to just force down some fruit. On a one day rally there will be 2 or 3 service stops. If it’s cold I tend to have soup and some fruit. In the summer rallys I’ll have a small chicken or tuna salad with some fruit. I try to eat little and often.
Some days I’m in the car for 14 to 15 hours, so I’ll carry some energy chews, you know the typical cycling kind, and maybe some nuts and extra fruit. On those longer stints I try to eat towards the end of the stage, particularly when it’s a night stage.
In general I try to stick to a low carb diet as I feel lethargic after taking on carbs. I’m more or less on a paleo diet, but that’s not always easy if I’m at a rally in the middle of nowhere and options are limited.
What do you do differently when you travel to races in hot environments?
I tend to go out a week or so before a hot race to acclimatise, but this really depends on my schedule, which can be pretty demanding. I’ll drink H2Pro Hydrate 250 on longer flights and, as I said, I step up to H2Pro Hydrate 500 for the hotter races.
You mentioned you’re a keen cyclist, got any interesting challenges on the horizon?
No firm plans for this year as of yet, because the 2016 rally schedules are not locked down yet, but I really want to do a 24 hour MTB race at some point soon.
Finally, what led you to Precision Hydration?
I was doing some coaching a few years back and I met Dr Raj (Jutley, a co-founder of Precision Hydration) and we got talking about hydration. I’ve been a fan ever since. Marginal gains are so crucial and you guys really do provide that for me in terms of hydration. I’m not getting any younger, so I’m increasingly looking to get an edge through marginal gains like this! Combining my hydration strategy with the work I do on my diet and fitness has made all the difference.