How to live the Ultra Running dream. (An interview with Robbie Britton).
We were introduced to Robbie Britton (who bagged a bronze medal at the 2015 World 24-hour championships) by running technique coach Shane Benzie of Running Reborn, who'd been working with Robbie on his efficiency and who thought we might help him achieve another 'marginal gain' by working with him on his hydration strategy.
Robbie lives out in Chamonix with his girlfriend Natalie and Rosa, their German Shorthaired Pointer. So we Sweat Tested him when we were in town recently for UTMB®. The timing was great because he was racing in the CCC race a few days later and the weather was scorching hot, so hydration was going to be more important than ever.
After the race, we caught up with him again and asked him how it went.
So, Robbie, talk us through your race...
The whole UTMB® festival of running has been an obsession of mine since first running out here in 2012, it's just a trail running heaven. This year the focus was the 101km CCC, part of the long term UTMB plan, and finishing 11th was an improvement on all the years before.
Going up the hills has been a big focus this summer and the improvement was felt straight away, whilst my effort levels were the same as before I was ascending at a much better rate. My usual strength of going downhill was a little hampered by heel blisters on both feet, something I have since put down to poor sock choice (for lack of any better reason!).
Staying cool and hydrated is important and your friends can be great help.
Image by Tim Lloyd for TrainAsOne.
My hydration and electrolytes were spot on, which was key given the crazy high temperatures this year. Having visited you guys before and had a Sweat Test done I was a lot more confident in getting the right amount of electrolytes in, where as in the past it has been much more of a shot in the dark. I took on 3 times more electrolytes than I usually would!
What do you think makes UTMB® so special?
® is special for many reasons but the main one for this wee Londoner is the level of competition. It really does attract a far greater depth of elite runners than any other race in the World. UTMB
® itself, the 105 mile, 10,000 monster, is the most competitive ultra marathon there is. The crowds, the trails, the views and Alps make it an awesome experience for all, but I just love to race.
Talk us through your 'typical' training week in the months before a race like the CCC?
For someone trying to specialise in Mountain Running and 24hr Running there really aren't many 'typical' weeks throughout the year, but one block of training that made a big difference this Summer was focusing on short, sharp hill sessions, like 6 x 3 or 8 x 2 minutes to work on my strength, speed and uphill ability.
Climbing to the Refuge Bonatti in the CCC 2016.
James Elson of Centurion Running
In Chamonix the lifts provide a unique opportunity too. You can run up and get the lift down to save the legs, thus allowing more uphill work in the week without the extra damage from descending. Descending still needs focus, but having some uphill only sessions meant I could push the climbing just a wee bit more.
How did you get into Ultra Running in the first place by the way?
It all started with a friend signing up for a marathon and convincing me to join in too, which I mainly did to reduce his bragging rights when he finished! It all spiralled out of control from there, with races getting longer and longer until I found out I was a bit of a 24hr specialist. Go figure!
Robbie and our Rob chewing the fat during Robbie's Sweat Test at UTMB®
Image by yours truly, DC.
What was the most interesting thing you learned from taking our Advanced Sweat Test?
That I wasn't taking enough sodium onboard by a long way, especially on hot days. For ultra running it is vitally important to be on top of your personal 'admin', such as nutrition, hydration and electrolytes. You can be the fittest, fastest guy in the world but if you don't get those things right then it means sod all over 100 miles.
How did the work you did with Shane from RunningReborn improve your technique?
The great thing about working with Shane
was that it wasn't just about finding errors, but also celebrating the things that a runner already does well and focusing on those too. It's good to look at some of the reasons why I have been a successful ultra runner thus far.
That said, nobody is perfect and I'm certainly far from it. Limp, relaxed arms and wrists, something that I thought was a good thing for the longer events, were affecting my efficiency and it was something Shane and I could jump on straight away.
Training in Chamonix also means I spend a lot of time looking at the ground to stop myself from smashing my face on the rocks, but this isn't really necessary on the road and it's something I can improve on the trails too.
Jumping over rocks makes you look cool.
Image by Marathon du Mont Blanc.
You're a coach yourself, what are you guilty of doing from time to time that you tell your clients not too?
Sometimes I will use myself as an experiment of one to test out new theories and sessions, which might go against the advice I tend to give out. This can make Strava a bit interesting at times, as I know a few of the team follow me on there.
Ultimately it's the simple things, like resting, sleeping, over thinking kit choices and working too hard in sessions that catch me out. I'm only human and we all have doubts about if we're doing enough, but ultimately you have to trust in the long game. Some of the guys I coach are a great example to me of how hard work, dedication and patience can pay off and it was a fantastic moment seeing Marc Hills cross the UTMB finish line after years of working together.
What's the best place you've ever run and why?
Wow, that's a difficult question. The most beautiful was probably Trail de Velan in Switzerland. The most eye opening was Cappadocia in Turkey and the most enjoyable was probably a 2km loop in a park in Turin. When you win a World Championships Medal it doesn't matter about the scenery, the memories will always be fantastic!
What was your toughest race to date and why?
Spartathlon is a tough one and I plan to go back next year to really run the race well. It's 153 miles of tarmac in heats of 30+ degrees, but there are 75 checkpoints of welcoming, excited Greek volunteers along the way. The 24hr format is always pretty tough too, it's our equivalent of an 800m race, where you give it all and always end up completely spent.
What's your next big challenge/goal?
Next up is crewing the missus at the Tor de Geants, 338km with 24,000m of up and down in the Aosta Valley, which is another beautiful part of this Earth.
Working on that uphill at the Lyon Urban Trail which had 6,000 steps...
Image by Tim Lloyd for TrainAsONE.
For me it's the European 24hr Champs, then possibly a wee adventure and a 55 hour race in December (The Snowdrop 55 in the US) to finish off the year. The goal there is to meet and race Joe Fejes, one of the greatest multiday racers around at the moment, and discover a whole new world of pain and suffering before a solid 2 months off of running to rest everything up. That makes sense, right?
Sounds pretty epic Robbie. Thanks and see you at UTMB® next year, we've definitely caught the bug on that one...
I'm not surprised. Easy now chaps...
You can follow Robbie (and Rosa!) on Instagram, Twitter and find out more about the coaching he offers on his website.