Finding the time to integrate training for an ultra-endurance event into your daily life can be difficult for many athletes as they struggle with the demands of work, family and training.
Former Olympic swimmer and Age-Group IRONMAN World Champion, Chris Hauth, knows better than most about the juggling act involved when combining sport with life. So, we caught up with the founder of AIMP Coaching to hear how athletes can integrate a training plan for endurance sport into their everyday lives...
Hi Chris, from your own personal experience as an athlete and a coach, what have you found to be the biggest motivating factor for athletes making the step up to ultra-endurance events?
Curiosity. Most athletes I work with are curious to explore more than the 'typical' endurance event. They're curious to find out what they can achieve and to see if they can go further and longer.
Self-exploration, overcoming challenges and maybe even coming out the other side a different person is what ultra-endurance events are about. You won't find anything like this in a gym, in shorter activities, or in a group-exercise environment.
You discover that being an athlete is much more than physical ability because ultra-endurance is also a mental game.
Interesting. So, what's the best approach towards coaching ultra-endurance athletes? How do you look to maximise an athlete’s fitness and mental strength for the challenges ahead?
It's about managing them to be able to train effectively and be injury-free for a long-term desired outcome.
So, managing and maintaining a healthy body is critical, because then the repetitions and the consistency can be found and built.
Proper nutrition, sleep, recovery and very specific strength work to build an extremely durable body are all key. Once we have all of this going, then we can work on mindset, and how to go deep.
For me, skilled coaching involves unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance in two ways:
1. Set up a solid training plan which allows them to succeed in their event and achieve their desired outcome.
2. Help the athlete 'discover themselves', allow them to gain the tools to overcome or manage difficult situations, and build a mindset of resilience and grit.
When it comes to the actual training, how difficult can it be for athletes to find a work-life-training balance when preparing for an ultra-endurance race?
This is the most difficult piece for newer ultra-athletes to embrace.
It's not just more training - it's smarter training. With the bigger distances, athletes can’t just train more; it requires windows of bigger volume, and then smart recovery, sleep, regeneration, nutrition etc.
Things can get derailed more easily when bigger training volumes come into play, so being exhausted manifests itself more visibly at work and in family life.
The balance becomes all about prioritising and choosing your daily 'buckets' of time wisely. So, those 'buckets' are likely to be:
It's got to be that simple because ultra-endurance isn't just something you ‘add’ to your life and schedule. It needs to replace a variety of pieces to be its own 'bucket' of daily time.
That's also why it's so important that you enjoy it - the training, the self-exploration, the journey, the being in your head for many hours, nature. All of it.
It's not about finding balance, since life gets in the way too often for there to be any real ‘balance’. It's about knowing at the end of the day that you spent your time wisely on the three buckets.
At the end of the day, ask yourself, “did the majority of my day stay focused on work, family or my athlete self?”
Then the athlete can feel good knowing that they did their best for that day and that week of training. It's about feeling strongly we are being the best athletic version of ourselves.
So, how would you put together a training plan for an ultra-athlete with a race taking place later in the year?
Ultra-endurance events are different in the training: you can’t just do the events or similar volume in training - it would leave you completely knackered for days or even weeks.
So, the training revolves around race simulation weekends and big volume windows.
If you're racing later in the year, then the early months of the calendar are all about strength and building a strong foundation. We want a body that can be durable and handle the load in the coming months. That comes during the early months of the year through a consistent load of base training and lots of low heart rate work.
Typical for this early time of the year is 14-16 hours per week.
As the training ramps up, those hours don’t really change dramatically - maybe 16-18 hours - but the 'race simulation days' pop up every now and then.
Those simulation days can be 15-18 hours on their own. So, complete a few of these simulations and you'll be quite confident in your ability to do the event.
Due to the long and demanding nature of ultra racing, is there an inherent danger of athletes 'overtraining' and getting injured?
The best way to avoid too much training in all endurance sports - whether for a marathon or a 200-mile run - is consistency.
Consistency over time trumps any type of training volume.
Of course there's a minimum the athlete should be doing, but the beauty in consistency is that as the athlete gets more consistent, then the volume starts creeping up ever so gently anyway and the body will be able to handle the increase.
I always say to any of my ultra-endurance athletes:
Consistency + Time = Outstanding fitness.
Is there a danger that this 'consistency' can become boring and how can athletes ensure they maintain motivation for training?
Well, the event itself should scare them in that it should be on the outer edge of what they deem is possible. That curiosity of what they can achieve, allied with a fear of actually doing it, keeps most 'locked in' and focused.
Test events along the way are a good validation of the training progression. The beauty in ultra-endurance events is that the athlete can clearly tell in training that they're getting fitter.
Ultra racing could become quite a lonely undertaking and, with that in mind, how valuable are training camps for athletes?
The community of ultra-endurance athletes is smaller, so having time to train with others, bounce ideas around, create lasting friendships and memories of training in beautiful locations is extremely valuable.
The training camps I put on allow us to go deep into nature - places most people would never have thought they could get to on foot.
Yet here we are, running in some of the most beautiful trail locations in the world, swimming in remote lakes in the mountains, or gravel biking on some unique mountain passes. That alone is an amazing experience.
Athletes appreciate one-to-one coaching, but I have found over the years it's about the community and friendships - the memories of the amazing trails, rides or swims in awe-inspiring locations that remain valuable for years.
I want the athlete to return home with a confidence to continue effective training towards their event, but also a validation that the work they have been doing has paid off in a unique way.
And, of course, training camps allow time for work on nutrition, mindset, recovery as well.
With regards to the nutrition side of things, how's best to plan fuelling and hydration for endurance events?
What you do in the 'current moment' of a race plays out in many hours from now, so decisions early on in a race are always impacting the harder miles later in the day. This is critical in hydration and fuelling.
There's a delicate balance and you need to understand throughout the day that your race can unravel quite dramatically if you don't make good, smart and tactical decisions.
Knowing how your body’s needs change in different environments is important. For any ultra-endurance event, you need to be ready to switch things up despite what your training has told you.
It's all about knowing what you effectively absorb and what allows you to continue drinking (or eating). In the ultra-endurance world, we can’t force things - whether it's fuel or hydration because we could be talking about 20-40-60 hours of activity.
And when it comes to race day, how should athletes manage their expectations for the event and their actual race strategy?
Ultra-endurance is about completing the events in a successful manner and the ability to experience it all - to thrive, not just survive.
The days in desolate nature, running through the night, sailing solo across oceans, swimming great distances, paddling hundreds of miles are not about obsessing.
Instead, logistics, strategy and staying focused on the present in order to make good decisions are what will have an impact on you many hours later. Any endurance event is about managing your impulses long enough to avoid getting in your own way.
And with any ultra-endurance event - race planning depends on the desired outcome.
Most athletes are looking to finish effectively, so the focus is likely to be 'exploration rather than expectation'.
Those that are looking for a result have some previous experience, and so their race planning is completely different as it will be based on past strategy and execution.
Thanks Chris, it's been great to understand more about how to integrate an ultra training plan in with daily life.
To find out more about AIMP Coaching and to learn about Chris's work with endurance athletes, visit www.aimpcoaching.com.