I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what the physical training looks like for what is known as the “toughest adventure race on Earth”, the Red Bull X-Alps. As it says on the X-Alps website: It’s a bold claim – but one it surely deserves. It’s difficult to think of another race that demands such a high level of fitness and technical skill – or lasts so long. The combination of trekking and paragliding is one of the most exciting hybrids to emerge from the ongoing convergence of mountain sports.
The rules are simple. Athletes must race across the Alps, by foot or paraglider via set Turnpoints, usually a straight-line distance of over 1,000km. Over the years, the race has attracted and tested to the limit some of the world’s top adventurers. It demands not only expert paragliding skill but extreme endurance. Some athletes will hike over 100km and 1000’s of meters in altitude in a day.
So how do you prep for such a sufferfest? I have the same team going into the 2017 race as I did in 2015, Ben Abruzzo and Bruce Marks. Ben (the SnowGoat.com) handles all my physical training and runs my ground game during the race (Bruce Marks runs my air game). Every week he writes exactly what I’m supposed to do in a google docs sheet. My job is to do the work. His motto is “do more, talk less.” Every step I take and every heart beat is recorded with my Garmin Fenix watch and HR monitor, which is automatically uploaded to the Garmin Connect interface, which Ben monitors. In general each month is divided into three weeks of increasing intensity and then a “deload” week which allows the body to recover and heal. To be sure a “deload” week is still very intense, especially compared what most people are probably used to, but is considerably below the load of the previous three weeks.
The serious training began October 1st, which gives us 9 months to fully prepare. At the beginning of every week I get an update from Ben on what the week will look like. This week here’s what Ben had to say (edited as he likes to call me nasty names!):
Next week is up. Was going to start an intensive 4-5 week interval phase but backed it off slightly to compensate for the fast (I’m doing a 72 hour fast as I write this compliments of Tim Ferriss’ recommendations is “Tools of Titans“- testing some Ketogenic diet methods). At the tail end of the week is a bigger day on Durance (3,000 vertical foot mountain behind my house that is my go-to training hill for vertical). Expect to start seeing those at least weekly and soon enough 2 times per week. Next 4-5 weeks generally will be 2ish interval workouts preferably done on snow, 1 interval workout in the gym, 2 strength workouts, 1 shorter aerobic workout and 1 long ass day on skis. In a few of those weeks I’ll cycle in the 2 long days and cut one of the interval workouts. This is the intensity phase so make sure you apply proper gut busting effort. The work you have been doing in the gym is going to pay dividends and will be worth it.
Every month gets harder than the last by a pretty considerable load until about the middle of June, when the taper starts before the race, which begins July 2nd. To hear more about all of this and Ben’s theories on why he makes me do what I do and when listen to this podcast, which we recorded after the race. In the 2015 race I did 12 1/2 marathons in 10 days and 4 hours and climbed the height of Everest 5 times. These are pretty ludicrous numbers and depending on the flying weather, about what we can all expect.
Many people have asked “why a trainer?” It would be easy to think you can prepare for a race like the X-Alps on your own, and in fact most of the athletes do. The problem with doing it on your own is you don’t have any accountability. If you’re like me you will train too much/ do the wrong things and have a high risk of injury. Or you train too little/ do the wrong things and you won’t be ready. There are actually too many reasons to list, but take a look at this week I just had a couple paragraphs down. Don’t just glance at it- read it and it will become obvious. The X-Alps gets faster and faster every edition. The athletes and the teams are getting more and more professional. But in my opinion at least half of the field that will be on the starting line July 2nd will not be properly prepared. They might be able to run absurd distances, but the pack weight and vertical demands will eventually take their toll. The race has an 11% finish rate for a reason. The trick is to prepare correctly. The race is not an ultrathon, or even a series of ultras. If you go out and run absurd distances on a weekly basis and expect that to do the trick the race will break you. Jon Chambers’ book “Hanging in There” and his supporter Tom Payne (who raced in 2009) both document in the book how they screwed this up and how it hurt them in the race.
Every workout I do is preceded by a Romwod routine, which is typically 20-40 minutes. This is a paid subscription that basically takes you through a few very long hold stretches that helps athletes boost performance and optimize range of motion. We do it so I become more unbreakable. And then every workout is followed with a 10-15 minute mobilization session (5th column in the graph below) built from the teachings and practices of Kelly Starrett’s book “the Supple Leopard.” Mobilization greatly speeds recovery and keeps my tendons and ligaments be more supple- again to help make me more unbreakable, and better able to handle the next days workout. At least 4 days a week I do an immediate hot/cold regimen after the mobility session also taken from Tim Ferriss’ “Tools of Titans” (p. 43) to boost my immune system and increase the lactic acid dump. This is approximately 20 minutes in the sauna, followed by a 5-10 minute cold shower (or this time of year just standing outside until I’m shaking) and repeat at least twice.
Here was a recent week of training. Second column is the main workout, third column is additional, 5th column is that days mobility session and finally my comments on how it went. This week was about 16 hours of training (does not include romwod or mobilization). This will increase to 35-40 hours by April and May and early June.
|Week of 2 Jan||heavy dose of intervals this week…make each one count, work on good head space and not bitching out when it hurts|
|1/2/2017||Gym:Warmup 4 rounds of 2:00 ski erg + 8 back extensions + 8 DB high pulls then 5×10 goblet squat HEAVY, Then T Bar Row 5×8 as heavy as you can then 5×5 DB Clean and Press HEAVY, then Every Minute on the Minute for 30 minutes: Even Minutes: 14 DB Clean And Press with 30-40lb DB, ODD minutes: 20 box step up and overs 24 inch box||posterior chain smash and floss 1 in each side, then calf smash and stretch 1 min each, then T spine smash and keg stretch on foam roller as needed||Did mix of row and ski erg for warm up. Can do both pretty close to before shoulder fuck up in terms of pace. Goblets w 53 kb. Heavy as they have at zenergy. Should I use db? But that’s about all r arm can handle getting up. Proper sweat for this one!|
|1/3/2017||Interval Spin bike: warmup 10 min easy then 6×3:00 all outs with 3:00 rest between…you should wantto puke or die by the end of each||Afterewards some strength mainteneace: 5×10 each leg bulgairan split squat with heavy DB, then 3×30 calf raises holding weight, then 5×8 Sb bench Press, then 5×8 DB flys, finish up with 5 rounds of 1:00 wall sit + max time leg lever hold with 8-10lb ball||pec smash 1 min each, tricep smash 1 min each, psoas smash 1 min each then pigen stretch 1 min each then quad smash 2 min each then posterior chain smash and floss 2 min each||Nice one. Shoulder feels shit today, but liking the sauna sessions for soreness.|
|1/4/2017||Aerobic: 30-40 min spin bike right into 18km pavement walk||Compex Recovery Calves Then Gentle Hip Distraction 1 min each Then super frog 2 min Then posterior chain smash and floss 1 min each||Nice ski tour w Nate in Hailey, puking here again. Then later 2 hrs fast on treadmill as roads too gnarly. Sauna day 3 in a row.|
|1/5/2017||Mid Week Fuck You #3: warmup with 7 min of get ups…no weight just get up and down off the floor any way you want, then 5 sets of 100m farmers carry HEAVY (start and end each 100m with 12 Arnold press with less heavy DB) rest 1:00 between, then 3x max time hang off one hand on a pullup bar resting 2:00 between Then 10 rounds of leg Blaster + 2:00 all out stair climber, rest 1:00 between||Note: Leg blaster is: 10 lunge each leg, 10 air squat, 20 jumping lunge, 20 jumping squat.||compex quad recovery then HAM x 3 Then suprapatella smash 1 min eah then couch stretch 1 min each then smash upper back and shoulders as possible||Went well. Really long romwod today, which was good, stiff as fuck. Couldn’t hang on one arm even for a second after farmers carries, no grip strength. Did assisted pull ups instead. That stair/ leg blast was no joke|
|1/7/2017||6000 vertical feet…either baldy plus stair climber or baldy x2 All at 145BPM||Note”: “Baldy” is my local ski mountain, 3,000 vertical to the top||2 min voodoo knee floss each leg, then flexion knee gaping 1 min each then suprapaella smash 1 min each then quad smash 1 min each then couch stretch 2 min each…really sit in the stretch||Fucking awesome. First day I felt like I did in the race, just charging and kind of out of mind. Did two full laps on Durance, on second lap hooked up w some friends as storm came in, did a final little quick skin to hit one more little pow run. God this place rocks. Hr was pretty red line. Used the red cream b4 start. Sauna and hot tub/ cold after|
|1/8/2017||Baldy skin- for the length of the skin do this: 10 min easy warmup then as many sets as possible of 7 min 30/30s with 3 min rest between||abductor smash 1 min each then IT band smash 1 min each then T spine smash in each the single leg etension 1 min each, then plantar fascia smash 1 min each||That wasn’t easy. Damn. Legs turned to mush near the top. Forgot to charge watch so only got the first 40 mins. Then later in the day: 18 km on treadmill as didn’t want to try that while fasting. Used white and red cream.|
So that’s a look at a week. And now it’s time to get back to the gym. The race is less than six months away, things are getting serious!