|During the desert trek of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge|
Ultra endurance efforts, for the vast majority of folks, require only a relatively easily achieved level of actual physical fitness. What is required in desperately hard to obtain quantities, however, is mental acumen. The longer the event, the more the balance of power needed shifts towards the mental. Sure if you you're going to expect to win ultra endurance events, you'll probably have to aim to have both a super high level of physical ability and mental toughness, which might mean more training hours. [While 80-90% of your actual physical potential can likely be reached on very limited training hours, that extra few percent (to get up to 95+%) will come at the expense of a severly diminshed return, which means longer hours]. But in addition to this you'll have to be genetically blessed, which isn't really up to you, unfortunately. Not genetically blessed? Sorry, winning isn't probably going to be an option for most things (national level adventure races are a still a possible exception, however). Bummed? Don't be - you can still compete at an age group level, if you can find a way to get that mental toughness (Confidence, Suffering, Will!) you end up with alot more time on your hands than most of the other folks you'll be lining up next to, who still believe that those long hours of training are somehow necessary for success.
I've just come to this conclusion on a consciousl level recently, despite several years of evidence staring me in the face since i've started this minimalist training experiment. It is why all of my training protocal has seemingly prepared me so well for the adventure races i've done - whether they be 24 hour efforts of six times that. Even Abu Dhabi - the elite international stage race that i competed before last christmas was pretty much 'defined' by one particularly brutal 36 hour trek through the desert that tested primarily, at the end of the day, a participants mental toughness. No wonder i was so prepared on 3 hours a week of training - i've had the mental side down for years, and three hours a week was more than enough time to get close enough to my physical potential to take the challenge in stride.
This realization essentially brings one part of this experiment to and end - i'm satisfied that there's nothing unique about my training methods - any efficient, low volume approach that gets me in the best shape possible given the time requirement (ie high intensity training) will sufficiently prepare me physically for adventure racing, or major ultra-endurance events, because the primary factor effecting success in these events is not physical at all. Another way of stating it is this: for the average (not genetically gifted) ultra endurance athlete a threshold of physical fitness that is accessible via a low volume/high intensity approach is, given suitable mental fitness, all that is required to enjoy success at any length/difficulty of event. Two things are important to note: 1) the "any' above obviously doesn't include certain types of events, namely those that would only be accessible to elite athletes (the tour de france, for example), and 2) this whole argument begs the question about how the required 'mental' toughness is best gained - but i'll leave that discussion for another post.
I want to end this post by shifting my focus onto a new area - which in some ways brings me full circle - Ironman. As i mentioned above i no longer have questions about whether my training can prepare me for the type of events that favor mental toughness over physical. But what about ultra endurance events where it is more of a balance? While finishing an Ironman within the time limit certainly falls within the criteria above (i could stop typing and go run one right now and accomplish this task), what about breaking 12 hours? Now it seems like this is a legitimate and presently very unanswered question, and its the one towards which i'll now turn my attention. Rephrased, it sounds like this - can a limited, focused, high intensity routine produce a high enough level of fitness to achieve age group success in a more physically based ultra endurance activity like Iron distance triathlon? Hmm....
I'm currently devising a 12 week program (22.5 hours of total training) that i'm going to be looking for guinea pigs to try out - testing fitness at the beginning and end, and then running a half or full Ironman at the conclusion. Interested?
Sure if you you're going to expect to win ultra endurance events, you'll probably have to aim to have both a super high level of Chris Charmicheal - elite triathlon coach and author of "The Time-Crunched Triathlete" "You're not going to do well at an Ironman or a stage race on six hours a week," Carmicheal says.
I've no question of my own mental strength when it comes to pushing through when things get tough