vitaminwater fitness afternoon with Greg Whyte
Best known for training Eddie Izzard to undergo an awe-inspiring 43 marathons in 51 days for Sport Relief last year, if anyone knows a thing or two about endurance, it’s Olympic sports scientist Greg Whyte. As well as enabling celebrities to accomplish astounding sporting feats, Whyte has also represented Great Britain as a Modern Pentathlete. Rhalou Allerhand meets the all-round action man for an afternoon of training advice.
How do you prepare someone like Eddie Izzard with virtually no running experience, to undertake such a great feat of endurance in such a short space of time? It very much comes down to the individual. Much of the performance in ultra endurance events like that is incredibly psychological, for a number of reasons. Number one is the monotony of this continual linear pounding that you get doing 43 marathons over 51 days. You have to be incredibly tough mentally. A lot of people think that training is purely physical. Actually it’s as much about the psychology as it is about the physiology. Obviously I only had a short period of time with him, so many of the things I did with Eddie were about planning for the worst-case scenario. What we concentrated on was effectively damage limitation. An important element of confidence in your own strategy is required for this type of event, so you need fantastic planning. For example, with Eddie muscle damage was a big problem while he was running, so after each marathon I had him in an ice bath to reduce muscle damage. Obviously hydration, feeding, calorie intake and maintaining hydration is absolutely crucial, so we focused a strategy around making sure that when he started and when he finished a marathon he had the same hydration status. We limited the potential for failure, which is important for the success of the project, but most importantly for Eddie, it’s actually about his confidence in the strategy that he’s got. So he never had to think ‘am I doing things right?’ He knew he was doing it right, all he had to do was put one foot in front of the other.
Did Eddie continue running afterwards?
Eddie had never run before, but afterwards he was very keen to continue. One of the disappointments Eddie had was on the final day he hadn’t lost any weight. But because I wanted him to have exactly the same amount of calories inside of him at the end as he did in the beginning so he could maintain the pace, the fact he was the same weight meant I had done my job perfectly. What food would you recommend before a big race?I would recommend complex carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and potatoes, to super compensate the muscle and make sure you’ve got enough glycogen within the muscle itself. And then pre-race and during the race simple sugars, so things like glucose and classic carbohydrate drinks. There’s also some good support that antioxidant supplementation reduces muscle damage. Eddie was on high doses of antioxidants daily.
Any endurance tips?Much of the psychological factors of running can actually be trained. People think some people are more naturally able to withstand pain than others. There are instances when that’s true, but invariably it’s actually about training. You want to structure a psychological strategy within your training programme, so that during training you should be putting yourself into pain. When you put yourself into pain on repeated occasions, you start to develop a strategy to overcome that. Classically we talk about ‘the zone.’ When you’re in the zone, what you’re effectively doing is taking away the misery of what you’re doing and parking it to one side, allowing yourself to move freely and almost automatically through it. But this has to be trained; you can’t just do it on the day. You can’t escape it. If you’re going to run your personal best, it’s going to be painful. What you’ve got to do is maintenance of technique and maintenance of pace. In order to do that you’ve got to try and compartmentalise that misery, park it to one side and continue what you’re doing.
Any advice for new runners about to embark on their first big race?Tip number one; don’t try anything new! Don’t buy new trainers; don’t try new kit; don’t try a new foodstuff; don’t try a new breathing strategy. Do what you know works. The one thing that people do is they panic when they get close to the event, and also they start to take advice from other people. Other people’s advice works for them, but won’t necessarily work for you. So stick with what you know.Number two, don’t over train. The temptation is to think you haven’t done enough training, or you haven’t done enough fast training, particularly speed training, so people then start to input speed work into their training and invariably get injured before the big day. Stick to your original training plan, and be confident in your strategy.Then finally, in race day preparations make sure you have normal hydration when you hit the start line. It is important to stay hydrated, not just whilst exercising but 24 hours a day. glaceau vitaminwater is a fun convenient way to stay hydrated whilst getting some of the vitamins and minerals you may need. But don’t over hydrate or you’ll have to stop at one mile and have a pee, which hundreds of people do! Make sure you take on lots of complex carbohydrates a couple of days beforehand so you’re fully carbohydrate loaded, and then relax, chill out. Be confident in yourself, be confident in your training, relax and enjoy the day.