Before turning pro, 4 x World Ironman Champ Chrissie Wellington trained 28-hours a week while working full-time. Multiple world champions aren’t just born, they’re hewn from granite, and I found myself wondering what it'd be like managing this training load alongside work. So, I asked Chrissie for her training plan so I could give it a go…
After she’d finished laughing, Chrissie kindly sent over the plan with the sage advice: “don’t think about 28 hours in a week, just go from day to day”.
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What could possibly go wrong?
Actually, everything. My diary explains it all...
Monday: 2-hr swim, 50 mins strength & condition, 45 mins bike
- 0500: Gah, too early. Stagger into kit laid out the night before. 25 minutes stretching is next, ten minutes meditation follows – heavy training raises cortisol and adrenalin levels which both mess you up, meditation brilliantly lowers both.
After a quick one of our Elite Meal Replacement Shakes - the ultimate breakfast for all heavy efforts, races and big days - I’m headed for the pool.
If you want to train like a world champ be prepared to give up on sleep, and public transport
- 0630: pool’s open but I’m still 2 miles away waiting for a bus, having forgotten that even in central London buses are sparse before 7am. Doh
- 0715: I never knew there were so many insomniacs in London who loved swimming. The place is rammed - more like human soup than a swimming pool. I dive in but with a meeting at 9am, I’m already stuffed for managing the prescribed two hours. Good job too because just over an hour later I’m blowing like a busted airbed. I wobble to the changing rooms and head for my meeting where my bad hair and chlorine pong – despite a vigorous shower – go politely unmentioned
- 1100: euphoria. I am invigorated and powerful
- 1445: despair. I am exhausted and useless. Fall asleep on the 33Fuel sofa
- 1745: work’s done, but I'm not because it’s into the Lycra and off to Regent’s Park, central London’s favourite (only?) road bike haunt where I avoid all competition with anyone like the plague
Regents Park, a beautiful bike and great nutrition - a dream combo, unless you’re teetering on the brink of sleep deprivation. Motocross gloves and missing socks indicate the cracks starting to appear as this crazy training load takes its toll…
- 2200: With cooking, eating, stretching, showering and preparation for tomorrow’s onslaught finally done. I now have seven hours to fit in eight hours’ sleep…
Tuesday: 2-hr swim, 90-min bike, 45-min run, 1-hr bike
- 0500: oh good, time to get up. Repeat yesterday’s dress, stretch, roll, meditate, Shake routine and it’s back to the pool except this time I swap wasted sedentary bus time for a run/bike/run to the pool using the local Boris bikes - the rack is packed when I arrive as no one (apart from insomniac swimmers) is awake around here right now, let alone considering exercise
- 0700: back into the human soup of Swiss Cottage pool and delighted to find it’s colder today. At three kilometres my teeth are chattering and I pull the pin 45 minutes short for self-preservation
- 0830: run/bike/run to the office. Normal early morning training smugness wholly erased by the fact that despite racking up almost two and half hours before most people got up, I’m barely half done for today
- 0900: at work, in body if not in mind
- 1130: office sofa, you are my best friend
- 1730: back on the bike at Regents Park. Chilly out but at least it’s dry
- 1742: drizzle
- 1809: rain. ‘What would Chrissie do?’ I think. She’d go harder. Of course. I dig in and try smiling. A passing mother pulls her children closer. Smiling isn’t working.
- 1828: hail. I am the only cyclist still riding beyond a shivering hard core huddling under London Zoo’s entrance hoping it’ll ‘blow over’
- 1850: with numb hands and feet I call time early in the name of sanity and safety. I still have a 45-minute run left
- 1915: fall into run kit and head out before I can change my mind. Excellently, a good friend who’s come to stay arrives at this very minute. “I’ll come with you,” he says and five minutes later we’re running and chatting down to Hyde Park, around the Serpentine lake in the centre and back again. His cheery banter means the miles fly by. Thank you Patrick
- 2030: cook, clean, wash, dry, clean, cook, prepare, repeat… I feel like Cinderella, but with more Lycra. I attempt to be a sociable host but in reality am a distracted mumbling buffoon. My wife does a good job covering for me, but I can see she’s concerned.
Wednesday: 2-hr swim, 50 mins strength & condition, 60 mins bike
We love you, Chrissie, but your plan is killing me!
- 0500: alarm, dress, stretch, roll, meditate, Shake, leave for pool via run/bike/run transfer. If this sounds repetitive that’s because it is
- 0700: human soup with a shot of chlorine, sir? Ooh, yes please. The endless lengths are dreary, but my form and rhythm are improving which is nice
- 0900: at work, I have broken my ‘no training kit during the day’ rule and am shambling about in a tracksuit. Fortunately no meetings today as I look like I’m about to take a paternity test on Jeremy Kyle
Thursday: rest day
- 0700: lie in, bliss
- 0900: at work. Genuinely productive for the first time all week
- 2000: on the sofa, stoked to have nailed 100% of today’s training requirement. Drift off to sleep dreaming of athletic greatness. I can do this
Friday: 2-hr swim, 50 mins strength & conditioning, 60 mins bike
- 0500: Why do I not feel rested at all? Before falling deeper into self-pity I remember there are people getting up daily at this time to sweep streets and clean toilets. All I have to do is a bit of training, a completely selfish activity I am choosing to do. Having manned up, I get stuck into another day
- 0501-2200: I could give you fine detail but honestly, it was a carbon copy of Wednesday
Saturday, ‘The Big One’: 2-hr swim, 4-hr bike, 45-min run
- 0630: alarm – pool doesn’t open until 8am today hence my ‘lie in’. After my regular morning routine and a run/bike/run to the pool I bang out the penultimate swim with something approaching relish. A strange lack of the usual aquatic insomniacs means I have a lane to myself. Result
- 1030: hit the laptop, strangely I have a lot of lost work time to make up for
- 1430: for the longer bike/run combo I decamp to Richmond Park, London’s spiritual home for endurance athletes. I enlist the help of good friend and athlete Luke Tyburski.
Good training partners are worth their weight in gold at times like these - big shout out to Luke for this one
- 1900: session done, my wife and I are at friends for dinner. I am less than sparkling company
Sunday: 2-hr swim, 1-hr bike
- 0700: Can’t. Face. Another. Swim. So much so I swap it for a two-hour run around central London in the rain. Thankfully the constant tourist-dodging helps keep me awake
- 1000: the sofa is calling, as is a massive brunch, and possibly the entire Rocky collection back-to-back. Instead I should be doing an hour on the bike but it’s raining and honestly, I’m toast
- 1003: fall into the incredible sleep you only find at the end of a serious physical challenge, complete with a full set of twitching legs, weird dreams, and hot and cold flushes
Conclusion - can you really train like a pro and keep your job?
I racked up 22 hours and 20 minutes of training in a working week. Five hours short of Chrissie's totals, but enough to prove that an amateur with drive and focus can smash training that builds world champions without giving up work.
This behaviour comes at a BIG price.
The rest of your life cannot be made to fit (unless you clone yourself or give up on sleep).
Managing this needs the accompanying mental laser focus that world champions are made of.
It also requires a logistical prowess Amazon would envy.
In a schedule this hard core there is no time for a puncture, a missed meal, or wet kit in the washing machine, just as there’s no time for a missed session. You need to be a plate-spinning master, and you need to do it for the sheer bloody love of it.
Plus there's the serious matter of balancing training load with recovery.
Training breaks you down, but it's the recovery that makes you fitter - to benefit from training you have to be able to absorb it and recover. When training outweighs recovery it's a fast-track to exhaustion, burnout, illness and injury.
Pushing training this hard, the chances of achieving even a half decent training/recovery balance are slim to none.
Me? I’d enjoyed the experience but one week is quite enough, thanks. Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to bed.
Nutrition for your biggest sessions and races
I managed to complete this load for a week, but of course for me it's not sustainable. What's hugely apparent - and has been for years - is that nutrition really is the key to consistent training. It doesn't matter how motivated, committed, determined and driven you are. If your nutrition isn't on point, your body will not let you train day in, day out.
We're all aware of the need for carbohydrates for intense sessions and protein for recovery, but it's the nutrition around these feeding times that also have significant impact. Again, there's no point necking a recovery shake post-training if the you're not also consuming the necessary vitamins and minerals to maintain overall health.
Our Ultimate Daily Greens contain a powerful blend of alkalysers and antioxidants to keep all facets of your system in tip-top shape. This is fundamental to consistent training.