Written By Jan Pascal Tschudy
Jan is a competitive triathlete who recently transitioned to ultra running. He competed in Wadi Rum Ultra 2018, finishing in fourth overall.
So, you’re one of the 100,000 people who have participated in IRONMAN events across the world just this year. But, what next?
Increasingly we are seeing long-distance triathletes looking for new endurance based tests after crossing the finish line at an IRONMAN, but to what extent does the skill set translate to the sport of multi-day ultra running?
We caught up with Jan Pascal Tschudy who finished in fourth position at Wadi Rum Ultra 2018 (Ultra X Jordan) to find out how he did it.
You are an experienced and successful triathlete, so what made you make the switch to take on the challenge of an ultra-marathon?
Thanks, over the last two years I have done a lot of half and full distance triathlons. I have always been keen on attempting something as adventurous as an ultra-marathon since I started running in 2009/2010.
Three years ago I never felt ready to go for one. Not mentally nor physically. However, after starting triathlons and competing in longer distance events I became more aware of what my body was capable of and felt more and more that now was the right time.
After three Ironmans you know that your body can stay in an aerobic state for 9-10 hours. The question then was whether I could mentally endure an ultra, and when would be the right time to do one.
After having met someone who had previously done Wadi Rum Ultra in 2018 I was persuaded!
Luckily I got a start place and in Jordan I had one of the most awesome holidays that I have ever had.
You decided to dive straight in with a 5 day, multi-stage, 250km race in the desert before single stage or shorter multi-day race.
Why this approach rather than starting with something shorter and working your way up?
It just so happened!
Training blocks of 2 to 4 hours a day or more on the weekend for Ironman gave me confidence that my body can handle high levels of physical exertion. So the question for me was if my body could handle so much running.
Did you find the transition from triathlon difficult and if so why (or why not)?
For me the transition was not too hard. I kept up with everything but slowly added more running. My approach of “TUF” (Training under Fatigue) applies really well to ultras.
I did not go for big week volumes, those would have probably only lead to injures. My biggest running week was only 75km, and instead I aimed for consistency (continually hitting 50-60km per week).
Biking and swimming kept my fitness at the good level which I had already brought with me from the Ironman training.
How did your training change in preparing for the Wadi Rum Ultra versus training for an Ironman?
I only added some more running, everything else (bike and swim) stayed the same.
Even the sessions stayed the same. I didn’t complicate things by incorporating completely new workouts.
The biggest change was incorporating some trail running and hiking weekends. I spent some quality time with friends outside running up and down the alps.
Can you describe a typical training week?
During my Ultra X training, I aimed for 5-10km swimming, around 2 hours on the bike and between 5-7 hours on the run.
I get my volume for the running by splitting the sessions into two or even three runs over one day. This helps getting volume done on a “normal” workday.
It also helps you preventing injuries and you can have a interval on the first run and the second run can just be a really easy one to get the volume in. I am now in winter and, with Transgrancanaria coming up, I have been spending a lot of time on my feet over the weekends!
How did you fuel and hydrate in the desert, and how did your strategy change from that used in longer triathlon races?
I consumed the same food as I do in an Ironman. This means for me (melted…) chocolate bars!
The most important thing is to have a “plan”, know what works for you and stick to it!
My plan was that I drink about 1.5-2 litres an hour, 0.5 litres of this being isotonic and the rest water.
Every hour I would eat one energy bar and every 35-45 minutes take a salt cap, so I was hitting around roughly 350-400 kcal per hour.
On the second day I forgot my iso tabs and couldn’t get in any water. This was the worst day for me and I learned how important it is. Because of the temperature I made sure I was sipping every 5 to 10 minutes.
You fared incredibly well, finishing in fourth position just off the podium and appearing to get stronger as the week went on.
Do you think your triathlon experience helped you through the race?
The slow start and the take-aways from each day led to better and better performances.
It definitely helped, especially the fact that we start off easy to feel strong for the last half, then you can go.
Also having the nutrition plan for racing helped to keep up my stores all day long.
You have signed down for Ultra X Sri Lanka in April? What are you changing (if anything) about your approach to that race?
My shoe choice wasn’t the best. I wore the ON Cloudsurfer (my all-time favourites). I knew I could run in them forever and not have to worry about having blisters, but they were too soft and did not provide a solid surface for the sand.
This I will change. Also next event I want to try poles! I think these help quite a lot when going uphill. Obviously first I need to try and see how they work for me.
My training would not change much but I would consider adding in some more trail running and hiking. I am not going to change any of my nutrition.
What advice would you give to someone approaching an Ultra X event for the first time?
It’s hard, but it is not impossible.
Having a solid training background and a nutrition plan is a good start, and then it’s all about your mind.
It is not the distance that kills you it’s the tempo. Start off slowly at your own pace and don’t be dictated by others. Just run for you and listen to your body.
Training can be split into multiple runs in one single day but make sure to avoid your grey zone. Do the hard things hard and the easy things EASY.
Read what’s on the compulsory kit list, know what you have to organize and what you need to run with.
Try to run with your gear at home, not to bring it to the event and then try it. This is also good advice for the food you’re going to eat for one week. Try it at home first.
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