ULTRA MENTAL

AN UNCONVENTIONAL APPROACH TO TRAINING FOR ENDURANCE EVENTS IN A FEW HOURS A WEEK (OR LESS)

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“Interesting read, Andy did a great job pulling something interesting and thought provoking together. High intensity work is the staple for elite athletes around the globe. The book hones in on the mental side of it which is where the men separate from the boys, as the workouts push people into their uncomfortable place.”

Simon DonatoChampion Ultra-Marathoner & Star of Esquire Network’s “Boundless”

“The world of endurance training is on the verge of a revolution, as we awaken to the idea that chronic exercise and sugar dependency is counterproductive to both health and performance. Some times less really is more, as Andy Magness conveys in his book.”

Mark SissonAuthor of the Bestselling Book Primal Blueprint / Former 2:18 marathoner / 4th place Hawaii Ironman Finisher

“As his own guinea pig for pushing the limits of the human body Magness is a fun experiment to watch. The book is ripe with out-of-box ideas on fitness, nutrition, and the boundaries (or lack thereof) of the human spirit.”

Stephen RegenoldFounder/Editor GearJunkie.com

“The book’s direction is great. It contains some compelling story telling and impressive results for short term training.”

Ray ZahabLegendary Ultra-Marathoner / Ran the Sahara Desert (7500kms) in 111 days

Intro

 

This book is not intended to replace training that works. It is not a shortcut to fitness. Yet for many, the ideas it contains are heresy. It builds a case that consistent high intensity training can provide a level of fitness from which a mentally tough athlete can approach, succeed at, and enjoy ultra endurance sports.

It uses current research to support the primary evidence for this claim–a decade long N=1 personal experiment, during which the author has competed in and finished (in the top third of the field or better) more than a dozen major ultra endurance races across several disciplines while training less than 3 hours a week.

Want a taste? Read your first chapter for free!

About the Author

 

Andy Magness is many things—husband, father, recreational philosopher, novice gardener, reluctant homeowner, occasional adventurer, part-time athlete, race director, youth philanthropist, burgeoning author, and eternal possibilitist (not to mention avid neologist). Regardless of the which hat he is wearing at the moment, he is always a critical thinker and loves nothing more than questioning everything.

An avid climber and mountaineer during his younger days, Andy followed his twin brother Jason into the world of extreme endurance sports more than a decade go. His experiments in high intensity training for these events began as he tried to keep up with Jason while simultaneously starting a family and going back to graduate school in Physics.

Andy has had continuous success competing in a variety of ultra-endurance disciplines despite reducing his weekly training commitment from 3 hours a week in 2007 to between 30 and 60 minutes a week at present. He has recently moved to Te Anau, New Zealand. UltraMental is his first book.

Forward

 

I first met Andy Magness through an article in Breathe magazine. My mother, who’s incredibly active for her age, had picked up a copy of the outdoor adventure periodical for me on one of her many trips. Not only was it full of riveting pictures, it also contained a lot of useful information and inspirational stories. Andy’s piece really struck a chord with me for some reason. I don’t know if it was the tone (informational more than boastful) or the topic (minimalist training for distance events) but it instantly resonated. I decided I had to find out more about this man and his approach to training.

The great thing about this day and age is that it’s quite easy to connect with just about anyone at just about any time. A series of emails, a few Skype sessions and we were on our way to a beautiful collaboration. Initially, I asked him to do a few guest blogs on my site (ecinc.ca) to share some of his crazy thoughts with my followers and get the debate started.

He raised the bar.

Not only is he a slightly deranged person, he’s also a very good salesperson. When I was asking him about some recommendations for my first ultramarathon, he casually suggested one of the races he was putting on, a winter 50K. I mean, why not do your first ultra in winter in North Dakota? I must have been drinking or slightly crazy, but I agreed. We kept in touch and he let me pick his brain about training, terrain and gear in the months leading up to the race.

I met Andy for the first time in person at the race kit pickup after driving three hours through a fierce snowstorm. The storm had cleared by the morning but left a brutal course ahead of the runners. I was worried, as were a lot of the runners. But Andy, who was not only directing the event, but participating in it, couldn’t have been more thrilled with the 18 inches of fresh powder covering the trail.

When you’re out on a course for 8+ hours, you get a lot of time to think. Good and not so good thoughts. That day, a lot of those thoughts revolved around how we need to get some of Andy’s innovative training methods out there so the average Joe doesn’t think he has to train 20+ hours per week to complete an endurance event.

In the end, I came to the finish line via snowmobile, not the way I had envisioned. I dropped out at the last checkpoint, after doing a walk/run for 40k in frigid weather and through drifts of snow. This is where minimalist shoes are not really advantageous but I digress… It was a bittersweet ending to the race. I was pretty devastated but I was also pretty pumped with the ideas of this e-book–they kept me motivated despite the DNF and the mild frostbite on my toes.

After a hasty change of clothes, I went straight to the fire pit to warm up and chat with Andy about it all. We continued the dialogue over the following months. This project was something Andy had been thinking for a while but I had provided a bit of an impetus to get things off the ground. The bad thing about working on a book remotely as a fringe project with an extremely busy person is that you really need to provide a few kicks in the pants to make sure it’s humming along. That’s where Andy’s competitive nature came in handy. I’d challenge him to write a section and he’d send it to me, even if it was a bit late. And then I’d provide another deadline to keep the project on track. It wasn’t done overnight but most things worthwhile take time!

I really hope you enjoy the fruits of our collaboration and can keep an open mind about the points of view expressed in the book. We know this is not conventional wisdom and we’re looking forward to feedback from the endurance racing community.

As I have seen in my own racing, and as Andy will point to in detail and in examples from other athletes, the principles laid out in these pages will provide you with surprising results if you apply them fully.

As a running and triathlon coach, I see a lot of folks trying to outwork everyone else. While such hard work can be an admirable quality, I also see so many of these same athletes get injured and not even make it to the start line. Andy’s principles of putting form and mental fortitude at the top of the list of what’s required to succeed in ambitious endurance events made the ChiRunning instructor in me a very happy guy.

It’s a sad fact that most people think you need to over-train to finish something like an Ironman, an adventure race or an ultramarathon. More and more research is demystifying the old-school mentality and making these races accessible to everyone including weekend warriors, with a time investment of only a few hours a week.

If you’re tired of the same old more-is-better endurance training philosophy, then this book is for you.

Happy trails,
Eric Collard
Coach & Athlete
Ottawa, Canada
January 19, 2014

What’s Inside?

This book is not intended to replace training that works. It is not designed to argue that tried and true methods of preparing for endurance events should be abandoned. It does not describe a shortcut to fitness, nor does it suggest an easy route to success in ultra-endurance efforts. What it does do is build a case for an idea that application of consistent high intensity training can provide a level of fitness from which a mentally tough athlete can approach, succeed at, and enjoy endurance sports.

This claim is based on years of personal experience, detailed training logs, and my own research into high intensity training. It is not science, however. The theories it contains rather attempt to connect the dots and offer a reasonable, logically derived explanation for the results of my N=1 experiment that started more than a decade ago.

During that time I have managed to compete in and finish in the top third of the field or better in more than a dozen major races including ultra-marathons, ultra-distance bike races, triathlons, and even multi-day stage and adventure races. These dozen odd years have also seen a decrease in my weekly training hours from three down to a current volume (at the time of this third revision) of between thirty and sixty minutes a week.

The success of this experiment has been startling and while I do not imagine that this book will change the endurance training landscape, I do hope it encourages an occasional time strapped athlete to reconsider their belief that the number of training hours available is a critical consideration in a decision whether to participate in an endurance eventregardless of its magnitude. Put simply I am convinced that it is possible to take on, finish, and do reasonably well in, even the most difficult events on the planet with only a fraction of the training time that conventional wisdom demands.

This book elaborates on that possibility.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Forward
  • Preface
  • Chapter One: Who I Am
  • Chapter Two: Underpinnings
  • Chapter Three: Let’s Get Physical
    • PART #1: HARD

    • PART #2: SHORT

    • PART #3: DO IT. DO IT AGAIN

    • PART #4: GUIDELINES

    • UNIQUE CHALLENGES FOR A NEW ATHLETE

  • Chapter Four: Mind Over Matter
    • CONFIDENCE

    • SUFFERING

    • TIPS, TRICKS, & TACTICS

    • UNIQUE CHALLENGES FOR NEW ATHLETES
  • Chapter Five: Nutrition
  • Chapter Six: Sample Programs
    • SINGLE DISCIPLINE ROUTINES

    • THREE DISCIPLINE ROUTINES

  • Chapter Seven: The End Is Nigh
  • Appendices
    • My Favorite Mike Mentzer Quotes
    • FAQs
    • Sample Workout Details
    • References and Further Reading

CHAPTER 2: UNDERPINNINGS

The Philosophical Principles Behind Minimalist Training For Endurance

“Everyone is an athlete. The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not.”George Sheehan

There are a three important principles at work that, taken together, make it possible to do big things with a minimal time investment.

For starters, there is something known as the Pareta principle, or the the 80-20 rule. This ‘rule’, which seems to have a rough equivalent in everything from business to agriculture to social media (80% of your Facebook interactions come from 20% of your friends), is foundational to my training ideology.

In terms of fitness the rule suggests that 80% of your fitness potential comes from 20% of your training time. A second iteration of the rule means that 80% of that 80% comes from 20% of that 20%—creating a 64-4 rule. Now keep in mind that this really only applies in theory, and to someone following ‘an ideal’ training program with a proper mix of intensities. But thus applied—it is basically sound: the vast majority of your fitness from any optimal program comes from a small minority of the training time. I bet you already know what that training time is focused on too—high intensity work.

There is plenty of science behind the benefits of high intensity training, heaps 13

of it in fact (just do a Google search for “HIIT research” if you’re in doubt). This type of training produces the greatest need for adaptation (i.e. growth) possible in the shortest amount of time, which is why it is so efficient. But that growth doesn’t happen during training itself—it happens during recovery. Pairing high intensity work with a low-volume training schedule is maximally effective because it applies a potent (and painful) stimulus for growth, in a minimum amount of time, and then gives the body a chance to recover so it is able to do high intensity work again.

The second principle has to do with progressive and cumulative gains. Although a super low-volume, high intensity training program doesn’t allow for regular twenty mile runs or sixty mile bike rides leading up to endurance events, the events themselves can provide an opportunity for developing the mental and physical adaptations necessary for success. For example, one hour a week is plenty of time to train for a successful half marathon, and running a half provides mental and physical precedent for a marathon. A steady diet of low volume, high intensity effort combined with frequent (I aim for four to six a year) longer races keeps me in shape to tackle any challenge that comes along. Consistency is key here—a physical “base” is built over a longer period of time than in traditional programs, but with significantly less actual time invested.

The final principle has to do with the huge mental effort required for LONG events. The longer the event the more the overall demands associated with it are ultimately placed on the mind, not the body. A ten day adventure race, for example, never demands the pace or immediate output that would be needed if you were trying to PR a marathon. Instead it calls for sheer determination to simply continue moving forward at almost any pace— for hours or even days—during moments when your body and mind feel completely broken. In longer races there is no way around it—your body does break down. You can’t train to keep this from happening—you are physiologically incapable of running 50 or 100 miles without issue, no matter how long your training runs are. Suffering is guaranteed. The challenge then becomes accepting this suffering (a decidedly mental task), and continuing in spite of it.

Looking at things pragmatically, these principles combine to support the thesis that a super low-volume, high intensity program can provide adequate preparation for ultra-endurance events. It is no longer a question whether high intensity work can produce results comparable to longer efforts at moderate intensities—research shows that it does. It follows then that a steady application of such work will make you fit. Furthermore, because genuine high intensity work is relative to your fitness level, continued improvement is possible with consistent application. There is no doubt that such a routine can provide the physical platform from which an aspiring endurance athlete can find success at moderate distance races such as half marathons, marathons, Olympic distance triathlons, and other multi-hour events. Participation in such events will serve both to expose the athlete to the mental challenges of ‘going long’ and help develop the confidence required to do really hard things on limited training.

So that leaves us with the how, right? How does it look on paper? What does high intensity work feel like and how do you know you’re doing it? How do you develop the mental tenacity to do it week in and week out? How do you develop the mental confidence to defy conventional wisdom and successfully complete events that are longer than weeks or months of training? How do you ‘train for anything’ on a limited volume program?

Free Guides!

I’ve recently set out on a mission to provide a series of high quality fitness guides that provide, well, guidance for how those with the capacity for true high intensity work can approach endurance training on as little as one hour a week of effort. The series is aptly named “The 1-Hour Series.”

#1 General Fitness (released July 2015)

#2 Ultra-Running (released May 2016)

Podcasts

I’ve done a few podcasts over the last year that offer a bit of insight into my life, my training, and my philosophy. They’ll also introduce you to a handful of cool podcast series, and of course help you stay awake on those long drives.  What’s not to love?

TA1 (with Randy Erikson)

Mountain Bike Radio (with Ben Welnak)

Corporate Warrior (with Lawrence Neal)

Primal Blueprint podcast (with Elle Russ)

Low Mileage Running (with Aaron Olson)/

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