In October, 6,351 runners across Australia joined the Red Bull Hill Seekers, a challenge Red Bull put to runners (or walkers) to complete 1000m of elevation in the 28 days.
However, one local Sydneysider took the challenge to new heights, literally. From the 1-28 October, Mick Chapman spent a total of 116 hours running and clocking up 707.7km and 60,700m of elevation.
Mick concluded his 28 days and expressed that in this time he “learnt a bit and fascinated how your body adapts”.
We spoke to Mick – who is an Endurance Athlete with a Masters in Public Health, Bachelor of Science (Nutrition) and Certificate III & IV in Fitness – about how he did it.
Why did you take on the Red Bull Hill Seekers challenge?
The Red Bull Hill Seekers challenge came along at a time where Sydney lockdown was in full swing and no races were on the cards for the month of October. It was an opportunity to set a personal challenge and get competitive. I knew there would be some solid contenders so wanted to set the bar high for myself and see who was there at the end.
It also had the benefit of focusing on a different side of running. We often focus on pace, distance or time but this brought another element of vertical metres. How to get the most effective vertical metres out of certain stairs or trails in the local area. You could get 2,000m of elevation in a run but making sure it wasn’t a 50-60km run or take you 7-8 hours was key.
I also knew I was going to get competitive, hungry and stubborn. This just reinforced what makes me tick with regards to intrinsic personal goals.
How you fuelled your body to sustain the distance and elevation over the 4 weeks
I’m lucky enough to have a background and 2 degrees in nutrition. The reason I got into this field originally was to dive into the performance benefits of nutrition and weave that into what limits we are capable of pushing as humans. This has always been a passion of mine from a young kid & has formulated many challenges including cycling across America, cycling down the east coast of Australia in 27 days and more recently a 24hour cycle covering 623km.
Fuelling and race nutrition comes down to the trade-off between art vs science. The art of knowing what foods work for you but also knowing what the current science suggests to get the most out of nutrition. For endurance events (especially multiple day events) it’s really important to match energy intake with output. The focus moves away from what is usually considered healthy food and focuses more on overall energy intake and recovery (through carbohydrates, protein, hydration and electrolytes)
During runs each day, which sometime were upward of 5 hours, I needed to remain conscious of staying on top of energy demands. This included regular intervals of eating and hydrating. Sometimes this became less about wanting to eat and more about needing to eat. In these endurance events, your current self is protecting your future self from ‘hitting the wall’. Once you hit that wall, it’s too late to back track with your nutrition. Your future self will always thank you for a good nutrition strategy. This is often overlooked with a lot of recreational endurance athletes but it is something that can significantly impact your race day. Like any other aspect of training, you want to practice what you plan to use on race day. Nutrition is a large part of this.
How you recovered between sessions
There’s a saying that you’re only benefiting from the training you’re recovering from. With an event like this, with daily and often twice daily runs, it becomes less about ‘recovery’ and more about body management. You know you’re not going into each day fresh but you can definitely help the process by relying on good recovery techniques. For me these included good nutrition post sessions, maximising sleep where possible, being conscious of hydration throughout each day, recovery boots and a number of ice baths.
There is a definite need to take some down time after an event like this which spans over 28 days. Spending 120 odd hours focusing on one outcome takes its toll. This downtime post event is where your body recovers properly and is often necessary to prevent the risk of overuse injury.
The different between running on flat terrain VS hills
Hills are something that can be incorporated into a solid run program to benefit multiple run/fitness goals. These become even more important for trail running event that will include hills throughout.
Hills obviously will require more resources from a runner in terms of heart rate, effort or ventilation rate but usually at the cost of pace. This is why focusing more on the perceived rate of exertion when doing hills can be more effective than focusing on pace itself.
Flat terrain running can be great to hold a certain pace but as a runner you can’t avoid hills forever. Clearly 60,000m of elevation is a bit excessive and specific but incorporating hills in a training program will most often benefit a runner.
How you prepared yourself to run up hills and endure the elevation
Similar to the endurance rides I undertook, you actually build strength and feel stronger throughout a multi day endurance event. I often got asked, “How did you feel by the end?” and the response of ‘strong’ often surprised people. It’s the adaptability of the body to new stresses you place it under over time. A longer event like Red Bull Hill Seekers isn’t the same as something like the City 2 Surf where you train up until a point where you are your fittest on one specific day. Having a base level of fitness helps but sometimes it’s just about biting the bullet, getting started & building from there.
What you learnt during those 28 days
Part of the reason I took on this challenge was to see how and why our body adapts to different situations. I’m use to flatter run or triathlon events with some strength and conditioning in my program. My body adapted to this challenge by stripping down some weight and becoming very lean and strong in my legs. This comes back to the specificity and progressive overload in our training. My body was adapting to this challenge which was very specific. Saying that, I was never going to run my 5km PB or benchpress my 1RM on day 28. It’s good to be a general well rounded athlete but for specific goals there needs to be adaptation in that direction.
Other lessons learnt-
- Finding your ‘Why?’ always makes sessions more enjoyable
- consistency beats a one off session
- some hills are not as steep as I had originally thought
- nutrition windows need to be shorter for higher intensity sessions
- when you’re doing that much elevation, the downhills are worse than going up.