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17 January 2002, 12:44 pm
Is Fitter Faster?
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Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is physically demanding and while the crews are in port it is imperative that they work on their fitness levels.
But given the short amount of time spent on land, race chiropractor and medical co-coordinator, Timo Malinen, says all they can do is try and play catch up.

"The problem with the stopovers is that you only have three weeks. First when the crews come in, they have to recover from the leg, then it is maintenance and endurance work. It is becoming more and more up to the same level as other sports. For example we have got a medical set up for the race. Lots of teams have trainers, nutritionists and doctors working with them. "

Sven Riedesel is one such person. He works with the illbruck Challenge as a nutritionist and fitness trainer and he has the background to convince the illbruck crew that fitness is important. He was ranked in the top 20 in the world on the world Ironman circuit - nine hours comprising a 2.4 mile swim, a 110-mile bike ride, topped with a 26 mile run. He first got involved with sailing when illbruck was competing in the Admiral's Cup.

The crew thought he was from a different planet, not going out drinking and eating properly all the time, but John Kostecki (skipper of illbruck Challenge and currently in the lead) thought there might be something in Sven's approach and believed it might be worth trying a different approach to lifestyle for the sailors.

Sven has had the most preparation time in the race to build the team's muscles up and increase their endurance level, but he still has to motivate them to stay in shape during the stopovers.

"They know that it is important that they train," explains Sven. "It is a team sport for them and for example when we go training, they are all more motivated when we do it as a team. Our normal routine in a stopover is two days training and one day off and sometimes even two days off. I don't want to burn them out. It is important that they have recovered for the next leg and that they are injury free. This is our main focus."

Sven has learned a lot from the sailors too. "You've got to have fun. When you're on a long leg for 30 days, you've got to have some fun when you hit the dock. That's what I've learned from these guys, you can't be 100 per cent healthy all the time. You have to keep the motivation up, otherwise you can't manage it for a long time. I think we have found a good balance between living healthily and having good fun as well"

Richard Clarke, a helmsman and trimmer with illbruck Challenge has just finished a game of soccer, a game that forms part of the team fitness campaign. He says that it's nice to add in a little bit of variety into the workouts, spice them up a bit. "It keeps the boys interested and little bit of competition makes you try a little bit harder too" he adds. "You're not in port long enough to really gain strength. What we are really trying to do as a team is to minimise injuries, keep the aerobic base up high so that you can work at a good level, keep the core strength solid so that there's less chance of injuring your body with a slip onboard the boat."

Sven's method was to get the crew building up a base level of fitness prior to the start of the race, through endurance training like running, biking and swimming. "We did six months of this with lots of stretching and after our first period of training, everyone felt way better. They were more flexible, they had fewer injuries, and as soon as they were fitter, they felt better on the boat. Their recovery time was really improving, so I think they believed in my training".

Richard Clarke adds, "This sport is elevating itself to such a professional level that you really can't relax. At this level we are all full time athletes and we're paid to go out there and do a good job. It is all about keeping the mind going and keeping focused when you're tired, so anything you can do right now to elevate your game is going to help you get to the port first.

During racing, the crews actually lose fitness, and muscle loss is a serious issue with little time in stopover to recuperate. Leg four, from Auckland to Rio de Janeiro involves a tough battle in the Southern Ocean and Team SEB's watch captain Rodney Ardern explains why his team is concentrating on bulking up for it.

"From the damage we've caused our bodies during the leg, we tend to lose at least one kilo per week of sailing. So in the first leg, with five weeks of sailing, a minimum you would lose would be five kilos, people lost up to eight, and the chubbier guys lost 14 - 15 kilos. It's really building up your muscles again, not just eating to put weight back on. We're trying to get big, after three legs we've lost a lot of weight now. We're just going down hill because in the shorter stopovers you can't get back to where you started. It's time to try and get big with a relatively long stopover here in Auckland."

Sven Riedesel has learned a lot about how the body recuperates from such strenuous activity, and he has altered the illbruck Challenge training regime accordingly. "On the first leg our guys lost on average five kilos. In the stopover in Cape Town everyone was so tired, but everybody was keen to get straight into training after just two days. We got into the gym and everyone was keen and felt really good. But after a few days their performance really went downhill, they were getting injuries, so I gave them a full week off to recover.

"In Sydney, they had a lot more time off and we did lighter exercises and more stretching, and by the start of the next leg they were much fitter. It was interesting for me to see how important it was to get the amount of training right during the stopover."

Attitudes towards fitness are now changing in the world of professional ocean racing. Fitter is not necessarily faster, but recovery time is better and the fit crews are then less prone to injury.
Volvo Ocean Race Press/News Editor
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