There has always been evolution within sport. Athletes continually jump higher, run faster, or hit harder than they have before. The rules almost always stay the same; the basketball hoop is still 10 feet high, the goal posts are 8 yards apart, the track is always 400 metres around. Yet in the oldest international sporting event on the planet, the rules are almost never the same.
At the 35th edition of the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017, Ben Ainslie will compete to bring the Auld Mug back to Britain where it was first contested in 1851. In doing so, Team Land Rover BAR would be the first British outfit to ever win the event.
The modern America’s Cup is barely recognisable to what it once was. For next years event, Land Rover BAR will have a boat that is designed entirely around the output that its sailors can provide.
This creates a unique situation whereby the design and fitness crew must collaborate closely. The sailors are the engine, which means Ainslie’s crew must be as fit and athletic as possible.
We sat down with SOS athlete Ben Ainslie to find out what him and his crew are doing to be as powerful of an engine as possible.
It’s been said that as the nature of the America’s Cup has changed, sailors have gone from being power/sprint athletes to more similar to endurance athletes like 10km runners or cyclists, given the need to produce constant power. How does this change the focus in training?
The focus has now changed from a requirement for short busts of intense power to much more of a constant power output over 20 – 30 minutes. This is needed to create the hydraulic power necessary to control the boat. Our sailors now train with much more of an aerobic endurance focus. Also, due to the introduction of an overall weight-limit of the crew, weight maintenance is now a critical factor.
You’d need to have an incredible aerobic base with which to then build specific endurance on for different roles on the boat. Given that you officially launched the Great South Run last year, can we assume that running is your go-to?
I do love running but sadly a long-term back injury currently prevents me from any serious running. My main tools for aerobic training are the ‘Watt bike’ and a trusty paddleboard.
“It won’t be easy, and it definitely won’t be fun… but it’s achievable.”
Improvements in training are entirely dependent on recovery, yet training for the boat is incredibly time consuming. How do you prioritise this time to rest with such a demanding schedule?
Our head trainer, Ben Williams, does a great job of factoring in the time spent on the water and amending our onshore training accordingly. The time on the water is incredibly stressful for the sailors both physically and mentally, so balance is crucial in order to avoid burnout.
“The boat needs a lot of power, and it hasn’t got an engine. We need to maximise what the boys can produce in a 20-40 minute window – not too dissimilar to a cycling time trial”.
Scott Dixon has said he can lose up to 7lbs from sweat during an IndyCar race, while you are essentially navigating a race car on the water – how important is keeping fluids down for you and the boys on the boat?
Hydration is going to be a critical factor in this next Americas Cup. The conditions for racing in Bermuda in June are going to be incredibly hot and very humid. Given the physical stress the sailors are under they’re going to need to work hard to retain fluids and need the best performance drink available.