A Peek into Ultra-marathon Running with Christian Spangenberger

A few months back, I ran my EATRAIN workshop with Christian, an ultra-marathon runner who has participated in races around the world and his background and journey was extremely inspiring and fascinating to say the least! So for all the runners out there, he is definitely a name to look up and even consult!

I decided to dedicate this post to his journey by asking him a few questions about his past, passion and future! So here goes…

How did you become an ultra-marathon runner?

It happened over the course of about 4 years. My first marathon was in Munich in October 2011 and actually I wasn’t someone who enjoyed running before that. After however, I felt that more is possible, but I still took it easy without any ultra running. I lived in Vancouver back then and saw a movie called “Running the Sahara”. Three guys running across the Sahara. And in this exact moment, I was thrilled by the idea of doing something similar. So in 2015, I participated in a 250km multi-day race across the Gobi desert in China. This was my first ultra-race. For such a big and first A-event you need to be ready: physically, mentally, financially. Ever since then, I’ve participated in about 30 races around the globe. Participating in one desert race a year is very important to me.

What kind of preparation do you go through either for a marathon or ultra-marathon?

Perhaps it’s best to break down my preparation as follows:

Marathon prep:

  • I usually follow an 18-week program with 6 running sessions a week plus 1-2 strength trainings in the gym. The 6 sessions seems a lot but they keep my mind and my body in the daily rhythm. They give my day a structure, they keep me focused. Ever single day.
  • Course inspection
  • Supplements and gear check

Desert race:

  • I usually follow a 20-week program, consisting of 5 4-week cycles. It would be a recovery week (30k), a medium week (70k), a hard week (100k), and an extra hard week (120+k).
  • Additionally, I run with a backpack to train my back. I practice eating during running, so my digestive system gets used to it.
  • Gear check!!! Packing/unpacking my backpack
  • Sleeping on the balcony with my sleeping bag
  • Consuming my desert food the week prior to the race
  • Sauna workouts etc.
  • Altitude training

What were your top 5 races to date?

I thought of classifying my races as follow:

  • Most magical: Luxembourg Night Marathon 2016
  • Most inspiring: Seville Marathon 2017 where I supported a client
  • Most thrilling: Atacama Crossing 2016, 250 km –  6 weeks post a ligament rupture
  • Most challenging: Matterhorn Ultraks 2017
  • Most meditative: Oman Desert Marathon 2017

When prepping for a race, could you give us an example of what a day would look like both dietary (nutrition) and training wise?

Training-wise, I am a huge fan of early morning workouts. I would workout once a week at 5am, also to train my mind. My trainings are very structured:

  • Marathon: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Desert: 5x 4-week cycles leading up to 4 consecutive 30k runs (incl. backpack)
  • Runs in the AM, then 1-2/week another workout in the gym in the afternoon.

Recovery starts right when the training ends with hot-cold showers.

Nutrition wise:

  • I would follow an eating plan called “Rhythmic eating”: 7-9 breakfast, 11-1 lunch, 5-7 dinner. In between snacks. Not eating based on whether or not I’m hungry.
  • Especially 20-30 minutes after a run/workout I re-fuel and re-hydrate my body with a shake with both carbs and protein. Then, my first proper meal would be 60-90 minutes after my workout.
  • Depending on my training phase, I supplement with a lower or higher dose of melatonin, antioxidants, magnesium, minerals, protein, Omega-3 Vitamin B/D.
  • Pre-race: 4-5 hours before the race last meal, 1-2 hours last snack, minutes before the race gel.

When do you require supplements?

I usually take supplements only during my “ON” season and not during OFF season. The doses also depend on my training phase. My carbs-protein shake after a workout is like a treat I always look forward to.

When’s your next race and what are you currently working on?

For this year, I decided to take is easy as there are a number of projects I am currently working on. My next marathon is actually about to come up this week, the Berlin marathon. Every race, regardless of how intense, is a new project for me which I love. Given that I have accumulated a lot of content and experience over the past few years, I plan to share that with the world through coaching, workshops and seminars!

You can follow Christian on Instagram for all his latest runs and workshops – @runningbeyondboundaries 

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