Do you have what it takes to train like a pro? SunGod Pro triathlete Ellie Salthouse shares what it takes to make it to the top…
When we see professional athletes on our screens, we see glory, success and incredible accomplishment. But do you know what really goes on behind the scenes to get to that point?
Life as a professional athlete requires discipline, resilience, and a complete commitment to one thing: being the best. Australian triathlete Ellie Salthouse knows the meaning of this above all else. Ellie’s triathlon journey started aged 11 at the breakfast table, when she got involved in a kids triathlon after spotting an advert on the back of a cereal box. Fast forward to 2022 and she ranks 15th in the world in her favoured distance, the Ironman 70.3. Spend a week training with her as she prepares for the first event of the season, Ironman Geelong.
“Hi SunGod family! My name is Ellie Salthouse and I am lucky enough to be a professional triathlete. I am from Brisbane, Australia, and split my time between my hometown and my USA training base in Boulder, Colorado. A typical week consists of 25-35 hours of training: 20km of swimming, 300-400km of riding and 60-80km of running, alongside strength sessions, stretching, mobility and activations daily. The training load and specificities depend on the time of year and the current focus or block: for example off season, race block, or base mileage… It’s tough, but it’s worth it. Welcome to a week in my life!”.
Recovery: Monday is recovery day! I’ll have a 90 minute strength session with my physio, and I’ll reflect on the last week and plan the coming one with my coach. I try to keep any social commitments to a minimum on my recovery days so I can do just that: recover!
Triathletes often refer to recovery as the fourth discipline, and I totally agree. Mondays are fully dedicated to recovery, but I still spend 2-3 hours on recovery techniques every other day of the week to ensure I am in my best shape for the next session. My favourite recovery techniques include: recovery boots, a massage gun, foam roller, trigger ball, sports massage, blue-light blocking glasses in the evening, magnesium powder before bed, and - most importantly - sleep! Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a champion sleeper, being no stranger to sleeping 12+ hours per night. Obviously this is not always possible, so if I have less than 8hrs of sleep, I will try to supplement with a nap during the day. I find 20-30 mins is optimal for me to prevent waking up with a groggy feeling before the next session.
Early morning swim squad: I have a great swim squad here in Brisbane that I join three times per week. It’s great to mix up my training with pure swimmers, who really motivate me! Tuesday morning swim sessions are usually aerobic with a big focus on technique and catch.
Example swim set:
- 1000m warm up swim/drill/kick/mix
- 3 x (4 x 50m drill on 60 seconds, 4 x 200m descending on 3 mins)
- 5 x 100m tempo on 80 seconds
- 500m cool down
Morning hard run: Once I'm done swimming, it's time to prep to head out for a run. My hard runs are usually last about 60-80 minutes and consist of some threshold intervals, varying in duration and intensity from week to week. These sessions are great for tracking progress!
Afternoon recovery run: Often after a hard run in the morning I will do a smaller, easy jog in the evening to prevent any lactic acid building up for tomorrow’s sessions. It helps with recovery and also adds a little extra mileage to the week.
Evening massage: I always have a massage on Tuesday evening. I find having a massage after a hard run earlier in the day helps with recovery and prevents any residual tightness.
Long aerobic brick: Wednesdays consist of one long session; normally 3-4 hours on the bike, with a 45-60 minute run off the bike.
I prefer to do my harder sessions alone but easy, longer sessions like these are great for making into a social group affair. Not only does this provide a social aspect and add extra motivation, but shared pain is half the pain, right?! Beyond this, I try to limit my social commitments to once per week during my race season and twice at other times of year, to avoid spreading myself too thin. Those close to me know how important training and racing are to me so understand when I can’t always join social events. However, lots of my friends are also triathletes, so joint training sessions are a great way to kill two birds with one stone!
This is a triple-session day, so it’s particularly important I fuel correctly! I typically have 5 meals per day, plus electrolytes and gels during training sessions. Check out a typical nutrition and training plan below:
Small meal before first session: Coffee with banana.
7am swim squad: This is usually a speed session with the swim squad. We typically swim 5-6km with the main set being around 3.5-4km. During session: electrolytes and gels.
Breakfast: 2 pieces of sourdough with butter, avocado and 2 eggs.
Strength session: I do this session with my physio. By Thursday I am usually pretty fatigued from the previous days of training, so this session focuses on mobility, flexibility and range of motion. If it’s a tougher session, I may consume another gel or energy bar or similar; if it’s easier, I’ll just take in more electrolytes.
Lunch: Chicken wrap with salad.
Mid-afternoon snack: Yoghurt with fruits and nuts.
Hard bike or fartlek run: Depending on the time of year and the block that I am in, this session may vary. Whether this is a ride or run, either session will have a series of hard intervals, focusing on best effort. I might not consume any nutrition during this session depending on intensity.
Dinner: Stir-fried vegetables, carbs (pasta/rice/noodles) and 150-200g of protein (meat/ chicken/fish). I try to eat fish at least 3 times per week for the Omega 3 fatty acids.
Dessert: Cup of tea with a couple of squares of dark chocolate.
7:30am swim squad: This swim session is typically a tempo session, with the primary aim to practice swimming at my race pace for a long time.
Strength ride: Normally this ride will last 2-3 hours and include some hill repeats to build strength in the legs.
Example bike set:
- 30 mins easy
- 10 x 3 mins HARD with 2 mins easy between
- 15 mins HARD time trial
- 30 mins easy
Evening run: Just an easy run to prepare the legs for the weekend of training, about 30-40 mins in duration.
Long ride: This ride varies widely throughout the year. If I am in a base block, the ride will be 4-5 hours aerobic, however, during my race season I’ll lower the duration but up the intensity! I like to mix up long sessions with intervals of varying durations, paces and cadences, to break up the session and keep me mentally stimulated.
Run: Again, this run varies greatly throughout the year. It is usually 30-60 mins in duration but ranges from being easy running, through to hard efforts and/or a build run.
Example run set:
- 20 minutes easy
- 30 mins building in effort every 10 mins finishing hard
- 20 minutes easy
Long run: Usually 1.5-2 hours, this run may be aerobic or include intervals depending on the desired outcome of the session. As this run is at the end of the week, it is always executed on tired legs which adds an extra element of difficulty, and makes recovery even more important!
Running is my favourite discipline, mostly because I grew up running from a young age as part of athletics and cross country clubs. I don’t put any extra emphasis on running in my training though - quite the opposite in fact! Running comes quite naturally to me, so I have worked really hard to ensure my swim and bike legs are equally as strong. My running volume varies throughout the year depending on the focus at the time and the block that I am in.
Swim: This swim is also done under fatigue, and ranges from an easy 3-4km recovery swim to a high-end aerobic swim of up to 6km. The purpose of this session is usually to recover the legs after the long morning run.
Ellie’s routine is undoubtedly tough, and requires huge commitment. So, the big question is: how does she stick at it, day in, day out?
"I think the biggest part of staying motivated is having goals; ranging from lofty, long-term goals, to smaller, more manageable goals. I have these written down so I can read them whenever I need a small reminder of why I am doing this.
Finding your “why” is something that my coach puts great emphasis on and I am a huge believer in it too. Remembering why we started, what we want to achieve and what the end goal is, helps to establish the importance of the task at hand and brings that all-important perspective to a tough routine."
Of course, we aren’t all professional athletes, and we can’t all train at this level! But Ellie’s routine is a great reminder that whatever your level - whether you’re competing at the top or just starting out - the most important thing is to create a training plan that works for you. Make time for the things that matter to you, don’t beat yourself up when you miss a session, and most importantly, always keep track of your “why”. Ellie is on a mission to chase down the overall World Title for the 2023, starting this weekend at Ironman Geelong. Go and get it Ellie!