HYROX 2 - Return to London

HYROX 2 - Return to London

Since this was going to be my final race of 2022 I wanted to put in a good performance.  This was my second attempt at HYROX and I felt I now had a good handle on the event.  My main goal and target time: sub-70mins.

Unfortunately the world had different ideas…

A quad strain, train cancellations, landslides, a very dodgy stomach - it really did start to feel like some greater power was trying to prevent me from doing this race!

(Only interested in HYROX training analysis and advice? Jump to here)

The morning of the race I was very close to calling it off.  My stomach felt terrible and I had to force myself to eat something for breakfast.  I had also been nursing a quad strain for a couple weeks and wasn’t too sure how it was going to react to fast running on tired legs and some of the tougher exercises like the sled push. 

However with the effort I had went to the day before to get down to London: all trains being cancelled due to the weather, 11hrs on the only random train that was allowed south, and narrowly missing a landslide.  I decided to persevere, get myself to the start line, and see what happened...

If you've not read my previous HYROX race post or don't know what HYROX it is, its a new breed of fitness racing comprising 8 x 1km running with a specific exercise station in-between each run:

HYROX overview

The HYROX format - 8 x 1km running with a specific exercise station after each run.

It has exploded in popularity the over the past 2 years and most events sell out with thousands of people in attendance; and from what I've experienced it lives up to the hype.  It's proper Type II fun, and incredibly well organised. 

One of the other things I like is that it is the exact same every single time, regardless of venue.  So you can directly compare your times and easily see where you are improving (or getting worse!).  Which is quite a refreshing change from OCR where literally no race or event is ever the same again.

In my first attempt at HYROX I finished in 1h 15m 10s (though 3mins of that was a penalty, so really 1h 12m).  That first try was a massive learning experience; I made a few silly mistakes, and lost time needlessly all over the place.

So going into this second attempt, even with the quad strain and dodgy stomach, I was still aiming to at least beat my previous time.

  The Race  

After taking some paracetamol and a caffeine sports gel, I was feeling ok while warming up and getting ready for my wave time.  There is always an athlete warm-up area at every venue, which typically has some ski-ergs, rowers, bikes, and a sled push.

Though there isn't really any space or treadmill to do any form of running warm-up, which is a bit strange in my opinion since the race starts with a fast 1km and you're going to be running about 10km in total (8km + exercise station transitions).

So I actually headed out of the giant hall, and did my usual run warm-up and some strides up and down the main concourse of the ExCel centre.  My quad was complaining a little bit, but it was tolerable, so gave me a little confidence that the race might actually go alright.

Pre-race routine complete, 10mins before my start I headed into the holding pen ready to go.

Fast out the blocks

My plan for the first run was to do a 3:45 min/km, i.e. a decent pace but one I should be able to do comfortably without pushing too much.  Unfortunately any kind of pacing during HYROX is easier said than done!

It's indoors so GPS doesn't work, and you're constantly weaving in and out of slower runners anyway so can't really be continually looking at your watch.  My original plan had been to use a Stryd footpod for accurate indoor pacing, but it hadn't arrived in time due to a new model just being released.

Instead, I settled for aiming to do a lap in just under 2mins.  Each run was 2 and a bit laps, so this should more or less give me my target run splits.

In any case, I maybe got a bit carried away the first lap, completing it in 3:31.  Not a million miles away from my target, but you really don't want to go out too hard in HYROX, and it's a fine line.

1000m Ski Erg

Into the first exercise station - 1000m Ski Erg.  The ski erg is a funny one.  It's something I never practice, and I've only ever used it on two occasions - a HYROX simulation event, and the first time I did HYROX London haha.

HYROX London Nov 2022 - Ski Erg

Watching my pace on the screen, trying to relax and get a comfortable rhythm

I'm sure my technique could be improved massively on this, but through some pre-race analysis I discovered that the difference between the best time on the Ski Erg vs an average time is only about 30s.  So it's really not worth stressing too much about until you get to the point of really chasing marginal gains.

I purposely paced myself fairly conservatively on the ski erg, finishing in 4:14.

Still feeling ok at this point I knocked out the next run in 3:49, and then headed into the sled push.

4 x 12.5m Sled Push (152kg)

This was the first thing to go a bit "wrong".  Every time I pushed down through my left leg, my quad screamed in pain.  I stopped a few times, and just stood there questioning why I was doing this.  As a result my time for the sled push wasn't great - 3:26.  Especially compared to the last time where I did it in 2:50.

HYROX London Nov 2022 - Sled Push

One of the many pauses during the sled push due to pain in my quad

I had written on my left hand some target splits I was aiming for in order to achieve a sub-70mins time.  Although this felt like a lofty goal given the circumstances I was still trying to stick to these splits as best I could.  After the sled push however, I was already down slightly on my target time.

Checkpoint Target Time Actual Time Delta
Sled Push complete 00:15:35 00:15:49 +00:00:14

I sped up as best I could on run 3 to try to close the gap, knocking out a fairly decent 3:51 run.

The run after the sled push is always going to be a tough one, given the spike in your heart rate and the heavy legs from pushing the sled.  Expect this to be one of your slower runs, especially if you were pushing hard on the sled.

4 x 12.5m Sled Pull (103kg)

Thankfully the sled pulls up next were far more forgiving on my injured quad.  I'm also quite happy with my technique for the pulls and can quickly get into a nice rhythm of:

  • Start at the front of the box, sitting down low and leaning back to start it moving
  • Walk back using the full length of the box you're allowed in
  • Then a final extra pull with your arms once you reach the back of the box
  • Then repeat.

If you coordinate the extra arm pull with also moving back to the front of the box, then there is very little "dead time" where the sled isn't moving.

HYROX London Nov 2022 - Sled Pull

The sled pull went much better and I managed to make up some time again

Finished with a pretty good sled pull time of 3:45, about 25s quicker than my previous HYROX race.

With my fast sled pull time, and the 4th run complete in a respectable 4:01, I had managed to make up for my sled push and was back on track with my target splits.

Checkpoint Target Time Actual Time Delta
Sled Push complete 00:15:35 00:15:49 +00:00:14
Run 4 complete 00:29:57 00:29:34 -00:00:23

80m Burpee Broad Jumps

Next up it was on to the 80m Burpee Broad Jumps.  80m doesn't sound very far, but it definitely feels like it when doing burpee broad jumps the whole way!

I'm not sure why but statistically this is one of my best exercises, with me finishing it in 3:24 (48th out of 865).  I'm quite tall with long legs so I assumed this would be more awkward for me than others.  Maybe I just jump farther than most on each broad jump.

I do also use the alternative technique to get back up from chest touching the floor (instead of dynamically jumping back up two feet together):

  • Step up with one foot to next your hand,
  • Step up with the other foot,
  • Use that momentum to go immediately into the long broad jump.

I personally find it slightly quicker, though the main reason to use this alternative approach is to conserve some energy.

On to the 5th run, your legs are properly starting to feel it by this point.  The previously comfortable running pace becomes a challenge, and this is where all the training in compromised running starts to pay off.  I tailed off a little on this run, but still a decent time of 4:16.

1000m Row

I had a bit of a mare at this point the last time, where I couldn't get my feet in the straps of the rowing machine, and then couldn't get the attention of a marshal once I had completed 1000m.   It didn't go quite as bad this time, however I did still have foot strap issues.

My right foot kept slipping out from underneath the strap, no matter how tight I pulled it.  I probably lost 20-30s stopping to readjust it several times.

This is the second time now that I've had rowing machine foot strap issues, and I think it's likely due to the awkward shape at the heel of Nike Vaporflys.   The back of these shoes point out in quite an extreme manner, and so they don't really sit nicely against the bottom of the foot holds of the rower.

So lesson finally learned, and although I love my Vaporflys, I won't be wearing them to race HYROX again.  (My current plan for next time is to wear a similar lightweight road racing shoe but with a more conventional shape and flatter heel, e.g. Puma Deviate Nitro Elite or ASICS Metaspeed Edge).

The completion of the 1000m row was the next target split I had written on my hand, and although I had lost a little time, I was still up slightly on my target pacing:

Checkpoint Target Time Actual Time Delta
Sled Push complete 00:15:35 00:15:49 +00:00:14
Run 4 complete 00:29:57 00:29:34 -00:00:23
1000m Row complete 00:44:38 00:44:28 -00:00:10

200m Farmers Carry (2 x 24kg)

With the 6th run out the way in 4:09, it was straight on to the 200m Farmers Carry.  I'm pretty confident on this due to all my previous grip strength and obstacle racing training, and again statistically it's one of my better exercise stations.

You see other racers doing all manner of weird and wonderful things on this, e.g. slightly bent arms, shrugged shoulders, hunched over, etc.  Most of the time this just leads them to burning out and having to put the kettlebells down midway.

HYROX London Dec 2022 - Farmers Carry

Definitely one of my strengths - being able to move quickly while carrying heavy stuff

Simplest approach is the best here:

  • Arms straight, with your thumbs hooked over your fingers to provide extra grip security
  • Shoulders back to engage the strong muscles in your back
  • Walk as fast as you can while minimising any vertical movement or bouncing of the kettlebells
  • Don't stop until your finished.

I finished the Farmers Carry in a pretty decent 1:34 (66th out of 865).  However, I was starting to not feel particularly well at this point.  The hall was very warm, I was overheating, and combined with my earlier dodgy stomach it was not a good combination.

As a result I wasted a lot of time in the Roxzone, drinking water and trying to cool down.

100m Sandbag Lunges (20kg)

I tried to make up for it with the next run (4:04) and then headed quickly into the sandbag lunges.  The lunges wouldn't be too bad if they were earlier in the race, but with them near the end when you're already tired, it's a much tougher exercise.

I was progressing well with the lunges in terms of speed, however the bag over my shoulders was making the overheating/sick feeling even worse.

HYROX London Nov 2022 - Lunges

I even look quite unwell in the photos at this point!

I put the bag down briefly at the turnaround point to get some air and cool down.  Unfortunately it turns out that it's actually against the rules to put the sandbag down at any point *facepalm*, so I had to do an extra short distance again as a penalty.

Lesson learned - read and know the rules for each exercise!

Even with the penalty, I finished the lunges quicker than my previous attempt and in a fairly decent time of 4:04 (172nd out of 865).

This speedy pace and hard effort to make up for the penalty came at a price.  I suddenly felt like I was imminently about to spew, so had to stand next to one of the rubbish bins for well over a minute.

Checkpoint Target Time Actual Time Delta
Sled Push complete 00:15:35 00:15:49 +00:00:14
Run 4 complete 00:29:57 00:29:34 -00:00:23
1000m Row complete 00:44:38 00:44:28 -00:00:10
Sandbag Lunges complete 00:59:35 01:00:58 +00:01:23

Standing next to the rubbish bin for a while sadly destroyed all hopes of going sub-70mins.  I had lost 90s, and was now too far off my target pace with too little of the race left to make up for it.

Nearly a sub-70min HYROX

So close, but yet so far...

I got back to running as best I could and finished the final run in 5:02.   The final run is probably closer to 1.4km, since the timing gate for it is the entrance to the wall balls rather than the entrance to the Roxzone.  So ~5mins is actually not too bad.

The final exercise standing in the way before the finish is the wall balls.  I hate the wall balls just as much as anyone haha, though through regular practice I've turned this into one of my strengths.

Wall Balls (x 100)

For the 6-8 weeks leading up to the race, I would do 100 wall balls at the end of most runs or training sessions.  The wall balls is one of the exercises with the biggest discrepancy between a great time and an average time, so it is important to put a focus on making sure you can do them quickly while tired.

I also practice with a 9kg ball where as the ball in the Open Men race is only 6kg.  Anything you can do in training to make it feel easier during the race can only help.

HYROX London Nov 2022 - Wall balls

Competitors taking on the wall balls during the Pairs race in the morning.

Just like the last time, my preparation here paid dividends and the wall balls went well.  Though the first couple throws I nearly launched the ball over the target since I had gotten used to the heavier ball in training haha.

With the wall balls out the way in 4:24, all that was left was a quick sprint across the finish line for a total time of 1:11:40 (78th out 865, 26th in AG).  Promptly followed by collapsing in a heap on the ground for a good few mins.

I was a little disappointed not to get my 1h 10m target.  However, my previous London time excluding the 3min penalty was 1:12:05.  So with all that happened in this attempt, all the issues, mishaps, injuries, to still beat my previous non-penalty time by 25s, I can't really complain too much.

The sub 1h 10m time was definitely on the cards (see the split analysis below), so looking forward to smashing this next time.

HYROX London Nov 2020 - Finish

Summoning the strength for a smile and a guns pose when feeling like death after the race haha

HYROX Race Analysis and Training Advice

In the lead up to this race I carried out a bit of analysis of average HYROX race times and exercise splits, as well as comparing my own times relative to this.

I found this very useful for deciding what to focus on in terms of training, but also as a guide on how to handle my pacing and effort during the race itself.

Using the official HYROX timing website, I gathered the time splits for the all the stages for the Open Men race and averaged them across a few different events.  I then extracted out the times that you would need to do to typically end up in the top 1%, 10%, 25%, 50% for each station.

The differences between the top 1% and top 50% times for each stage of a HYROX race

Many people get hung up or worried about the heavy sled push, heavy farmers carry, or maybe the Ski Erg since it's a bit more of an unusual exercise not a lot of people have had exposure to.   However, you can see that statistically these 3 stations make little difference to your overall time.

For example on the Ski Erg, the difference between the top 1% of people (e.g. 9th out of 865 at London) and the top 50% (433rd out of 865) is only 30s.  Where as the same difference between 9th and 433rd place for the wall balls is approaching 3mins!

This really highlights that HYROX is actually a cardio-focused event.  The main game changers for getting a good time is your ability to run while tired (compromised running), the wall balls, burpee broad jumps, and minimising time wasted in the Roxzone.

So hopefully this shows how to get most bang for your buck when training for a HYROX.  There is no point prioritising heavy lifting or conventional Crossfit style workouts, when things like the sled push account for such a small part of the overall race. 

(The one caveat to that is if you don't have the minimum required strength to actually move the sled.  However, for the weights used in the Open races this shouldn't really be an issue at all).

Instead you should be focusing on your aerobic engine, and being able to continue running fast while tired and fatigued from other exercises.

Get practicing those wall balls, broad jumps, and lunges!   Do them during or after runs when tired.  Hone your technique and rhythm for each one, and work out an approach for yourself that is a good compromise between energy efficiency and speed.

This analysis is equally useful when planning your race effort.  For example, there is no point killing yourself on the rowing machine for the sake of 40s.   Instead use the rowing machine as mid-race recovery, and expend that energy somewhere it makes a big difference like on the burpee broad jumps.

Post Race Analysis

Comparing my first and second HYROX events, I still generally improved across the board despite being disappointed with my final time.

Comparing my splits from the two HYROX London 2022 events

My training and race plan I put together by using the above analysis definitely worked, and would've resulted in a sub-70min time if it wasn't for all the uncontrollable things that went wrong.  "The operation was a success, but the patient died" as they say.

By focusing my race effort a bit more on the running, I was able to take off an entire 3mins from that alone.

I had a nightmare on the sled push in the 2nd race, stopping a lot due to the pain in my injured quad.  However, I only lost 37s here so never had much of an impact.  This really highlights the point I was making in the analysis above.

What really killed my sub-70mins hopes in my 2nd attempt was the time spent in the Roxzone.   An entire 4mins more than the first time!  All the time I spent drinking water due to overheating, and then standing next to a bin for quite a while when I felt sick.  It all adds up pretty quick.

Yes, it was sort of extenuating circumstances why I spent so much time in the Roxzone (I was injured + ill) .  However, it will still be a lesson I'll carry forward and I'll make it a point to remember that the race is still going on in the Roxzone, and doesn't stop just because you're not doing an exercise or run lap.

Silver lining to all this - I now have confidence that my training focus and race plan works, just need to execute it properly on the day without too much going wrong!