Interview with Stephan Wenk
Stephan Wenk started out his career as a duathlete and later began focussing more on mountain and trail running. His best achievements to date: 1st place at the Davos X-Trail in 2022; 2nd place at the Jungfrau Marathon in 2021; 7th place at the Golden Trail Series in 2018; 11th place at the 2023 World Mountain Running Championships.
You're a duathlete who has primarily focussed on mountain and trail running for 25 years. Are you showing any signs of wear after so many years of competitive sports?
No, not really. Running is just part of my life and hopefully it will remain that way for a long time to come. However, at 40 I'm gradually starting to think about what my future in running might look like. Although I have plenty of freedom, the national team is partly defined by the event calendar. In future, I'd like to participate in certain runs out of a desire for adventure rather than results - family and work permitting.
I'd like to do the 113 kilometre Wildstrubel by UTMB. Although I'm actually stronger over shorter distances, I'd like to give a long, ultra run a go at least once.
How do you train for such long distances?
By getting out there for six or seven hours during a training session. Normally, I don’t run for more than three or four hours.
Do you ever train with poles?
Not as yet, because running without poles is faster over standard distances: the best runners all run without them. I'd try them for an ultra run though. Managing coordination is a bit more difficult with poles and my upper arm muscles aren't used to the exertion yet. Poles ease the burden on the thigh muscles during steep ascents.
Do you occasionally trek uphill?
Yes, if there’s a long climb, even pretty soon into it. Sometimes I'll alternate between walking and running to try and work the muscles in different ways. However, there are people like Rémi Bonnet who practically always run uphill.
How do you pace yourself during a race? Is it based on heart rate, speed, the nature of the race or feeling?
Primarily feeling. Depending on the type of race, I usually just let myself get swept along with it, although you have to be careful not to overexert yourself.
Heart rate monitoring?
No, I don’t use that. I don't even know what my heart rate is during a race. I just try not to enter the red zone too early on.
In cycling, the choice of tyre can make all the difference. Is it the same with trail running shoes?
I prefer a shoe that gives you the feeling of direct contact with the ground. That’s why I almost always run in the same shoes, the Scott Supertrac RC, as they are a great all-rounder for me. I'll sometimes also wear a carbon model for training. These shoes keep your feet further away from the ground so you don’t feel the sharp stones in the sole of the foot as much.
You won the K68 of the X-Trails Davos last year and came second this year. Over the 68 kilometre course, there are 2,644 metres of climbs and descents. Do your muscles get sore?
No, not any more. Of course, you need to regularly incorporate downhill running into your training, which I do. I'm used to the eccentric contractions.
Are you a fast downhill runner?
Well, I try to be (laughs). Although in some races the fastest downhill runners will shave 5 minutes off my time of 25 minutes! So I could definitely be a lot faster.
Why is that?
It’s hard to say. I have long levers, a high centre of gravity and little muscle mass. That’s good for moderate terrain but less ideal for rapid changes of direction and downhill running.
What do you carry with you during a competition?
At a minimum, I'll take the mandatory equipment and a lightweight jacket depending on the weather. When it comes to nutrition, however, I don’t scrimp out and always make sure I have enough with me. I'll take a gel every 30 minutes and also have two drink bottles to keep my energy intake as consistently high as I can. I carry powder that you can just add water to at the feed stations. Situation permitting, I try to avoid taking a rucksack as it’s more comfortable and gives you greater freedom of movement.
What training tips would you give amateur runners who want to try trail running?
Trail running involves all sorts of different types of exertion, so you should vary your training accordingly. I do everything from intervals, playing around with pacing such as alternating between 5-6 fast and slow stints per 1 km, along with strength exercises, balance training and exercises for the leg axes. Sometimes I’ll do strength training in my local mountain, the Federispitz, by running 5 kilometres up to 1,450 metres of altitude. Longer competitions naturally also require longer training sessions. Variety is important to me, but everything happens intuitively and without a strict training regime.