Interview with Stephan Hugenschmidt

27. March 2018

Born in Germany, Stephan Hugenschmidt has become a well-known name in Trail and Ultra Trail sports over the last five years or so. The engineer, who lives in Prättigau, has sped from victory to victory and was unsurprisingly voted Trail Runner of the Year.

As a high-flyer in the trail running scene, you have been scooping up one victory after the other. How do you explain this success – what is your recipe for success?

I think the most important thing is that I take immense joy in what I do. There is no “have to” in my training. I also don’t train because I want to achieve one specific athletic goal or get better, but because running in the mountains is my passion. I believe I have found a way that suits me best. I also try not to look too much at what the others are doing or copy their training.

What does your training and day-to-day work look like? Can you give us an overview as to how much you work, how many kilometres you run, how often you do strength training, how you combine both with each other, and how much time is ultimately left for your recovery?

I work 4 days a week which means I have 3 days free. On these 3 days, I always go running in the mountains – on foot in summer and on touring skis in winter. These are mostly longer tours with quite a lot of metres difference in altitude (4 to 6 hours with an altitude difference of up to 3,000 m). The remaining workdays usually see me running for one to two hours before work. Here too I am normally running uphill and naturally back downhill again. To recover from long training units or races, I like to go cycling in summer. I don’t namely go cycling in winter, but I find ski touring somewhat kinder on the muscles than running. I don’t know by heart how many kilometres I run. I find the metres difference in altitude much more interesting. Taking all the different types of sport into consideration, i.e., running, ski touring and cycling, then it would come to 500,000 to 600,000 metres difference in altitude a year. I would generally describe myself as pretty bad when it comes to training. Not in terms of quantity but quality. I don't have a training plan, have never done interval training, and I also don’t do any strength training. Nevertheless, I started climbing two months ago, which is also good training for the whole body.

The trail running- and ultra trail scene in particular are gaining increasing importance and popularity. What are your three most important tips to make an ultra run a successful experience?

  • Be yourself! Find out what works best for you and don't try to emulate the other athletes.
  • Listen to your body! Ask yourself whether you can keep up your current tempo for the remainder of the race. 
  • Eat well! No matter how fit you are, if you don't supply yourself with sufficient energy you will fade away sooner or later.

In an ultra trail, nutrition not only plays an important role, but a downright crucial one. What does your nutrition plan for a run look like?

I have no plan here either. On the day before the race, I try to eat carbohydrate-rich foods. It is important for me to eat breakfast before the race, even if I eat it at 3:00 am in the morning. Not so much because of the caloric intake, but because it is a ritual with which I signal to my body: here we go! After my coffee at the latest I am then ready for action! During a long race, I start to eat and drink something after 2 to 3 hours. I usually resort to energy bars and water, and thus prefer solid food. Towards the end of the race, I am more likely to eat gels as they go down easier. The later the race, the more difficult I find it to eat “proper food”. However, I believe that I have a robust stomach because until now it has never happened that I was no longer able to eat anything. There are so many athletes who struggle with this.

Do you have a secret tip you would be willing to share with us? A training, nutrition, or recovery tip, for example.

Unfortunately, I have no such secret tip. Instead of looking for a tip that enables you to race like Kilian through the mountains, you should rather just go out and have fun. Those who constantly train over a long period of time and enjoy what they do will no doubt become better. If I had a secret tip, then this would be it…


Header-Foto: © Davide Fiozzi
Inside-Foto: © Christoph Moser