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New Series: Hurt Like Hywel

New Series: Hurt Like Hywel

Planet X athlete Hywel Davies is something of an all-rounder animal. If you had to narrow him down to a pigeonhole then it'd be 'triathlete and endurance athlete'.

But it's best not to pigeonhole him. Hywel's is much more than that. What makes Hywel unique is a versatility to take on and succeed in any challenge that tests mental and physical ability. Hywel is fuelled by challenges.

He has competed in events ranging from maximal effort powerlifting to 5 day adventure racing. He has won National Titles. Hywel has won over twenty(!) national fitness competitions.

Hywel is the only athlete to ever have held both the team and individual 100km indoor rowing world records. He was part of the first British team to ever hold the record.

Since taking up triathlon, Hywel has won races in every distance from Sprint to Double Ironman and was awarded the 220 Magazine Triathlete of the Year award in 2008. Having now completed 15 Ironman distance races, including the Hawaii World Championships, Hywel has now represented his country in four different sports.

Hywel still has unfinished work. We suspect he always will. He's never quite satisfied.

What you need to know about Hywel

  • Age: 37
  • Height: 5'9''
  • Weight: 68kg
  • Nationality: Welsh
  • Irondistance PB: 8.44 (Roth 2009)
  • First Triathlon: Almere Long Distance 2000
  • Favourite Training Venue: Lake Annecy
    Race highlights:
    Euro Long Distance Champion
    3 x British Middle Distance Champion
    UK Double Ironman Champion
    World 100k Indoor Rowing Record Holder
    UK Marathon Indoor Rowing Record Holder
    Other stuff:
  • He is a full time teacher 
  • He is legendary for his 'Hywels Hurt Box' training sessions 
  • He was made to squeal like a pig by Wayne Randle 
  • He is on YouTube bending bars on his head

Without further a do, here's the first chapter of 'Hurt Like Hywel'…

Hurt Like Hywel Part One: Hill Session

It’s the spring, or it was for a week. That means an end to sitting down for hours on end stroking away on my rowing machine and breaking more world records to getting back on the bike to focus this year on tackling the Alps. Nicknamed the 'Big Ring King', it became a self-fulfilling prophecy when my next five trips to the Alps since ascending Rosedale Chimney Bank in 53-23, have been a mission to take on the biggest and baddest tour climbs in the big ring.

After tackling 20 mile climbs and ascents of over 25%, I’m happy to say that no climb has yet beaten me but it has come at a cost. To be an exponent of the big ring, you have to be able to do two things: to not carry too much weight, and have a strong lower back.

Rowing certainly ticks both boxes, keeping the weight off and training the lower back for long periods but it takes time to be able to convert winter fitness into spending 60-90 mins out of the saddle. And when you live in the midlands and have to cycle 30 miles to find a climb that lasts anything more than 2 minutes, training has to be quite creative.

My main race this year is the Alp d'Huez Triathlon, that has a 130k bike leg which finishes with an ascent of the Alp. However, on the one hand I would feel a bit lame if I did not big ring it all the way, but that will come at a cost of not being able to run because I'd have worked my glutes into submission.

This year has to be a new approach to climbing and trying to climb properly, by using them gears and a very unused 39t chainring.

How do you train for mountains in France when you live in an area as hilly as Holland?  

Below is my Key Killer Workout which should see me mixing it with the Frenchies in June for my training camp in Lake Annecy.

A few trips down to Wales may be in order after a week in France but although this country is undulating, the French climbs are more like a club 25 time trial in terms of effort rather than a Hill Climb.

Key Killer Workout…

1. Find a hill!

My longest hill is about 1km long, it's not much, but it will do. This session would be very hard on anything over a mile.

2. Warm up by doing a single ascent.

But work out what the biggest gear you can use is whilst still sitting, and then ride back down.

3. Now time trial it in that gear.

No gear changing allowed. It should be hard but in a more realistic gear, it should be faster. 

4. Make a note of the time.

5. Now, the session is simple. You ride up, turn and ride down, with no rest, you repeat.

You ascend the climb as many times as you can until you can no longer beat the time set on the first rep.

You can use any riding style or gear you like but you keep ascending until that first time becomes impossible to beat.

You can mix the session up with different pacing tactics depending on the gradient and it helps to take an intermediate split time to see if you can back off and conserve any pace but if you need an extra incentive, try to go 1 second quicker each rep until you cannot go any faster.

16 April 2012


  • Aaron

    I translated this into German for my club. Is it OK if I post it on the club's site ( with all due links and references, of course. We have a triathlon at the end of August ( that climbs the tallest mountains in Austria. Your workout would be great preparation for that. Thanks!

  • Hywel

    Varies. You have a few out of little lawford, harborough magna to pailton. Ashton lodge, withy brook or kings newnham. Nothing steep or long, hence the no of reps

  • Roger T

    Ouch! I live near you - What hill do you use?

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