The Volvo Ocean Race is a top level competition that boasts features not found in any other sporting event. For some it's a personal challenge and for others it's an adventure that pushes them to the boundaries of human, physical and mental endurance.
Technology also plays a very important role in the competition, but in order to meet the demands of a challenge lasting a total of nine months with prolonged periods of activity, excellent physical training is required, allowing the athletes to weather the extreme conditions they face over the course.
The healthcare team: key figures
Spaniard Iñigo Losada is back in charge of the health team for Team Telefónica, which maintains the same structure as the previous round the world race. The team is therefore made up of Doctor Pablo Díaz-Munío, Physiotherapist Ramón Peris, and by "Yiyo" Losada, as he is known to everyone.
Everyone in the team is experienced in the sporting world. This will be the second Volvo Ocean Race for "Yiyo", backed up by a long relationship with the world of sailing. He was part of the Spanish America's Cup crews of 1992, 1995 and 2007, as well as training the team in the latter. Ramón Peris is also well-connected in the professional sporting world. He was linked to C.F. Villareal for many years and has also worked with Spain's national 5-a-side team. Pablo Díaz-Munío was the Desafío Español doctor for the 32nd America's Cup and as well as having a long-standing relationship with the world of sailing, he has also acted as doctor during the latest expeditions of Basque mountaineer Edurne Pasabán.
Carving a path to follow
Overall, the healthcare team have objectives that are spread out over different phases, in the same way as the entire Volvo Ocean Race crew as they prepare for a campaign. During the training phase the healthcare team are not solely focussed on the hardcore training, but they must also cover a whole series of requirements that must not be left to one side.
"Apart from improving the physical training itself, we must attend medical courses, carry out endurance tests, medical and teeth checks on all crew, as well as rolling out a vaccination schedule... Whilst making sure we fill in all of the forms required by the organisers for each member of the crew to be able to take the start," explained Losada.
"In addition we also work with crew member Diego Fructuoso, to develop a food and nutrition plan for the race," adds the Team Telefónica physical trainer.
But what are the Golden Rules behind the Team Telefónica physical training?
The three basic tenets are: train so that everyone can train, prevent injury and to improve the physical calibre of the crew members.
The "Telefónica" crew is made up of a heterogeneous group of people of ages spanning from the youngest in the crew at 28, to the most experienced crew member at 49 years old. The levels of physical activity required by the challenge are high, and so along with the excellent sporting level of each crew member, training also needs to be more complete than the each of the roles might usually require.
"To train so that everyone can get out and train even more on the boat"
However, the main objective behind the Team Telefónica physical training is, in the words of Losada himself "to train so that everyone can get out and train even more on the boat." He says: "The main aim, and what will really make a difference to the team's performance are the hours that they spend on the water. Training with the boat, the time that they invest on the water and all of the tests they've already done on sails... To sum up, what matters is that the crew is in the type of physical shape to handle to be able to handle this volume of sailing."
Another of the main aims is to prevent injuries, which can be difficult to recover from on board. "Based on our experience in the other round the world regattas and on reports we have received from the organisation, we know that there are a list of hot-spots or possible injury threats, so we must do all we can to prevent the crew from falling victim to these injuries," explains "Yiyo".
Boosting strength and endurance
The third aspect is basic improvement of the crew's strength. "We try, above all, to work on endurance and on increasing strength. These boats are demanding, and for example, the sails in this edition are even heavier than in the last edition, so you need even more strength."
The main aspects worked on in each daily training session are strength and endurance, not forgetting, of course, other skills such as flexibility, coordination and balance, essential for this type of sport.
Learning from experience
In Spain they say that 'experience is a rank', in that therein lies the difference. Another gem on Spanish list of proverbs is also 'with time and patience you gain experience', and they might just have something there. "Yiyo" Losada's work on the previous edition of the Volvo Ocean Race has helped him to learn more about his job and to gain first-hand experience of the rocky terrain on which the competition is played out. "We learnt a lot from the last VOR. One of the things that possibly changed my opinion the most is that I had envisaged the time between legs as an opportunity for training and preparation, and it's just not the case," says Losada.
That's why you've got to get the training in before the start. It's an essential phase. "After that it's a case of keeping the team at the best possible level and that's by letting the crew recover as much as possible for the next leg once they get into port. You just can't schedule any big training sessions," says the Spaniard.
Knowledge also helps to enhance other technical aspects of training and other exercises, although the methodology is still the same.
"You refine as you go along, with exercises, the knowledge you have of each crew member. Lots of them are back for a second time, so you learn who you can push harder, who not to push so much... And that's where the experience comes in."
Basically, what you need is for the crew to be sufficiently physically prepared to be able to take on all of those days racing, where it's not just about the sheer physical effort required, but also about the conditions in which it is required. "During the rest periods you aren't able to rest and sleep in the same way as an athlete who has just run a race," Iñigo Losada reminds us. "The athlete goes home, has a shower, sits down for dinner at the table... Along with the context of the competition itself, here nutrition and rest are very much conditioned."
In summary, excellent physical training is needed, as well as great fatigue resistance and the ability to work through tiredness. Then there is also getting back into port and resting and recovering. That's a big challenge for the Health Team, who begins long before the start and won't finish until July 2012, when "Telefónica" and her crew will cross the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-2012 finishing line in the Irish city of Galway.
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