At the age of 22, Phil Hanson quickly won many victories as a long-distance motorsport driver.
In the shortened season of last year, the British racing driver, who only started in 2016, was the first driver to win the FIA World Endurance Championship (LMP2), the European Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (LMP2) at the same time Year.
This weekend, he hopes to add the most demanding event in endurance racing to his list of notable accomplishments – a repeated victory at Le Mans – a race in which he and his United Autosports team are favorites for the 89th Hour marathon -Motor race.
But before he gets behind the wheel, Hanson must prepare both his mind and body for the excruciating demands and kilometers that every race places on his young body. In addition, Hanson, who is going into his fifth Le Mans, is a committed weight room fighter and also an advocate of mindfulness – but his workouts are not tailored for aesthetics, but for practical purposes, e.g. car endurance athlete.
“After winning last year, I know exactly how to prepare, what worked and what didn’t, and I can build on each year pretty well,” says Hanson. “Many of my trainings are things that challenge me as much as I need to be challenged. It would be pointless to me to do some hard biceps workout when it would be good to have bigger biceps. They won’t make me a better racing driver and it won’t make a difference to Le Mans. “
The reigning Le Mans champion tells how he prepares himself mentally and physically for the biggest event in endurance racing.
TRAINING FOR LE MANS
Courtesy Tom Kahler
When I get to the gym, the first thing I do is tie my shoelaces and open them while I’m in a deep squat for about five minutes. This helps open my hips. I’ll be doing a few more hip opening exercises and general mobility exercises. I do some foam rolling if anything hurts from the last session, but usually I leave my foam rolling and stretching for the end. It’s usually dynamic stuff at the beginning.
I usually do some sort of basic movement in my workout, usually compound lift, like power cleans. We do power cleans every week. These can be hang cleans, deadlifts, or squats, usually in the range of three to eight reps. If it’s three repetitions, it’s usually one pause repetition and two quick reps. It usually changes from week to week.
I’m going to pursue this with some type of conditioning mixed in with the lifts, like cycling for example. An example workout would be a bent row row for five sets of 10 reps, followed by a 500 meter bike ride, and then a one-minute maximal push-up. It’s like a barbell, a type of superset that is performed at a higher intensity. This is with a two minute break, so the pushups are really tough.
Then it goes into a Metcon EMOM. A final 16-minute EMOM was 500 meters on the bike, then 14 box jumps, 14 burpees, then rest in the fourth minute. It’s less intense than what I would do otherwise, but I don’t want to get any injuries before Le Mans. I kept looking at the box and thinking that if my foot slipped I shouldn’t knock my shin out of the corner – not before Le Mans.
ELIMINATE WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Courtesy Tom Kahler
A long distance race takes a lot of stamina. I found this the more I went down this route, trying to do more Zone 2 stuff like sitting on a bike and keep pedaling to go to Le Mans. I felt like it didn’t really help much and I couldn’t really see the immediate effects, which makes it difficult to stay motivated – even for casual athletes.
When running, your heart rate doesn’t follow the traditional card of endurance. Your heart rate moves during the lap based on the rest periods you get on the straight line when you are not physically doing anything. Even if you reach speeds of up to 300 km / h, you are not physically working. When you get to the braking zones and have the G-forces holding your breath through the high-speed turns, all of that stuff will increase your heart rate.
When we moved [our training] In the direction of Metcon EMOMs, such as more high-intensity workouts, I could see the benefits, e.g. I feel better and have the feeling that I can cope with longer periods of stress with this intensity.
REFUELING FOR LE MANS
I burn a lot of calories so I have to replenish them by topping up carbohydrates. I’m the fastest when I just eat salad and have nothing else in my body. If I eat too much pasta for lunch or it isn’t a light meal, I’m slow.
At Le Mans you have to relax and get back in the car for two to three hours at a time. If I just load up carbs and wake up from a 40 minute sleep – if I can do this – I’ll feel slow.
Last year, when I got in the car before the last half of Le Mans, I craved Yorkshire pudding. I ended up eating about four or five of them. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t bad because it’s just calories. It made me happy and gave me good headroom. But I usually eat pretty clean and healthy. I don’t usually eat a lot of junk food.
This year it will be a little different. Every year I try different supplements to see what works. Kinetica is a UK based nutritional supplement brand and they are sponsoring me this year. I got all of my BCAAs, energy gels and all these good things and I used them in preparation for Le Mans to make sure I was comfortable with the supplements. I’m now excited to get in the car for three hours and try an energy gel that I know how it will affect me.
SLEEP WHEN YOU CAN
Courtesy Tom Kahler
When running a race, the adrenaline cannot be turned off.
[When I first started], I thought Le Mans was just a competition of wills to find out who could sleep 24 hours less. I always thought that everyone could sleep there because when your body is shattered you can sleep. But last year when we were leading the race, I couldn’t sleep at all because the adrenaline was holding me up. I lay in bed, closed my eyes to relax, had headspace on and tried everything. It’s not even the noise of the cars driving around because you are used to it. I had slept at Le Mans before, but it was different last year.
Hopefully it will be the same this year. If I can sleep, it probably means I’m doing well. I slept 40 minutes last year and it felt so amazing. But I’ll probably have to start taking sleeping pills at some point, but not yet. If the adrenaline is trying to keep me awake, it will keep me awake.
RACE DAY CHECKLIST
Courtesy Tom Kahler
I usually try to keep things very simple and not change things up too much as your mindset and mental preparation are probably your biggest factors. I am a great breakfast person. I love dry granola – I’m talking about rice krispies and the healthy cereals that are overlooked. I absolutely love her. There’s some kind of protein source in there. I always eat yogurt at home.
If one day I become lactose intolerant, my diet will be ruined because I use so much dairy products, especially for breakfast. I take some kind of toasted bread. When I’m abroad, it’s a fresh croissant.
Depending on how quickly I get on the track, it could simply be because of that. If I get there later I might have some eggs and toast.
When I get to the track there is usually a last minute briefing. The stress builds up and there is a lot of silence, because normally there are no framework races before a major event like Le Mans. We used to have autograph sessions, but with COVID that doesn’t happen anymore. I will go to the bathroom a lot because I drink a lot of water. And the more nervous you get, the more you think you have to go to the toilet, which doesn’t always help because you can barely pee.
While the car is getting ready, go back and forth to check that your kit is there to make sure no one has stolen anything or anything is missing before you have to put it on and get in the car.
Then, to be honest, you’re just sitting on your phone. When all the meetings are done, all the last minute checks done, everything revolves around the water and the loo because the last thing you want to do is go to the bathroom 10 minutes after getting into the car. During the race, my meal consists of chicken, spinach, and pasta. The caterers think that’s the only thing I eat. This is usually my favorite meal during the race. It’s the best balance for the three things I need: my strength, a source of protein, and fiber. It’s kind of a ritual. I wouldn’t say that I am superstitious, but I probably am when it comes to such things.
The longer the race goes, the less I’ll order chicken, spinach, and pasta because it’s repetitive. I’ll probably end up eating Yorkshire pudding or a Mars bar. After the race, depending on how I feel, I drink a lot of water because you sweat a lot. I will use the washroom. If I get out of the car and feel a little bit sore, I might take BCAAs, or maybe some magnesium, or even an energy gel. Sometimes when you wake up to Le Mans in the middle of the night you need some kind of stimulant to get going. It used to be a cold shower for me, now I use the Energy Gels to wake up.