Anger v. Gratitude
Rylan Schadegg is a Hybrid athlete and coach making serious moves in the hybrid competition world. On October 28, Rylan won the Hyrox race in Valencia, Spain, with a time of 58:11. On November 2, Rylan competed in the Spartan Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece, where he was the winner or runner-up in three brutal races over three days. On November 11, Rylan finished second at Hyrox Chicago against a field of the sports’ top competitors. Despite his extensive international travel, Rylan finished with a time of 55:46, the third-fastest time in history, and clinched his spot in the Hyrox World Championships next year.
The Hybrid Letter spoke with Rylan about his struggle with an eating disorder, drug testing, training methods, and what he thinks about when a race gets tough.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Hybrid Letter: What is your athletic background, and how did that lead you to hybrid competitions?
Rylan Schadegg: I grew up playing a lot of different sports, but I specialized in soccer from an early age. I wanted to do that professionally but didn’t quite have the talent for it. I found mountain biking at about 16 and absolutely loved it. So, instead of trying to play college soccer, I actually dropped soccer completely and just decided to focus on trying to make the national cross-country mountain biking team for the USA. I missed it by one spot.
I did that until I was about 21. And really started to struggle when I was 20. I was trying to make myself smaller, trying to be a better climber. Because cycling focuses a lot on power to weight. So I was constantly trying to lose weight instead of building power. In retrospect, I should have focused on building power. But when I was pretty young, I had a coach put a number in my mind. He described it as a fighting weight. And I kind of latched on to it and tried to go a bit under a lot of the time. I ended up having a pretty gnarly eating disorder for a year or two, and it sucked all the fun out of cycling.
I ended up leaving so that I could heal completely from it. Around that time, I finished my first fire academy, and I got offered a job. So, I started my career and really loved it. So, workouts for firefighting are very similar to what a hybrid race is like. They do a heavy lift, and then they’ll do something aerobic. Because you should be able to do both. There’s many people who are unfit in the fire service, but the good ones are very aerobically fit and also very powerful.
I naturally put on more size and muscle. I still would bike for fun, but I really loved trail running because it was another way to get outside. The power from my pedal stroke translated really well into steep running, which also translates to sleds. Like if you can’t ever get to sled work, throw some weight on your back and do intervals up a mountain. It’s a very similar body position and also a very similar burning sensation as well.
So, in 2021, I ran my first Spartan race. I did really well in my first one. And I think I won my second one. I had a breakout year in 2022, and I tried my first Deka Fit in September of last year. And it just felt natural. It was basically how I trained at the fire station. It was a perfect fit.
THL: Are you still working as a firefighter?
RS: No, in February, I had to stop. Last year was a breakout year, and I started traveling more and more for races. I went to [Spartan] Trifecta Worlds, and then right after that went to Deka Worlds. I got really sick before that one. I went back to work because I was paying back shift trades. I was not getting much sleep, and my sleep cycle was all off. Then I got sick again before Hyrox in LA, which was my first Hyrox.
And then I stopped racing until February. I took a and a half off racing. But I just kept getting sick, like the sickest I had ever been. Twice, my throat got so swollen my trachea almost got closed off. I was getting viral infections so easily. My health was just in the toilet. So, I decided to focus on one less thing and drop it for now. My chief was super cool about it and said you can come back anytime.
So, for now, I’m focused on being an athlete and coaching. I coach hybrid athletes, trail runners, and mountain bikers.
THL: You posted on Instagram about the importance of implementing a rule against performance-enhancing drugs in Hyrox. And you said if Hyrox didn’t implement the rule, you were going to stop competing. A few days later, Hyrox did release a statement saying they were working on a rule and potentially implementing random drug testing. Were you satisfied with that?
RS: Actions speak louder than words. I’m absolutely stoked that Hyrox decided to say we’re working on this, and we are not OK with performance-enhancing drugs. However, I do think it is putting the cart before the horse. I’m not saying they have to drug test right now because I realize that costs money. I was saying they should make the rules clear.
There was actually an elite competitor using an inhaler before the start that doesn’t have asthma. And that’s completely legal in Hyrox right now. You could take TRT [testosterone] if you wanted. You could do blood doping. And it’s legal because it isn’t in the rulebook. Spartan, Deka, and other brands have it in their rulebooks.
THL: Your training methods have been working extremely well for you. But they differ from some of the other elite competitors in this field. You’ve discussed how you haven’t been running as much as other top hybrid athletes. And that the running you have been doing has been mostly high-intensity. It cuts against the trend toward high-volume, lower-intensity Zone 2 running. Do you think there is too much emphasis on Zone 2 training?
RS: The first week of March, I suffered a serious foot injury and couldn’t run. Three or four months of not running. All summer, I maybe had a couple of weeks that were above 10 miles. I swapped a lot of the volume for the SkiErg, the rower, and the bike. Mostly the bike because Utah is beautiful, and I love mountain biking.
I couldn’t really get back into running consistently until September. And I knew it was going to take me six to eight weeks to start running fast again. So, I did reverse periodization. It isn’t very common in running, but cycling is pretty common.
In a traditional model, you have the base phase, and then you go into a subthreshold phase, and then speed work, and then VO2 max work. That’s how a lot of coaches would structure it. But in cycling, especially in the winter if you’re living in a colder climate, you just do the reverse because you don’t want to spend five hours on your bike outside when it’s freezing cold. So instead, you do your high-end work, and you slowly stack volume onto that intensity. You go back up the pyramid in reverse. That’s what I did with my running.
Some of the lowest-hanging fruit that you can get in running is doing regular, very high-end speed work because it creates the neuromuscular connection. If you’ve never run fast, your brain hasn’t connected those neurons. It’s teaching your muscles how you run fast.
People are doing Zone 2 wrong. I saw this video on the internet two days ago, where this Instagram influencer was talking about getting in her Zone 2 work. And she was walking on a treadmill. There's one of two things happening. Either you're in Zone 1 and you're calling Zone 2. That's what most people do because they don't realize how much work is actually done in Zone 2. Or you are so aerobically unfit that walking puts you in Zone 2, and I'm worried about you. She didn't have the treadmill on an incline or anything.
THL: Towards the end of a race, it gets very uncomfortable for most people. As someone who has put up some very good times and clearly pushes themselves to the limit, what strategies do you use to keep going and not reduce your effort?
RS: There’s two. There’s anger, which I have used and I’m not super proud of. There are plenty of people who hurt you throughout life. And you can have that chip on your shoulder and prove them wrong. And honestly, sometimes I use that. [Hyrox World Champion] Hunter [McIntyre] bet that I wouldn’t break 1:08 in my first Hyrox. So I’ll think about that sometimes. I think, “I’ll show him.”
But I also don’t think it works as well as gratitude. I found gratitude is the best. Being grateful for the body that you’ve been blessed with, that you’ve been created in, and the ability to use it. From my perspective, I was created by God, and he gives me everything. And he also gives me the opportunity to create more. Being grateful for the times that you are able to push your body is probably the most valuable thing you can do for your race performance.
Hybrid athlete of the week: Amanda Houston
Name: Amanda Houston
Hometown: Bethpage, NY
Why did you start competing in hybrid events? So my story is a little unconventional. I started gymnastics when I was three years old and pursued that competitively until I was about 14. I was a competitive cheerleader as well. I don't have a running background, nor did I pursue sports in college. Sure, I grew up playing sports, and I would consider myself somewhat "athletic" in high school. But I never truly focused on one thing.
I started "running" when COVID hit, and there was quite literally nothing else to do. I did care about my fitness, but it wasn't until I found OG Training Academy (the gym I represent now) that I really took my fitness to the next level. OG is HIIT meets bodybuilding. The vibes and community the gym offers are totally unmatched. It has been my home for almost three years now.
And so I actually stumbled upon Hyrox when I was deep in an Instagram hole one day and saw a friend's friend competing at a Hyrox, and I knew right off the bat that was something I needed to do. I started training for it by myself about three months out from Hyrox New York 2022. I wound up getting first in my age group and knew this is what I was born to do. Just when it seemed my competitive days were behind me, it turned out they were just beginning. I feel like the hybrid life found ME, and genuinely and honestly SAVED me, mentally and physically.
Favorite race to date? My first race ever, Hyrox New York 2022, set the tone for what was to come. I still remember the absolute joy and happiness I felt after that race after all of my hard work came to fruition. But then also competing in Manchester for Worlds in May 2022. Being able to race in another country at the world championships was easily one of the coolest experiences of my life. I had no expectations for myself and came in just looking to do my best and have fun. It was definitely a life-changing experience.
Do you have a race goal? I am super excited to go back to Worlds in June in France! I'd like to cut my race time by at least 5 minutes by then. So I better get crackin!
Favorite station? I will get a lot of shit for this probably, but burpee broad jumps. I feel like everyone hates them, so I'm like, screw it, I love them. And it definitely is my best station. It's the easiest for me to just zone in on and knock them out really quick.
Least favorite station? I'm really not a fan of rowing, and I feel like no matter how much I practice, I do not get better at it. It's just boring to me.
Things you wish you knew when you started training/racing?
1. Make sure you are taking the time to properly recover and stretch, work on basic strength and mobility exercises. I have a torn hip labrum from just beating the hell out of my body without proper strength and recovery. Hybrid training is no joke. It's okay (and necessary) to take a rest day. You won't lose your fitness, I promise.
2. Not every day, workout, or race is going to be your best. All of the best athletes have off days. Give yourself some grace on these days. Showing up for yourself was most important.
3. Don't let anyone define your success and don't compare yourself to others. Having no specific running or athletic background, I love showing people that you can just be "ordinary" and still have success in anything you choose to do. Well maybe I wouldn't necessarily call myself ordinary because this shit we do as hybrid athletes is CRAZY but I wouldn't change it for the world!
Video of the week: The rowing machine world record
Rowing doesn’t have to be boring! In this video, Phil Clapp sets the record for 500 meters on a Concept2 rowing machine. He completes the distance in an incredible 1:10.
Phil previously rowed on open water but now competes as a professional sailor. You can follow Phil on Instagram.