The comeback kid of Hyrox
Beau Wills hails from New Zealand, went to college in the United States, and now runs a gym in Switzerland. Along the way, he has become an elite Hyrox athlete. Last month, he earned a spot in this year’s World Championships by running a personal best of 56:03 at Hyrox Stockholm.
The Hybrid Letter spoke with Beau about his Crossfit background, his training methods, and his advice for first-time Hyrox competitors.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Hybrid Letter: You’ve been competing for a few years now. How did you initially get started in hybrid competitions and Hyrox races?
Beau Wills: Right out of college, I really got into Crossfit. I was coaching CrossFit full-time and training at the same volume as the top CrossFitters. That was seven or eight years of full-time CrossFit coaching and CrossFit training. My background before CrossFit was in a lot of sports, mostly tennis, basketball, and volleyball. I went to the States on a tennis scholarship, and I found CrossFit during my last senior year there. Just fell in love with it and pursued it as a career. Never could make it to the top in CrossFit. I had a lot of attributes that made me good at CrossFit but I was lacking in top-end strength. No matter how much time I put into strength-based training, I could never get to the level that I wanted to because of that. Exactly two years ago, I heard of Hyrox, and I signed up for my first competition, thinking this is basically a long, grueling CrossFit workout that really favors all my strengths. I was pretty excited to give it a good crack. After my first race, I did well, so I really put all my chips into Hyrox training. Still, I use a lot of elements of CrossFit training because I think they go hand-in-hand.
THL: Up to that point, had you done a lot of running volume as part of your CrossFit training, or did you have to add that in?
BW: Definitely had to add in. Growing up, I probably covered a lot of miles from running around as a kid and playing various sports, but I never did actual running training. My whole CrossFit time, I was naturally good at the running events. So, I never spent any time actually running. I probably did a total of 5K every two weeks, which, as a runner, is absolutely nothing. So I had to be careful with building up my running volume just because I was fit aerobically, but my specific muscles for running were definitely lacking. I had to slowly build up the volume of my running over the course of six to eight months. Now, I can sort of run at a volume per week that I think a lot of elite Hyrox athletes are doing as well.
Within about eight months, I was up to about 50K a week. I have pretty much stayed at 50K a week since then. I just finished a three-week block when I was really trying to ramp it up. I was touching over 70K in the last three weeks. Now, I’m slowly dialing it back a little bit to focus more on some stations leading toward the next race.
THL: What has moved the needle for you as you’ve built your running up to compete at a high level?
BW: Right from the start, I was researching a lot on running and endurance sports to see what the top athletes in triathlon and running were doing. What I came up with was making sure I had a long run each week that was low-intensity, aerobic, Zone 2 work. Then, I would do a speed interval session each week with complete rest in between — 30 seconds to four-minute intervals. Then, I would do more of a tempo run session each week where I was more or less at Hyrox running pace. And I would do intervals with that but with slow, easy running between efforts. That was my formula since the start. I’ve just been building upon that with more volume. But I really have isolated most of my running from compromised running work, where you’re going running and stations. I only do compromised running 10% of the time. And 90% of just pure running.
THL: You made it into Elite 15, but the Chicago major wasn’t one of your best races. A few weeks later, you had your best time (56:03) in Stockholm, finished third, and qualified for the World Championship. How do you explain that? Was it training? Strategy? Mindset?
BW: If you look at my times up until basically Manchester World Championships, they were really slowly progressing at a nice rate from 66 minutes right down to 58. I did a couple at 58 and then started going back a little bit. I did a 60, a couple of 62s, and then a 63 in Chicago. Honestly, I think most of that was down to overtraining and just being rundown. I was dealing with a bit of sickness around some of those races as well. Especially in Chicago. A lot of the boys were talking about jet lag, the ones coming over from Europe. I don’t know if jet lag really made a huge impact on me. But I did wake up sick the morning of that race, with a bit of fever and sore throat. That showed in my results. Because I didn’t get fitter before Stockholm. I was just healthy. I don’t think it was a freak performance.
THL: What is your race strategy when you are competing against the other elites?
BW: The front half of the race has always been the part where I haven’t been at the level as some of the top guys. In the back half, I always do well. I’ve actually never been passed and beaten in the back half of a Hyrox race. I knew that if I tried to really go out hard at Stockholm and stay within reach of the front guys that first half of the race, I would really have a good chance to put myself on the podium. And Stockholm, I tried to go out faster than I was usually comfortable with. I was holding a faster pace on the ski. I was pushing harder on the runs in the first half and banking on my ability to still close.
The lunges and the wall balls are some of my strongest stations. We do a million burpees in Crossfit. I’m pretty comfortable from there on.
THL: You run a gym in Switzerland. I’m sure you’ve had people come into your gym who want to enter their first Hyrox. What are some key steps as a coach that you take with them so they are ready to perform to the best of their ability?
BW: I think that as they look towards their first Hyrox, the main thing is just to become familiar with the different stations and the different movements. You don’t have to do full one-hour Hyrox simulation-style workouts. You just need to do 10 or 20-minute workouts to get familiar and get your body able to withstand the strength and endurance side of the event. And then, obviously, building up your running volume. You need to be able to go for a steady 10K long run. You need to spend time on your feet doing running training.
THL: As people get involved in the race, they come back and maybe don’t get the performance they were hoping for. What are some of the mistakes you see people make as far as strategy and approach for a race?
BW: The biggest mistake for first-time people doing a Hyrox is dissecting the race and thinking that they know what time their goal time should be. Maybe they’re not super experienced with their own fitness, and they don’t truly know what level they’re at. They have this time in their mind that is completely a guess. And then they don’t hit it, and they’re very disappointed. They don’t think they’ve reached their goal. The best thing you can do in your first race is not think about time at all. Just think about completing the race and giving it your best effort. Use that first race as a real benchmark, and then build off it. Look at splits. See what needs more work. Where did you really bleed time? Then you have a good platform to build towards your next one.
After the first race, there are definitely a couple of minutes on the table just from experience. You are able to put together a more accurate plan on how you should attack the workout. Then it’s just consistent, frequent training. You don’t need to do anything fancy, you just need to be doing strength, endurance, and running. Practice the movements, put them together, and do variations of workouts. Keep revisiting benchmarks so you can see your progress and build from there. Focus mostly on your weaknesses, and your results will definitely get better.
THL: Hyrox is a very demanding race both physically but also mentally. Has your mental approach to the race changed at all?
BW: I actually don’t think it has. I know I’ve heard a lot of the top athletes talk about drawing on experiences that were harder. I probably haven’t been in any situation where I’ve been physically more exhausted than in a Hyrox race. But whatever I’m doing, I’ll put my full effort into it and maximize my capacity. For many years, I’ve been doing whatever I can to perform my best and never give up until the whistle blows. That’s been the mentality that I’ve taken into Hyrox. I just suck every little bit of potential out of myself. And I love competing. Winning is an insanely good feeling. That’s a huge motivator when you're within a race and even with training.
During the race, I don’t have a dialogue with myself. I don’t have a quote that I repeat. I am constantly analyzing where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I’m feeling. I’m trying to stay on that red line. Not tipping over and not letting up too much. I’m analyzing and seeing if I can push anymore right now. Or if this is enough, or if this is too much, and I just gauge my effort at that. I try not to pay much attention to where the people around me are until the back half of the race. I try to really be internal for the front half. In the back half, I try to really race people and calculate how far I am behind someone and where I can make up ground.
You can find more insight and training tips from Beau Wills on Instagram.
Hybrid athlete of the week: Nicole Fisher
Name: Nicole Fisher
Hometown: Germantown, Maryland
When did you start competing in hybrid events? I had been competing in Spartan races for many years, and that training is similar, so I had a good base when I started focusing on Hyrox. Immie (Cross), my doubles race partner, and I met at a Spartan race a few years ago. After that, we started training together and became close friends. One day, she mentioned Hyrox to me and asked if I wanted to team up with her for doubles. I never say no to her!
Favorite race?: The World Championships in Manchester, England, last year. In the US, we hadn't had anyone really push us in our age group. This was the first time we were going head-to-head with ladies in our field who were faster than us. We didn't take over the lead until Station 4 (burpee broad jumps). Once we had the lead, we kept it. As Spartan racers, we are really good with compromised running and pacing ourselves. Becoming a world champion was a moment I'll never forget. I'm so grateful not only for Immie being the best partner ever, but the women we got to race against.
Favorite station? I like wall balls, but they are a challenge at the end of a race when you're red-lining.
Least favorite station? I'm not sure I dislike any station, but the sleds are my weakest. I've spent a lot of time training the sled and trying to get stronger in my hammies and glutes. It's definitely better than when I started, but it's still the most difficult part of the race, especially the push.
Do you have a race goal? In November, at the Dallas race, our goal was to break the world record for our age group, which meant under an hour flat. I didn't check my watch until the second half of our race, but when I saw our time, I knew we were right there, but it would be close. We made it, in 59:46, so that's one goal down. The next goal is to win Worlds again this year with Immie. I know it won't be easy.
Workout of the week: Simon Passmore’s 10-minute burpee EMOM
Simon Passmore is the Hyrox World Champion in the 50-54 age group and hold the world record for his age group in the open division (1:01:27). He also is known for competing in Hyrox Open and Hyrox Pro at the same race, just hours apart. Each day, Simon does a set of 15 burpees every minute for 10 minutes. So 150 total burpees. It seems to be working.