New Hampshire based all-arounder Amber Ferreira is a four-time national snowshoe champ, has completed over 70 Ironman events - including numerous pro podiums - and is no stranger to elite-level bike racing, trail running, nordic skiing and swimrun racing. The more difficult the race, the more likely the pint-sized and voraciously competitive Ferreira will be on the starting line.
During this 11 year span as an elite racer she’s cultivated a community of athletes through her Granite State Endurance Project while working as a full-time physical therapist. Though she rarely slows down on the race course no matter the season, she pumped the brakes to tell us about some of her recent exploits.
Slowtwitch: You compete at an elite level in snow shoeing, cross country skiing, triathlon, cycling and swimrun. What sports did you do growing up?
Ferreira: Growing up I was a very active, energetic kid. So much so that my parents were constantly trying to find the most tiring activities for me to participate in and they made sure to sign me up for as many sports as possible. It was common for me to run to soccer practice as young as 7-years-old, attend practice and then ask to run home. What a weird kid! In high school I swam, played soccer, ran cross country and eventually ended up with a scholarship to Northeastern University to run cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
Slowtwitch: Seemingly on a whim, you just hammered out a monster vertical gain challenge. Did you lose a bet?
Ferreira: The story behind this massive 13,100ft day is I have a 5 year history of run-related bets with my friend Kanoa King, a competitive ultra runner from NH.
The details of the bet were simple: who could cover the most vert in 6 hours.
It's important to note that I have never actually won a bet against Kanoa. In our 5 year history of betting I have lost every single time. So, naturally Kanoa was over confident and resting on his laurels after completing 12,800ft of vert at Pat's Peak a few days ago on Saturday, April 25th.
I did my vert research that Saturday night and planned out my fueling strategy, a customized drink mix from Infinit Nutrition. The next day, on Sunday, April 26th, I managed to knock out 13,100ft in just under 6 hours!
I now consider this feat as the biggest athletic achievement of my life.
Slowtwitch: With so many interests, how do you decide what to do on any given day?
Ferreira: I have been racing as an elite/professional in long course triathlon for 10 years. The sheer volume of consistent endurance training over the years has allowed me to cross over into other endurance sports relatively well.
Because Ironman racing has been my primary focus, my days are filled with swim/bike/run. But if I have an aerobic run on the schedule I will go for a run on my local trails. And because I believe having good bike-handling skills makes me a better overall biker I will do many of my aerobic/non-interval rides on my gravel bike to mix it up. I live in New Hampshire so the winter trainer rides can get old so if there is good snow I am going to replace that 3-hour indoor ride with a Nordic ski or snowshoe run.
It is true that part of our training needs to be very specific and purposeful, especially as we get closer to race day/race season, but most often the body does not know where the stimulus is coming from, so hard work is hard work.
Slowtwitch: How does your coach, Kurt Perham, go about designing a training schedule built with your many different interests?
Ferreira: He builds my training with a heavy swim/bike/run focus but we both know that cycling crosses over really well to uphill mountain running and trail running crosses over to snow shoeing. So a little cross training here and there can go a long way.
We both live in the Northeast and the winters can get long so we agree Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the winter is far more mentally stimulating and just as aerobically beneficial as running on the treadmill.
Slowtwitch: Do you ever find yourself training indoors?
Ferreira: I am an outdoor lover! I always run outdoors and do my longer bike rides outdoors. But sometimes I feel the indoor bike trainer can be a great place to get a time-efficient 60-90 min workout. If I lived in a warmer climate I would always swim outdoors but our lake temps our 45 degrees right now!
Slowtwitch: How has your training changed due to the pandemic?
Ferreira: I have always loved training and making up my own "endurance adventure days." So while I am bummed about race cancellations I really can entertain myself chasing Strava segments or attempting 6-hour vert days.
In regards to my specific training, my coach has lowered my volume and reduced some of the intensity. So we are back to working the V and building a consistent base.
I have a pull-up bar so I have been trying to get in simple home strength workouts as well.
I know for many it's hard to not have a race on the horizon but my advice would be to stay consistent and try to be positive. In my experience, a long uninterrupted block of training can be one of the best things for an athlete in regards to breaking barriers and setting PR's when we are finally able to toe the line.
Slowtwitch: How are you working with the athletes you coach during this time?
Ferreira: I’m encouraging them to pick big adventures for the summer so we can focus their training on a goal.
We are also putting on a virtual triathlon which should be fun! It can be done in one day or over the course of three days between May 23rd-25th. The events are a 3 mile run, a 28 or 56 mile bike ride and then a 13 mile run. You get bonus points if you do 1000 yards in a lake, because like I mentioned before, the water here is 45 degrees!
I have planned specific routes on Strava and created segments so prizes will be given based on how fast they go through the segments. Most importantly, it should be a fun day and will give our athletes a little something to prep for at the end of May.
Slowtwitch: You raced OTILLO SwimRun Catalina back in March. Did you alter your training to be competitive in that early season race?
Ferreira: The training leading up to Catalina was one of the most fun and intense training block I have had in 11 years of racing as an elite. I had the unique opportunity to train with my best friend, Aryn Marsh, out in Boulder, CO and it was perfect. We ticked off many 20K swim weeks in a beautiful outdoor pool and explored Colorado's awesome mountainous trail system. There were so many training days where we stumbled through the last mile, thoroughly worn out and seeing cross-eyed but loudly proclaiming: "Wow - what a great day!"
[Editor’s note: Ferreira and Marsh finished 4th overall in the women’s race and qualified for the OTILLO SwimRun World Championship].
Slowtwitch: What are some of your go-to strategies for recovery?
Ferreira: Making progress as an athlete means we have to dial in recovery after EVERY single session. This is my go-to protocol.
Pre-workout: Infinit Daily Hydrate and my normal breakfast.
During workout: My custom Infinit Electrolyte blend with beta-alanine and amino acids.
Post workout: Within 10 minutes of finishing, I have 1 Scoop Infinit Repair, 1 Scoop Infinit Raw Protein with almond milk. Females actually need to eat sooner and need MORE protein than men after hard sessions. I am for 30 grams of quality protein ASAP.
30 minutes before bed: Infinit Nocturne, which has a slow release protein for nighttime healing and tryptophan.
Slowtwitch: In a perfect world, what races do you have planned for the rest of the season?
Ferreira: Odyssey SwimRun Casco Bay Islands and Mount Washington Uphill Bike Race in August and Maine Marathon in October.
I am also hoping the cyclocross races stick on the schedule and if so I will try for a full season of CX racing which runs September through December.
Slowtwitch: If all events are cancelled, do you have any endurance challenges in mind that will be motivating you?
Ferreira: ABSOLUTELY! How long can the list be? Highest on the list include:
- Single day bike from Canada to MA (I already planned the route I just need to wait for a nice weather day)
- 30,000ft of vert on my bike in one day on Mt. Kearsage.
- Run the Long Trail
- Capture all the Strava segments in my town
- Run the Sunapee-Greenway trail
- Triple loop of Lafayette Loop (13.000ft vert)
You can follow Ferreira on Instagram at @amberdferreira to piggyback on her upcoming lung-busting adventures.