Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Allure of the Western States Endurance Run

This article was written for, and originally appeared in the AURA UltraMag Magazine in late 2014

Some events attract their participants by the nature of the course. There are longer events and there are rugged and remote events, higher, steeper, crazier and zanier and there are definitely events with higher numbers of participants. These days there are also races with offerings of lucrative prize purses and all the bells and whistles that come with the new age of ultra trail running.

Then there is the Western States Endurance Run 100 miler. Period.

This race has all the history of a Wild West novel and the prestige of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. To me there is no other race that I’d rather be part of so you could imagine the joy of receiving my entry invitation on email after being excepted through the Ultra Trail World Tour. I still have that invite printed out and hung on my office pinboard. It was there to constantly remind me how rare those words on the paper were and that I could never, ever take that for granted.

There’s races I’ve been to that have all the hype and big promises only to fall short of the expectations. There’s also been races that promise nothing and over deliver. Then there’s WSER. You come, you experience, you walk away with the deep satisfaction that you’ve just added to the rich tapestry of the races history. Yes, you may be just a blip in the history, but to any self respecting ultra runner in the world, you’re a rockstar for a day. Oh, and hopefully you walk away with a belt buckle too!

So what is this history and prestige I talk about? Well it’s not every day you get to race in the oldest 100 miler in the world. The history is thicker than just that one statistic though. There is the trail itself which follows the historic Western States Trail, on which runners experience the majestic high country beauty of Emigrant Pass and the Granite Chief Wilderness, the crucible of the canyons of the California gold country, a memorable crossing of the ice-cold waters of the main stem of the Middle Fork of the American River, and, during the latter stages, the historic reddish-brown-colored trails that led gold-seeking prospectors and homesteading pilgrims alike to the welcoming arms of Auburn.

Or you can just hear the love of the trail in legendary trail runner and 5 time ‘States’ winner Tim Twietmeyer’s quote “I think the Western States Trail just makes a great balance between nature’s finest, and being tremendously historic. The last operating hydraulic mine is right next to the course between Last Chance to Foresthill. Running the trail is kind of like a history lesson—going back to the Indians, gold miners, silver miners, guys that founded California—and you realise how rugged and tough those guys were at the time. Plus, its really great singletrack.”

Over the years, there’s been many Aussies who have made the pilgrimage over to ‘States’. Yes, it’s even rumoured that after the Aussie assault in 2007 that these dedicated band of brother led to the change of the entry rules to avoid this occurring again! In the lead up to my race, I spoke to many of these guys and their words repeatedly expressed the same theme; respect the course, the race, the history. Train well, train smart and get to the start line in the best shape you can as you may only get one shot at this.

And with these words ringing in my ears, I got to the start line at Squaw Valley knowing that I’d done everything I could have done to be there at my best; mentally and physically I was in the zone and ready to pay homage to the race by giving it my all.

And that I did. I don’t wish to go into an extensive race report, as that can be viewed on my blog post: 2014 Race Report. But I got to Auburn just under 16hrs after that starting shotgun blast in 8th place but the happiest man in the world.

I want to thank the Australian ultra running community for all your support through all the messages and I know there were lots following the race online too. It was wonderfully uplifting and my only way to repay your goodwill is by strongly encouraging you to enter this race. Yes it may take you years to get pulled out of that lottery, and yes you may think you’re not ready to run milers or conversely you’re best years are behind you, but believe me when I say it, this is the race that every ultra runner just must do.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Road To Comrades With Brendan Davies

This blog was written for, and originally appeared on the www.inov-8.com website here



The first half of this year has been all about one thing: preparing for the 2016 Comrades Marathon in South Africa, the oldest and arguably greatest ultra race in the world. This year it will see 20,000 people run between the cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Having a fresh focus on this 89km road race has definitely revitalised the running part of my soul after a less than satisfying 2015.

* Follow Brendan’s live updates from Comrades on his Twitter takeover *

To be honest, the end of last year couldn’t come quick enough. In 2014 I finished 5th overall in the Ultra-Trail World Tour after top-10 results at TNF 100, Ultra-Trail Mt Fuji and Western States. Encouraged by those performances, I decided to compete on the same circuit in 2015 and try to improve on my finishing positions. However, what eventuated was a series of disappointing results. I put it down to an accumulation of being overworked (I started my own business coaching runners here in Australia), travelling epic distances across the world for races, taking part in too many long ultras and giving myself insufficient recovery between big efforts. Simply put, I was burnt out and, as a result, falling out of love with trail running. I think in my mind I had definitely tested and proved the theory that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’.

In late 2015 I finished top-20 at the 100km World Championships and then backed this up to help Australia claim Team Bronze in the 50km World Championships. These two forays back into road running reignited my love for the black top. It was then I decided that I had to change up my training and racing in order to continue as a performance-focused athlete. So began the road to Comrades, dubbed the Ultimate Human Race.

The Comrades has always been on my bucket list, but previously proved a tricky one to fit into my trail racing schedule. This year is different. I have a very healthy respect for the Comrades… it is without doubt the most competitive ultra marathon on the planet and I would never go over to South Africa without bringing my A-game to the table. When you see 2014 world 100km champion Max King and outstanding ultra marathon runner Sage Canaday finishing outside the top 10, you know that this race is indeed the real deal. Click on the image below to read Scott Dunlap’s excellent report on last year’s Comrades.

MY TRAINING PLAN FOR COMRADES

And so in December last year I mapped out my Comrades campaign. The main principles which I wanted to adhere to looked something like this:

* Avoid as much ‘training’ on trails as possible. I would use trail running for hill sessions or easy runs only.

* Stick to a very Lydiard dominated training regime, periodising it to Comrades and reaching minimum 100-mile training in 3 out of 4 weeks a month. No compromise.

* Avoid too many easy paced runs. Going out running too often with the athletes I coach was leaving me too fatigued and unable to put in my own quality sessions.

* Train much more on the road and track, and generally run at least half of my weekly mileage at around 4:00min/km pace.

* Consistently take part in shorter road races for training purposes – this would provide ‘signposts’ of my progress and help with mental confidence. I’ve always believed that training for a fast 5km is just as tough as training for any other distance.

* Maintain my race weight and be more disciplined with all the other elements that make performance improvements.

The year has thus far gone to plan. I’ve gradually built up my mileage to average 100-mile weeks and have been pleased to see the average pace of sessions plummet. I’ve been very consistent with my training, as can be seen from the weekly totals below.Read Brendan’s blog about the benefits and pitfalls of using running apps such as Strava.

My weekly training has generally consisted of this:

Monday: Aerobic Run 10km+ at around 4:00min/km pace or recovery run.
Tuesday (am): Strength focused sessions, e.g hill repeats or hilly fartlek session.
Tuesday (pm): Easy on road.
Wednesday: Long, steady state run or long VO2 reps session, all done around 3:45min/km pace or quicker.
Thursday (am): Track session (short reps) or longer reps on road.
Thursday (pm): Easy on road.
Friday: Aerobic run 15km+ at around 4:00min/km pace.
Saturday: Long tempo session often including a 5km Parkrun.
Sunday: Training race or longer aerobic run 30+km at around 4:15min/km pace.

I’ve limited my long runs too. Prior to the Comrades, which is 89km, my longest run this year will have been 56km. This has been done deliberately to ensure that the quality of that session has been reached, and also to avoid the longer recovery times that running bigger distances require. With all the long ultras I’ve done in my career, I’m pretty sure that the endurance and distance of Comrades won’t be an issue.

28km down…61km to go! The long road of Comrades. Photo: Scott Dunlap.

PICKING THE RIGHT RUNNING SHOES FOR COMRADES

Gear-wise I’ve trained primarily in the Road-X-Treme 250 and 220. In the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a prototype pair of a new inov-8 road running shoes and love the extra level of protection these offer. For race day, I’ll wear the Road-X-Treme 220.

Races have also formed an important component of my lead-up to Comrades. I’ve used them strategically for different purposes. Each one I’ve made sure these process goals have been at the forefront. As such, I didn’t invest mentally in the races, nor did I sacrifice my training by tapering before or recovering heavily around any them. It’s always a bit of a gamble racing for training purposes like this. Yes, there is a lot to gain mentally from them if they go well, but if they don’t then they serve the opposite purpose.

But then I’ve always been a bit of a gambler! I never push as hard in training as I do on race day… and by giving myself these hard efforts along the way I feel they have in themselves continued to build my training momentum, confidence and self belief.

I’ve also been fortunate to have the use of an AlterG treadmill, allowing me to rack up extra miles without the associated impact fatigue that would come from a similar session done regularly. The other benefit is that I’m able to sustain a faster pace for longer periods, say when I’m performing a session at 75% of bodyweight. So in practical terms, the pace I’d only usually be able to sustain for a couple of minutes on the track can be reached, bettered and sustained for much longer. In fitness terms this has ‘bought’ me loads of fast paced kilometres without considerable effort, but more importantly it’s stirred up my fast twitch to new levels. I really do believe this has made positive adaptations in regards to leg turnover and efficiency.

And it’s showed. In the lead-up I’ve hit new personal bests in all distances, from 5km to marathon, have made the podium in three of the biggest races in Australia: the ‘short trail’ events of Six Foot Track, 2 Bays Trail and the Canberra Road Marathon. More critically though, these races made me feel strong, determined and eager to test myself against the very best in the world at Comrades.

Last week, the Ultra-Trail Australia circus (formerly TNF 100) hit town and it was hard to sit it out. It’s an event very close to my heart and my win there in 2013 opened a lot of opportunities for me. Fortunately the addition of a 22km race to the event still allowed me to participate. I was a very close 2nd to top Australian runner Dave Byrne, after leading for all but the last 2km. The goal for this race was to nail the course’s long downhill section and give the quads a good belting with the idea that the regrowth of stronger, battle-hardened quads will be now well conditioned for the final 35km of hard downhill in Comrades. Again, this race ticked all the boxes and I now go to Comrades with the very rare feeling that I’ve just done about everything I could do in my training build up.

Brendan at recent Ultra-Trail Australia race. © Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

The only thing left now is to execute the plan and run my race. I can’t wait to soak up the history and prestige of the oldest ultra race in the world, to stand among the 20,000 other runners at the start, listen to the stirring rendition of Shosholoza and then run.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Trialling the Alter G Anti-Gravity Treadmill

Over the last month or so I've had the opportunity to trial out the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill at Sydney West Sports Medicine thanks to Moon Runners. Moon Runners were founded in 2014 by husband and wife team Thomas & Joy Gan. Both being medical doctors, their initial vision was to make available to the general public the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill, a world class training and injury rehabilitation device which was previously only accessible by professional athletes. To ensure the highest quality of service, their aim is to only install units in established sports medicine centres run by excellent health practitioners specialising in sports rehab.

A decision was made in early 2016 to convert the business to a social enterprise whereby 100% of the profits would be donated to charitable organisations.

The innovative AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill is a game changer in physical therapy rehabilitation. Whether you’re a patient or an athlete dealing with lower body injuries, chronic pain or neurological conditions that inhibit mobility, you can benefit from the unweighting capabilities. The Anti-Gravity Treadmill helps a broad spectrum of people – top level athletes, orthopaedic and neurologic patients, paediatric, geriatric and those looking to lose weight - to achieve their personal health, wellness or performance goals.

With Aussie Rep Teammate Andy Lee watching
Anthony Famigletti punch out an AlterG session back in 2010.
I personally first came across this treadmill while in Colorado for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in 2010 while visiting the Olympic Training Facilities in Colorado Springs. That day I watched in awe of rehabilitating Team USA Olympic  Steeplechaser Anthony Famiglietti push out a high intensity session on the treadmill. I've been curious about it ever since, but had no idea if these were even available for use in Australia, let along Western Sydney.

My main interest in the AlterG is of course mainly as a Coach in terms of athletes in rehabilitation returning from injury but also for athletes of the more high performance focus being able to benefit from the extra miles of lower impact running but also those wanting to be able to enjoy longer periods of fast twitch muscle activation. I'm keen to explore if, over a period of time, athletes will develop greater leg speed, turnover and efficiency. This of course interests me as an athlete too.

To book sessions, or obtain a referral form for your physiotherapist, click here.

Here is a little video I took from one of my visits to the centre.



Gravity getting you down? Give your training a lift on a Moon Runners AlterG P200 High Performance Anti-Gravity Treadmill in partnership with Brendan Davies from UP Coaching.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Running Apps: Strava...help or hinderance?

This blog was written for, and originally appeared on the www.inov-8.com website here

Screen-Shot-2014-10-17-at-15.58.38-1024x641

The popularity of Strava and other similar apps has skyrocketed in the last couple of years off the back of the latest global running boom. It’s really changed the dynamics of training sessions. These days before athletes start their post-run stretch, it’s almost de rigor to now whip out the smart phone and upload the session to Strava to check out the stats and the goodie bag of rewards.

As a coach, this is worthy of some further thought, and the use of apps such as Strava poses many questions in terms of athlete motivation, reinforcement and the very nature of what drives us as runners and indeed human beings.

But firstly, I’ll speak from an athlete’s point of view. As a performance focused athlete over many years, I can recognize the benefits of such an app as Strava. Its ability to centralize all my recording devices is convenient and for me it acts as a central log for all of my training. Its interface is simple and user friendly. It attempts to offer some deeper analysis based off heart-rate data… ‘suffer scores’ etc. and has a couple of cool features such as a pace ‘evener’ (great for working out equivalent flat speed over trail/elevation). However on the whole, I tend to ignore the science and head straight to the ego, I’m of course talking about CR (course record) / KOM (King of Mountain) and segments.




Branden Davies Checking over his Strava account after hitting the trails
Branden Davies Checking over his Strava account after hitting the trails. Photo by Nadine Davies

What better positive reinforcement is there than running a course or year best PR, or better still snatching the coveted solid crown. It’s no wonder that it’s mobiles and not protein drinks that are first reached for post-session. Motivationally speaking it’s fantastic, but like everything in life, one can have too much of a good thing.

There are numerous pitfalls; and as a coach I can see how the allure of the virtual ‘pat on the back’ can take away from the essence of training. I’ve known athletes to choose routes based on segments, to choose to run solo rather than in a group, or basically become more obsessed about the rewards rather than the very process of training. I know because I’m also guilty of it.




A visual of the INOV-8 All Terrain Running Club
A visual of the INOV-8 All Terrain Running Club

There is also the unrivaled ability via Strava to view others’ training. One of the pitfalls of any athlete is to use comparison with others as an indicator of progress and a guide for the future. This is simply a recipe for disaster.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying if we all tried to replicate Steve Way’s training, we’d all end up broken and an over-trained mess! While there is nothing new under the sun as far as training goes, the access to information and the ability to imitate can be detrimental. One man’s easy run can be another’s tempo, and so caution must be taken.

As runners we have different physical and mental compositions. You have to find what works best for you according to your own goals and intuitions. A good coach should be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses and create an individualised plan that is right for you.




Brendan Davies WSER100
Brendan Davies at last year’s famous Western States 100 ultra race. In 2015 he will compete at Western States again, this time wearing our RACE ULTRA 270. Photo by Matt Trappe http://www.trappephoto.com/

For the recreational runners, features such as ‘recovery time’ are generally features that should be given some thought. However, these often amuse me somewhat. On my Suunto Movescount I’m regularly in over 100 hours recovery deficit… so should I be listening to the watch and putting my feet up? I think not. Running, unlike the layman’s view, is not a simple sport. While there is of course room for science, it’s the ability to try new things, go against the orthodox, try and fail and try again approach that has taken all the recreational runners to the pointy end.

Other features from devices that buzz and beep and generally remind you to do everything from drink, eat and breath are handy and as a training and racing aid can be beneficial. If you are a heart rate trainer, it’s never been easier.

While it’s great to have this level of assistance, it’s also easy to become a slave to the data and bogged down in it. Remember how the champions of the past used to do it, and every now and then, go try running naked (no mobile or watch!) and get back to the core of why we run in the first place.


* I log every km of my training, both as an athlete and when coaching on Strava. My account can be found here: https://www.strava.com/pros/1768350

* I’m also a member of the INOV-8 ALL TERRAIN RUNNING CLUB on Strava. Join the club here: https://www.strava.com/clubs/146080

Running Apps: Strava...help or hinderance?

This blog was written for, and originally appeared on the www.inov-8.com website here

Screen-Shot-2014-10-17-at-15.58.38-1024x641

The popularity of Strava and other similar apps has skyrocketed in the last couple of years off the back of the latest global running boom. It’s really changed the dynamics of training sessions. These days before athletes start their post-run stretch, it’s almost de rigor to now whip out the smart phone and upload the session to Strava to check out the stats and the goodie bag of rewards.

As a coach, this is worthy of some further thought, and the use of apps such as Strava poses many questions in terms of athlete motivation, reinforcement and the very nature of what drives us as runners and indeed human beings.

But firstly, I’ll speak from an athlete’s point of view. As a performance focused athlete over many years, I can recognize the benefits of such an app as Strava. Its ability to centralize all my recording devices is convenient and for me it acts as a central log for all of my training. Its interface is simple and user friendly. It attempts to offer some deeper analysis based off heart-rate data… ‘suffer scores’ etc. and has a couple of cool features such as a pace ‘evener’ (great for working out equivalent flat speed over trail/elevation). However on the whole, I tend to ignore the science and head straight to the ego, I’m of course talking about CR (course record) / KOM (King of Mountain) and segments.



Branden Davies Checking over his Strava account after hitting the trails
Branden Davies Checking over his Strava account after hitting the trails. Photo by Nadine Davies

What better positive reinforcement is there than running a course or year best PR, or better still snatching the coveted solid crown. It’s no wonder that it’s mobiles and not protein drinks that are first reached for post-session. Motivationally speaking it’s fantastic, but like everything in life, one can have too much of a good thing.

There are numerous pitfalls; and as a coach I can see how the allure of the virtual ‘pat on the back’ can take away from the essence of training. I’ve known athletes to choose routes based on segments, to choose to run solo rather than in a group, or basically become more obsessed about the rewards rather than the very process of training. I know because I’m also guilty of it.



A visual of the INOV-8 All Terrain Running Club
A visual of the INOV-8 All Terrain Running Club

There is also the unrivaled ability via Strava to view others’ training. One of the pitfalls of any athlete is to use comparison with others as an indicator of progress and a guide for the future. This is simply a recipe for disaster.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying if we all tried to replicate Steve Way’s training, we’d all end up broken and an over-trained mess! While there is nothing new under the sun as far as training goes, the access to information and the ability to imitate can be detrimental. One man’s easy run can be another’s tempo, and so caution must be taken.

As runners we have different physical and mental compositions. You have to find what works best for you according to your own goals and intuitions. A good coach should be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses and create an individualised plan that is right for you.



Brendan Davies WSER100
Brendan Davies at last year’s famous Western States 100 ultra race. In 2015 he will compete at Western States again, this time wearing our RACE ULTRA 270. Photo by Matt Trappe http://www.trappephoto.com/

For the recreational runners, features such as ‘recovery time’ are generally features that should be given some thought. However, these often amuse me somewhat. On my Suunto Movescount I’m regularly in over 100 hours recovery deficit… so should I be listening to the watch and putting my feet up? I think not. Running, unlike the layman’s view, is not a simple sport. While there is of course room for science, it’s the ability to try new things, go against the orthodox, try and fail and try again approach that has taken all the recreational runners to the pointy end.

Other features from devices that buzz and beep and generally remind you to do everything from drink, eat and breath are handy and as a training and racing aid can be beneficial. If you are a heart rate trainer, it’s never been easier.

While it’s great to have this level of assistance, it’s also easy to become a slave to the data and bogged down in it. Remember how the champions of the past used to do it, and every now and then, go try running naked (no mobile or watch!) and get back to the core of why we run in the first place.


* I log every km of my training, both as an athlete and when coaching on Strava. My account can be found here: https://www.strava.com/pros/1768350

* I’m also a member of the INOV-8 ALL TERRAIN RUNNING CLUB on Strava. Join the club here: https://www.strava.com/clubs/146080

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

TransGranCanaria Training Update

Yep, this ain't a road run!
It's been a very busy start to the year for me; investing a lot of time into my UP Coaching business has meant that I've had to scale back a lot on races and so far, a paired 3h event I ran with Wes Gibson's wife Kellie at the Knapsack 6h Lap race has been the only race this year. I'm pretty sure as far as quantity goes, my races this year are going to be very low in numbers and limited to the majors outlined in the previous post and a few smaller one's around Oz that I've been invited to attend.

Post Coast 2 Kosci I really sat down and had a good think about my training and outlined a plan towards my first biggie of 2015, Transgrancanaria. I just had to change things up and do things a little differently. First thing on the agenda was of course a good rest and relaxing the strict routines I have in both my training and lifestyle.

So I ate, drank and rested and generally was merry from mid December to Early January, just doing some easy training sessions to maintain fitness and cut right back on track and strength sessions, as well as halving my usual long run durations in order to freshen up. I also spent a lot of 'time on feet' with clients and training at ranges of paces more broad than I've ever done before! Overall this left me feeling refreshed and reinvigorated for the year ahead.

I then spent a lot of time just building up aerobically, reaching 100mile weeks off mostly 10-35km runs at easy or steady state pace. Not much speed at all. Only in the last few weeks have I began some faster track sessions and longer tempo runs.

Another factor - it's been a challenge at times to do so much group and individual training, while still training my own sessions as well. At times I've had to just get out the door and get it done on tired legs and I've thankfully got many good training partners that have helped me maintain the quality of these sessions. Having an extra coach in Jo Brischetto on board at my group training has also allowed me to participant in one of my own speed sessions too :-)

So onto Transgrancanaria, just a beast of a race on the island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. It's 125km and 8500m+ OUCH indeed. The saving grace is that it looks to be on terrain that doesn't look particularly technical from what I've seen in videos and some of the big climbs may be quite runnable. I'm hoping anyway. As far as tough goes, this will be the toughest I've done to date, even outdoing UTMF at 169km and 9500m D+.

To get myself ready, I've been doing much much more vertical ups and downs than ever before, often challenging myself with weighted vests and fully loaded packs on big hill repeats. This has the duel purpose of building up my muscle strength by overloading the glutes, quads and calves as well as conditioning up the VMOs via the extra eccentric loading on the downs (and generally toughening up my ankles too).


The other great benefit is of course on overall cardio fitness via increases to my V02 max and lactate thresholds. I've found doing my regular 12km bread and butter runs on undulating terrain but with added weight has turned them into medium-hard efforts; particularly on small climbs where I'm forced to go anaerobic for small sections of time where otherwise I would have stayed in the aerobic zone. This is training the body to clear lactic build up more efficiently and my recoveries are super short and sharp which is essential for any trail running.

Of course the mental toughness training of these sessions can't be underestimated either. If there's going to be a race that tests my mental fortitude it will be this one.