Shona. Brendan I remember when I first meet you properly down at Deep Space Mountain Marathon (DSMM) 2009 as you flew past me on the descents as I climbed up Mt Tennant. I saw something special in you that day. Little did I know that you had already represented Australia in the Commonwealth Road Championships. A few months later you admitted to me at the Megalong Mega that you wanted to get onto the Australian Mountain Running Team. You lived up to your word and you have since represented and excelled for Australia in many different events. What keeps your drive alive?
Brendan. I remember that day at DSMM very clearly too, it was a great day for both of us! I think I got second behind Martin Fryer and you picked up an ultra victory on debut! You looked shocked that you had performed so well but also I remember you saying you felt surprised by your victory and you had a lot more room to improve. Since then your upper trajectory has been relentless…and there is much more to go for you too! I really admire your personal drive to improve too, Shona, but I respect and admire a hell of a lot more the way you encourage and help other runners along their journey. We are quite similar in that regard!
Shona. Stop it. You are too kind
Brendan. A lot of my drive comes down to personal satisfaction in my own performance, what I believe I am capable of and what I believe I have to do to reach the next level. I guess I’ll never be fully satisfied, so the drive is is a constant and insatiable thing! Meeting new people and incorporating different elements to my running ‘journey’ like representative opportunities and coaching is also a motivating factor.
Shona. You are one of the most consistent runners that I know of. Every event in Australia that you enter you usually manage to place top 5 or better. I’m saying that you race regularly, and through many different disciplines from 10km all the way through to 100km. You don’t pick an event and just train for it. You race almost every weekend. What is the key to your reliable success?
Brendan. Running is my hobby and racing is the adrenaline fix to end the week. I work a (potentially) very stressful job as a Special Ed teacher for children with behavioral and emotional difficulties, so racing is like the little reward I treat myself to after a tough week at the cold face! I do race regularly but I certainly have my ‘A’ races, the ‘B’ races and then all the others which I treat like training races! The ‘A’ races like 6 Foot, TNF100 and representative stuff are very sacred and I definitely don’t jeopardise these by over racing around that build up. My results in these big events are testament to that. Whether I could win a few more ‘B’ races if I didn’t race so often….well that might be the case but to be honest the fun of racing is worth far more than the results.
As far as the keys to success, I put it down to a consistent training program that I’ve constantly refined over the years. It’s a program binded together by some key principles that have enabled me to succeed in many different distances and over different terrains. I’m happy to share these but would be probably too long for this interview!
Shona. How did you get into trail running?
Brendan.I used to live in Bundeena in my mid 20s and I guess I did a bit then through the Royal NP just as a way to keep fit. My first ‘trail’ event was Fitzroy Falls Firetrail Marathon in 2007. I was hooked immediately! I enjoy the challenge that the terrain throws at you, every course is so different. I started to take my training to a more trail specific nature in late 2008 and early 2009 training for 6 Foot Track 09 with lots of day trips to the Blue Mountains, sound familiar Shona?
Shona.Yeah, I think I need to buy a house up in the Blue Mountains.
Brendan. Second place there led to my selection in the Australian Mountain Running team that you mentioned and I haven’t looked back. Eventually, I thought ‘bugger traveling up to the mountains to train’ so I bought a place up here at Woodford where I live now. I have a trail that goes from my backyard down the mountain to Glenbrook or up to Wenty Falls. It is the best place in the world! But as much as I love trail running, I still seem, despite all attempts to change, still perform better on the road!
Shona. What was your first Ultra? and how long had you been running for before you ran your first Ultra
Brendan. My first Ultra was 6 Foot Track in 2008, where I finished in 28th spot in 4:04. You’ll hate me for saying it, but my first ‘real’ ultra was a road ultra – the Narrabeen Allnighter, a 100k, 5km out and back course. I guess I had been training regularly for about 18 months by that stage. I found the race very enjoyable. I won so that helped ease the pain! From that I was selected in the team to go to the inaugural Commonwealth Champs where I raced the 100k.
Shona. What is your favourite race.
Brendan. OK…I have raced so many different events so this is a hard one that always changes! I would have said 6 Foot in a heartbeat a year ago, but I think it has been trumped by TNF100. After all it’s double the fun and double the scenery too!
Shona. Which event have you learnt the most about yourself from?
Brendan. There have been so many races that I’ve blown up in or just gone into underprepared so those are the type of races that I learnt from in the beginning of my running journey. Trial and error is obviously where most people start, but later on in the journey, the races you learn most about yourself are the ones that go to plan. The one’s where you set a plan and they come off. They are the occasions that tell you ‘yes I know what I’m talking about’! For me the 100K World Champs this year was almost the perfect race that went almost entirely to my pre race plan. At the end of that race I could stand tall and say ‘well I set a plan and it came off successfully!’
Shona. Do you like to train in a group or on your own? And Why?
Brendan. I think it’s important to do a bit of both. Firstly, all through my running career I have been part of a club. My first club was Woodstock Runners in Sydney and they taught me the importance of turning up week in week out to train. Another advantage was that I trained with other runners that were faster than me, this is so important in order to improve. When I reached the ‘top of the tree’ there, I pushed the envelope further by seeking out other training methods and I started the interval training session there. This session in particular is very hard to do on your own. The first thing I did when I moved the mountains was to seek out training partners and a speed group. Now I train weekly with track runners which keeps my speed up and with my mate Wayne Bulloch for the mid week long run. Most of my other training is on my own which gives me the perfect balance between socializing with others and me really focussing on my own running on my own.
Shona. What is your favorite training session?
Brendan. Lately it has been the mid week long run, around 20ks with Wayne. He is really great company and very enthusiastic about running. Sometimes we chat the whole time, other times we really push it hard but we always seem to be respectful where the other is in their training cycle.
Shona. How did you go about running your first 100KM? How did you even think you could run that far?
Brendan. I went into that first race not really knowing what to expect. I thought I could run that far but knew it would take some extra training and preparation. I did a couple of extra long runs and sought some advice from other seasoned ultra runners first like Tom Cochrane. I guess this is how most people prepare for their first ultra too!
Shona. What records do you hold? (There is a list guys)
Most number of podium finishers
I do hold a few….
Great North Walk 100k
Deep Space Mountain Marathon (44k course)
Kokoda Challenge (part of Team No Roads)
Running Wild, Mt Portal
Lap the Lake Half Marathon.
Shona. What characteristic do you think go into making a champion like yourself? (Yes Brendan you are a champion that is why I am interviewing you)
Brendan. An obsessive nature, a perfectionist streak and loyalty to the sport!
Shona. What sport did you play as a kid? I know you exercise only a little when you where in your teens and 20s what made you start getting serious about your running again? And Why?
Brendan. Yeah, I did let go a bit in my mid 20s but I did have a very active upbringing.! As a kid, I played all sorts of team sports, you name it I played it! Along with these sports I went to Scouts, Little Athletics and even Martial Arts. My parents really believed is jamming in as many activities as they could. In my late 20s I took up squash and played that for many years. I actually started to run and do a lot of mountain biking to try and get fitter for the squash court but I quickly found out that running was much more fun and something I could juggle around my family and work life a little easier. When I started entering a few races I knew that I could excel. A few successes at school in cross country and the longer events at athletics carnivals gave me the self belief I needed. So I applied myself and put the discipline in place. The rest is history.
Shona. Is there a family history of amazing athletic ability? Like a long lost uncle or granddad/grandma or dad/mum who excelled at sport?
Or are you just the “Stand Out Kid/Freak” in the family?
Brendan. My mum is a champion long distance talker! Does this count?
Shona.It must run in the family then. Hehehe.
Brendan. I guess I’m the outlier that chose to put the inherited obsessive gene to an athletic use rather than something else. My dad was a bit of a champion swimmer in his day though, but the opportunities to excel wasn’t there for guys like us these days.
Shona. What is your hydration and nutritional plan when you are racing? Is it different from when you race a 25km to a 100km?
Brendan. Yeah of course, I don’t worry about eating or drinking in events shorter than a marathon. But in an ultra like 100k, you have to consider the calorie intake. I usually try to have a half hour gel intake strategy, nothing too complicated there!
Shona. Is your nutritional plan different from when you are training?
Brendan. Depending on the distance, I won’t worry about nutrition in training. If it is 45km like I am doing in about 6 hours time, I will have to pack a couple of gels or bars in my pack.
Shona. Have you ever had to work through injuries?
If so what sort of rehab or cross training did you have to do before you could start racing again?
Brendan. I’ve been running for about 6 years now and I’ve never had a really major injury, something that I’m both forever grateful for but neither do I take that for granted. Prevention of injury is the best way to go. I think it’s important to incorporate some weights work into the training. I have a couple of 5k dumbbells that I do squats and the like down in my gym. I try to get out and ride my bike whenever I can too.
Shona. I thought you had a knee injury leading up to GNW 100km in which you broke the record for.
How did you get through the GNW with that knee injury?
Brendan. Yeah, it was actually a calf strain that I was nursing. It happened a couple of weeks before. I’ve had this type of injury a couple of times, but this one was probably the worst. I really had to take it easy in that race, watching not to overstride or land with any great weight on that leg, such as running downhill. It was touch and go all the way in the early stages before it warmed up and settled down a bit. In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have run but I got through it.
Shona. What is the biggest recovery tip? Food? Rest? Ice Baths? Recovery Jogs? Brendan you are a machine. You race more than anyone I know of, please correct me if you think someone is out there racing at such a high level as you, and still placing. What is the stand out feature in your training that you think allows you to continue racing with little “Down” time? ( I’m talking about tapering in and out of events).
Brendan. I think I’ve been fortunate as I have a very natural running gait and style that has helped prevent injury. I’m also a very light runner, with my weight rarely above 60k, which enables me to run through a lot of the times when others would be in recovery mode. I also think racing is an important part of training.
Shona. Being light does reduce your chance of an injury. Every BMI percentage point you lose you reduce your injury chance by 14%. Do you follow a strict diet to keep the weight off? Or is it just a case of you do enough LDS training to keep the weight off?
Brendan. I’m not super strict with my diet but I do watch the type of food and the portion size, making sure I don’t overeat. I eat pretty similarly each day, so I know how much I can eat to maintain the ideal weight taking into account the amount of training I do which also doesn’t change much week in week out either.
Shona. Now Brendan you just came 11th in the 100km World Championship’s in 2012 in April with a blistering time of 6:55:26. You proved yourself in an international field. Did this experience change the how you have since approached you running in 2012?
Awesome question Shona! The short answer is YES!! I don’t think I ever truly felt I was world class until that result. Besides Comrades, that is the ultimate for road running. I think what that result has done more than anything is increase my self belief. I believe now that if I do the sufficient preparation and give myself the appropriate lead in time I can go well in any big event.
Shona. What is your favorite quote, or a few words that you have made up that you may say or remember to keep your mind focused when you are racing or training?
Brendan. My mate Andrew Vize penned it, “Train hard to race easy”. It is something that always means a lot more than the words.
Shona. Brendan you had only a short recovery period between the World Champs and The North Face 100km. Did you alter your training and nutrition to help speed up your recovery?
Brendan. After the World Champs, I divulged big time on food; I was in Greece so it wasn’t exactly hard! Once I got over the binge, I treated the time in between as a time to train, but also to be careful of injury. I did a couple of long runs but nothing too intense. I ‘nursed’ the time in between; letting my body recover but at the same time not lose too mush fitness. I also made sure I got down to a good racing weight.
Shona. Since your awesome placing of 11th in the World Championship’s in Europe this year, 4th in TNF100km, 3rd in the Glow Worm Tunnel, 1st in the Macleay Marathon 5th in the Woodford to Glenbrook. I then read that you even entered a Rogain Orienteering Event the day before the Woodford to Glenbrook. How to you keep your energy levels so high allowing you are able to perform consistently at such an elite level?
Or was it just the case that you are now stronger, faster, smarter, better and more seasoned athlete?
Brendan. The Rogaine was a week before the Woodford to Glenbrook, sorry for the confusion!
Shona. Hey I spotted you out on Mt Solitary the day before Rogaine then doing hill reps! So you back up that day too?!
Brendan.Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t be doing this number of events if I didn’t think I was up for it in all those elements you mentioned. I look at guys like Andrew Lloyd, Jamie Harrison and Jeremy Horne who did this type of thing week in week out in the past. They are my inspiration and I also want to be the inspiration for younger runners coming through.
Shona. Do you cross train? If you do what sport /exercise do you like to do?
Brendan. Hardly ever anymore. Funnily enough, my best results over trail/mountain events was when I was riding about 100km a week on the bike so there may be something in that!
Shona. Yeah Beth Cardelli loves the spin bike.
Shona.What would you say is your biggest strength when you are racing?
Brendan. My flat speed is usually my best asset, which sucks in trail races as there aren’t many flat trail races around! I’m not too bad on the downs as long as it isn’t too technical.
Shona. What shoes do you like to wear? You can list them if you like?
Road Shoes I usually train in the inov-8 233s Racing Flats My road racing flats are the Adidas Adizero Adios Trail Shoes Definitely either the inov-8 212s or the 195s depending on the terrain. Ultra Trail Shoes same…
Shona. What are 5 stand out tips that you would like to give any runner about training and nutrition to keep them racing regularly as you?
1. Technique. Is there some areas you need to work on?
2. Training Sessions. Is your training consistent week in week out?
3. Training Pace. Are you underperforming in races due to not stretching yourself in training?
4. Nutrition. Look after weight, not necessarily what you eat!
5. Racing. Set a plan, and stick to it, no matter how silly the plan is then or seems after the race.
Brendan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me over all these years. I remember when I first met you at Deep Space Mountain Marathon, then we chatted at the Mega Long Mega. I’ve always taken your support and advice to heart. You are a true ambassador for the sport of running in all it’s fields and I will always look up to you as a real mentor to me.
Thanks Shona! I would love to take you under my wing and train you myself, but you already have a better coach than me… you!! Keep up the great work for yourself and for the chargers you are coaching!