Dean Cox is a man proving that you can be fit, stay healthy, achieve goals no matter what age you are. Dean Cox is a passionate trail runner finishing his first The North Face 100 in 2011 sub 26 hours when he was 65 . He cross trains like mad, and is competing in a Half Iron Man in October at the age of 67. Let’s find out his story.
Shona: Congratulations on your 2011 The North Face 100 completion at 65 years of age in sub 26 hours. What spurred you on to do an Ultra when most people your age would be happy to take long naps, play lawn bowls and bingo?
Dean: My Partner, Jaci came home one day and suggested that we consider doing this 100km run in the Blue Mountains. My reply was words to the effect that that idea was crazy (not exactly those words), but after consideration, I thought, ‘Why not? I can do it!’ That was the start of a new life and a whole new outlook on everything.
Shona:I saw that you pull out of The North Face 2012, what injury did you suffer?
Dean: I had a bad fall at 19km, just after Check Point (CP) 1, where I fell heavily on the side of my right knee. I continued on to CP 2 at 38km but I realised, and the medic reinforced, that with what was ahead, Iron-pot Ridge, Nellies Glen, Stairs, Kedumba and Lillians Glen, I was probably not going to finish. I made the decision after much soul-searching, to pull the pin.
Shona. Man that must have been tough. But probably a smart option. How did you get into trail running?
Dean: I joined the Nelson Bay Hash House Harriers about four years ago and many of the runs are on trails in our area. Once the decision to do TNF 100 was made, almost all of my training became on trails.
Shona: Did you always run? Or is it something that you picked up when you joined the Nelson Bay Hash House Harriers?
Dean: I ran in the Army; as a PTI I had to. In the early years (1966) we ran in what were called Plimsolls or sandshoes, minimalist shoes before the term was even thought of, and then really basic cushioned training shoes. But we also ran in boots, with packs and weapons, for distances up to 20km; also route marches for up to 40-50 km. Absolutely brutal, over all terrains, in all weather. Suffice to say that when I left the Army in 1988, I vowed never to run again; I ‘hated’ running! That was not to be because, as it turned out and although I didn’t like running, running liked me and so I stuck with it. I got to love it much later
Shona. I think I would hate running too if I had to carry 30 kilos of gear on my back like I know you army guys had too. What is your favourite race?
Dean Cox: The North Face 100 is certainly the most spectacular ultra that I’ve competed in, and many of the trail races conducted by Running Wild NSW in the Blue Mountains have been fantastic, but I look forward to running the trails on the South Island in NZ.
Shona: Which Trails in New Zealand South Island will you be running?
Dean: Hillary and the Kepler Challenge trails come to mind, but we are seeking the advice of an ACE trail runner in NZ, Mal Law.
Shona. Which event have you learnt the most about yourself from?
Dean: Once again, TNF 100 taught me heaps, from training and competing perspectives that one really doesn’t know what can be achieved until you are tired, cold, hungry, thirsty and hallucinating, and you’ve got another 35km to run and it’s dark and it’s freezing.
Shona: Do you like to train on your own or in a group?
Dean Cox: I do both; since I am retired, I’m able to train at any time during the week, but at least once or twice a week there is a group of us get together for a long run around our area. My training now includes the triathlon disciplines so I also spend time road bike and MTB riding, and pool and open water swimming; plus gym sessions at the local Anytime Fitness, for core and strength training. I train twice a day, six days a week.
Shona: You were a Physical Training Instructor for the Army (PTI) for the 15 of the 23 years that you were in that Army. What principles do you apply from your Army background to your training or racing?
Dean: If you can’t run, walk! If you can’t walk, crawl! That’s exactly what I did at TNF 100-2012. Ultimately, Never, Ever Give Up! That’s why I have to front up for TNF 100-2013!
Shona: Love it! What is your passion?
Dean: Activity – Relentless Forward Progress! I really don’t know how I would feel if I was not able to be active; whether that is running, swimming, bike riding on the road or trails, or just walking the dog. There is no excuse for me not to do something…..that’s why I train twice a day, six days a week.
Shona. Awesome. I want to be just like you at 67! What characteristic do you think go into being a trail runner?
Dean: Determination……but you’ve also got to have a love of nature.
Shona. What sport did you play as a kid?
Dean Cox: Lot’s of them; Aussie Rules football (born and raised in South Australia so no rugby until I joined the Army), hockey, squash, tennis, athletics, weightlifting, baseball, basketball, water polo, lifesaving (mainly surf boats, but also swimming and beach events), and gymnastics.
Shona. What is your hydration and nutritional plan when you are racing? Is it different from when you are training?
Dean: Training is pretty much a carry what I eat and drink thing, while a race is usually calculated out to take in what I can carry AND what’s available from aid stations/check points. Real food, electrolyte and water is what I like to have, rather than gels or anything that’s going to adversely affect my stomach.
Shona. Have had to work through injuries, how does that effect your training for an event?
Dean: Very frustrating, because it’s usually meant a period of time off running, but I’ve learnt to take notice of my Physio and I do like the opportunities to cross-train, particularly with my involvement now in triathlons.
Shona: I’ve interview a few Trail Runners now and there seems to be a trend to cross train on a bike, or to venture into competing in Triathlons. What benefits do you believe that you get from adding the Bike and a Swim to your training regime?
Dean: Just a break from the impact of running, development of other important muscle groups, different proprioception and development of core muscles in a different way.
Shona: What exact injuries have you had to work through? What was your re-hab for those injuries?
Dean: Mainly leg injuries, knee, Achilles, calf, ITB. Rehab was specific exercises, stretches, ice, heat, rest, then slowly return to running on the flat trail, sand, grass, then hills, then more hills and longer distances. My Physio is also an acupuncturist and the dry needling has been a godsend……painful at he time, but ultimately a godsend!
Shona. What is the biggest recovery tip? Food? Rest? Ice Baths? Recovery Jogs?
Dean: RICE is probably the best general advice, but mainly rest, ice, heat, stretching, and when able get back into running……get back into it slowly. A Physio friend of mine has the philosophy, ‘Hasten Slowly!’
Shona. What mental games your tricks do you play on yourself when you are out racing to keep your mind focused?
Dean: I’ve just started running with music on an iPod and that has been fantastic in tricking my mind into believing we are not tired. Mantras are good, particularly in hill running. I used to ‘hate’ hills, but now, ‘I love hills; hills are my friend!’
Shona. I think I need to start tricking my mind with music also! What would you say is your biggest strength when you are racing?
Dean: I think it’s that I’m not going to give up (unless I know for sure that it will permanently damage my body), and my determination to succeed, within my own limitations. I’m never going to be an elite athlete, but I am certainly proving that one can be successful at whatever you attempt.
Shona: I admire and respect your mental attitude towards exercise and goal setting. was this a learnt skill or have you always been so determined?
Dean: Always been determined but I’ve come to realise that staying in your personal comfort zone is all nice and warm and fuzzy but it doesn’t get the job done. Stepping outside the comfort zone is when you start to achieve more, things that you didn’t realise were possible.
Shona. What are your best achievements so far?
Dean: My achievements are simply the fact that I’m able to do what I do and I’ve been able to encourage other ‘Old Farts’ to have a go too. Jaci uses a saying that I particularly like, ‘Always do what you’ve always done………and you’ll always get what you’ve always got!’ In other words, change your bad lifestyle into an active lifestyle and make it a habit. It doesn’t matter what you do……just do! Is that enough motivational clichés?
Shona:How important is it to get the Over 60s into exercise? What are the key mental and physical benefits that you feel you have due to your consistent exercise program?
Dean: I believe it’s imperative to get the ‘Old Farts’ off their collective backsides. I see older folks in my area who are on their last legs because they’ve given up, they’re old before their time. Some have medical problems admittedly, but they can still exercise within their limitations. Most have a list of excuses as long as your arm, but there are no excuses; they continue to do what they’ve always done, and we know where that goes. My philosophical approach to being an ‘Old Fart” is….so what? If I set myself a goal and I set out to achieve it, I am already achieving what I set out to do. I may never reach that goal, but I’m sure as hell going to give it my best shot. If I do reach it, that is cause for major celebration; then set another goal! The benefits are beyond listing, but put simply I am keeping my mind and body active, the way we are meant to live. That’s the key……..LIVE! We are going to be dead for a bloody long time!
Shona: What races do you plan on entering over the next 12 months?
Dean: Just ran the Hunter Valley Half Marathon in Luna Sandals in 2:09, Ironman 70.3 in Port Macquarie in October this year, TNF 100-2013 and hopefully a full Ironman next year too.
Shona. What shoes do you like to wear? You can have a list if you like with different shoes for different terrains.
Dean: Gotta say that I love my Lunas and barefoot running. On the longer, more gnarly trails I wear Salomon Speedcross, Montrail Mountain Masochist or Inov-8 Roclite 285s. I have also run in Merrells Trail Gloves. For the road I wear Mizunos. Going to try Hokas soon.
Dean Cox’s 5 Tips for anyone wanting to compete in their Ultra Trail Marathon.
- 1. Train on Hills
- 2. Run long, slow distances (LSD)
- 3. Remember to have a rest day
- 4. Know the trails and get shoes to suit
- 5. Train on some more hills.