“By the end of this winter, you’re not going to know yourself. You will go back to Kent in the best shape you have ever been in”.
Written by Ivan Thomas
I had been a professional cricketer for 7 years, on and off with injury, having had a few years out from numerous lower back issues and heart surgery. After overcoming these set backs, I managed to have my big breakthrough year in the summer of 2018, playing in all formats in the promotion winning Kent side. Sadly in the penultimate game of the season, in a freak warm up incident, I badly damaged my right knee, tearing my ACL, LCL and meniscus. This led to surgery, and a hard 12-month recovery, forcing me to miss the full 2019 season.
Missing a full season of cricket and entering my final year on my current contract, it was crucial to have a winter abroad in order to return to playing for the coming season and earn another contract. Having spent previous winters away in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, I knew the standard of cricket was going to be great but I needed to find somewhere where I could train hard and to return back to Kent in the best shape possible. I spoke to some of the lads (Daniel Bell-Drummond, Zak Crawley, Sam Billings and Oliver Robinson) who had been out to play Sydney Grade Cricket the year before. I had noticed that they had all come back in great shape and smashed pre-season fitness testing. They explained that they had been training with a guy called Tom Carter, an ex-rugby player, all winter. They showed me some pictures of their session and talked me through the programs they had been set. It looked brutal but also sounded exactly what I was looking. After arranging to play for Western Suburbs CC, I contacted Tom to see if he would be willing to train me. He said that once I’m out in Sydney we can meet and tailor something to my needs.
I left as soon as the county season finished, and my first meeting with Tom was a few days after I landed, in a little coffee shop in Glebe. I was not sure what to expect as I walked in but saw a figure in the corner surrounded by numerous empty espresso cups, who waved me over. Sitting down, I introduced myself and began to explain my past injuries and set backs that have led me to where I am. Tom didn’t say a word, just politely nodded along, jotting the odd comment down and taking it all in. When I had finished my plea for his help, he sat back smiled at me and said “By the end of this winter, you’re not going to know yourself. You will go back to Kent in the best shape you have ever been in”. He said it with such conviction that I didn’t doubt him for a second. After name dropping a couple of his other cricketing clients, Nathan Lyon, Sean Abbott and Brad Haddin, I didn’t know whether to believe him or not but we arranged to meet the following Monday on Glebe Point Road to start my road to county cricket domination.
After my first day in the dirt in over 12 months and only 17 overs under my belt, I was a broken man to say the least, but I turned up to Tom’s session eager to prove to him I was willing to put in the hard yards. Having chatted to the other Kent lads I knew that Tom’s session weren’t going to be easy so had prepared myself for a flogging. Tom was already there when I arrived, thera-bands in hand and a very strange blue bag that I hadn’t seen before, little did I know it would end up being the bane of my life. We walked around to a set of stairs by the water and handing me the thera-band and blue bag,which turned out to be a water bag, we got to work. Placing the thera-band around my ankles then my knees he had me jumping, walking and side stepping up, down, and across these stairs. He had me carry the water bag on my back and above my head constantly tipping me off balance. All the movements were simple and slow but after just a few reps would have my whole body shaking. I had come out to Australia thinking I was strong and fit and in great shape but this one session showed me I had a long way to go.
Over the next month I trained with Tom twice a week, working on my lower body trunk and pelvic stability and lower body power. Even in this short amount of time I was seeing massive changes in performance. My running dynamics were becoming far more efficient and it was translating into my on pitch performances. I was bowling better and more consistently, my pace was up and I was able to bowl longer spells in heat I wasn’t used to. Just when I thought I had started to get a hang of it, Tom said I was ready to start the real training. We progressed to another set of stairs, and these were far more intimidating, steeper and much longer. Thousands of stair sprints, step-ups, box jumps and water bag sprints, I began to become leaner, stronger and much more dynamic in everything I was doing. When I thought I had become the ultimate me, Tom would advance sessions and test my body in ways I had never trained before. Everything we did was specific to my needs as a bowler and was exactly what I needed to get my body to a point to bowl all day and stay competitive.
After the year out of cricket, I had arrived in Australia weighing 96Kg (the heaviest I had ever been, and very top heavy) and getting 19.1 on the yo-yo test. After the 5 months of training with Tom twice a week, I returned to England still at 96kg, but a very different body shape. I was now bottom heavy, I had finally grown a bum (something I had been trying to do for about 6 years), my core stability, glutes and legs were now stronger, much stronger. My upper body was leaner and less bulky which meant that my back was experiencing less stress when I bowled. I smashed pre-season testing getting my personal best on the yo-yo test on 20.5 and scored personal best on all my pre-season testing. Not only had Tom changed my physical abilities but he had changed the way I trained and the way I viewed good training. I had previously thought being as strong as possible was the way forward, lifting the entire gym was the best way to overcome injury and if I had any sort of niggle it meant that I was weak. I now see training in a whole new light. Tom’s influence has shown me to be far me specific with my training. The quality of my movements are more important than how much I’m moving. Not only has Tom given me the best chance for me to stay on the pitch this year and earn a new contract, but he has also enabled someone who has always struggled to stay fit, to prolong his career by changing my mindset and outlook on training.
I’m now back in England and approaching our season fast, I have lots of competition and people to leap frog in the pecking order to get my name on the team sheet. But my winter with Tom has filled me with confidence that I have done everything in my power to give my self the best chance possible to do just that.
A word of warning for training with Tom Carter. He is incredibly good at his job, though he will try to tell you otherwise. He smashes double espressos for fun. He is still a beast and runs for days, and will let you know about it on his Instagram. And he does know Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon and Sean Abbott, as I was shocked to see when they turned up to his wedding!
Thank you Tom for an awesome winter of hard graft, I look forward to working with you again!
Note – this article was written prior to Covid-19 restrictions, which put a stop to the County Cricket season. Ivan has hopes to recommencing his season soon.
13 days ago, at 3.00am AEST on Monday November 5th, my client Angus Wilson commenced his journey through the five boroughs of New York City in his 10th career marathon. A marathon is a significant challenge to oneself physically, mentally and spiritually, and many say the ultimate test of human physiology. For Angus, completing this marathon was an incredible reward for his life transforming journey over the last 12 weeks.
It all started on July 31st 2018, when Angus requested we have a meeting.
After making my way in to Barangaroo, the meeting started with a brief introduction and some very brief questions surrounding what I did after leaving Sydney University Football Club, and some other idle chat around what it was like to work with some of my other clients such as Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon, Sean Abbott and a few other of my other emerging athletes.
Whilst I had heard an enormous amount about Angus through his closest mate of over 25 years, Chris Malone, I was uncertain of the exact direction the meeting would undertake. Angus a great Rugby Union man, who had given so much to NSW Waratahs, NSW Country Rugby Union (in particular the Central West Country Rugby Union), Sydney University Football Club, Mudgee Wombats and his beloved Galloping Galloways. It became clear to me he had a genuine love of the game, I could relate to his passion and hope around the future direction of the game. I started to sense, whatever he tended to do he did with a purpose and commitment often unrivalled.
But, like many high achieving executives, Angus had previously been extremely fit, but had fallen into the trap of neglecting his health and well-being as he entered his early 40s. Work, family and life stressors can get the better of even the best. After being fit during his late 20s and early 30s, Angus’ physical exercise had diminished significantly, particularly over the last 3 years.
The purpose of the meeting eventually came – Angus asked could I get him ready to compete in the New York Marathon.
My response was of course delivered with great enthusiasm and assurance:“Yeah, we can do that”. Then he went on to ask how much weight I could get him to lose over the next 12 weeks. I paused briefly, thinking about what the optimal body weight would be given the challenges of time and his previous level of physical activity over the last few years and months. I said calmly “35kg?”
Angus would later attest that this was the turning point in changing his life. How could a person who was deemed to be so abrasive, aggressive and full of energy in his playing careers, be so calm and assured of the journey ahead.
The chat continued for 45 mins around some other aspects of life, waving in and out of his eagerness to understand the science and methodologies of what I did. I previously held a sense of nervousness around what people thought of me and or what he may have perceived. Today, my life doesn’t possess that hesitation nor fear. I sense my purpose is very clear these days. People either believe in what I do, or they don’t. Ultimately though, the results will be binary, and I will be judged off that.
Angus said he would have one more day of having a few alcoholic beverages at the great annual event, the KPMG Sydney University Football Club Finals luncheon, and then after that, he had a work trip to Europe for two weeks. Apart from that he was fully committed to changing his behaviours and lifestyle.
My last comment to Angus, was that if he did everything to the best of his ability and was able to commit, the results would be extraordinary.
At the start of August the journey began, with Angus weighing in at 128.3kg.
As I do with all my clients I sought some support from Ryan Pinto at High Performance Nutrition Australia. The best performance nutritionist I have ever worked with in 20 years of sport.
Then, the rest of the program would be his training, tailored to optimise his performance. The training program consisted of multiple sessions each week targeting the key performance pillars in endurance sports: improving aerobic capacity, lactate threshold and movement efficiency.
The aerobic capacity sessions were all based off heart rate response and specifically targeted to allow Angus to maximise his energy system development and optimise performance. These sessions either optimised recovery (low heart required to improve recovery, peripheral adaptations) or increased energy expenditure. At 128.7kg, we had plenty of excess energy to burn. The ability to construct a program that maximises all capacities along the energy system continuum is the key to endurance sports performances. The merging and cross-pollination of training capacities that often occurs in everyday training, is a great limitation to long term health and performance. For example, training too hard on recovery days or not targeting the appropriate heart rate response on training days. For Angus, this was his greatest strength, his impeccable discipline and capacity to repeatedly hit the appropriate numbers, time and time again.
The lactate threshold sessions centred primarily around cross training modalities, through High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes such as F45, primal movement-based sessions or pulling heavy sleds. These were the most challenging sessions from a muscle fatigue perspective initially, as the body and musculoskeletal system was not conditioned to moving in such intense and dynamic ways. Over time, as the running volumes increased and physical capacities improved, these became a lot easier, and as the weight shifted, so did the ability to tolerate high intensities of training and the quicker Angus recovered.
The movement efficiency sessions focused on improving Angus’ lumbar pelvic stability, his hip conditioning through structural strengthening and rehabilitating his previous meniscal tear repair in his knee. Over time, he would attest that although he initially thought that these sessions were a waste of time, they were the saving grace and the most notable influence on developing his running mechanics. The sessions shifted his running skills from resembling the ‘Cliffy Young Shuffle’ to producing a more efficient running gait, with better horizontal projection. Movement efficiency is the ultimate balance between lean muscle index (bodyweight/body composition), functional strength and the body’s ability to co-ordinate movement in the most efficient manner. Angus also walked sleds for movement efficiency development for hours and hours to develop the tolerance and resilience required to run for just under 4 hours in the marathon. They also helped in strengthening his hip stabilising muscles, gluteus medius, gluteus, gluteus maximus and adductor.
A great limitation I regularly see in athletes that are attempting to or have lost a lot of weight, is that they are unable to transfer these gains to athletic movements. This means that they cannot hold optimal positions, develop the appropriate projection when moving or apply force into the ground. Movement efficiency sessions are what everyday athletes require most, but rarely do. Chasing the holy grail of aerobic capacity doesn’t always equate to better performance.
Whilst this is a very abbreviated version of what the training program looked like, the program evolved over time to facilitate and optimise Angus’s performance. Consistent consultation with Ryan Pinto, heart rate response measurements in training, body weight and food diary assessment, constant wellbeing checks, and soreness fatigue markers all contributed to the end result.
Fast forward 12 weeks, Wednesday 31st of October, and Angus completed his final session.
The final weigh in pre-New York Marathon read 93.7kg. Exactly 35kg.
Whilst I could sit here and continue to discuss the performance effects Angus gained in his marathon preparation, what fulfils me more is that he has saved his own life. The enormous amounts of health-related risk factors that have been reduced from his 12-week program are beyond measure.
The results are a testament to the person that he is. His greatness in life is defined by his inner drive, discipline and attention to detail. The psychological and physical benefits of this journey are profound for Angus, and a great reward for all of those that have supported him throughout his journey.
Angus completed the marathon in a little over 4:10:39. Whilst not his fasted marathon, nor was it his slowest, his greatest achievement remains that in 12 weeks he changed his life and turned his health around.
Today as I write this, was the first time I saw him. Thursday the 15th of November. The sense of pride I have in his achievement and journey is beyond measure. I shared some words that will remain between he and I – a private acknowledgement of my gratitude for letting me share his journey with him.
Our relationship has changed now, not client and coach, but more a bond solidified by an extraordinary journey.
Our conversations now centre around the meaning and purpose of life, where Human Performance as a business should go and most importantly preparing for the Comrades marathon in South Africa and the Marathon des Sables (MdS) in 2020 – if you don’t know what this is, this is worth a watch (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHNXh-ybQbo)
I finish this post with an incredible sense of pride. I have achieved a significant amount of success in my own sporting career in various teams, and I have achieved a lot with athletes within Human Performance, including some of Australian sports very best athletes such as Brad Haddin, Nathan Lyon, Jarryd Hughes, Lavinia Chrystal and Emily Chancellor. However, Angus will go down with them all in my opinion. His courage, discipline, focus and capacity to challenge the limits of his own physiology and psychology is second to none. He taught me what it means to believe in something, commit to it and execute it.
In 12 weeks he changed his life and mine. And although we may be polar opposites in many ways (he breeds Galloways, I like Shorthorns), he taught me that the human spirit has the capacity to transcend limits, when exposed to the appropriate environment.
Although this story has ended, it is only the beginning. I am so excited to have already started writing the next chapter!
Ben Manenti is one of my original members of Human Performance. An extremely gifted young cricketer from NSW, finding his feet in the world of professional sport, seeking an opportunity and chance to show case his skills. Like many people, Ben has had his struggles balancing his career, study, social life and athletic development. Training in the Human Performance elite group, he has found his successful recipe again. I feel privileged to be part of his journey – Human Performance will celebrate the success he will have very soon. It will be one of the more memorable stories.
I first met Ben Manenti when he was 4 years old. I was working at the old Headquarters Bar in Camperdown and his dad John was the publican. To the surprise of many, he decided to employ me as a barman (my days serving schooners didn’t last very long, as I tended to enjoy spending more time on the other side of the bar).
Fast forward a few years, Ben was a little 6-year-old ball boy for the Sydney University Football Club (SUFC) 1st Grade rugby team, and I was prancing around in the centres for Sydney Uni with ridiculously coloured boots and dyed hair to match. Little did I know, that 15 years later he and I would be running around all parts of Sydney Uni and Glebe. Little did I realise that this would be the beginning of a remarkable journey for us both.
Post these initial memories, my next interaction with Ben was when he was 16 years of age and still at school. His dad was now coaching at Eastwood Rugby Club, and Ben sat on the sidelines watching the fierce rivalry between Eastwood and Sydney University in the Shute Shield. During a break in play, I heard an almighty spray from the 16-year-old that Ben had become, directed only at me. As he sat on the sidelines watching me in my Fluro coloured boots, the abuse didn’t cease until the full-time whistle. Thinking back, I start to realise that I may have had more of an influence on his development than I had first thought. Ben learnt how to get under the oppositions skin at a very young age.
Unfortunately for Ben, I would get my revenge. The year after he graduated from school, he was in his first season of 1st Grade for Sydney Cricket Club. Knowing my background in training cricketers, Ben contacted me about coming to join in and do some sessions with the Human Performance running group.
Ben’s recollection of the events of those early days was vivid:
“As I sat out the front of Ralph’s cafe waiting for Tom, I saw Brad Haddin walk past. A little bit in awe, I followed him into the cafe and soon found out that he was my training partner for my first session. Out the back of Ralph’s on the oval in the middle of Sydney Uni campus, in the middle of a uni semester, I was training with Tom Carter and Brad Haddin. My first session involved duck walking around the oval, with these bands elastic bands around my legs, and performing other movements that would push, pull and squeeze my body into positions that I had never experienced before. It was quite an extraordinary moment, some little chubby spinner training with Australia’s test wicket keeper. I duck walked for what felt like 3 hours, when in fact it was 45 minutes.
That year I continued to train twice a week with Tommy all summer and into the winter. Running Cook Street or Science Rd, sessions at the bottom of Glebe Point Road, the gym, the pool and steps in the Grandstand – every day was different. Tommy constructed my body into the most athletic shape it had ever been. I ran and ran, and when I thought there was no more running to do, we ran!”
Ben went to England that summer and had a great time and returned a better player. The only down side was that when he returned from England at the back end of 2015, with a summer of pints under his belt and plenty of roast dinners, he tried to dodge coming back to train with me. His fear probably based on some genuine reason, was that he knew I would be waiting to commence some more ‘paint stripping and body reconstructing’. He tried to avoid me with better footwork than Benji Marshall in his prime, until he got picked in the NSW 19s and showed up a little overweight.
When he eventually decided to get back in touch, I said “I don’t care how you feel for the next 6 weeks, you have to get ready for 19s”. That 6 weeks was brutal – as hard as I have squeezed the limits of human physiology. To his credit, Ben showed up to the 19s carnival and won a national championship, so it was probably worth it. For Ben, it was a break through moment. As he would attest:
“I started to notice I was getting to balls in the field that I wouldn’t have gotten near the year before, it was working out well. I was starting to believe”.
Ben stayed home that winter and trained with me for the duration. Cold mornings involving brutal hill running and hip mobility sounded pretty ordinary in comparison to sitting in Europe playing cricket and living the easy life as he had previously experienced. Ben got in the best shape of his life that winter. His 2km time trial improved, his hip mobility increased, he was fitter, leaner and stronger, and ready for a massive summer. It was his biggest summer yet. According to Ben:
“At the start of the 2016/17 season, I got picked in the ACT Comets 2nd Xl Team, and had a good year from them. Brad Haddin was a Performance Consultant for the ACT Comets and had organised for Tommy to run a training session 2 times a week with the boys that lived in Sydney. Everyone that he worked with had a great year. We all excelled under his tuition. The first session was dissecting everyone’s running technique, he had a field day. I sense this is where he feels at his happiest. The nutty professor, with a smile at the shapes and techniques young cricketers were exhibiting. Before we knew it, we were all moving better and playing better.
I met another cricketer by the name of Nathan Lyon, the person who I had admired as my role model as a bowler. Tommy had been working with him and I was lucky enough to tag along to some of his sessions. Tommy had him flying his hip mobility, speed, power, athleticism and fitness. I knew I had miles to go to get there. Through Tommy I also managed to bowl with Nathan and learnt so much off him. Nathan was moving so well in the field, and every time he took a catch I got a message from Tommy saying that’s how I have to move. He was right, although I knew how much I’d improved, knew I still had work to do both on and off the field.
By the end summer of 2017/18 I played for the Sydney Sixers academy and the NSW 2nd XI team. I had shaved 1 minute off my 2km time trial, lost 18kgs and changed my body shape. That year I became the 28th player to take 50+ wickets and score 500+ runs in a grade season, we won a 20/20 competition and came close in the other formats. I owe a hell of a lot of this to Tommy. His constant texts saying we were ‘on tomorrow at 6am’ and messages congratulating me on performances is what shaped my summer.”
Despite another outstanding season in the Australian summer of 2017/2018, Ben was still restless after not receiving a state contract within Australia. His greatest strength is his drive and inner resolve to become a professional cricketer. Ben searched every possible avenue to achieve his cricketing dreams.
“In 2018, on the day Jarryd Hughes won an Olympic silver medal in the Snow Board Cross at the Winter Olympics, I had visited Tommy to discuss my plans for the winter. We watched Jarryd’s race, and although Tommy and his relationship had ended before the Olympics, everyone knew what Tommy had done for him for over 6 years. It made me realise that Tommy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I had heard stories both from the opposition on a Rugby Union field and from others within cricket circles to attest. If you don’t like honest feedback or hearing the truth he is definitely not the one for you. He is perfectly comfortable with, in fact his smile these days tends to not ever change. He has found a strong sense of peace about his perception. I have learnt that his honesty is not erratic or misguided. He has an extraordinary ability to see the future and shape the path you need to achieve athletic excellence. He sees it, he believes it and he tells it how it needs to be implemented in order to occur.
I was contemplating another summer in the UK, and Tommy told me to stay and see what happened. But I knew that if I got a good winter of training under my belt with all the stuff he’d taught me in regard to fitness and lifestyle choices, plus getting to play competitive cricket, I’d be on the right path. So I decided to head to the UK, and I took off with the plan and intention to come back leaner, faster and stronger. The best athletic version of myself.
To be fair to Tommy he could have easily brushed me and said that he will just see me when I come back – but he messaged me on WhatsApp and wrote me emails every week. He sent me programs telling me what I need to do, reminding me I had to change the perception about my athletic ability in cricket circles. If he had just left me, I would have probably come back like I did my first time I was in the UK, but he was adamant that I’d come back a better athlete.
In September of 2018 I came back 94kg (22kg lighter than when I returned from my first trip to the UK), and. I knew that I had to get back to him and start training, with the Sydney grade season only a couple weeks away. We changed from the focus on ‘lung searing gut running’, to movement skills and drills that were focused on making me a better athlete. Don’t get me wrong it was still tough, and there is certainly a place for a good old fashion pasting up Cook Street. My hip mobility was improving each session and I was the fittest I’d been.
Our aim is to have an extraordinary 2018/19 season. I’ve been to some dark places when training with Tommy, but it’s all for a reason. I think you need to turn up to realise how hard they can be, but also how much you will improve. I couldn’t recommend him higher to anyone seeking improvement on the field or in day-to-day life”.
I am fortunate to meet some extraordinary athletes and Ben’s story around dedication, sacrifice and belief in his ability is second to none. It is not a matter of if, but when and what time he succeeds and achieves his cricketing goals. Ben has the skills, mindset and athletic capacity to not only play First Class cricket, but shape the way the modern spinner can bowl and bat. He will get is opportunity and he will be ready.
For the first time in 5 years, I am really nervous. I can’t settle, I feel sick in my stomach. The old restless night sleep returns, like a long-lost friend. I haven’t felt like this since my last game for the Waratahs in 2013 against the British and Irish Lions. Half nervous, half excited.
The multitude of sports performance psychologists I sought counsel in over my time identify this as the fear of the unknown. A general performance anxiety, which results in the body shifting from the ‘rest and digest’ of the parasympathetic nervous system, to the ‘fight or flight’ response of the sympathetic nervous system. My body innately knew that it was time to get ready to perform.
Sunday, September 16th 2018
My alarm goes off at 4.00am after a very broken night of sleep, and then I am off to meet a few of my Human Performance athletes who will joining in on the race; Ash Heng, Sam Bailey, Jacob Flanagan and of course my race buddy, Australian runner Jeremy Roff (Roffy). Jeremy’s fiancé, Lora Storey is a Human Performance athlete. Jeremy represented Australia at the World Track and Field Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Cross Country Championships, so for him to run with a heavy ex-footballer is very kind and generous.
As I disembark the train at Milson’s Point, surrounded by so many eager half marathon participants, I decided there and then that it will be the last time I do this. I was over my life being governed by my own internal perception and expectations of success. I have raced the clock for 18 years, surely there is peace in just living an ordinary life.
But by 5am, when we eventually get to the start line underneath the bridge at Kirribilli, and I start to get growing sense of what the road running community looks like. Whilst I may not be a typical member, I feel a deep sense of appreciation for why so many people become so endeared with the sport.
I warm up for a bit, have some idle banter and then bid farewell to a few of my athletes and the Dill-Macky support clan, and then suddenly I am hit with the reality that I am not entirely sure what 21kms will really look or feel like.
Roffy ensures me I will be fine, for him this is basically like a Sunday stroll. His smile is not reassuring though, it’s the look I use to give First Grade debutants or people about to play in South Africa for the first time in their lives.
But before I can give it much more thought, the gun starts, and we are off.
This is my first sporting event as an adult when I am not a rugby union player. I run past and see a few familiar faces who I have met along the way, and soon I realise, it is not a race to finish first for many but a test against themselves, against the clock and their mind, body and spirit.
Over the Harbour Bridge I feel okay – nervous and uncomfortable, but within the context of what I am attempting I feel okay. I do notice and reflect the beauty of the city and how incredible this run is. At 5km in, we are moving past the Cahill Expressway towards Macquarie Street and I have a deep sense of gratitude for those who I get to spend time with, these days.
I get to Hyde Park and realise we are moving okay. We trek down to the Rocks and start making our way through Barangaroo towards the Western Distributor. The pace is starting to feel more uncomfortable. I am trying to quieten the voice inside my head and get a tempo going that’s sustainable, just on the edge of not forcing my body to enter preservation mode. Runners would say this is ‘threshold’, but my heart rate says this is ridiculous to be running at such a speed for 50 mins already.
I get to Pyrmont and realise as we pass over the bridge it’s around an hour into the race and we are on track: around 13.5km down. It is at this point I have the strangest thought. The last time I was passing over the bridge, it was a night out with some footy boys at Cargo Bar and we were heading across to Pyrmont Bridge Hotel to continue on in the early hours of Sunday morning. I am not sure what feels worse, the thought of being hungover or still having around 30 odd minutes of running left. Oh, the irony.
The next 5 mins I become quite resentful of my preparation. I should have done some more longer runs and I should have lost more weight. They are the same negative thoughts I have about my ending in the game, the lack of courage to play with the freedom at Super Rugby Union as I did at club rugby level, the regret of being constrained by a fear of conservatism and failure.
The next 4 kilometres are hard. I feel good, I feel bad, my hips are getting lower, my foot contacts sloppier, my head shakes and my body is over-heating. Then I start to feel that I can’t breathe, I can’t regulate my thoughts and feelings. I want to quit.
I have gone from feeling like anything above 95mins is a failure, to thinking that my clients will be okay when I tell them I got hurt but at least I tried. I am thinking of injuries, bone stress in the foot, neural hamstring, upset stomach, nausea. The self-justification for failure is strong. Roffy at this point snaps me out of this self-induced loathing with a statement that sparks perhaps the runner inside of me for life.
“Have some courage” he barks.
I then realise I was born to run. Not because I am a good runner but because it is a metaphor for life and things that I enjoy. Discipline in preparedness, it is hard physically and mentally, it hurts, and most importantly it exposes one’s intestinal fortitude.
For the last two kilometres the pain is immense, but I can see the end is near. The minutes seem like hours, and then we swerve our way around to the Opera House steps and I see the finish line.
I finish in 94:31, 4.28min/km @100kg. Around 450 out of 8100.
But the time and result ultimately didn’t matter in that moment, because I felt I had found a new way to look at and enjoy life.
Roffy, my admiration for you doing this at the level you do for so long, and never getting paid is extraordinary. But more importantly thank you for encouraging me to find peace and happiness in something outside of Rugby Union. It’s been far greater than I have ever imagined.
I took so many things from that race, things I never knew I would learn about myself when I entered. Whether it be through the run itself, or the journey I took to get there, these are some of the lessons
Within the race, I realised that in order for me to see change in others I needed to be that change in myself. The attempt for me to live the concepts and lessons I preach within my business, Human Performance, is the purpose of my life. It is the journey not the destination that defines your greatness in one’s career, sport and life. I have found that, as far as I have to go in becoming the runner I would like to be, it won’t define my existence now. If I can practice some of the principles in my previous post within my business, my life and in running then there will be plenty of moments of happiness similar to when I finished the half marathon.
Human Performance Athletes
My gratitude for how much I love my job and business grew enormously. The joy of helping athletes and people of all levels and abilities is very enriching. In some ways, I believe that the people within Human Performance have taught me more about things than I have taught them.
To my athletes– may your journey bring you an abundance of peace, happiness and joy. It will be challenging and filled with so many set-backs, and whilst the destination will be extraordinary, the journey will be even more worthwhile.
The health and well-being of our society is at an alarming level. We have to start fighting for change. Exercising or running for an hour a day is 4% of one’s life. It is minimal time to invest in your future. Around 39% of adults in Australia are overweight or obese. We have to get moving as a society and nation.
We have to start the journey and help people feel socially comfortable exercising and chasing health and well-being, and I believe running can be the key to this for so many people.
Running has made me appreciate the simple and most important things in my life. We all have a choice on how we spend our time and whom it is spent with. During running you learn to appreciate the things that are dearest to you. I wrote it on my hand during the run ‘for Sarah, Winnie, Sigmund and my family’.
To my family– I know there have been so many moments when I have been absent and preoccupied with rugby, playing, meetings, planning, thoughts and work, but my running journey allowed me to reflect that I have finally found peace and contentment. You have been unwavering sources of motivation, energy and are the purpose behind my search for meaning. Whilst forever patient, most importantly you have inspired me to go above and beyond, and most importantly have kept me going. From academic pursuits, career changes and risks, and my high-performance sporting journey, your presence, personalities and love guided me throughout the entire way.
Sarah, particularly you. Words don’t describe my love for you. I hope that I can make you proud and encourage you to stand for your truth. But more importantly I look forward to repaying you with my presence, and not presents.
We all need people to help us out and stand by us in our darkest times. But most importantly we need to realise that the most precious gifts often lay in our own backyard, and not at the bottom of endless rainbows that modern day society encourages us to chase.
The people who I choose to spend time with, will say that I have changed. Those that know me from my rugby days will attempt to deduce this conclusion as a façade and or only a temporary change. But they don’t know, nor will they ever really see that side of me. I am looking forward to the time with people that mean the most to me and that have been incredible sources of support and constants when it mattered the most.
For me, the greatest change that has occurred is my ability to be present and simply enjoy time with other people. I am now no longer absent of thoughts, but absent of distractions and incessant desire for things to be different. I am at peace and it’s an extraordinary feeling. I can sit and smile now, and more importantly laugh at myself. I have gratitude now for the simple things and am truly grateful for the things that I have received and experienced, and what the future holds. I have learnt the greatest thing you can give someone is your time and undivided attention, and help them along the way on their journey in life.
Find 10 people who have run a marathon and ask them what they believe is the key to marathon training – there is likely to be 10 different answers. Some will say it’s all about mileage in the legs, or that it comes down to speed training and leg cadence. Others will say it’s about body weight and lean muscle index, or that nutrition and hydration will ultimately be the determining factor, especially whether carbohydrates and/or fat are the primary fuel source pre and during a race. Some may attest it is about movement efficiency, hip and lumbar pelvic stability, and strength, or that above all else all you need is mental toughness. Pacing strategies of course will be discussed, including notions of negative splitting (running second half faster than the first), as will concepts around footwear and what the ultimate shoe is.
The challenge is immense and real. It is often beyond measure and words.
Through my experiences personally and professionally, I have developed a few of my own musings around the best way for athletes and those who do not have strong running backgrounds to optimise their own running and training journey. I must also say, that the world record marathon run by Eliud Kipchoge in September 2018 has also helped to refine my views.
For me, the following three principles are the key:
“Only the disciplined ones are free in life. If you are undisciplined, you are a slave to your moods. You are a slave to your passions.” – Eliud Kipchoge
In running and life, if you want to do something truly extraordinary one needs to possess an incredible amount of self-discipline.
Self-discipline manifests itself in multiple forms in one’s life and running.
In running, discipline lies in the space around the pillars of performance; the speed (min/mile, min/km or m/s), the amount one runs (how often and how far), how they develop chronic loadings, how a person recovers, their nutrition, their sleep behaviours, and how much they tolerate the stressors of life. However, most importantly there must be discipline in understanding that the human body is not a machine. It will give clear signals and signs when it is being pushed too far.
Anyone can pound the pavement to purge their own inner demons for an acute period of time, the key to repeating the running process time and time again, is to possess self-discipline in following a systematic process and not caving into one’s impulsive emotional urges.
2. Preparation is the Key
“To win is not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is crucial. When you plan very well and prepare very well, then success can come on the way. Then winning can come on your way.” – Eliud Kipchoge
I believe that the key to running, training and performing lies in the following personal performance strategies:
1. Individual performance plan. A structured program that is tailored to one’s individual genotype and phenotype (their environment and genetics).
2. Vertical integration of physiological capacities to enhance health, well-being and performance (training aerobic, anaerobic, threshold, tempo, movement efficiency skills etc. simultaneously within a time period).
3. Elite performance behaviour modeling. One needs to understand what best practice in elite performance looks like, and to mirror these behaviours in their everyday training and performances.
3. Self-belief (belief without proof)
“Pleasure in what you are doing is what puts perfection in your work” – Aristotle
Life, society and people will knock you, doubt you, degrade you, criticise you, put you in a box, categorise how you think, and make judgements around why, what and how you are doing things. The key is to put yourself in an environment that challenges you to stay on course, but most importantly facilitates your incremental growth and development. This will lead to a love of one’s journey and the destination.
If one can learn to ignore the impulse to run fast every time, and instead master their own individual progressive journey, then their personal goals will ultimately be achieved.
Ignoring the competitors and the perception of where one ‘should’ be is integral in one’s running journey. It is easy to compare yourself to others, but the if one can stay focused on their own journey and growth, then their lies the greatest amount of freedom.
Running is not meant to be easy. It is a highly complex scientific and psychological sport. To maximise your performance, you need to surround yourself with the right people and create the best environment.
My business Human Performance, was formed to help facilitate people, athletes and teams to succeed. Through this, I believe that the greatest human pursuit lies in the courage to attempt to challenge one’s own limits. The upper limits of their mental, psychological and physical physiology.
However, it is clear there is a science and structure to challenging a person’s upper limit. If others, can start to practice some of the principles within this article, into their own running, training and life, then there will be plenty of moments of happiness and success on their own particular journey.
“Kikiamah” was a cattle and cropping property located near Thuddungra, 45kms from Young in South Western New South Wales. For me, the greatest attribute of country life was the open spaces. The vastness to explore and play. From riding motor bikes and horses, to fishing and swimming in dams and creeks. It was truly a remarkable place to explore and live. But, as previously mentioned by Tim Davidson in his post, life growing up in rural Australia can have its challenges.
For me, often the greatest challenge coincided with the trip home from school. The bus trip was a little over an hour most days, which was relatively boring for a young child full of energy. Eventually being dropped off at the bus stop, our front gate was another 14km down the Thuddungra Road. Dad would be there waiting at the bus stop to take us home, and it was usually between 4.05pm and 4.14pm that my brothers, Charles and Edward (and my sister Phoebe on the occasion), would engage in such outrageous behaviour that Dad would make us all get out of the car at our front gate and run home. But as with many rural properties, home was still 2km from the front gate (and mailbox pictured below).
As dad drove the 2km home in the Toyota Hilux ute, dust spraying everywhere, the choices became somewhat limited. Stay and be showered in rocks by my brothers, or run. Then when summer came around, so did the King Brown snakes, so the options became even fewer.
The runs would always start off competitive, my sister taking the lead. But what would ensue was the exhilarating thrill of chasing my sister, the lungs burning, legs searing in pursuit of a distant goal.
My sister would often win. Phoebe the gazelle, light and effortless when running. Me more like a buffalo, not very gifted at moving but very keen on wrestling the crown of the best endurance runner in the family for a day.
The other two, well they were more gifted than me in every sense of the word. I wonder what they truly could have achieved in Rugby Union, had they possessed my stubborn belligerence and inability to give up. This is not to diminish their incredibly successful business careers, or impressive Rugby Union achievements. Merely stating if my sister was the gazelle and I was the buffalo, well those two were more like a pair of Kalahari lions.
Phoebe went on to have a very successful junior track career. I often wonder what would of happened had she been nurtured better during her formative years post leaving the amazing tutelage of Warren Martin at North Turramurra Oval. So many Australian junior athlete’s either break or burn out, or both. I wonder do we truly understand the concept of keeping athletes in a sport long enough for them to shine, rather than seek short term achievements. That’s another story.
Fast forward some years, and I dabbled in track and field at school, but it was always orientated towards improving my acceleration and velocity profiles and capacities, to optimise my Rugby Union playing performance. I wanted to maximise my ball carrying, kick chase and repeat efforts, the problem was that it lacked the freedom and purity of my initial love of running.
Post retirement from Rugby Union (for the 9th time officially or unofficially), life nowadays dances to a very different beat. Longing for some fulfillment in the world through exercise. For well over 8 months I searched and oscillated between weights, Crossfit, F45, running, not exercising, yoga and any form of stimulation that could fill the cravings that most ex-professional sportsmen seek. I was lost, not lost in terms of who I was or what I wanted to do in life, but how could I get a sense of purpose in exercising. I still believe today, one who works within the health profession, needs to epitomise the change within themselves that they often seek in others.
It started on a Monday afternoon in May 2018, in Glebe. Two Human Performance athletes, Lewis Horenko and Lora Storey, both on similar yet different stages of their athletic journey. Previously riddled with injury, disappointment and set-backs, both were seeking solace and excitement in the season ahead. After completing one of our structural strengthening and rehabilitation sessions, they invited me to join them on an afternoon stroll. Having convinced me they were embarking on a recovery/capacity run (45 minutes for Lewis and 40 minutes for Lora), I ignorantly accepted.
We headed east along Blackwattle Bay foreshore, and the first couple of kilometres were okay. By okay, I mean highly uncomfortable, but my ego overpowered this for the moment. For Lora and Lewis, it was clear they were taking it easy, somewhere between 4.30min/km and 4.40min/km.
I focussed on placing my foot under my hip, and trying to be as effortless as possible with my arm action. This was quite different to how I had been trained as a rugby player, under a multitude of strength and conditioning coaches and speed gurus such as Martin Harland, Ross Jeffs, Tim Leahy, Henry Mitchell and even Matt Shirvington. Some of the best in the world at their craft. My focus then was on extension, aggressive ground contact, accelerate foot into ground and produce optimal hip extension and shank positions.
The moment my life changed was between the 5th and the 6th kilometre, where Lora thought it would be entertaining to drop the hammer to a low 4min/km and leave me gasping for air and oxygen. What had started out as a somewhat enjoyable challenge, became an unbearable, pain staking and brutal experience. My heart rate was through the roof and my lungs were screaming. I started obsessively checking my watch, and realised we were only 26 minutes in and have 14 to go.
The next 14 minutes were intertwined with so many thoughts, feelings and pain.
Lora and I stop at 40 minutes, Lewis keeps going for an extra 5 minutes. I start to think about what I have done and the journey I am beginning to start. I go home tail between legs and start reading: ‘The Science of Running’ by Steve Magness, ‘Endure Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance’ by Alex Hutchinson and ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami.
My ego may have been dented, but my early childhood passion for running was reignited.
Who would of thought that the pain, enduring, searing sensations one can experience whilst running, would become a meditative healing force for a busted up, broken old footballer.
I often speak with Sue Dill Macky (nee Landells), an Olympic silver medallist in 400IM in Los Angeles, discussing the challenges when ones sporting career is over, but also how one can find purpose in difficult physical challenges. Sue told me to enjoy the song “Hurt so Good” by John Mellencamp when running, as she did when swimming.
Through these conversations with Sue, one day the epiphany finally came to me; I don’t miss the game of Rugby Union, I miss the challenge of seeing where I can push my body, the upper limits of human performance.
It’s time I seek comfort in exercising, and in hurting so good.
The initial stages of hurting so good centre around my feet, with blisters and loss of toe nails now a ridiculously common occurrence. Yet, despite the blood on the sheets from the bubbling carnage on my feet, the euphoria of finding peace in the process and journey is beyond words.
As much as I still have a lot to learn about in this vocation, I love it. I am the kid chasing my sister on the roads of country New South Wales. As I pound the pavement along Blackwattle Bay, things begin to change within me. Endings end and new beginnings begin.
I have now been running for 4 months. 5 – 7 days a week, at various intensities and duration, anywhere between 40-70km a week. My body has changed having dropped some weight too.
But that’s not why I love it.
I love it because it is like everything extraordinary that I have done thus far in my life. From professional sport, transitioning out of sport, academic pursuits, work, relationships: it is life. You have good and bad days, you have fears, you have doubts, and you sometimes want it to go faster than you are probably capable of. But if you hang in there for long enough, you grit your teeth, you endure, you enjoy and celebrate your successes, you will succeed.
Every journey (and every run) is an opportunity to earn a little more about yourself. Rain, hail or shine, after a run, I have a deeper sense and desire to be a better son, sibling, partner, dad and friend.
I have learnt to laugh and smile a lot more at myself and the way life has panned out. Broken relationships, time lost, behaviours, moments and disappointments can’t be undone, but my perspective has shifted on focusing and nurturing the positives of life.
I have changed for the better, and I believe something like running (or exercise) has the power to do this to anyone.
Next week… ‘New Beginnings (Part 3): Science of Running’