Welcome to the first installment of our Runnerview series. Where we send one of Ambassadors out to complete an in-run interview with inspirational runners from differing backgrounds. For this one we sent Chris Wright @clwright1978 out to learn the finer points of Trail and Ultra running with Sally Coggins @seehowsherunsaustralia. If you feel you would like to be involved or have someone in mind for our future Runnerviews, please feel free to contact us.
Chris: It’s Sunday morning, approximately 10:30am, Sally and I are about 8kms into a 12km single trail run in the Otway Ranges, Aireys Inlet on the Surf Coast of Victoria, Australia.
Sally is a busy, married veterinarian who works in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. She is an avid runner and specifically enjoys trails and ultra running. Her race history is quite extensive with some serious mileage: 6×42.2k, 2x50k, 1x85k, 1x100k (Surf Coast Century).
Sally: I had a friend come down to Melbourne from Sydney to do the Melbourne Marathon for her 30th birthday. She inspired me so much, so I planned to do the 10km, but ended up running the half marathon. After this, marathon training became my next goal and I started reading more about running and got more interested in Ultra and Trail running.
I read the book “Born to run” by Christopher McDougall, and have re-read it 5 times because I love it so much. It changed my perspective on endurance running, as I had no idea that anyone actually ran further than a marathon. Let alone doing races in the middle of deserts and ice capped mountains.
I was talking to my massage therapist about how amazing the book was and he had a client who had just signed up for the Surf Coast Century 50km, which planted the seed and before long I’d signed up for Surf Coast Century 100k solo.
Chris: What have you gotten out of trail and ultra running?
Sally: Running has taught me so much about my body and myself, but it wasn’t until I started running trails that I started to connect with other people. With my work commitments, it made it hard to make regular mid-week run groups, so it was the weekend long runs out on trails, where I could finally train and connect with other people.
There is an amazing running group down here called “The Surf Coast Trail Runners”. Here I have met some really inspiring people and made some very good friends. One of the amazing things about this sport is that it attracts such a diverse array of people, many of which get into it later in life. People that have come from poor health backgrounds, have had family relationship issues, substance abuse issues, mental health issues, and all have used running as a tool to overcome these. It really is inspiring to see running contribute to helping people overcome their struggles on a personal level, but to then see the positive effects flow on and to watch these people become a source of inspiration and a role model to their families and local communities. You do not have to be an elite athlete to run ultra-marathons or enjoy the trails. It’s not about running the fastest, longest or the highest. It’s a journey of self-discovery and testing your own limits for your own development.
Sally: The Surf coast century finish line was out of control. I finished on such a high and my body had held up well. It was an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and my amazing crew was there to help me celebrate that moment. But although the finish line glory was euphoric, the true accomplishment comes through the training. The longer I am in this sport the more I recognise what a huge accomplishment it is purely to get to the start line.
I am quite a risk adverse person and I’m good at planning for worst case scenarios, there have been times in life where this has stopped me from doing things and made me too comfortable. I think ultra running has helped me deal with this and has taught me to be more adaptable and reliant. It’s showed me that it’s OK to be pushed out of my comfort zone and that life is more rewarding when you do push outside your comfort zone.
So in some ways, my major accomplishments have been picking myself up and continuing on after a nasty fall mid-race which left me grazed up and winded. Running through waste deep surf out on my own when I miss timed the tides on a training run. Training in the cold, the dark, the wet, the mud, the heat and overcoming the mental barriers that would have previously convinced me that it was OK to skip that run and stay in bed. Rain is just water, keep running. It’s helped give me a more positive perspective and a mental resilience to life’s challenges.
Chris: Who are those that have influenced you and taken time out to help you along your journey?
Sally: Definitely my friend who ran the Melbourne Marathon and the American superstars of ultra running like Scott Jurek were my initial inspirations. But the ongoing inspiration and influence comes from all the wonderful people I have had the honour to share the trails with. The hours out in the bush picking the brains of those more experienced than me in this world of ultra running and problem solving.
Chris: How do you make time for others as part of your own training?
Sally: I love helping people get into running and find it incredibly rewarding. So it is naturally quite easy for me to adjust my training week to accommodate and extra 5k run with a friend, or to invite people to join me for the last few k’s of my long runs. Volunteering at events is another hugely rewarding experience and crewing for friends races during periods when my training load is low or I am injured. Social media is another wonderful tool to help get people into this sport and connect new runners into this supportive community.
Chris: What would be a good starting race for someone getting into ultras or trails?
Sally: The Victorian events have so many amazing runs and are really well organized events. For runners looking for that first trail ultra? Rapid Ascents Surf Coast Century was truely a great one for me and its close to Melbourne with only a 1 an a half hour drive to train on course. For other trail events of various distances there is the Hokka One One trail series by Rapid Ascent; The Trails Plus series; Surf Coast Trail Marathon and Afterglow half marathon by Tour De Trials; Rollercoaster Run, Wonderland Run and Two Bays Trail Run are other fantastic trail events.
Sally: Before purchasing have a look at what the trail race directions require you to carry as minimum requirements. This will give you a good indication what you need to buy to enter a race, and have on you when running in similar terrain and locations. With the remoteness of trail running you can really get yourself in some perilous situations out here and having basic first aid, hydration, nutrition, the thermal cloth, antihistamines, snake bite kits are all essential when the situation arises. Particularly when training solo, check the weather forecasts, take your mobile phone, and be prepared for problems (always pack a little extra water and fuel).
Chris: Do you have any training tips for those starting out?
Sally: It is really important to work on trails as early as you can. Ideally on your long runs, get out on as close to identical terrain to your race as possible. So you can get used to it. Going from road running to trails is big change in terrain and technique. It’s also vital to listen to your body and respect your body through training. Don’t train through injuries and seek professional advice early on when injuries arise. If you can, take the time early to invest in some running technique sessions to try and make sure you have the basics strong before you build your mileage.
Chris: What Nutrition plan works for you?
Sally: It is Practice, Practice, Practice with my nutrition. I think I am still feeling my way with nutrition and haven’t figured what works for me 100% yet. Once you start getting beyond the half and full marathon distances into ultras, a plan for nutrition is critical. Which ever path you choose for your nutrition strategy, make sure you are implementing this with your long training runs to make sure it works for you before race day. For mid-week training, my advice is to stick with what you know. If you already have a method for exercise, and you are one of those people that doesn’t eat prior to working out and it works for you I’d probably stick with that. Always start eating much earlier when you are setting out for 6 plus hours than you would if you were going out for your morning jog. Do what feels natural for you and if you want to make changes, do this gradually. At this stage, for my long runs, I find I run happier if I eat 1-2hrs prior to race start and take in small amounts of fuel every 30-45mins during events. There is also an “art” to timing everything else for your long runs… Its not just what goes in.
Chris: How does your Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) eating work with your running?
Sally: I have been enjoying exploring LCHF. I do think it is where I am going to stay long term. There is knowledge that comes out of talking about what others in endurance are doing nutrition wise, but I do think its also important to focus on what works for you and really listen to your body to help you assess that. There is also a risk of going to dietary extremes with your nutrition and you can get yourself into trouble burning out and pushing too hard if you go from being very carb dependent to nothing. If you are considering going down the low carb route, I would definitely get used to it in your daily lifestyle as the first step before you start introducing it into your running. Going LCHF has also shown me how much I have sometimes used nutrition as a physiological reward to motivate me, and the thought of that next chocolate fudge gel has gotten me to the top of a few steep hills and helped me move through those mentally difficult patches. It’s a continuous journey for me!
Chris: What can you expect to get out of trail and ultra running?
Sally: You will learn so much about yourself; both the positives and the negatives experiences gained are all valuable for learning and growth. But in general, the people that are attracted to trail running are genuinely in it for their own self-development and to share the experience. There are not as many egos as with other sports and it’s a really friendly and open environment. You don’t have to be able to run fast at all to connect with people of all abilities, who are all happy to go out at varying speeds to suit each other. So get out there and start exploring all the beautiful trails and environment. I hadn’t been to half of these places. I trail run now and I had lived in Melbourne for 3 years. Now I will quite happily drive for 3 hours just to come and see this … It is so beautiful and there are so many amazing places you can explore by foot.
Chris: Is there any shout outs you would like to give to any one?
Sally: So many, to all the amazing people I have met along the way. My close running buddies Matt Hosking, Skye Meredith, Kate McAuliffe. People who have coached me: Matt Dore and Nathan Fenton have been wonderful. And just all the amazing people I have met in the trail running community.
Chris: Thanks for your time, helpful information and for sharing such a beautiful spot with us. We look forward to watching you smashing those Ultras out in the future, and continue to positively influence others health with #THENOKKONEFFECT.
Sample from Runnerview Audio file: