Ears pricked up a few weeks ago when a video interview with Aussie Olympic runner, Marty Dent appeared online announcing that he was making the move into the world of ultras, and taking part in the Stromlo 100km race in just over a weeks’ time. The move of a genuine elite into what we call ‘the dark side’ has been long anticipated here in Australia over the past few years. But even moreso to see if those guys at the pointy end of mainstream running really could make the impact quite a few in the running community profess to claim.
We interviewed Marty recently, and on paper you would think the current Aussie 100km record would be well within reach of him. Tim Sloan, the current record holder sits pretty with a 6:29, the world record (for the record), is with Japanese runner, Takahiro Sunada at 6:13 set back in 1998. So what does Marty aim to achieve? Well the over-riding statement from him is that he’s here to break that record at Stromlo, but is the world record within reach too? That’s a tough one to call, and would see Marty having to run at around 3:40 pace and below just to get anywhere near it. For an average hack like myself, those stats are mind-blowing – but it shows just what level these guys are competing at.
However, even though we gaze in wonder at the times these guys sustain, Marty is really just like all of us. At times, our perception is that these guys are full-time athletes, training all hours of the day, but as you’ll see as you read through the interview, Marty juggles a career and his family with his training, just like the rest of us. While Marty’s achievements are highly commendable, it makes you realise that even at the top-end, funding in Australian sport is still a massive issue if one of our top marathon guys has to juggle so much against athletes that are fully-funded and run full-time.
The Stromlo Running Festival takes place between the 15th and 17th of February, with the ultra distances being managed by one of the true gents and figureheads of Australian track running, Martin Fryer. The 100km race kicks off at 7pm, and with any luck, Marty should be done and dusted sometime between 1:15 – 1:30am. So if you’re local to Canberra, head on down to the Stromlo Forest Park Criterium Circuit and grab a peak at what could be a little bit of history come Saturday week.
But now to the interview, where we firstly asked Marty about his Olympic experience, before getting into the nitty gritty of ultras… take it away Marty.
Tell us about the Olympics – atmosphere, talent, magnitude of the event. What was the highlight for you?
Competing in the Olympics was something I had been working towards since I began serious training as a teenager. I was not too far away in Sydney and I still believe I should have been selected for Beijing. So to finally get the opportunity was amazing. The atmosphere around London was great and when the race finally came round (we competed on the last day) the support on the course was awesome. The race was very deep and I feel I performed close to my best on the day. I paced it well, running a 5 second negative split and passing around 50 people in the second half of the race. Other than the race, one of the highlights was the reception for the naming of the Australian flag bearer. As it was the day before the opening ceremony, there was a great positive vibe and John Farnham did a few energetic numbers!
How many hours per week did you train for London?
I maxed my mileage at about 190km, which would be about 13 hours. Most of that was jogging, but it also included three hard sessions and one long run.
Do you feel there is enough funding in Aussie sport, what does Athletics Australia need to do to start having more world-class track and field athletes winning gold?
I have always worked in addition to my running training, so when I have received funding it’s been nice, but not something that I had to rely on. However, the funding isn’t that much with very few athletes able to solely support themselves on it. In terms of getting athletes to win at the Olympic level you need super-talented athletes, the right support structures, an event where they are the best at that time, plus a lot of luck. Without being too pessimistic, to win an Olympic gold medal in the distance events (especially men’s) you probably need to be born in Africa!
How supportive is New Balance?
New Balance have been an awesome supporter of mine for many years. I think they are excited about having someone do something a little bit different to the normal races the Australian New Balance athletes are usually competing in.
Are you going to have a crack at the Aussie 100km record and if so, what’s the strategy / race pace you’re targeting?
That’s the plan. Coming from a marathon background, where I have run 3:10/km for the distance, the pace required to run fast over 100km does not seem daunting–sub 4min/km. However, I am fully aware that it’s a different event and requires different energy systems. I will have a crack and am prepared to risk crashing and burning. Plus, the less time out there the better! If conditions are good and everything goes to plan in the lead up, I will start out a few seconds per kilometre under the record pace. I hope to get to 50km in about 3hrs 10min feeling like I am still holding back. Then wait until a bit later before the final push to the finish.
Why have you chosen Stromlo for this?
It’s 9km from my house–which is super convenient and also means I can have family and friends there supporting and crewing for me. The course seems fast enough and being 1km laps the ability to fuel often with small amounts will hopefully work well for me.
Has Martin Fryer been instrumental in getting you to step up to the distance?
Martin and Kerrie Bremnar have been encouraging me to have a go the last few years. It’s been in the back of my mind for a while. I still plan to be back in the short road races around Australia later in the year and hopefully will be selected for the World Championship Marathon in Moscow in August.
Have you taken on board any coaching advice ahead of the 100km attempt?
I have spoken to Martin Fryer a few times, which has been really valuable. I’ve also read a few articles, but mainly I have stuck to marathon style training with come long runs a bit further than I would normally do.
What is the longest run you have done to date?
I have done a couple of 50km runs, both in 3:31. They felt good and have been done on just three or four Gu’s and water.
How has your training changed for this? What have you dropped from your routine, what have you added in?
I have just made the longs runs a bit further and also replaced a couple of the Saturday interval sessions with long runs. Since the Olympics I have just been running once a day, which has eased my time pressures in also fitting in work and family (I have three boys aged under 5 and a baby due in April).
What is your nutrition strategy?
I’m still finalising that one, but am not planning on taking any solids. I will try to get sufficient fluids in and stick to GU’s mainly plus some electrolytes. That will be part of the learning experience.
Will you target Comrades at all in the future?
I will have to see how this 100km race goes first, but I have thought about it. If I was going to do it, I would want to be in the mix at the front. As it is the deepest ultra in the world, that means you have to be a very good athlete.
What general advice would you give to runners when dealing with training, racing and how you deal with injuries?
I have generally had a pretty good record with injuries, but when I have been injured I have had a complete break from everything. I am not the sort of the person that gets stuck into cross-training. I use the chance to have a mental break from everything.
What else does do you do to complement your running, e.g. yoga, core, stretching?
Nothing. I chase three little boys around. I just focus on getting the 99% of real training done and don’t place too much importance on the ‘one-percenters’!
Is ultras something an up and coming athlete should focus on or wait until they have tried to make it at 10k or marathon level?
As someone who has never run ultras before, it is hard to comment at this stage. I think people should do whatever distance they enjoy and if that means they are doing what they are best at then great.
What have you learnt from the Africans/other nations training?
I think training around the world isn’t that different and the exact training you do is not that important either. The most important thing is balancing intensity with volume, include variety and being consistent for long periods.
Thanks to Marty for taking the time out to speak with us and we wish him all the best in his attempt.