“The real exciting thing for me though is the mental aspect, the big match temperament, what excuses you’re going to give yourself, or not.”
That’s the view of Mike Le Roux, a name most people on the ultra running scene in Australia probably haven’t heard of until this week. Mike is probably a little better known in triathlon circle, having been crowned World Ultraman Champion last year. He stormed to victory in the Glasshouse 100 miler at the weekend, after a mammoth battle with Dave Waugh, himself a four-time winner at the event. In the process, Mike smashed the previous course record to set the fastest trail 100 miler time in Australia – 15 hours and 38 mins. Dave also obliterated his previous course record best with a time of 15 hours and 59 mins, which shows that the competition in Australia ultra running is really hotting up and thankfully on an updward curve.
We managed to get some brief time with Mike to find out a little bit more about him, how he trains and some advice he has for aspiring 100 mile runners too. To read Mike’s race report, click here.
Describe a typical week for you if you could – in terms of training
Training over the past few years has been a mixture of swim, bike and running. Particularly in the past 18 months with my focus being Ultraman, the bike volume has dominated my training miles. Typically I have been averaging around 22-26 hours a week of training. However, in the last 12 weeks (pre and post) Angeles Crest 100 I have only run, with an average of 150kms per week. I usually run anywhere from 4 to 7 hrs on a Thursday and again on Saturday, with shorter 12 to 15km runs on the other days. Check out my training diary on http://www.mikeleroux.com.au/training-diary.html
What do you eat and drink in races? Do you prefer solids, or liquids?
I generally prefer to stick to fluids during racing. PowerBar electrolyte, PowerGels form the base of my fluid intake, and on the longer stuff I tend to get onto chicken soup, chocolate milk and coke. I do also eat PowerBar protein bars, and the odd solid savoury snack, like salt and vinegar Pringles or salted boiled potatoes, but fluids dominate the nutrition strategy definitely.
You’re a tri-athlete at heart, but how long have you been running ultra-marathons?
It’s interesting you say that, as I feel I’m an ultra runner at heart who started out in triathlon. My true passion is trail running. I moved to Cairns in 2007 to focus on IM training. I thought in ’07 that I would focus on running to better my “off the bike” times and it was then that I got involved with Ultras. August 2007 was my first Ultra, and that was running the Kokoda Challenge in PNG. From there I never looked back, and pretty much focused on ultra running from then on. The next IM distance I did was Challenge Cairns in June earlier this year – 5 years later. I fell into Ultraman, it interested me from the endurance aspect, and it happened to be swim, bike, run.
How many hours a week did you train for UltraMan and also what do you think is the right balance of riding, running and swimming?
I peaked at about 30 hrs a week training for Ultraman with a cumulative distance of about 550kms per week across swim bike and run. In something like UM where the bike component is so huge, most of my mileage consisted of hard, long bike miles. Because I enjoyed running, my tendency was to become a strong swimmer and biker, so that I would start the run on day three feeling fresh. Truthfully though, moving forward, running will dominate training now. Cross training is good and I do believe that there is a place for it when training for shorter distance ultras, but in reality when training for 100 milers, one needs to run as much as sustainably possible.
What excites you about running 100 milers?
I love 100milers because athletes don’t become exponentially fitter than the competition, and often the top 5-7 guys toe the line in fairly similar condition. So it all boils down to what’s between the ears, and how well one can manage head space. It’s very much about pacing too, and the inner conversation about whether you think you may have gone out too hard, or at a sustainable pace.
It also comes down to how well one can ‘Out-Eat’ the next runner, and how far into the race you are taking in decent fuel. The real exciting thing for me though is the mental aspect, the big match temperament, what excuses you’re going to give yourself, or not. 100 milers are a head game, it’s you against you.
Do you plan to run more 100 mile races in the future and if so, what have you got in mind?
My goal is to qualify for Badwater. There is a 3 x 100mile qualification criteria, so I chose to do my three this year. Whether or not I gain an entry next year into Badwater is another thing, but I will focus on running more 100’s in the US. Western States is an obvious choice, but again subject to the lottery. If I manage to get a lottery spot, I think I will probably look into doing the Grand Slam (WS, Vermont, Leadville, Wasatch). I wouldn’t mind going back to Angeles Crest again too, I was woefully unprepared for the elevation gain and altitude and I feel I have unfinished business there.
Do you see your all-round endurance ability able to be transferred to the much harder, steeper trail ultras like WS100, GNW100 and UTMB?
My preference is for the tougher, steeper trail races. Because I am 90kgs and a bigger frame my strength is my strength. So I need the physical conditions (like carrying a pack) and course to bring the rest of the field back to a more level playing field.
It’s clear you have great endurance for the 100 mile scene, what kind of training do you think is needed to be successful at this distance?
I am a big advocate of consistency in training and back-to-back big days. I would rather sacrifice blow out huge volume weeks for a scaled back version, but keeping that up for weeks on end. I think I calculated a while back that there was a point at which I maintained 105km weeks for 22 consecutive weeks. Consistency, sustainability and patience are key factors. The only way this is possible is to love to run, to want to run and to enjoy the training runs as much as the racing.
You have a philosophy of ‘more than just the finish-line’ – could you expand a little on what you mean by this?
More than the finish line means a few different things and is relevant in a few different ways, but essentially it is about living in the now and enjoying the process and the journey of heading towards the goals that I set myself. Obviously I set myself targets and have an idea of what I would like to do in a race, but ultimately if I do not achieve that particular result I can still look back and honestly say that I enjoyed every day leading up to that point. If you focus on the process and the journey the result looks after itself. I trained for the GH100 in 2009 and ended up pulling out three weeks before with Achilles Tendinopathy. I was so pumped with some of the key training runs I had done in the lead-up (mainly trails around Cairns) that I was really okay with it.
What three qualities do you think you need to succeed and make it to the top?
Discipline, a passion for what you do (intrinsic motivation), and an enjoyment of your own company (there is a lot of that).
There’s a bit of a boom happening in ultra-running right now globally… what do you think Australia needs to do to be recognised more on the global scene?
My view is that what I love about the majority of ultra runners – their humility, groundedness, minimalism, introverted natures, unstatedness, is also the reason that ultra running has never been promoted and has been so slow to become mainstream. Hardcore ultrarunners turn up to races in KT26s, the race tee, a beat up metal water bottle, French foreign legion cap and a packet of trail mix. It’s not the sexy, commercialism that we’ve become used to in triathlon, and it doesn’t sell advertising in media.
But there is real appeal in this once you’ve raced. I think we need more races. Races like TNF100 are starting to raise the profile of ultra racing. To have seventy 100mile athletes toe the line at the Glasshouse100 is fantastic. It’s an exponential increase year on year in the numbers. The US and Europe are all about self promotion and promotion of the sport. Blogs and websites like Ultra168 are helping to get the word out there.
We’d like to thank Mike for his time, congratulate him once again and we also hope to see him on the trails very soon – maybe even a Great North Walk appearance in the near future.