New Kid On The Block – Julian Spence Interview

After his rip-roaring win at the weekend, Ultra168 managed to grab some time with Julian to find out a little bit more about him, his running and what made him convert to the dark-side. It’s clear that Julian has bag loads of talent and he plans to hit the trail running scene hard in the next 12 months.

One thing’s for sure is that it’s an extremely exciting time in the trail and ultra scene. I for one can’t wait to see the top names bang heads against each other at Bogong to Hotham this year in what I describe as the ‘Unofficial Australian Trail championship race’ 🙂 For now, here’s some insight into Julian and how he came to race at GOW. Also, look out for part two of our winner’s feature as  victorious female, Nikki Wynd will be up in the next few days.

1.) Although we tipped you as a potential winner for this race, not many people will know of you on the ultra scene, can you tell us a little bit about your running background?

I started running after giving up Aussie rules in 2008. I ran a couple of marathons in 2009 (current PB 2:27) and then jumped on the track for a few races. 2010 was very frustrating time as injuries got the better of me, so I only raced a handful of times. However, I got some good training in late in the year and then headed to college in California where I started to race some more.

2.) You say you spent some time in the US, what were you doing over there in terms of running?

I was on study exchange program which I organised primarily to run for the Chico State distance team. It was track season so I ran anything from 1500m  through to 10,000m. It was such a great experience to be a part of the running program at Chico. Everybody meets twice a day for runs and then travel around California each weekend for meets. Such a great bunch of people and the talent there is amazing. In terms of racing, I didn’t achieve what I thought I could but ended up running 14:30 for 5,000m at San Francisco and finished dead last at the Mt Sac relays in the 10,000m in 31:48!!
Julian in his track days at Chico in California

3.) What are the major differences between running in the US and in Australia?

In terms of college running the differences are significant. The large meets can see 100 guys running sub 15 for the 5000m, so the depth is huge over there. Also, the high school cross country and track and field programs foster a fantastic team mentality which encourages kids to get out there and run. Unfortunately there’s not much of that over here.

4.) What kind of things did you learn in the US?

Probably the best lesson for me was that I learnt that I was at the very bottom of the running ladder and that in order to be successful, there are no shortcuts. I walked off the track at Mt Sac having come last and was really disappointed  in how I prepared for that race. I took it lightly and thought things would just happen. “No shortcuts” is something that I think lots of runners would benefit from and it really helped me get ready for GOW.
Julian says that racing track taught him a lot about preparation and that there weren't any shortcuts to be had

5.) What made you decide to make the leap from track hero to the unassuming world of trail ultras?

Well track hero I definitely am not! There are literally thousands of guys faster than me, including Dave Eadie who has run sub 14 for 5km. Following the track season I did some travelling in the US and ended up running some really sweet trails in Alaska. I loved it and then got on some more trails down in California, close to the Western States course. Every time I would be cruising a single track or letting it hang out on a downhill I would always get this weird sense of belonging. I just really love running in the bush and want to be there all the time. I am not one of the guys who is into the ultra endurance pain thing, I’m just all about the time spent on the trail.

6.) What kind of training did you do for GOW?

I made sure that I got the right advice from the right people. I sent emails to several ultra guys that had been there and done it all before. Dan from Ultra168 helped me, Andy Hewat, the race director at GOW helped me, along with the winner of the 195km version from last year, Peter van Wijngaarden. Dan had a piece of advice which rang true, he said that the best thing I could do was to “listen to everyone and follow no-one.” I tried to compile as much info as I could and then organise it into a training program. I ended up with 3 weeks of 50km runs in a row and 4 weeks of 40km prior to that. I would race cross country for Geelong on the weekend and would use this as my speed for the week, I would also get in a 2 hour run midweek. All up, I was doing around 150kms per week, however the last month after You Yangs and having won the 50km race I got injured and only ran about 5 times between then and getting on the start line for GOW.

7.) In terms of nutrition, have you found your perfect formula for longer races, or are you still working it out? What did you do for GOW?

All the nutrition advice from others really doesn’t work that well as everybody has different tastes. I tried to hit 60g of Carb per hour and finish my bladder before each checkpoint. I was struggling with cramp early in my biceps (weird I know), so I increased my endurolytes to 2 per hour. I was on gels and bars until Johanna when I added in Perpetuem. I was nauseous at first but then I found that mixing up that combo for the second half of the race really helped me and I never felt the bonk after Johanna.

8.) You mentioned to me beforehand that you had a goal of sub 11 hours for GOW, but you’ve smashed that to pieces – when did you realise that you were on for a sub 10?

I may have told you sub 11 but I really wanted sub 10, I just didn’t want to sound like a cocky little jerk when I emailed you!! It was funny the different things going through my head out there. At the start I didn’t want to put too much time on Dave, Chris and Oliver because I knew how experienced and talented they were. If I was going too fast early then they would definitely run me down at the end. But I also knew that I needed to put time on the easier section of the courses. I think I went through the marathon in about 3:3x and knew that was too fast but that the hills would slow me down regardless. My hardest struggle was between Cape Otway and Johanna. Thoughts of blowing up were getting to me and I was feeling really average. I decided to throw the racing mentality out the window and just run my own race. If the others were going to catch me then they truly deserved it!! I tossed the Garmin to the crew and just tried to enjoy the second half of the race. I instantly felt great and really threw down on the section from Moonlight Head to Princetown. I only found out the time after I finished and had to ask Andy and Brett.
Julian leading the way at GOW this year

9.) We know you’re entered for Bogong to Hotham, what else have you got planned for the next 12 months?

Bogong will be super fast. My teammates from Geelong XC are running (Rohan Walker and Scott Nicholas) and they are both sub 2:20 marathoners. They are also meticulous preparers and will leave nothing to chance. I am looking at running TNF100 in May too. I am studying full-time so travelling for races and buying gear, nutrition supplies and shoes gets a bit hard. Mum’s credit card bill lets her keep track of what races I’m entering!! The glory, glitz and glamour of the 100 milers in the US is definitely an attraction too, so I’d love to get over there and see what I could do against some of the World’s best.
Lastly, just a massive thank you to all the competitors in the GOW, volunteers, Andy, Brett and my family who supported me not only on the day but throughout 2011 when I was away.
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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

6 thoughts on “New Kid On The Block – Julian Spence Interview

  1. what a frickin’ awesome run and hardcore humble dude. Seems like local pointiness at Glasshouse and GOW is really setting the scene for a sharpening of Aussie trail ultra come GNW.

  2. Nice interview, great to hear Julian’s thoughts and hear more about his running background..Can’t wait to hear what Nikki has to say. Thanks Ultra 168

    1. Cheers Dave. Well done too mate on your run, and great to chat with you after the race. always great to talk to those who’ve got the runs on the board and hear what they have to say. See you soon, I’m sure.

  3. Julian congratulations on a great run. You trained hard, dialled the course in over various high quality training runs and then raced the pants off it. Loved your comment about the Sub 11 goal time.

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