Last year really was a coming of age year for Andrew Tuckey. Tucks, as he’s known around the traps as always been a very good trail/ultra runner, regularly on the podium of most major races in Australia. But up until last year it seems as though he was always the bridesmaid and not quite the bride, as I think the saying goes. That’s not meant in any form of derogatory manner. Tucks has always posted great results and who can forget that awesome finish with Stu Gibson at last year’s North Face 100. I was busy taking snaps at the finishline and while there was plenty of elation for Stu’s win, it was almost heartbreaking to see Tucks finish so close too. Tucks has always been a great runner…
But since then, he has gone from strength to strength – it’s almost as if he’s moved firmly into fifth gear and is now pressing for full-charged turbo sixth gear. This is a man posting what are simply awesome results. UTMB sixth place, huge win and record at C2K as well as second to the very talented Tom Owens at Buffalo. The scary thing is that I still think he’s on the rise. It’s a big call, but I think he’s the best runner in Australia at anything 100kms plus.
As mentioned below in the first question, he’s gone from very good Aussie competitor to serious global contender. Tucks will be in action at TNF as part of his build-up to his first Western States 100 run in June and I think he’s going to run extremely well there. But for now, we asked him to give us a little bit of insight into the last 12-18 months and chart his brilliant ride up the global ultra ladder. If you thought Tucks was great last year, I think he’s going to have an even better 2015. Big thanks to Andrew for penning us some thoughts…
You’ve definitely switched gears in the last 12-18 months or so, from very good Aussie runner to serious competitor on the global stage – what are you doing differently from before?
I think it comes down to a lot of little things including, getting a few years of consistent training together with no major injuries. I’ve had lots of niggles in that time but nothing that has put me out of running for more than a couple of weeks.
My training has improved a lot over the last couple of years. I started doing ultras off fairly standard marathon training but I’ve since included more regular long runs in the mountains (Mt Solitary loop for example) and I do a lot more “un-runnable” hills than I used to. I’ve also added some regular stair sessions in the city (thanks for the tip Jono) as a way to build more strength.
I’m more experienced now in what to expect from running an ultra. When you’re half-way through a long race there is a certain amount of fatigue or tiredness that you feel even if you’ve been conservative at the start. It took me a few races to get used to that feeling and realise that’s just how it is, it’s normal. This used to mess me up mentally and I’d get pretty negative.
By far the main improvement is mental. The start of it was probably UTMB in 2013, it was my first 100 miler and I was never really ready for the race mentally and ended up having a bit of a shocker. I almost pulled out in Courmayeur before continuing on and struggling to the finish. After the race I analysed things and realised that I was never really struggling as much as I thought, I’d just become really negative and beat myself up. I think the scope of the event just got to me. Since then I’ve made sure I remind myself to stay positive at all times and just accept what’s happening in the race. I’ve read a few things on the mental side of running and I now write a couple of reminders on my arm which I look at regularly to keep me on track.
Lastly, my confidence has increased a lot from having a few good results. TNF100 in 2014 was a big result for me. I didn’t win but it was the first time I’d run an ultra and managed to run the whole race really well with no real low patches. This gave me some confidence in what I was capable of which carried on to UTMB 2014. My result there was a bit of a shock and even though I did have some major struggles I got through them OK.
Talent or training – which one is more important do you think and why?
That’s a tough question and obviously the best runners have both. If pushed I’d probably say training is more important in that you can always train more/harder/better to continue to improve. With talent you have what you have and that’s it. I guess with talent your limits are more fixed where training can take you further.
While many focus on the physical aspects of someone’s improvements, many improvements in performance are generally from a mental readjustment. Would you say this is true and if so, what have you done specifically?
This is by far the main improvement I’ve made. I discovered that my mental attitude is equally strong in positive and negative ways. If things are going well then mentally everything is fine but when you have a low patch in a race, and you usually will, your mind can beat you up and contribute to you feeling even worse. I’ve also discovered a few times where things can turn around almost instantly.
I wasn’t traveling too well in my first TNF100 towards the end and I was just trying to get to the finish then coming out of CP5 I could see Brendan Davies in the distance who was in third position and I suddenly took off after him feeling great. It was like “Hey, I’ve got a chance at the podium, things aren’t so bad” and it was an instant switch in my brain that turned everything around. It took a few races for me to realise that this was happening and that the moments when I felt like I was struggling I was never as bad as I thought.
To fix the problem I did some reading and basically came to the point that positivity is everything, as I said earlier I now write some reminders that work for me. This worked pretty well at UTMB last year where I fell into a group with guys like Tim Olson, Mike Foote, Jason Schlarb, Jezz Bragg and a few others and normally I’d be thinking what am I doing here? I shouldn’t be running with these guys and mentally knock myself around and I probably would’ve dropped back. This time I just checked that the pace felt OK and everything was alright and continued on.
I think you took a year out a few years ago and lived back in the UK – did that change provide you with any insights and help you make changes for the better to your running?
I took most of 2013 off from work and went to Wales with my wife and kids to spend some time with her family. I was doing some study but I wasn’t working and I thought this would give me plenty of time for training. The plan was to get out in the Brecon Beacons regularly and up my mileage and be an almost full-time runner for six months.
I ended up being really busy, spent a lot of time with my kids and probably trained no more than I did before. After moving back to Australia, I stopped taking running as seriously as before. That might sound funny because I’m probably training harder than ever, but I think I can handle a bad result better now. I can approach my B and C races knowing that’s what they are and not always caring about my position. Having said that, my races have been going pretty well lately. Another thing I realised was that I’m better at training when I have more structure to my day. Having work and family commitments means that I have small windows in my days when I can train, and if I miss them then it won’t happen.
You’re running WSER100 this year and personally I cannot wait to see how you go in this. What’s the goal here and how are you approaching your training for the race?
I don’t really set specific goals for races, especially ones I haven’t done before. I have a really rough plan of sub 16 hours and top 10 finish but I think I’m capable of better than that if everything goes well. I’ll just be trying to do my usual thing and settle into a good position early and run my own race. My training has been to get a lot of strength and endurance through 6 foot track and Buffalo Stampede and start to add more speed to that as we get through TNF100 and closer to WSER. I’ll probably get out on Kedumba pass at some stage to work some long down hills into my training too.
BUT, before then we have TNF. We have some serious talent headed over and I think low 9’s is where it’s at. Would you say that you’re probably in that kind of shape right now based on 6ft and Buffalo?
Lots of European, American, Asian talent, as well as the usual local suspects. Very hot field this year and I definitely think low 9’s will be on the cards. I’m aiming to go faster than I did last year and I’ll be aiming to win. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.
What’s the one race in the world that you’d love to win?
I’ve got a soft spot for local races like TNF100 and 6 foot track but I’d have to say UTMB. I just love the big race atmosphere and all of the emotions you go through during the race. I like doing races with the best fields so I can see how I stack up and UTMB brings out the best runners.