In the first of our Western States 100 interviews, we revisit one of the leading Aussie runners of the last few years, Brendan Davies. We’ve spoken with Brendan a lot over the years, but this interview really reveals something different.
Brendan finished a fine eighth place last year at Western States with a sub 16 hour finish. That gave him automatic entry into this year’s race and another crack at hitting the top ten. Personally, I think if he runs another sub 16 hours, he’ll do it.
But as Brendan reveals in this interview, this could also be one of his last hurrah’s at a big time result. It appears as though his heart is taking him in another direction, that of helping others and his hugely successful coaching. As many people know, Brendan coaches other athletes and kids and right now, it appears as if the kick he gets out of helping those on their paths to glory is superseding his own desires.
If that’s so, you have to hand it to Brendan as a man who wants to head out on the top of his game. I’m sure we’ll still see Brendan racing around the traps, but if the desire to push elsewhere comes along, such as coaching others, then there is an inordinate amount of respect I have for him and as a coach, runner and mentor to others.
We open up the interview with a bit about his preparation, and then Brendan gives us some really candid thoughts on where he’s headed next and how he’s feeling right now. For that, we’re massively in thanks for him being so honest and frank. Big respect to him and his rather awesome ultra beard! I think he can give Rob Krar a run for his money with this one!
You’re a busy man with all your coaching and kids work, what mileage are you putting in right now and how is it made up?
My mileage ranges anywhere from 140km – 220km a week but figures can be deceiving. Between 40-60% of that on any given week is really easy running with my athletes either in group sessions or 1:1s. I am probably lucky to get in 100km of quality training a week, which is a problem I’ve faced since working as a coach.
Trying to be a high performance athlete while focusing so much on other athletes doesn’t really work. For example, my interval sessions have been terribly inconsistent all year (I’ve had to give up the one I usually did with others to coach my group session) and my long runs where I’ve run them at the pace I should be running them at have been far and few between.
However, I still endeavour to maintain a pretty varied program made up of strength, speed and endurance on both road and trails. Every km of my training is tracked publicly on Strava. It’s all out there for all to see, imitate, refine or criticise!
You do a lot of coaching, but who coaches the coach so to speak? How do you decide what type of training to do and when?
I’ve always been self coached and it’s the way it will stay especially now I’m in the twilight of my athletic career. As far as what and when, it’s usually these days a matter of time, opportunity and access to quality training partners! I’m past the point of trying to manage a routine training roster. My daily life is way to unstructured now that I don’t have the 9-5 job, which made training routines and structure much easier to plan and manage. I have to take it when I can now. So I probably need a different kind of coach now, one of those life coaches would be handy!
Western States is an ideal ‘Brendan’ course. Have you done anything differently in training compared to last year?
Not really anything differently. Still a mix of road and trail. I really wanted to get nice and fast for this race, but have just lacked the consistent training, especially for my speed sessions. I’ve hardly done a worthwhile interval session all year, which is a problem as I’ve noticed my 5k time getting slower and slower. On the flip side though, I feel from an endurance side, I have a lot more km in the bank and I’ve still done some good, solid racing in the lead up – including a 50 mile race last weekend which will serve me well.
Are you gunning for better than last year and if so, do you feel in a better shape? You seem to have toned down the number of races you’ve done compared to last year?
I will just do my best on the day and execute to my potential. There is no point going after a position or time as on this course, there are way too many variables. A certain percentage will always go out and crash and burn, a certain percentage will play it smart and clean up the carnage. I hope to be in the latter.
However the heat plays a big part so managing your body is also a huge part of the day. As far as being in better shape, well who knows. I certainly don’t feel that way but perhaps that’s also because the rest of the ultra running world seems to have shifted up a massive gear!
Mentality how are you getting your head ready for racing. What kind of things do you run through in your head to get in the right ‘zone’ so to speak.
Mentally I’m pretty much going to go in with no expectations and really just letting the race unfold around me. I can only control what I do, so that is what I will focus on. Last weekend I raced the 50miler in a very unorthodox manner, hard at 4:00kms for as long as I could to put myself in the hurt locker at the back-end in order to practice the mental toughness stuff. I wanted to battle the fatigue and the voices in my head.
I felt in TNF100 I let myself down late, I basically gave in mentally and that really was very disappointing as I’ve never done that previously in a race. I’ve always fought to the end, even if the body was cactus. In reviewing TNF and to some extent what started at Transgrancanaria, it’s clear that something has changed. I haven’t got the same drive and desire to perform as I once did. What I do get is a massive buzz out of seeing my athletes perform well rather than myself.
Is this a natural pattern that I’m following now I’m a coach? It probably is and it’s probably telling me that I’m no longer meant to be trying to perform to win big races anymore. I mean why pursue something when the motivation isn’t there? It’s a real predicament that I’ve discussed a lot with my wife Nadine (a clinical psychologist) and she’s been great helping me to work out where my values as a runner and as a coach stand. She’s actually helped me to refocus as an athlete for Western States. By reminding me of how special the moment is on the start line, the little memories of being there last year and the work I’ve done over many many years to deserve my spot. Will I crack the top 10 again? I feel I have the desire to that’s for sure but if I don’t it won’t bother me one bit. If that is what my international career highlight ends on, well a M8 bib and sub 16h run…that’s a pretty good one to have.
WSER100 has seen some fine athletes down the years, who would you say you admire/inspires you the most for their performance there?
Yep, WSER is a classic ultra race. There’s nothing easy about it although people look at the profile and say…oh it’s a downhill course, or oh the trails are like roads…well have those people ever tried to run balls to the wall for 160km in 40 degrees heat? Because that’s what it takes and doing that is tough work. I really am inspired by lots of athletes, but I guess I’m going to pull out the cliché now and say Killian sums up everything I admire in an athlete. Now here is a guy that wins every type of mountain race from vertical kms to 100mile epic elevation/technical trails. He has no place on a dusty, flat, fast, groomed trail like the Western States! Yet he comes, he adapts and he conquers…AND he did this after trying once before. For the same reasons I love athletes like Timothy Olsen and Rob Krar who are now throwing themselves into races that do not fit in their ‘sweet spots’. I heard Rob is racing UTMB this year and I tip my hat. I just wish a few more would take to the road ultras too like Sage and Max King do!
We wish all the best to Brendan and if this is to be one of his last shots at a big race, then we hope he goes out with a bang. The thing is, if he secures another top ten place… will the lure of another automatic entry be too much and we’ll see him here again next year? Part of me really hopes so 🙂