6-5-1@SPARTA interview with Martin Fryer

ultramarathon runner Dr Martin Fryer

Aside from being:

  • a biomedical scientist employed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia (where he is involved in assessing the scientific data supporting the marketing of new prescription medicines),
  • an accomplished tennis player & coach,
  • National-ranked skydiver (with over 900 jumps!) and
  • husband & father,

Dr Martin Fryer is the one of the best of ultra-marathon runners on the planet.

His list of achievements is as long as it is impressive. Some of his most recent achievements include:

  • 1st place at the 2011 Sri Chimroy 6 day in New York where he finished with 784km (490 miles)
  • 1st place at the 2011 Australian National 48 Hour Track Championships with 388.4km (242.7 miles)
  • Individual (255.9km/159.9 miles)) & Team Goal medallist (and new Commonwealth Record Holder) at the Commonwealth 24 Hour Championships, Keswick, UK.
  • 1st place & No.1 World Ranking at the prestigous, invitiaton-only Surgères 48 Hour track in France (433km/270 miles)

And for those who think that ultra-marathon runners are slow, Martin’s 5km PB is a smoking 17:15!

Welcome to SPARTA Martin!

1/.       What is the biggest challenge to your motivation & how do you overcome that? 

The time that I typically find motivation most challenging is about two-thirds of the way through a long training program (e.g. week 10 of a 16 week program) when I am building to peak base training mileage and often doing 2 runs a day in order to clock up 160 to 200 K for the week. Most of this is done at pretty easy effort but it still feels like a grind and it is a struggle to keep energy and enthusiasm up for these runs in the midst of daily family and work commitments. There are a number of things that I do during this period to stay motivated-

1) Ensure that I am getting good nutrition and adequate sleep,

2) Train on a good variety of run courses over different surfaces and terrains, and with different training partners,

3) Remind myself to be patient and remember how this training has worked so well in the past and yielded such satisfying results,

4) Remind myself that I always feel like this at this stage of training, that I will be tapering mileage soon, and that in a few weeks time I will be bursting out of my skin feeling fantastic and running new short race PB’s, and

5) Visualize myself in my goal race- smiling, feeling strong but relaxed, and crossing the finish line elated.

2/.      Aside from running, what other training do you do (eg strength, stretching, core etc) & how important is it to your performance?

I have experimented with varying the amount of strength and core work that I add to my running schedule – from nothing at all through to 3 sessions per week. From this I have concluded that strength and core work for me is an essential part of staying injury free, optimising strength/weight ratio and lean body mass, and ensuring consistent, good performances over a period of many years. Too much distance running is purely catabolic and often leads to loss of functional muscle loss and immune system breakdown, and when combined with a desk job makes both my posture and confidence start to slump. I have found that small, regular doses of strength work keep me staying strong, lean and mean and feeling more confident than when I just run. I have no worries about carrying extra muscle because that just does not happen when you are doing the miles in running!

The key elements of my strength and core training are variety, brevity, intensity, and periodisation.

Variety: running with a backpack or weighted vest; maximum 10s sprint efforts up very steep hills, traditional free weights (squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and bent rows – one push and one pull exercise per session); kettlebells (swings, clean and press, snatches, Sumo squats, Turkish getups- no more than 15 minutes of total workout); bodyweight exercises (pushups: flat, incline and decline; dips, chin ups, pull ups, burpees, lunges and variations, single leg squats); exercise ball and classic core (plank and variations); circuit training.

Brevity: most sessions no more than 20 minutes in total – to be a good distance runner you have to run a lot, not spend too many hours in the gym.

Intensity: I have done some low weight, hi rep training but have had better results from sticking to lifting fairly heavy: typically 5 sets of 5 reps with a range of 3 to 8 reps. No rest between sets for different kettlebell exercises.

Periodisation: 4 sessions per week for the first few weeks after a hard ultramarathon race (this is my “pre-season”) then gradually tapering down to 3 and then 2 sessions per week during big distance training weeks. I like to do circuit training (incorporating 400m and 800m running reps at hard pace) during my 2 to 3 week taper period before a key race.

I probably don’t stretch enough and this is something I know I need to work on. Instead of static stretching I will do an easy warm up run with some typical running drills before a race or a high intensity training session At most, I do some short warm down stretches, particularly those targeting my Achilles and calves

3/.     What one event in your past has shaped your present? 

This is a very hard question to answer as many events have collectively shaped who I am today.

In terms of ultramarathon running, I guess one of the pivotal moments for me was when I was first selected to represent Australia (at age 45!) at the World 24 Hour Challenge in Taipei in 2006. Prior to that I had only run one 24 Hour race (with a distance of 206K) and had no international racing experience. I found myself energized at the World Challenge by the amazing standard of running that was taking place and got so caught up in it I ran a huge PB distance of 233K, just missing out on a top 10 placing by a few hundred metres. This event shaped my present by showing me that I was capable of running ultramarathons at a World class level and, more importantly, showed me that I had set artificial mental limitations on what I was capable of. This boost of confidence set the scene for some performances in the following years that I am very proud of, particularly 2009 when I ran 433 K in 48 Hours at Surgères in France and was ranked number one in the World over that time period.

4/.     We all know that our bodies don’t recover as well as we age. Given the incredible mileage you cover in training, what strategies do you use to minimise your risk of injury & maximise your recovery?

I minimise injury by:

  • maintaining strength and core training all year round (as described above)
  • giving my body a wide variety of training stimuli
  • not overtraining, and particularly not over racing
  • rotating half a dozen pairs of training shoes
  • adding rest days and an easier week of training every 3 weeks or so
  • responding quickly to any potential niggles with appropriate training plan changes or RICE

I maximise recovery by:

  • increasing protein/micronutrient intake, getting extra sleep, meditating, taking power naps
  • not running after a big event until any major stiffness or niggles have gone
  • walking, cycling, swimming and elliptical training during taper and recovery phases

 5/.       Who is the person (or people) who have had the most influence on your sporting success?

Without a doubt my family has had the strongest influence on my sporting success in one way or another. When I was a kid growing up in Sydney (Coogee) my Dad and I would run a few K[ms] to the beach, run some laps of the beach, have a bodysurf, and then run home – every day before work/school. I think it took me quite a while to appreciate how critical this was to shaping my lifetime ethos that pursuing daily exercise is a joy, and not a task. These days my immediate family (consisting of my wife Lynn, and my 15 year-old son, Luke) have a major influence on my sporting success as they give me the love and support to chase my next crazy dream.

Outside of family influences, I would have to say that the outstanding performances of the legendary  Australian ultrarunners of the 80’s and 90’s (Cliff Young, Yiannis Kouros, Bryan Smith, Tony Collins, Helen Stanger and many others) have always been a great source of inspiration to me.  

6/.       If you could go back in time & give one piece of advice to yourself when you were 18, what advice would that be?

Take the time to smell the roses – make sure that you immerse yourself in at least some training runs and some races where time doesn’t matter – where you run for the pure joy of the running or the camaraderie of fellow runners.

 Martin is generously sponsored in-kind by 2XU, Hammer Nutrition, Inov-8 and Injinji. If you wish to contact Martin you can email him at flyerultra@gmail.com.

Thanks for your time Martin & best of luck with your next big adventure!