“I think going back, I think it was probably five years ago, or maybe a bit longer when I did my first one. It was quite rule, and there wasn't an entirely clear set of rules and so on. And that kind of appealed because it was kind of random. It was like being a kid again and just playing, going out and having fun. Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, so I guess that's where the interest was sparked and you get a little more integrated into it and start understanding it. And as a scientist, your analytical so you look at these things, and you break it down, and you try and work out how you can become better at it, and so on. So, yeah, it's kind of fun sport to analyze, and certainly a fun sport to coach people in because there's so many elements of it.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road, or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to Solpri.com.
This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road, or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to Solpri.com.
JESSE: Today, my guest on the smart athlete podcast has his PhD in exercise science. He's also a certified personal trainer, and has a slew of other certifications, which I won't round quite all of them off. He spent three years at a postdoctoral fellowship in metabolism and endocrinology. At this point, I'm sure it's probably still counting, at least in his head. But he's an author or a co-author on at least 70 different research studies. He's a registered nutritionist and former professor now full time coach. Welcome to the show, Dr. Thomas Solomon.
THOMAS: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here.
JESSE: Thanks for getting back on me, Thomas. For those just joining us, Thomas was kind enough to reschedule with me because I screwed up our schedule the other day, where I was going to be in completely different time zones. I was going to be on vacation in Hawaii. And I think our time zone right now, we've got seven hours difference. And if we had tried to do it, then we would have had, let's see, 12 hours difference. So, I would have been up I think in the middle of the night to try to record with you.
THOMAS: Yeah. Here we are at a sensible timeframe, yeah.
JESSE: Yeah. Everybody's got the sun up, everything's going okay. So, it's afternoon for you, have you already got your training and for the day?
THOMAS: I have not, no. I will be doing that this evening. Yeah, it's pretty warm during the day here. So, it's about, in Fahrenheit, it's about 90 at the moment. So, it'll cool down a bit this evening. Yeah.
JESSE: I always find was fine I like to get it done in the morning just because I have the most energy and the most motivation. Are you still ready to go in the evening?
THOMAS: Yeah, I don't mind what time of day I go. If I have nothing going on in the morning I like to get out and get up early because there's no one around, it's quite peaceful today. Yeah. But I don't mind what time of day.
JESSE: So, you've got a background in kind of a lot of different sports. You correct me, please. But you went from running the cycling to duathlon and back to running and then to obstacle course racing. Are you still doing OCR now?
THOMAS: Yes and no. So, I was competing pretty heavily in it until last year and then I decided to step away from it at that level. And I still plan to enter the Odd event mainly to keep on top of the developments because it's a fairly new sport. And I'm coaching a few guys in the sport, so I'd like to keep a hold on where it's moving towards, and so on. But as a competitive athlete, I've kind of rein that in because I think I probably started competing when I was 12 years of age, and yeah, I turned 39 this year, so it was well-- a lot of years of competing. I feel done, mentally done with that.
JESSE: Yeah, no, it definitely catches up with you. I'm only 30 and I'm trying to figure out-- I think my difficulty and I don't know if this is yours, especially switching so many sports, but my difficulty is, at least for me, I kind of almost reached a plateau in the sport. And then it's like, what am I chasing now? You kind of reached a level where like, I can only push myself so far for so many hours so hard. And then you're like, there isn't much more to progress. So, it's like, yes, I enjoy it, but the workload is enormous. So, what's the motivation?
THOMAS: Yeah. And does it integrate with the other real life things that we have going on, you know, wives and husbands and kids and whatever, and careers.
JESSE: Yeah. So, what's your story in terms of why did you switch from one to the other? Like it's this continuous development into different disciplines. How did that all kind of develop for you starting with running, and then moving on from there?
THOMAS: Yeah, I suppose. I've always been curious with activity no matter what it is, I just like being outside. And the running, I suppose, we had an interesting school system where running was almost a punishment where you had to run a lap of the field, and so on. So, I guess a lot of people relate to that. So, I was kind of pushed into running, and quite enjoyed it. So, you stuck with that for several years through school, but I've always been interested in trying new things.
So, yeah, I moved towards cycling, mainly because I met a bunch of people who rode bikes and looked interesting and fun. And we've all watched the Tour de France and you have these teams - cycling fast. And so I moved towards that. And then I suppose it was a natural development to combine that with running, which was where the duathlon interest came from.
But actually, I always found that there was something missing because most of those running and cycling is generally a road based sport, and that's where the emphasis is placed. And I never really worked it out until about 10 years ago, but I actually love trails and another mountains. And so that's kind of where the obstacle racing came from, is getting into trail racing, and a lot of the obstacle course races are on trails, and mountains and so on. So, yeah, so I guess it's part of its natural development, part of its who you meet, and just yeah, serendipity, I suppose. But yeah. And just that curiosity of trying new things, can you be good at it? Can you enjoy it and so on? So, yeah.
JESSE: One thing I've kind of been looking at recently, how much time have you spent in the states with like, OCR and stuff?
THOMAS: In the US? Very little. I traveled over to the US last year for one obstacle race, actually. So, I've only done one race in the US. I did live in the US for three years, I did a lot of road running, and a few trail races there, but then yeah.
JESSE: So, one of the things I've been looking at, just over vacation is as I was talking about trying to find new challenges. This is something that kind of struck my interest in college because my college coaches from this area in Colorado Springs, which is where the Olympic Training Center is, or one of them, there is a hill, it's actually in Manitou Springs, which is suburb. Anyway, there's a hill known as the Manitou incline.
THOMAS: Yes, I've heard of it.
JESSE: Yeah, I know you're familiar. So, I kind of like, started getting in my head, I'm like, I need to go do this, and kind of see what I can do, how I feel about it because I was wondering if you'd ever done the Manitou incline [crosstalk] depending on how much time you've spend time here?
THOMAS: Yeah, no. I've done a lot of mountain running, but I've never done that specific incline. It's kind of stepped, isn't it? It's kind of not plain, stepped gradient up to the top.
JESSE: Yeah, I think it has railroad ties as steps. If they're not railroad ties or something there. And then I think the top, the very top one is labeled whatever number step it is when you know that you're at the top, but I was I was just reading about it. And I think I read something along the lines of like the average gradient's like 35%, or something like that.
THOMAS: Yeah, it's tough.
JESSE: Yeah. So, you guys have, it seems like, I've spoken to a couple of people in Europe, it seems like you guys have a little bit more access to mountainous terrain. So, you probably have something like that around there?
THOMAS: Yeah. So, that's something my wife and I discussed quite a lot. She she's actually American, so that's kind of my tie to the US. And we always discuss that because when we're looking at where we should live, or where we'd like to live, the access to mountains and trails, usually in the US, the towns, you usually have to drive to them, or make an effort to get to them. Whereas in Europe, a lot of the cities and towns are often embedded in the mountains.
And actually, that's how we've ended up in Innsbruck living here is the city is in the mountains. And so from our balcony, we can see three mountain ranges. And I can step [??? 9:24] doing run to five minutes down the road and I'm at the third of one of the trailhead. So, that's quite nice for access. And it takes away that time component of having to drive to the trailhead, and we quite like that. And we have similar to what you've just described, we have, yeah, challenges like that...of Europe.
And there's one, as well as a couple in the UK where I'm from, but there's one I recently did in Norway, and it's called the stops and steps and it's a lot shorter and it doesn't climb so high. It's certainly not an altitude because no where in Norway really is. But it's kind of a fun thing to do. And you see lots of-- all walks of life, people, young kids, old people, disabled, whatever everyone's trying it, and so it's kind of fun. I like that impetus for getting people active. And whatever the goal is, it's nice to see people out there achieving it.
JESSE: Yes, it's nice to see-- like I said I've talked to several people in Europe in various places, both Americans abroad and people from various countries. And it's nice to kind of see the reality of what kind of European cities have. I think, at least in my own head, there's this like, idealized vision about like you said, it's just like a town basically nestled in the mountains, kind of integrated. Are you more walkable there? Because that's something I feel like we're lacking a lot of.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. That's the other thing, I suppose is-- Yeah, it's safe to walk. There are sidewalks, which is nice, and you don't always find that in the US. I certainly found that, I lived in Cleveland, Ohio for three years. They were quite large areas around where I worked, where there really wasn't a sidewalk. So, you couldn't--
JESSE: Were you in Cleveland Clinic?
THOMAS: I was, yeah, that's right. Yeah. So, not having the pedestrian access makes it difficult or having bike lanes that are separated from the road, that was something we experienced in Denmark. There's a big extensive bike lane network in it. It just makes it safer. And then, of course, if it's safer, there's one less barrier to go and do do the activity.
JESSE: Yeah, I know. So, here in Kansas City, it's much like many other American cities, it's very car centric. And now we're like, in the process of almost trying to retrofit the city to be more bike compliant, and pedestrian friendly. And the neighborhood I live in is more pedestrian friendly. But even here, where lots and lots of people walk, I went to like a, I'll ay like a city planning meeting where they're talking about changing the road and that kind of stuff. And there were still people like grumpy-- not all of them are men, but like grumpy old man who are like who rides their bike? Why do we need bike lanes? And this attitude about bikes, it's like, not everybody wants to get in the car. So, I think there's a cultural thing too, though we have to fight in terms of like, retrofitting our cities to be more pedestrian friendly.
THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. And it's difficult because these cities, as we know, them have existed for 50 to 100 years. And then we're trying to add on a bike lane system in places like Copenhagen, for example, that they kind of had the foresight back in the 60s and 70s, to start building it then before it got too populated, and so it is difficult to retrofit. And that's something we've seen in the UK where they're trying to add bike lanes in, and it's a noble effort, but it doesn't really work so well. It's still very busy, and the bike lanes often aren't separated from the road and so on. So, it's a big challenge.
JESSE: Yeah. I'm going to switch lanes on you, I don't mean to make a terrible pun there. So, I saw you had came back to running I think it was postdoctoral at this point in your life to work on your 5K speed. And I think that's when you set your 5K PR.
THOMAS: Yeah, that's correct.
JESSE: Which I thought was-- time is impressive, but not just that. I think a lot of people will argue for like, your fastest 5K times being more collegiate age. And I don't know if that's just a matter of cohort in terms of people have time to devote to that, or whatever really, is the age that you're the fastest. So, I'm kind of curious what were you doing to kind of set that PR at this point in your life? And like I'm 30 now so if I wanted to go run my fastest 5K, what would you suggest I do, I guess?
THOMAS: Yeah. There's a little bit of luck involved for me in that time of my life is I suppose. I was working in a job that was pretty high pressure, I suppose long hours, and there was a lot of demand to produce, and I needed an outlet. And there was a local track group. And one of the things I miss and admire about the US are the little kind of track clubs that exist. And we have a different system in the UK where I grew up, where it's more sort of mass participation clubs, and you pay a fee and so on. But what I liked about the US were these little kind of niche track groups that had formed from maybe spin out of colleges and things and they're these diehard runners that just want to keep training.
So, I fortunately met one of these groups, and they were a group of really good runners. And you know, kind of spurred my interest to get back into it. So, I suppose if I look at it from the consistency of good training, that period of my life at that time was just a brilliant period of like going to the track after a hard day at work, laying down a good effort every other day, meeting up some guys and putting in good miles. And so yeah, a little bit of luck, I suppose. If I've never met that track group, I probably wouldn't have been interested in aiming for a 5K PR. And then like coming back to what you said is that people normally peak in their college years. I never really focused on 5K running back in those days and so it was something, not entirely new but something fresh to focus on. So that's probably what ended up focusing on that there. So, yeah.
JESSE: Yeah, I mean, a little bit of luck will go a long way. Everything kind of coming together at the right point in time. Did you enjoy it, was it a 5K on the track or was it a road race?
THOMAS: No, it was a road race. Yeah. [??? 16:14] on the road race. Yeah.
JESSE: Okay. That's one thing I find kind of splits people is I learned to love track in college. But it can be tough for a lot of people especially running 5K or 10k on the track, especially the 10K you get 25 laps on the track. And it can be a little mind numbing if you're not really-- You had to find this headspace where you're just focused on like your body's motion. And you completely ignore that you're on a track going in a circle over and over again.
THOMAS: Yeah, you have to become like metronomic, yeah.
JESSE: Yeahh, and it's more about feeling everything than you do a road race or especially a trail race, like you get-- It's not, at least for me, it's not active in my mind oh, there's a pretty tree but it's like you have a lot of sensory input as you're going along that adds variety to the race.
THOMAS: Yeah, something else to focus on. You need to concentrate heavily on the terrain when your trail running. And on a track, you can fall over people too, but it's a lot harder to trip over a lump of word or a tree on a track.
JESSE: Right. Right. It's more likely you're gonna run into somebody else than it is you're going to run into anything on the track like dogs running across the track aside. I'm sure that's happened somewhere. So, I'm kind of curious, so you've been focused on OCR, you're not so focused now. But do you do any like traditional cross country races before then or was it like straight into OCR?
THOMAS: Yeah, so I mean, cross country as it is in the college and high school system in the US is a massive part of school in British - schooling. So, you grow up cross country running, and it's good fun. It's low pressure. You know, there are championships, of course, but there's something about cross country that has a different kind of like, nerdy, fun element to it that takes the pressure off road running and track running. But yeah, so there was years of that at school, but not so much as an adult. And there's independent trail races and mountain races, or they're called fail races in the UK.
But yeah, so I got involved with some of those, and that kind of transition towards the obstacle seen it. And again, it was a little bit of luck, just meeting people that were dabbling in these events. And my brother was a bit of a catalyst, he challenged me to enter one of these events, and we had quite a lot of fun. And we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Some of the obstacles, you kinda look at them you're like, okay.
JESSE: So, you like the size of up as you go.
THOMAS: Yeah, that's right. But was quite clear with the-- and it's still true, but it is a running sport, even though it's not a running race. If you're a good runner, you will do quite well. And I think where the sports is heading currently is trying to create its identity as to what it really is. You know, there's a governing body that's just being created, a world governing body. And so there's regulations and rules coming about to try and establish how much should be running, and how much should be lifting, and how much should be hanging and so on.
So, I think going back, I think it was probably five years ago, or maybe a bit longer when I did my first one. It was quite rule, and there wasn't an entirely clear set of rules and so on. And that kind of appealed because it was kind of random. It was like being a kid again and just playing, going out and having fun. Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, so I guess that's where the interest was sparked and you get a little more integrated into it and start understanding it. And as a scientist, your analytical so you look at these things, and you break it down, and you try and work out how you can become better at it, and so on. So, yeah, it's kind of fun sport to analyze, and certainly a fun sport to coach people in because there's so many elements of it.