Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 21 - Dr Thomas Solomon - FOLLOW YOUR BLISS - Part 2 of 3

Yeah. So, if we're looking at, say traditional cross country versus obstacle course racing, obviously, you need more upper body since you're going to use it. But I mean, what's going to be the big difference in terms of prepping for obstacle course racing versus a cross country race?

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JESSE: Yeah. So, if we're looking at, say traditional cross country versus obstacle course racing, obviously, you need more upper body since you're going to use it. But I mean, what's going to be the big difference in terms of prepping for obstacle course racing versus a cross country race?

THOMAS: Yeah. So, I was one of these people, and I've seen a lot of similar people do this is come into the obstacle seen as a runner from a running background. And there are some obstacle races that are relatively easy. And you can get away with it entirely and just be a good runner and smash it and come very highly. There's also a number of races where the obstacles are very technical, the carries are extremely heavy, and some of the things you have to do are absolutely not something you've ever trained for as a cross country runner.

And I think probably the one standout component is that runners tend to be quite weak in terms of absolute strength. Their relative strength and power might be pretty good, but their absolute strength is usually quite poor. And I think that was certainly something I learned, if I go back to my first ever one is, is you need to be a lot stronger than you think you are. And then yeah, so there's a lot of lifting involved, and there's a lot of specific movements. So, it's not just about picking weight off the floor, you've then got to move with the weight.

And it can sometimes be in awkward positions on your shoulder, on your back in your chest, and so on. So, yeah, so that's one of the key things is just being stronger. But one of the other components, and again, as a soul runner coming into it, you would never have even considered training for this. But it is improving your grip strength because there's a lot of rigs that you have to hang from and so on. And some of them can be quite complex or prolonged.

So, actually the other group of people that tend to be quite good at this sport are people that come from either a climbing background or a holding background, which is something my wife and I do anyway. So, there was a little bit of a kind of head start in a way. So, we already had some grip strength and gripo endurance that could help us in these events. They may be things that runners don't ever train because they don't need to.

JESSE: Right, yeah, just focused on like forward motion, or maybe sometimes turning slightly. But yeah, mostly we're just moving forward.

THOMAS: Yeah, that's right.

JESSE: So, I mean, what are you using? Are you doing traditional lifts? Are you doing like Olympic lifts? Are you picking up logs and running with, like what does training actually look like for you or your athletes I guess?

THOMAS: Yeah, it's quite varied. The people I coach, it depends on their background, and it depends on their proficiency and experience. But if they've never done any strength training, then it purely starts with bodyweight exercises to bring their level of strength up. And you know, simple things push ups, bodyweight squats, so on. But eventually, the goal is to move towards lifting weight. And the sort of elite end or the more advanced and yeah, will be powerlifting, will be Olympic lifting. There will be some sort of circuit type of activities involved in the training. But then when you come to specificity, the racers themselves have these components embedded in the run.

So, there's also training sessions we design where we have a set of obstacles or a set of exercises that are integrated into an interval session. You know, one good example is that the Spartan Race series has burpees as a penalty in their races. So, we have training sessions, which are pretty emotional, but is where you know, a set of burpees will be completed immediately before like an 800 meter rep, and then you rest repeat it, much like it track repeat, yeah. So, you're integrating a bit of additional fatigue and some specificity to the race and so, yeah.

JESSE: So, I mean, as the sports developing your turn about, I assume things are kind of becoming a little more standardized are you getting like standard obstacles? Or is it still just whatever the race director wants to do?

THOMAS: Yeah, it's a brilliant question because right at the moment, there's a push towards having a little more standardization. And the reason for that is some of the biggest brands in the sport, so if we move away from the governing body of the sport, and then we consider the brands, which are things like tough mudder, and Spartan Race, and in the US, you have something called rugged maniac, and companies like this, they have brands. So, they have their own series, some of them have their own world championship events, some of them have their own professional athletes sponsoring [??? 4:58]. Excuse me. And in those brands that they've developed over several years, and there is standardization where there will be a certain number of obstacles, the weight of the carries, you'll know what they are, and you know what's coming.

And there's a little bit of conflict as to whether people would like that or not. Is it challenging to know what's coming, or is it actually useful to know what's coming so you know how to train? But when we go back to the governing body and rules and regulations, this is really juvenile, I suppose, in its development. And this is something that's coming about. And there's been a couple of examples in the last year or so where championship events have had an absurd number of complex obstacles that very few people have been able to complete.

And one example I give you is last year, the European obstacle race championships, I think, this is in the elite field, I think there were eight men that finished the race and one woman. And that was it. So, it was a little bit redundant. It was a big start line of good athletes, but the race design was so complex that very few people could even finish the race. And so that kind of triggered this need for regulation. And it'd be a bit like a marathon one day suddenly being 50K.

JESSE: Right. Like, oh, yeah, you think you're almost there, no, you're not.

THOMAS: No, you're not. Yeah. So, there's a need for some regulation, and it will come, but it's early days.

JESSE: Yeah, I kind of wonder if you could figure out, I guess we'll say a range of parameters. Instead of saying I mean like an Olympic distance triathlon, it's 1.5 kilometer swim, 40K bike, and then a 10K run, like it's a standard distance. There is various courses, you do get some variety there, but that this is the distance we're going. So, I kind of wonder if you could even do something wider than that with OCR and say, I'm not super familiar with their sport. So, I apologize for how ridiculous this will probably sound. So say, okay you're going to have, like a wall climb and it can be between five and 10 meters tall. And if it's over a certain height, then it has to have a rope or whatever. And then you like give almost a grading score to each obstacle. And say the obstacle difficulty is one to 10. There's 10 obstacles, you can have a maximum score for your course of 50 or whatever. So, then okay, maybe today, the walls only five meters. And then like, monkey bars are 20 feet long or whatever, versus and then that score adds up. You following me?

THOMAS: Yeah, no, I think that would be quite-- [crosstalk]

JESSE: You can have, you can have the parameters for each of them. They can always vary, but then the overall difficulty. It's like, this is a difficulty of 50 for this course, or difficulty of 70. So, you have some standardization, but also keep the variety and almost like wildness of the sport alive.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. And I think that's the appeal, it is something that's a little bit random and that to most people in the sport. And part of me feels that if it becomes too standardized, it then becomes a bit like running a marathon where you know the start and the finish is the same distance apart, there will be drink stations and aid stations and and that doesn't appeal to everybody. And so, yeah, but but I like that grading system approach. I think that could work, but I haven't had discussions of that, yeah, in the movements towards standardizing it.

JESSE: Yeah, I think it would take a lot of-- So, if you're trying to implement that kind of system, I think it would take a lot of work and a lot of revisions, as people argue the merits of I don't think that deserves this kind of scoring. And like, how do you quantify that. And you may be one of the guys to actually figure out how to quantify that with all of your kind of knowledge in both the sport and the field to figure out what actually makes sense. But I think it would take a lot of work. But I just thought about it in terms of my perception of obstacle course racing is that the randomness and chaos is almost the appeal for most people versus, let's run a 5K.

THOMAS: Yeah, I think you're right, that certainly from having been in the sport, and quite heavily for a few years that I think that is the appeal. And one of the upsides to that as it keeps it exciting, and then it also attracts more people to come into the sport. One of the downsides to that I feel is that I know the governing body would like to push towards Olympic bid actually to try and look at this as an Olympic sport. And my fear is that the sport from the outside looks messy, and it looks random. And it No one's really clued up to as to what it actually is. And if that is the case, then being an Olympic sport is an impossible task. So, you have to bring in some kind of standardization and some uniformity so people understand what it is. And I think there's some good examples of recent sports and climbing is one of them that's an Olympic sport. Next year in Japan, and they've created almost a new sport to cater for like the Olympic ideal. And it's kind of confusing from the climber's points of view, but it's exciting for the viewers point of view. So, yeah there are other challenges too.

JESSE: I think you can make the sport entertaining to watch as a viewer. I mean, obviously, there's the Japanese version, and then there's the American version of American Ninja Warrior, which is not the same thing. But you know people don't necessarily-- They're not standardized courses at all, but people love watching them. So, I think you could take OCR and make it definitely watchable, and also have some kind of system that people may not necessarily understand right away. But if I watch gymnastics or figure skating, I don't understand the scoring for that right away either, but I can still enjoy watching it. So, I don't know that you necessarily have to make it so black and white like this is my time around a lap on the track. But I think it could be done and still maintain some of that randomness.

THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. And as long as it's watchable, then - non enthusiasts would like to watch it had a chance.

JESSE: I'd say more people would possibly even tune in for OCR vs like the 5K. I know people that are distance runners often have a hard time watching a distance race because they're like what am I-- They don't understand what they're watching. Just like when I watch baseball I'm bored out of my mind watching baseball because I don't understand the intricacies of what's happening and the shooting players and all those things.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. I can certainly attest to that having been to a baseball game and not knowing the rules. Yeah.

JESSE: Yeah. There's not...especially. There's not a lot of movement. It seems like guys are standing around, you're like, well what am I watching?

THOMAS: Yeah, I'll just sit right there and eat my hot dog.

JESSE: Right. Right. So, one thing I'm kind of curious about with your qualifications and stuff is you're a registered nutritionist. And so I have actually have a registered dietitian that works with me in the company. What's the difference between the two? Like, how does that come into your coaching? Because I know you say specifically like you don't do dietetics or like medical nutrition therapy. So, what is that for you in your kind of coaching or line of work?

THOMAS: Yeah, so I mean, that I guess any practitioner has to work within their remit. And as soon as you step outside of that, you're breaching what you're qualified to do. And so, yeah, and in the US, you have dietetics and nutrition, and they're registered dietitians that can work as, say, medically qualified dietitians, - working in hospitals and actually prescribing diets to patients. And we work closely with some of these actually, in Cleveland, where they would help us design our inpatient diet for patients that we had on studies that nutritionists is a little bit different, where you are not registered to practice as a medical dietitian, but you're registered to provide nutrition advice, and so on.

And so for me, on a sort of daily basis, what that involves is the coaching or the clients that I'm coaching, I can advise them on ways to optimize, say their meal, exercise timing, if they're leading up to races, I can advise on how they might be optimizing their carbohydrate intake. Or during their race, for example, how they can optimize their feeding, if it's a prolonged event, let's say longer than 60 minutes, what could they feed with, what could they use to carry the food, which is another component to some of these races; how often should they be eating and so on. So, that's kind of where my use of that comes in.

JESSE: Okay. I spent some time trying to figure out before we were talking because it really seems like, I mean, you have the ability to cover a large variety of what people would be interested in, if they said, I don't know what to eat, or like the best thing to eat, or like that kind of thing. It's just you have to stay away from the medical side of things.

THOMAS: Yeah. And you can't prescribe a diet to somebody. And actually, I think if you're trying to do everything, there's not really enough time to cater for that. And I think if someone needs a nutrition coach, then that's something entirely separate, where they're trying to change their lifestyle, maybe alter some of the nutrients that they're ingesting or find ways to help themselves either lose weight or maintain weight, or if your strength training to try and gain mass or whatever. So, yeah.

JESSE: Yeah. This is a little bit, I saw it on your website and this was like, I think a quote from you, it says, if it ain't fun, you ain't doing it right. And like, this is something I see time and time again, almost everybody I talked to. And I'm talking to predominantly very competitive, often endurance athletes. And it seems like everybody is like, well I have fun doing it. I like it because I have fun. You know, I don't do it because I'm trying to be an Olympian or whatever it is. Did you come about this philosophy the hard way, or did it come more easily to you?

THOMAS: I think as a, again, going back to being a kid, I've just always enjoyed moving and always enjoyed being outside, and it's never really changed. As soon as the sun shines, and I step out the door, I feel like that child. And so I think a lot of people could relate to that, that they just enjoy moving, particularly people that are training for running race events, and whatever.

But I think where that philosophy came from, is actually I suppose, over the last 10 years of studying to coach you to eyes and so on. I have met a number of athletes who are very robotic in their approach and are just trying to achieve like a PB, or position or a podium place. And this is not the majority at all, but I never really understood that approach is if it's not fun, then where's the stimulus coming from?

And you kind of see it, and again, this is very anecdotal, but you kind of see it when people start to lose interest in their own performance is often because they're not enjoying what they're doing. And that can either be that if they're self coached, maybe they've just done the same thing too often.

Or if they're being coached by someone like myself, maybe we're giving them the wrong type of training, and it's just becoming boring. And so yeah, so there's that, I guess, the offseason is a key time for anyone that trains. But when your season ends, there's sometimes a little bit of depression sets in because you don't know what to do.

And so that is the perfect time to be wonder am I enjoying it, and what can I do now to have fun? And is that just getting out and hiking while I'm not running so much, and just enjoying the nature and whatever? Or maybe calling your friends or family doing some joint expedition? So, yeah, so I think that's kind of where it came from is maybe meeting people and even working with people that have lost that enthusiasm. And yeah, that is still trying to tap away at the performance and not achieving or not succeeding.

JESSE: Yeah, I saw a conversation recently on forum talking about she says kinda changing as you age, the answer to the question, what do you want to be when you grow up? And so we, as kids often say I want to be an astronaut, or I want to be an artist or like, all these things. And I think somebody came up-- their suggestion to like, what the answer this question should be, it was a little bit pithy. And they said, what do you want to be when you grow up? They said, well, I want to be happy when I grow up. It wasn't so much like, which is what we're after, right, when we say, oh, I want to be an artist, or I want to be a professor, wherever it is, I want to be, you just want to be happy, right? Like, that's what you're actually after. So, that kind of reminds me of that where it's like, yeah, you may be after a podium spot, but like, don't you want to be enjoying yourself?

THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah. Would you enjoy the podium or if you enjoyed the journey to get there.

JESSE: Right, right. The other thing I think about is, like you mentioned, athletes getting bored, whether they may have done too much of the same thing themselves, or whether-- One thing I think about with boredom, I think we often like misattribute, what boredom is, at least for me, I find boredom, if we dig down is actually a kind of anxiety. Where it's like you're bored but like, I almost I think we prescribe boredom is the state of a lack, like a lack of input, or a lack of stimulus. Whereas I think it's almost too much internal stimulus. Do you know what I mean? It's like it's this itch inside your head, it's like do something different, move, stop being still or whatever. Do you find the same thing in those people? Do you see they're like doing the same thing too often?

THOMAS: Yeah. Some of the anecdotes and thinking of that's part of the issue, I think. And but it's on an individual basis. And again, when it comes to coaching, you know, you kind of throw the means of the population out the window and [??? 20:51]. But some people also love that boredom approach. And one athlete I think I work with at the moment, just loves that routine, like wants to see the same session every week and doesn't want to be confused by something new. And that's kind of interesting. Like, to me personally, that would be the most boring way I could ever train myself.

But for them, it works pretty well. And so, yeah, so it's a little nuanced, right. So, I'm sure they're, I don't know anyone here, but I'm sure there are probably Olympians that have stood on that podium with a gold medal, and they're not entirely happy for whatever reason. Yeah. Just the battle, was it worth it? You start evaluating this was so hard to achieve, was it worth it?

JESSE: Right. And yeah, I think that whether you're an Olympian or not, I think that comes in to the question for a lot of people, at least at some point or another, whether you're beginning or you've been doing it for years is, is it isn't worth it. I guess, maybe that's a good question for you as far as like, since you've stepped away from OCR, I assume it's to focus more on coaching now and kind of giving your athletes priority.What was that change? Like, when you did not become as quite as worth it for you?

THOMAS: Yeah, I think like a couple of reasons. I had made quite a big change in life last year. I mean, we left where we were living, and my wife and I both quit our jobs to go and find some way to live in the mountains. So, there was a big change going on in our life. And like I said earlier, like the stimulus to compete, I've done it for so long, there is no longer that burning desire to like look through the race calendars, and what can I win? What can I try and achieve?

It kind of blunted a bit, and at the same time, it's nice also to step back and like you say, focus on coaching and focus on okay, I've gained all the experience I can in the racing environment. I've raced at the top level in that sport, I don't need to do that anymore to inform my judgments for coaching.

So, if I step away from that and still do the occasional event, or at least go to some events, to learn how it's developing, then that's good. And things like I mean, outside the obstacle racing scene; trail races, mountain races, road races, you can almost step out your door any weekend, and find one to do. And just to release some kind of energy. But yeah, combination of factors, yeah, probably just time for a change, and I just don't have that drive to compete anymore. And a bit of honesty, as well, I suppose is that we all know what we're capable of.

And you get to that point where you know, you've probably achieved all you can athletically, and there's nothing more to come, so, just ease up. There's no need to stress yourself so much anymore, just focus on the nicer things in life that aren't sport related, and so on. So, there's a little bit of that for me personally.

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