ASICS trail runners Brendan Lombard and Matt Healy are finishing off a long racing season on home soil with the prestigious RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town. We spoke to them about their form and goals for the race as well as what it takes to bring your A-game this late in the season. You might not be planning on tackling a gruelling 100km trail race at the end of a long year, but you could still use the lessons to stay motivated on your running and racing schedule.

MOTIVATION

MATT

My two other big goal races were in Europe, so for me running a home trail with the home community is motivating in itself and my season was built around it.

Knowing that my season would end at the end of November with UTCT, my coach – James Montgomery at The Run Project – and I were quite tactical in the way we planned my season. I essentially only had three main goal races for the year, all of them being over a 100kms. One of those three included the upcoming UTCT. So I only really started my trail-racing season in June, with the Mozart 100 in Austria and then I chose to race Nice Cote d'Azur because I felt like it was good timing between Mozart and UTCT.

The reason I started my race season so ‘late’ is to make sure the year doesn’t drag on and also, mainly, trying to race ultras for a full 12 months of the year is pretty mentally taxing.

Matt Healy Mozart 100 10th place

I did start my year with a solid road running (training) block, which I'll do again (but with no race pressure). It worked well because after that ‘faster runnable’ block transitioning to the trail and getting my climbing legs back was smooth, but also from a mental perspective it kept things fresh and fun. Shorter and faster with lots of track work was pretty cool. I only really started properly and specifically trail running training in the middle March. So it was quite nice, by the time I needed to focus on Mozart, it still felt like my year had just begun and then I was just able to take that momentum and I think it's just wise, knowing you've got a race at the end of the year to maybe just push your calendar into the last six months of the year. Or, visa versa, if you've got an early race, call your season near the end of the year. I’d say if you’re racing in February, you kind of want to be done by October latest, so you can take time off.

That’s one of the main things we did this year just to keep the mental and physical energy capacities up. Just to keep me fresh enough to end the year on a bang.

BRENDAN

So CCC in August – one of the major races at UTMB – was my primary goal for the year. It went horribly, not according to plan and I ended up failing in what I’d set out to achieve, but through the process of failure, I learnt a lot about myself and the sport, as a whole.

Read more about what Brendan learnt, here.

Having failed at CCC, I did take quite a knock mentally and suffered big time from 'imposter syndrome’ — feeling as though I didn’t belong there at one of the pinnacle races of the sport.

I came back to South Africa feeling very unmotivated and lost, in a sense. I had to go back to the drawing board and find my 'why' again. I had to find my love for the sport in its pure and raw form, so I ended up working with a sport psychologist, who I still work with which is great.

UTCT is South Africa's premier trail running event and it attracts the best runners from around the world. What motivated me (and got me ‘going’ again) was the drive to end the year positively.

It is also a privilege to be able to race against the world's best, at home without having to travel, and also against each other. It brings out the best runners in the country.

Trail Running at CCC at UTMB

Aside from the racing aspect, I guess my motivation also comes from wanting to get out there and discover exactly who I am. Ultras have this way of stripping you down to your most bare raw self and it's the curiosity of finding out what you're made of. You really learn where your weaknesses and strengths lie. You learn to go to those dark places and overcome them...I guess that's kind of the metaphor for life really because if you can do that and dig yourself out of these dark places, you know, what else can actually stop you?

With the race being at the end of the year, I can imagine for many it must be hard to stay motivated, but our local trail-running community almost overrides that in a way: UTCT has a very special aura around it when it comes to the community and it's extremely motivating to know that you've got, call it, ‘your local fans,’ out there. You're going to have them out on the route supporting you, rooting for you — that is a huge thing, much bigger than people realise.

RACE GOALS

MATT

I got home from France at end of September and put in a bit of a recovery block to make sure I bounce back into training quite fresh. It took a bit longer than I expected to shake off my Nice race — that race was super physically demanding with tough conditions on the day, and my knees and quads did take longer to recover than expected. I have been conscious about not doing too much at this point and focusing on recovery days and recovery-type running and then good quality focus work. I’m excited to see how the race goes.

Matt healy in Europe

Follow Matt’s race live via Instagram Stories on Wild Air Sports

BRENDAN

My personal goals for the race are not focussed on the outcome specifically, but more just to run for myself again and to experience that very feeling when I did my first ultra (which actually was UTCT), so I'm going back to my roots.

Ryan Sandes put it so well in ‘Ode to Failure’ — you just want to come back and prove to yourself that you can actually complete a 100 km in a decent fashion.

We've got a long lap of our backyard in a week and a bit’s time and we're going to do it as fast as possible but I think the biggest motivating force for me is to figure out exactly, why I run again, more so than place too much emphasis on the outcome of everything.

Also, after CCC I went back to the drawing board and I am now under management and coaching by Dr Shawn Bearden, who is an American coach he has also been a great help in helping me create more structure, as well as also place a lot of emphasis on the mental side of the sport. Ultra running is largely mental and he's been great with that, as well as my sports psychologist. So, under new coaching and with a completely different approach (to ultras in the past) and a completely new style of training, this UTCT is an experimental one. The big emphasis is on 2023 which has some really exciting plans in the pipeline…