Tom Ovens, a cyclist on the rise

Background –

Tom is currently working as a Personal Trainer in Geelong as well as studying Exercise and Nutrition Science at Deakin University

Key Race Results-

11th Elite National XCO championships 2015, 1st Surf Coast 3hr 2014, 3rd You Yangs Yowie 99km 2014, 1st place Rd1 National XCO and Criterium Open men December 2014

Sponsors-

Cannondale-ENVE MTB team.  SRAM, Bell Helmets, Louis Garneau, Pro4mance, Premax, Rocktape and Swiss Eye sunglasses also support Tom.

 

Tom Ovens in full flight on single track is a a sight to behold!

Tom Ovens in full flight on single track is a a sight to behold!

Thanks for Chatting with us Tom.  What’s your background prior to cycling and what has drawn you to mountain bike racing?

No worries!  I started off racing motocross, which I did for nearly 15 years.  I started when I was 12 and ended up winning one National championship in 2006 in the under 19 category.  From there I moved into the Pro class and had some ok results.  It’s very hard to stay competitive in motocross, especially when you have lots of injuries like I did.  In fact, injuries are what got me started into cycling!  After one of my 3 knee reconstruction’s (the second one I think!)  I began doing some road riding for rehab, after a while I began to enjoy it and so I thought I would give mountain biking a go.  From there it was a natural progression and I finished up racing motocross at the end of 2012, so I’ve been focusing on MTB (mountain biking) for a bit over 2 1/2 years.

 

You’ve had a meteoric rise in success for both mountain biking and more recently road cycling.  What do you put this success down to?

Because of the motocross background I always found the skills side of things pretty easy.  I have never been someone with a naturally large aerobic capacity, but I am good at sticking to a training plan and I enjoy the process of improving my fitness.  I would say I am definitely still a work in progress though when it comes to outright fitness but I am getting there!

 

What are your thoughts on genetics vs training relating to performance?

I’ve thought about this a few times, especially in regards to my study in the field of exercise science.  I think there are plenty of people who have huge natural talent, but if you aren’t willing to put in the hard work it won’t be enough to produce results.  Sure you will have the odd good race, but over the long term I think someone a little less gifted who is willing to work hard will ultimately succeed.  Of course, if you are gifted AND put the time in you will really excel!

 

In terms of training, what has been the key types of training/ sessions that has resulted in gains in fitness?  

My training changes depending on the time of year and when the targeted races are.  I am continually working on my weaknesses but as a general rule long base km’s and strength work on the bike is done in the off season or during a break in racing.  As the races draw closer the sessions generally shorten up slightly and some intervals are brought in whether it be on hills or flat speed work.  I think for me a combination of all these sessions are what improve anyones fitness.  For me at the moment I am getting ready for quite a few Cyclocross races which are 60mins long and full gas the whole time.  In preparation for that macca has me doing lots of short max and sub max sprint/TT efforts to build up my tolerance to lactate and explosiveness.  I recently did another lactate test with Donna Ray and its great to see progression from these types of sessions.

 

Do you have a favourite interval session? Please give example…

Expanding on the sprint/TT efforts, it might be something like a 5-10 second all out sprint followed by 2 minutes rest x 10 reps, then 10 x 10sec sprint and straight into a  20-60 second TT effort.  It varies session to session but they are all aimed at improving that explosive power and repeated efforts.  I also quite enjoy doing some motor pacing.  I haven’t done heaps of sessions behind the bike but my coach macca has taken me out a few times and done some 5 mins “on” 5 mins “off type sessions.  The idea is to sit behind the bike and recover for 5 mins, then pull out to the side and maintain that speed for another 5 mins.  Keep in mind that the “recovery” phase is still well over 40-45km/h so its a hard session, but I like the feeling of going fast on the road bike!

 

What has been the influence of your coach, Craig McCartney? Have other athletes like your team-mate, James Downing,  been instrumental in moulding you as an athlete?

Macca has been great for my development as a rider.  He has a wealth of knowledge from his riding days as well as working closely with Donna Ray (who is a cycling coach and the VIS and Dan McConnels coach) and its been great to learn form him and have him write my programs each month.  I have only known James a relatively short time but I have learnt a great deal from him.  He has pretty much been there and done that in every discipline of cycling so its awesome to have him and the Cannondale team in my corner.  I would say on the local front Scott Nicholas is someone I really admire as an athlete and just as a great bloke.  His achievements in his running career blow my mind and to see him doing so well on the MTB is awesome.  I see him and I as opposite ends of the spectrum.  He has an amazing engine and came into MTB later in life which required him to lear the skills really quickly (which he has I might add!).  I on the other hand, have always had the skill but need to build an engine, the fact that we can cross the finish line at the Otway Odyssey this year with less than a minute between us after nearly 5 hours of racing goes to show just how cool and diverse MTB really is.

 

How important is technology such as GPS, heart rate and power meters to both training and racing?

I really enjoy all the data when it comes to training, and I think its a necessary tool especially to monitor training load and fatigue/freshness.  I use HR all the time and have had a power meter on my road bike for a bit over a year.  All my efforts are based off power in terms of training and I alway try to match that to my HR.  If my HR is ever low/high compared to power that can be an indicator of many things, good or bad!

 

Have you tried additional training techniques such as cold thermogenesis, heat training or altitude training?

Not a great deal.  I go up to the Victorian alps each year with a bunch of mates to do a training camp, although I wouldn’t say that there are any benefits in terms altitude adaptations in Victoria.  I have been involved in a couple of clinical trials on cyclist in hypoxic conditions however, and the results were significant so I am keen to try some more  altitude training if the opportunity ever arose.

 

Thanks for chatting with us Tom.  Good luck with your future endeavours.  

Not a problem, thanks for giving me the opportunity!

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Julian Spence on his recent marathon, health and nutrition

By Luke Madeley


Julian Spence is an amazing running talent that has achieved a lot in a very short space of time.  Coming onto the scene fairly late after pursuing football and surfing interests, over the last 6 years Julian has had success with ultra-running, marathons, cross country, as well as on the track. Julian has taken the role of Geelong Regional Cross Country manager and is also the store manager for The Running  Company.  I caught up with Julian after the recent Melbourne marathon to discuss his run, his future and his thoughts on nutrition, performance and health.

Congratulations Julian on a great effort.  I sense from your Strava post (Julian titled his recent marathon run as ‘the wrong way to run 2:27’) you are not happy with your Melbourne Marathon, despite finishing 15th.
I was unhappy with the time, but content with the way I went about the run.  The first half went pretty well as I was running consistent splits and I felt good.  However, I couldn’t maintain the pace and in the latter part of the race I could have easily pulled out.   Overall I was satisfied that I was able to get the finish line. 
 
Leading into the race, you were in great form.  Why do you think you ran slower than you expected?
I was aiming for sub 2:20 and I was definately fitter than 2:27.   There was a chance that I wasn’t in 2:20 shape and that may have been the problem.  However, I still went for it, and when you’re on such a fine line, things can fall apart pretty quickly.  I probably could have gone out there and ran conservatively with the aim to run 2:24.  However,  I pushed myself to run 2:20 which exceeded my threshold on the day and I basically cooked myself!
 
You also experienced an injury a few weeks before the race?
I was doing a long training run around marathon pace and ran 16 kms into a shocking head wind.  I must have changed the way I was running a little bit.  I think I just started to lean forward as I was fighting into the wind which may have changed the way my hammy and glutes were working.  After that run, I pulled up sore around my hip.
 
The injury significantly messed with my head. I was stressing about it which led to poor sleep and I started to second guess myself.  Also, the legs didn’t get as much time in them for the last 2 weeks prior to the marathon and they were used to running twice a day every day.  And all of a sudden I was not running at all.
 
How is your recovering going?
I haven’t ran in a week and I’m going to have another week off and then start to re-build.  I played golf today.  I will ride the bike while Bri (Julian’s girlfriend) runs and walk the dog twice a day.   I also enjoy just sitting, and not really doing a whole lot.   I’m already starting to get motivated to start running again now that the soreness has gone and I’m seeing Bri out running.
 
What are your short-term goals in running?
The best bit about this experience is the fitness block I got out of it.  My immediate goal is a marathon in Japan in February next year, which will give me a chance of running the distance again. I would also consider running the Gold Coast marathon next year where there will be more guys running at the pace I am aiming for.   I might do some trail running over summer and  I will also jump on the track for some races.   But mainly my focus is Japan.
 
What are your long-term goals in running?
I want to break 2:20 and I want to run at the Zatopek 10 k.m.  However  I don’t really think about goals like that.  Because once I’ve run 2:20,  I’ll want to improve on that.  I don’t want to put a ceiling on my expectations.    That’s why short-term goals are more relevant to me.  There will always be another level to get to.
 
What are your thoughts on running for health benefits?
I don’t see a lot of people losing weight when they run. Most people complain when they start running that they don’t lose weight.  And then people are fighting with it (running) all the time and it’s battle to get out all the time.  So in those cases, I don’t think that is something you should be doing. Something that is good for your health should still be enjoyable.  If you’re forcing yourself to run, it’s not healthy.
 
I run because I enjoy it.  But it’s not necessarily always healthy.  I’m always sore, I have no power what so ever, I am stiff and inflexible.  I really eat whatever I want so my diet is not awesome.  I’m probably under the weight range, my immune system is constantly on edge all the time.  So I wouldn’t say what I do is all together healthy.  But what I do is at an extreme.  And I enjoy it.
 
You can be healthy and run ok but you’re not going to do as well as if you run 150 kms a week.
 
What are your thoughts on nutrition and do you feel nutritional requirements for an elite athlete should be different to the average active person?
A lot of it is input vs output.  If I run 15 kms in the morning, I think it is 500-600 calories that I burn.  In the evening I run 7 kms, maybe I burn 300 calories.    I need to get that (calories) from somewhere, otherwise I will waste away.    I won’t recover well, I’ll be tired all the time and sore. I find that it is hard to get all of those calories by eating really clean.  I try to keep foods wholesome but sometimes you just need to pack it in.  So often before bed I will drink a sustagen (energy drink) milkshake so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night hungry.
 
For average person, if you consume 300 calories before bed and you’re not doing the work then it will just go straight into your fat stores.  You don’t need as many calories if you’re not expending a lot of energy.
What’s your philosophy on injuries?
 Every runner gets injuries.     And sometimes you need to work out the mistake in your training, whether it’s training load, too much intensity, too much volume or too much intensity in close proximity to volume.     Sometimes it is the surfaces you run on, like if it is heavily cambered.     Footwear features are also important and I know I get tibialis posterior tendon pain when the shoe is too soft.
 
I started changing the way I ran after sustaining a knee injury.  An MRI has shown I have cartilage damage but I was able to cope with this by running with a higher cadence and landing more on the forefoot (and landing under centre of gravity).  Using a lower (flatter heeled) pitch shoe, I found it easier to do learn this and it allowed me to absorb the load of running.  I started in barefoot shoes such as Vibrams doing walk/runs on fairly hard surfaces.  From doing this, patterns changed and all of a sudden landing on the heel felt really unnatural with increased jarring and force.  It is good to have some cushion under there (foot) so you can run the next day without being really sore but the best learning technique is to not wear a shoe at all.
 
What are the necessary components of a successful running  program with reference to long steady, tempo and interval workouts?
A program can have all three of these components and can do really well.  I don’t pidgeon hole one of these components as the answer.  I think all three can help.
 
Could you give me an example of  each type of workout?
Long steady runs have the lowest risk (of injury) and are a good way for me to start re-build fitness.     An example of a long steady run for me would be running on a trail for two and half hours at an easy pace (4.30-5.00mins/ km).
A marathon specific tempo session would be 16 k ms  at 3.15-3.20mins/km.
Interval training in reference to marathon training would involve 10 repetitions of one km on the track with 90 seconds recovery.  This would be usually be  performed at 3 min/ km pace.
 
What additional training tools do you use besides the traditional?
That’s a good question.  I take Sustagen before I go to bed so I sleep better.  I take inner health plus to help settle the gut.  But really I just run…