I’m grateful whenever I get the chance to speak with an outstanding, elite athlete. This goes double when the athlete in question has set a standard and could even be labelled as a frontman of endurance running.
The athlete I’m talking about is Adam Kwitko – a former marathon runner, now an OCR athlete, also working professionally in the business of organising road races and triathlons. As a journalist, he also reports from endurance sports events for a number of Canadian publications, and you probably have at some point read one of his editorials or interviews.
Leveraging his experience and expert knowledge, we got Adam to share a lot of practical advice to help you get better at running. Want a clue? It requires learning to embracing pain, but read on for more detail.
Was WTM your most recent race?
World’s Toughest mudder was my final race in 2015. Since then I’ve ran two winter OCRs.
How did it go?
While my year-long training was good, I became demoralized on my 8th lap due to my fear of jumping off the cliff (resulting in subsequent fear of electric shock plus a .5 mile penalty) in addition to excessive time wasted in the pit due to poor organization and focus. I gave up shortly after the sun rose at 7:15am (17h 15min). I would like to return this year.
Why do you race?
I find racing to be very satisfying. We do some pretty crazy things during these races! I’ve always enjoyed training 5 to 6 days a week so being relatively prepared makes the experience more enjoyable.
One of my favorite moments during a race day is in the morning about 30 minutes before. We have a great OCR community in Quebec and Ontario (Alberta is catching up) with some unique personalities. We travel often throughout eastern Canada and the north eastern United States. When the Spartan Race World Championships was in Vermont we rented a mansion where about 20 of us stayed, including Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster. A large group of us went to Tahoe and OCRWC in 2015 as well.
As an impressive endurance runner, sports journalist and race director what would you recommend people to focus on in order to improve their running performance?
Don’t just run on the road! Running hills in training will improve both your finishing time (i.e. position) and overall race experience. Join a weekend trail running group; yes it will take more time to drive out to the trails but it’s so much more enjoyable and rewarding to climb a hill or two.
As I often work out in a traditional gym, I like to pack my gym stuff in a running-appropriate bag and commute to the gym running. The benefits of this include the following:
- Time and money savings on parking and gas (I live in the city)
- The weekly KMs and time-on-feet add up
- In my case, my hour long workouts turn into 1:40 hour workout but takes up the same amount of discretionary time
- 2 workouts in 1
- The benefits of running with some extra weight (your gym gear)
- Mental gains knowing you have the strength and endurance
- Environmentally friendly
I’m not a trainer but this run-to-the-gym technique works for me as an OCR brick workout.
Ultras, marathons and longer OCR races require a bulletproof mindset. How do you persevere and keep going when it gets tough?
Knowing that I have put in hours of training every week helps with that at the beginning of an ultra, then as things begin to hurt I remind myself of the 2nd and 3rd winds I’ve experienced over the years. During the 2015 Ottawa Ultra Beast I had the darkest race moment up to that point at only 3KMs, I just didn’t want to be there. Then I began cramping at 10km, which only got worse for the remainder of the 51km race. Meanwhile, my emotional state actually improved as the race pursued.
You will always miss those painful ultra distance moments. They make the experience more rewarding. Finding humor in painful situations will help your mental game, along with synthetic caffeine pills.
What does your current training plan look like?
I waste a lot of time during my training. One of the reasons I stopped running road races was because I wanted to get back into the gym. I follow a traditional 4 day split strength program often running to and from the gym plus one hill training workout to make one day a 2x workout day and a long trail run. So 5 days on, 1 day off. I try to follow that schedule as much as possible during back-to-back race weekends. I also make my run-specific day a long run if the race is a fast 5km OCR, interval training if it’s a long race, or I run 4 laps of a race as I did at Polar Hero Ottawa two weeks ago.
One thing I learned in the gym is that many exercises can be used to simultaneously improve grip strength if you do them with an open grip, for example pull-ups and even just carrying your plates around. Try it!
Elite OCR athletes say that to perform your best in an OCR, 90% of your training should be focused on your running. Do you agree? If so, what would be the other 10% to forge race readiness?
I think that really depends on which OCR series and distance is your focus. For example, if you want to place well in an obstacle heavy event like BattleFrog or Toughest, you will require more upper body strength than for a less obstacle dense Spartan Race. I choose to spend my non-running training in a traditional gym which takes up a lot more than 10% of my training.
Talking about nutrition, how do you fuel up for your bigger runs?
Back in my marathon days I would train my stomach to eat hard to digest foods before challenging workouts to alleviate potential digestive setbacks during races. That included lots of oatmeal minutes before leaving for a long run and downing a latte before running 800m intervals on the track. I still do that to some extent today but I follow a strict pre-race diet of the following on race mornings:
- 1-2 packs of instant oatmeal 2 hours before the race
- 1 banana if that oatmeal had to be consumed more than 2 hours prior to the race
- 50 – 75mg of synthetic caffeine 30 minutes to 1 hour before the race
Based on your Strava profile, you run almost everyday. Do you have any tips to boost recovery so that a person can hit the trails day after day?
Consistent training, whatever your training may be.
I rely a lot on motivation. Training is much easier when you legitimately enjoy it so I recommend you find training that turns you on, whether it’s running on trails or a treadmill, CrossFit, outdoor bootcamps, traditional strength training or a combination of multiple methods. Non optimal training is superior to no training.
Goals help with motivation. After watching the live updates of World’s Toughest Mudder in 2014 I knew I wanted to attempt that in 2015, so my life became much more simple. It’s easy when you know what you want and how to do it, so find an end of year goal.
Let’s dive into more technical stuff: gear. What gear items can you simply not live without?
I really like my Salomon Exo Twin-Skin compression shorts as they don’t flap around when wet as do baggier shorts. For shoes I like to go with something relatively minimalist and currently race with the Salomon Sense Ultra SG. A sideways blue hat is my trademark. Full discretion: I am a Solomon brand ambassador.
Do you have any goals for this year’s race season?
I would like to return to Las Vegas to improve on my World’s Toughest Mudder performance which will see me run 2-3 Ultra Beasts, a 50km and 50 mile ultra marathon as preparation.
Your go-to pre-race snack: Banana
Battle anthem/song to help you perform better: Anything sad or depressing
A book that made you a better athlete: Iron War: The Greatest Race Ever Run by Matt Fitzgerald
Your favourite exercise (apart from running): Wide-grip pull-ups
What GRIT means to you: Embracing pain after 8 hours