The importance of Mindful running
10 March 2016
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. I’m super excited to welcome our next guest onto the podcast and we’re going to chat obviously running and just general running. But a cool angle to it as well. It’s a great pleasure to welcome onto the podcast today Fred Richardson. Fred welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Fred Richardson: Thank you very much for having me Brad.
BB: Fred, let’s just give people a little bit of your background. You’re a runner, you’ve been a runner for a long, long time. It sounds like I’m saying you’re ancient, but you’ve been running for the most part of your life. It’s just a very big part of what you do and who you are.
FR: Absolutely Brad, I couldn’t imagine living without running. I feel a little bit like Forrest Gump sometimes, it doesn’t matter what I’m doing, as long as it’s running. Trail, road, it makes no difference.
Getting Mindful Runner going
BB: So much so you’ve started a business around it too, you’ve got a business called Mindful Runner. There’s lots of aspects to it, tell us a little bit about how that came about. We’ll delve into a couple of the individual aspects, so to speak.
FR: I think for me, I’ve always been interested in things like Tai Chi and meditation and those sorts of things. Early on in my running career I was struggling with some injuries and I found Chi running. That kind of got me onto this whole thing of running is a form of meditation. It just fitted so neatly into my life and where I was at that point.
So for me the journey was running really as a refuge. As a place to settle my own thoughts and settle my own brain. That’s how mindful running grew. I’ve always wanted to have a running shop, it’s just one of those things to be heavily involved in the industry and circumstances just collided. I ended up literally within three months turning my life around and going, right, I’m starting a running shop. I’m starting a coaching practice and boom, that’s where I am now.
BB: What were you doing before that?
FR: I was in IT, I still actually have a web development company. After 25-30 years of IT, it does kind of lose its lustre. I used to be having a lot of fun in it, but I don’t anymore.
Mindful over mindless running
BB: I’m interested in the running as a form of meditation. Because whether you think you do or you don’t, and just talking about it almost formalises it. But I think for a lot of people it is a, I don’t want to say a form of escape. But how often does it happen that you’re on a run and you literally just switch off and before you know it, you’ve racked up a couple of kilometres.
Then you almost have to go back and look at your GPS data afterwards to figure out where you ran. Because you were so out of it from a being in your physical body perspective that you’ve cleared your mind and that’s what it’s about. It’s about really connecting with who you are and going really deep isn’t it?
FR: Absolutely. I think it appeals to us at a primal level. Especially as you say, it’s that sense of being physically in your body and really present that is different. That’s what mindful running is. Mindless running is when you kind of amble along and you don’t remember what you thought. But you had all those thoughts colliding through your head. Mindful running is really being present and paying attention to what your body is doing and you come away refreshed from a run, not tired, if you know what I mean.
BB: I love that, I know exactly what you mean and sometimes it happens where you’re not really conscious of it happening. But I think at some stage or another it’s happened to all of us as runners and it’s almost like you want to try and harness that and do that as often as you can.
FR: Exactly right and you’ll find that even, I was listening to the Olympics. Some of the commentators were talking during the triathlon, talking about being present while you’re competing at a top level. Means that you’re paying attention to your body. If you are thinking about the finish or the guy in front of you that you’re trying to catch, you’re not present. You’re not in your own body.
Which means you’re not thinking about whether you’re hydrating or feeding yourself properly or whether you’re running with good form. None of that’s in your head, you’re somewhere else. Being able to put yourself in your own body and be present and be mindful while you’re running has got huge benefits for everybody. The front of the field, all the way to the back of the field.
BB: Let’s be honest though, in a long one like a Comrades or an Old Mutual Two Oceans and you’re suffering, sometimes the only thing that gets you through is actually thinking about that finish.
FR: Then you’d rather be in somebody else’s body!
Making use of Jo’burg’s Spruit
BB: Exactly, trade it in on a new one. Tell us a little bit about the shop itself, I know you’re a big trail runner, you love running trails. It’s quite strategically placed, was that part of the plan?
FR: Absolutely. Looking at where the shop was and having access to the Spruit and Jo’burg Spruit, it continues to improve in its trails and tracks. We’ve got 50km of trail that you can run without actually crossing tar because there are little bridges under all the overpasses. So it was definitely a part of setting the shop up there, right on the edge of the Spruit.
BB: I love that, you talk about 50km of not actually crossing tar and that’s literally in the middle of Jo’burg. I know a lot of guys and girls up north who do live in Jo’burg are very envious of those of us who live at the coast or in CT or whatever it is and saying gee, we wish we had spots like that. But the truth of the matter is, that Braamfontein Spruit is fantastic if you’re into trail running.
FR: It’s absolutely incredible and almost on a weekly basis you see the numbers growing on the Spruit, more and more runners. More and more mountain bikers and the more people who are there, the more we use it, obviously the less crime there is. It’s just fantastic, it’s such a wonderful resource.
BB: Absolutely. Fred, talk to me about the clinics you hold as well. I know you hold a couple of different types of clinics, tell me about those.
What we do at our clinics
FR: Brad, two primary kinds of things. The one is a mindful form clinic and we work through that in two hours, we just look at getting people running with good form. It’s a very similar form to Chi running, to pose running. Which is pretty much you focus on cadence and posture. A couple of other little factors and teach people to get present in their bodies.
What we’re trying to do in the long run is just give you running longevity. Me personally, I want to be running when I’m 80. In fact, I’ve forgotten the guy’s name, Ed Masters, I think he holds the current over 80 record for the half marathon, which is 1:38 and he’s 84 years old.
BB: That’s ridiculous, the less said about that the better I think! That’s phenomenal, I’d hate to know what he was doing at his peak.
FR: Exactly, but that kind of thing, running longevity is the target. So if you can run a half marathon when you’re 80 and touch your toes, isn’t that what we’re really trying for?
BB: Absolutely, then you’re in fantastic shape. That’s the one, what’s the other clinic that you hold?
FR: The other clinic we focus on trail skills specifically because trail, there’s a lot of unique stuff to trail. On road you can get away with running with bad form. What we try and do with the trail skills clinic is we try and short circuit all the learning curves. What’s the gear that you need, what running packs should you have, what kind of events do you enter. What does it mean when you’re running on a mountain bike course versus running an open mountain trail. Because open mountain is completely different to running in the vineyards.
Those things, and with road running you can get away with one pair of shoes because you’re just going to be running on tar. With trail you could be running on beach, you could be running in a wet forest, you could be running on the top of a mountain. So your equipment varies depending on the environment you’re in. We cover that.
The importance of technique when running down a mountain
Then we look at, one of the biggest problems with beginner runners, trail runners really, is how to run fast on technical trail and how to run fast downhill. Downhill running, much like mountain biking downhill, it’s a complete rush. You should hit the bottom going: Wow, I want to do that all over again! That’s how it should feel and you see so many novice runners running trail, leaning back, trying very hard not to fall on the downhill. It’s exactly when you will fall.
BB: It’s funny you compare it to mountain biking because that’s exactly what it is, it’s a bit of technique. If you can get that technique handled, it makes a big difference.
FR: Absolutely and that’s what we see. Guys go through the clinic, we’ll meet them on a trail somewhere and they will go wow, I’m running my downhill so much faster. I’m going past people, I’m better on my ups. It’s literally the space of six hours you can change somebody’s trail running and turn it into a proper adventure. We’re born to run trail more than we’re born to run road, we’re just better at it.
BB: It’s funny, I see a huge shift and I don’t know if it’s just that I’m down in CT now, but even when I was still up in Jo’burg Fred. I see a big shift to more and more people wanting to just try it out and see what it’s about. Once they start, they get hooked because let’s be honest, we are so lucky to live in the place that we live in.
Spoilt for choice in South Africa
It doesn’t matter where you are in SA, there are trails close to where you are. If you’re willing to travel, the world is your oyster. You don’t need to leave the borders of South Africa, we have got some of the best trails in the world right here.
FR: Absolutely Brad, the short runs, there are so many short runs close by. In the Western Cape, from the vineyard runs through to the, even a short trail race put on by Trevor Ball down in CT for instance. 22km, can be really challenging. In Johannesburg we’ve got lots of trails happening all over the place, the shorter stuff.
Then at the top level you’ve got Ultra Trail Cape Town, you’ve got Sky Run, the Sky Marathons, there are so many good events. You definitely can get away with brilliant races in South Africa, they’re world class. You don’t have to travel away from here.
BB: I know you also mentioned that you love running in the Drakensberg. It’s a beautiful part of the world. What makes it special for you?
FR: I think the Drakensberg is where I fell in love with trail running. I had an adventure travel business down in KZN and we spent about a month travelling from Southern Berg all the way up to the Northern Berg. We took a hikers guide, this was in 2003/04, took a hiking guide to the Drakensberg. We ran every single one of those trails.
What was really interesting to me at the time was, you see the hiking guide saying: This is a 10 hour extreme hike. We’d do it before breakfast in the space of two hours. What’s different between hiking and trail obviously is, as a hiker, you’ve got this massive pack on your back, there’s those big boots. As a trail runner I fast pack, I’ve got my shoes on my feet and a small pack and I’m away.
That ten hour trail turns into two hours. We could knock off three trails in a day, we covered a huge expanse of the Drakensberg and there are days I hiked and ran the Berg with my son over three days. You don’t see a single person once you’re onto the little Berg. You cannot get better than that, it’s just mind-blowing.
What to expect from Ultra Trail Cape Town
BB: It’s so magnificent, so beautiful up there as well. You mentioned some of our longer ones and I want to pick your brain a bit. Ultra Trail Cape Town, I know you did it last year. I’ve entered the 65km this year, give me some tips or advice or if someone is listening to this who is doing their first Ultra Trail Cape Town. What should they be aware of, what should they do, what shouldn’t they do?
FR: You need to do a lot of steps! You’re out of the city, up Platteklip in the space of like 13km. So you’ve got to be doing a lot of, either stepping up onto boxes or a lot of Westcliff stairs if you’re in Jo’burg, just find places that you can climb steps.
Some technical running on the top. What’s wonderful to me about Ultra Trail Cape Town is the mix of terrain. You’ve got some city in the beginning, then you’re onto the mountain proper. You’ve got good technical running, some monster climb up Platteklip. Then you’re running on good technical trail, but once you’re into the vineyards, then you’re on gravel roads and there’s not big climbs there.
You’re running a little bit of tar road and then back into Kirstenbosch and onto UCT through Newlands forest, back onto single track. Then that last climb from UCT to the block house, it’s a monster. You stand at UCT and you look up at the block house and there’s no contouring up to it during Ultra Trail. It’s just go along the fire break, it’s just a straight line, straight up.
You’re 7-8 km from the finish and you’ve got a 300-400m climb, so you’d better be ready for your climbing. You also need to train on a variety of terrain I think because you’ve got about 20km of pretty much gravel and tar road running, suburban running. So you can’t just train on technical terrain.
BB: As soon as we hang up this call I’m going to go and climb some stairs because that scared the living daylights out of me. What’s next on the cards for you from a running perspective Fred, what are you working towards for yourself personally?
FR: Well, in the short term there’s Sky Run, the 100km middle of November. Then the big one is next April, The Munga, that’s a 400km trail, non-stop, semi supported in Mpumalanga, cut-off is 120 hours. I think it’s going to be one of those, it’s a brand new event on the calendar and I expect to meet myself in dark places.
BB: That’s why we do the sport, is to hang out in those dark places. The shop itself, you guys obviously open for business. If people want to pop through, and I always advocate people to support the independent running shops. Just because you get great advice and it’s somebody who really is passionate about the sport.
If somebody is listening to this and they’re looking for some advice or if they want to pick up a pair of shoes, I would definitely suggest they go check out The Mindful Runner. Where can people find you? I know you’ve got a website as well, what are the details Fred?
FR: The website is mindfulrunner.co.za, the shop is in Emmerentia, it’s 1 Olifants Road in Emmerentia. Then the normal stuff, the Instagram account is MindfulRunner and Twitter is Mindful_Runner. We try and post stuff there on runs, on equipment, on peer reviews.
BB: Fantastic, what we’ll do is we’ll put those links into the show notes for this episode of Old Mutual Live as well. Fred, best of luck, I hope it grows and goes from strength to strength and keep doing what you’re doing. I think it’s amazing, well done.
FR: Thank you very much Brad.