Hi my name is Josh…
Artist, father, community and youth development worker and Ultra-Marathon runner! Far from being a lifelong athlete I came to running after some major life changes (although I was very into breakdancing/b-boying in another life) and soon began training toward the half and full marathon distance. Initially I didn't really know what a marathon was (I actually had it confused with some kind of triathlon/biathlon), however the real change came about when I discovered that people run distances of 100KM’s and more. I was fascinated!
I then decided to spend some time understanding and training for a marathon. This is something that many people set as a major goal on their bucket list, so I found it wild to think that people run more than twice the distance in a single activity. On top of all of this, a large component of Ultra-Marathon running is based on the trails and in the mountains requiring further specificity in technical aspects but also opening up the ability to play and experience being in natural environments. Bombing down technical trails under the canopy of the bush and finishing a run splashed with mud after climbing through panoramic views certainly excites me more than the monotony of following the white line of the road or pavement.
Like all of us, this year has been a challenging one, including training and training for events. My approach to training is rarely focused solely on the goal event, rather being in the moment and enjoying the journey. In an average week I will run most days. A mixture of hard focused sessions, easy runs and some strength and core work. My aim is to get a good balance of trail work into the weekly total kilometres.
Balancing life as a single father and now full time worker with a two hour commute each way means that there is often compromise that needs to be made but living in Wollongong allows relatively easy access to great trails both in the escarpment and along the coast. Last year, after running a qualifying time, I was lucky enough to be granted the rare opportunity of entry into the Western States Endurance run 2020, perhaps the world’s oldest and most famous 100 mile footrace. As such, my training was geared entirely toward this event with the Ultra Trail Australia 50KM in the Blue Mountains being my tune up event about a month before. During this time I was training up to 170KM a week, even pushing through the mental barrier of treadmill training while having my son at home with me.
After negotiating training through bushfire affected air quality, heat and drought, COVID struck and postponed, cancelled or otherwise put a stop to most events and as such it was a case of altering goals and thinking up new projects. From here I participated in the Quarantine Backyard Ultra which saw around 3,000 athletes around the world participate via Zoom by running a 6.7KM loop in their local neighbourhood or on a treadmill every hour until only one person continued. The overall event lasted over 3 days non-stop. I then changed gears and looked to explore new trails and crew friends through their own distance goals and dream up projects such as my recent Engadine to Wollongong run via the national park which is part of a larger project I have in the planning.
Aside from the big things that have affected everyone, I don't think training and recovery really changes, you just keep setting goals and, most importantly, enjoy the journey. These days I am self- guided so generally I aim to train smart to avoid injury. I keep reading and researching best practice in line with my goals. With recovery I try to stay abreast of best practice by maintaining good nutrition and resting when needed. I had long utilised compression gear to facilitate better performance and recovery, particularly compression socks as I have suffered calf cramps during events in the past. I was unsure of the real benefits until recently. During the Quarantine Backyard Ultra, I had been running since midnight through about 13 hours when I decided to take a moment to freshen up and change my gear. Switching from compression shorts to regular running shorts. My next loop was a very different affair. After almost 100KM, I could feel every muscle bounce and shake around as if my muscles had detached which made the next few loops a little tricky and cementing my opinion of the benefit of compression wear.
Recently I was fortunate enough to win a pair of BASE compression socks and promptly took them out for some solid trail work. Since then I have ran well over 100KM in them without issue. I find the compression ideal without being so tight that putting them on and removing them isn't particularly tricky. They are supportive enough that they serve their purpose as compression wear. The durability and comfort of them is also ideal. I have had issues in the past with other brands where the design has led me to punching holes in the socks with my fingers just by pulling them on.
Next up, I was interested in trying a pair of BASE compression shorts. As soon as they arrived, I pulled them on and took them out for an 86KM run. Now I certainly don't endorse heading out on a big run with untested gear, but the BASE shorts are supportive, held in place nicely and I had zero issues with chafing whatsoever. As I combined these with the BASE socks I also found that my legs remained in good shape and after such a big mission the worst issues I had was mental fatigue and that of the rest of my body.
I think the real takeaway of this is that i am just an average guy out there attempting to push himself to see just how far he can go and what the limits might be. As everyday athletes we are often marketed to by elites who are achieving amazing feats of strength and endurance and the comparisons are often not apt. Some of my favourite moments are seeing everyday people crossing that finish line just before cut-off after being out on course all night, long after the winners have accepted their trophy and retired to comfortable beds. I'll always recall watching a film depicting the final moments of the 2015 Western States when a 70-year-old woman crossed the finish line with just six seconds till cut-off. After finishing my first 100KM event I was firmly set in my belief that anyone can do these things with the right mindset and preparation.
You can check my antics out on Instagram @wiffen1 (where you will find regular shaky cam footage of my runs in the stories) or if you are so inclined, my artwork @joshuawiffen.
Drop me a line if you find yourself in Wollongong looking for some fun on the trails