Dan Bleakman (Ultra168) Interview

Name: Dan Bleakman

Age: 35

Hometown & Current: Originally from Solihull in the UK, now residing in Sydney, Australia

Professional & Educational background: Degree educated and currently working in a full-time profesional communiations agency that specialises in technology communications.

Sports participated in: Everything! Although I played rugby for 20 years to a high standard at schoolboy level and then afterwards at club level with Wimbledon in London.

Years in current sport: As long as I can remember! It’s always been part of my life.

Racing Team: Ultra168

Sponsors/Affiliations: Footpoint Shoe Clinic in Sydney. Formerly part of the Hammer athletes programme, but we decided to step down as we wanted to remain Brand independent as part of our committment to Ultra168

Captura de pantalla 2013-05-19 a la(s) 23.03.36

↑↑Dan Bleakman in the forest  Copyright Outdoorphotography.co.nz↑↑

Dan, thanks for talking with me. 

What do you feel you have learned after 20 years of playing rugby that you could use in ultra-distance races?

This is a tough one! The two sports are quite different in how you train and prepare. Rugby is very much about short, sharp intense periods of play, whereas ultra distances require much more pacing and stamina over a longer period of time. Because of the position I used to play in rugby (second row) I actually had to lose a lot of weight to start being able to run ultra-distances effectively. The position I played required me to be quite bulky and I used to train at the gym a lot, so at my peak I used to weight 110kgs. I’ve since dropped down to around 85kgs, which is still rather heavy for an ultra-runner, but because of my build and frame, its something that I’m not too concerned about. I know that I’ll never be a top-end elite athlete, but I like to try to punch above my weight so to speak!  However, one area that I would say rugby has helped is that I find carrying heavy packs quite easy. The position I played meant that I had to carry a lot of weight on my shoulders, so being larger does have some benefits!

When you’re in a big race, what’s going through your head?

You know what, not a lot! I know quite a few people listen to music when they’re running, and I used to, but I stopped because I would go two hours with earphones in my ears and not remember what I’d actually listened to! I find running very meditative in that you can just switch off and not actually think about anything. However when that happens, it allows your mind to completely shut off from the outside world and it’s then that some of my best ideas have surfaced for not only ultra168, but also my work in a professional context too.

However when you’re in a race there is a certain level of focus you need to make sure you do what you set out to do. I have a mental dashboard that I run through which contains 4 items: Food, Fluid, Feet and Feel. Am I eating enough, am I drinking the right am, how do my feet feel, and finally how do I feel overall i.e. am I going too quickly?

What are your long-term goals?  What do you want to achieve as an athlete?

Honestly, just to be able to continue running and enjoy good times on the trails with my mates is the main priority. I have some racing goals I’d like to achieve, but they’re just numbers that mean something to me, but nothing to anyone else. Overall, I just love being part of Ultra168 and helping to boost the awareness of our sport around the world.

Do you follow any specific nutrition plans?

When training for a race I’ll certainly watch what I eat – I think you have to, to recover effectively as part of your weekly training. When I’m not training for a race I’ll certainly relax a little and eat what I want, when I want. I believe you have to have balance in life and not feel guilty for eating the ‘wrong’ thing every now and again. But nutrition should have a common sense approach and recently I’m a believer in trying toe at as natural as posible and avoid things such as added sugar and refined foods.

What are your favorite races in Australia?  Why?

I think my favourite race has to be the GNW 100 miler. It’s an epic race and a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s usually run in extremely hot weather, has nearly 7,000m of elevation gain, plus you’re constantly on the look out for snakes on the trail. It has everything you could want in a race and the finish is an amazing feeling. The other one has to be the Glasshouse Trails in Queensland, which was where I did my first ultra. I was so inexperienced and I left a lot of emotions out on that course, it has a deep significance for me.

What was the best advice you were ever given?

Stay true to yourself and always keep your integrity”. My father told me that just before I headed off to university as an 18yr old and I live by it. I’m a big beliver in being able to look myself in the eye with open honesty about who I am and be comfortable about what I do in life.

Looking at the rest of 2013, what’s your race schedule looking like?

It’s looking quite light and deliberately so. Time is very tight at the moment with a demanding job and I’m a father of twin baby girls too. Suffice to say that I average about 4-5 hours sleep a night and that’s not very condusive to training for big ultras! I have a couple of options at the moment and one is to attempt a sub 3 marathon, or to do a quick 100km trail race in September. There’s an event in Australia called the Glasshouse Mountain trails, and it’s where I did my first ultra-marathon back in 2008. It’s a quick and flat course, so maybe a sub 10 or 11 hour attempt at that would be good and is probably favourite right now over the sub 3 marathon attempt.


Your first ultra was MDSables (2009). Why Marathon Des Sables? Did you have any idea how hard it would be, or did you just go there wanting to challenge yourself? 

To be honest, the MDS wasn’t all that hard and I left feeling pretty unimpressed by how tough it supposedly was. But the thing that made it an awesome experience was meeting some great people there whom I still keep in touch with today. By the time I arrived in Morocco, I was pretty well embedded into the Australian trail scene and had undertaken a fair few Australian ultras beforehand, which is why I probably left the MDS wondering what else was out there.

Ultra Trail Races (mountains mostly), or Desert “Hot as hell” Road ultra marathons?

Trail and mountains every time.

I’ve spoken to other ultra runners who have downplayed their recovery techniques.  What do you do to recover from a big effort? and what’s your race nutrition strategy?

Eat! You expend a lot of effort after big runs and lose a lot of the body’s natural minerals. So I make sure I get a recovery drink down me as soon as I’m done. I also do a fair bit of stretching after I’ve run as well to help areas of my body that I know are suspeptible to injury or aches and pains like a sore ITB. I think all runners have bad ITBs at some point in their running careers, so making sure you look after your body after a run is essential.

In terms of race nutrition, I aim to use liquid fueling as much as possible, and avoid the sugar hi’s and low’s too. I don’t have the greatest of stomachs for handling solid food and its only later on in an ultra where I’ll go for more solid food.

Do you know any spanish trail running races?  Will we ever see you run in Spain? Which ones take your fancy!?

I know of one or two Spanish races and it would be great to get over to Europe again at some point. I’m English and have lived in Australia for the last 6 years, so I know the European scene fairly well. The problem right now is commitments to work and family makes it very hard to travel long distances to race.

What is your primary objective for the upcoming season? 

Mainly to stay injury free and to just enjoy myself. As mentioned, I’ve deliberately chosen not to race too much this year as for the last 4-5 years, I’ve done a lot of races. Running is about having fun as well, so it’s good to be able to just train as to how you feel and what you want to do without the pressures of racing. Recently, I’ve been meaning to join up two trail routes I train on regularly, but haven’t been able to because it didn’t fit into a training programme. Because I’m not racing for a few months now, I was able to do that and spend a wonderful 9 hours on the trails in the Blue Mountains of Australia.

Would you say you train a lot like an elite marathoner, with lots of tempo and speed work, or more like what we might think of as a typical ultramarathoner, with lots and lots of long, slow distance? What’s an average week of training like when you’re gunning for a big race?

The first thing I’d say is that I am far from an elite runner  However,until this year, I’d say that a lot of my training kilometres were probably what I’d call ‘junk’. It’s only really this year that I decided to incorporate much more tempo and speed work, combined with some high aerobic threshold stairs training too. As a result, but speed has increased significantly to the point where I know that a sub 3 hour marathon would be possible with the right training. A few years ago I would have said that was impossible for me. I still believe in doing the longer slow distance training runs, but I also believe that 70% of your weekly kms should be a pace that really pushes you.

Depending on the race, I’ll average between 90-130kms a week, which is probably less than most people, but I do make sure that all of those kms are quality ones and the focus is on getting as much as possible out of a training session. My time is limited, so to be effective and achieve what I want to, I have to go hard.

Let´s talk about Ultra 168. You guys have the best Australian running website. A bunch of fans on Facebook also. How do you manage the workload of Ultra 168? Do all of you write interviews, product tests etc etc…?

Hahahaha, its hard work! We run the website entirely for free and it’s a non-revenue earning resource right now. We do around 95% of the work ourselves, but as we’ve grown, we’ve had a number of people offer to write for us and do product reviews too. This helps us enormously and we’re really grateful to those people who help us, as they do this unpaid and for the love of the sport. But the most important thing is that we do this because it’s fun and we enjoy helping to promote the sport not only in Australia, but around the world too.

Thanks a lot for you time, Dan!

You are welcome, Abel


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