INTERVIEW: Mud, Sweat and Runners speak to René Borg

INTERVIEW: Mud, Sweat and Runners speak to René Borg

Wicklow-based mountain running group “Mud, Sweat and Runners” spoke to CE co-founder and coach René Borg in a nice “off-the-cuff” interview. To see what he thinks about running, gels and red wine read on!


Mud, sweat and runners interview with René Borg


Q: When did you 1st start to run & why?

A: I first ran with my father, in a sport called Radio Orienteering, from about the age of 5. But it was only once per week and apart from that I was a disaster at sport – my PE teacher thought I had a motor-skill handicap so I love the irony of know being a teacher of movement! I did about 3 weekly runs on/off as a student to sweat out the constant boozing that was part and parcel of Danish life. We began at 13, so not the healthiest life for a teenager. I began running in earnest at Lugnacoille 2006 (my first mountain race) and was hooked after that despite twisting my ankle and DNFing.


Q: Do you remember your 1st ever race & how did you get on?

Not a natural runner
Not a natural runner: René in 2009 showcasing very poor running technique - stiff knee, heel-strike, unnecessary rear leg extension and other inefficencies!

A: My first ever race was in 1999. The first half-marathon in my home town was on and there was a relay (with a 12k and a 9.1k leg). One of my teachers had entered with his wife but he got injured and he asked me to step in for him in the 12km. For some reason I obliged. The race was Sunday and I did three back-to-back 6k runs to prepare Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On race day, geared up with my cotton t-shirt, ASICS runners and no experience, I struggled through the first 8km or so. Then a teacher, running the half-marathon, caught up with me and yelled at me “are you coming or what” and I followed suddenly able to up the pace. We finished on a real high but my time was about 1 hour for the 12km and I couldn’t walk for days after. Fair to say I was almost clinically unfit at that stage and celebrated the race with the usual Danish drinking spree! I did do a mini-triathlon back in 1996 as well, with secondary school, where I finished just about last, getting out of the pool behind every single girl and boy and not doing much better after that.


Q: How many miles or km’s would you run on a training week?

A: It varies hugely depending on the time of year and intensity of the training. I run by time and pace more than by miles. But generally, my mind and body is only really happy once I get over 100km per week, it’s natural level of activity which makes sense as I’m the skinny type. Since I began working two jobs and refocusing my efforts on perfecting the technical aspects of my running, so I can enjoy a long career and run more miles long-term, I’ve done a good bit less but try to run every day whenever I can. My goal has always been to spend at least 5 years running between 100 and 120 miles weekly consistently. But I still need to develop my technique and physique more to achieve that and put in place a better environment around me to allow the recovery it requires. Everything in your life that is stressful piles onto any miles you do.


Q: What kind of running foods do you like to eat while training on longer runs..

A: I don’t eat food on long runs as it’s counterproductive for achieving a good fat metabolism. For ultras I would prefer real foods over gels although I am fine carrying gels as backup for emergencies. Bonking almost never happens to me but when it does I embrace it. The body adapts well when not overdone (i.e. don’t starve regularly! But intermittently is good!). We are designed to eat very little after all, but since the modern food pyramid is pretty much what you would feed pigs to fatten them up, most of us have become pretty expensive machines to keep moving. I like to try and break that. For racing I use Orbana Healthy Energy, a complex carb/amino acid solution, in the ten minutes before it begins.


Q: What kind of running shoes you love the most..?

A: Hah. I actually enjoy barefoot most now when the conditions are right for it but for competition or rocky trail or rough tarmac, I use the VivoBarefoot Aqua Lite or the VivoBarefoot Breathos. I wouldn’t call them favourites, as I’m not really that passionate about shoes anymore, I have come to view them as “just a tool”. But they are the only models that have what I require to practice my technique and not interfere with learning running as a skill: 3mm sole, no cushioning, zero drop and very wide toe-box. I’d like a shoe with less upper and more proprioception than even the 3mm gives and a bigger selection with the right specifications.


Q: Where is your favorite place to run?

A: Depends on the day. I have my “go to run” which I use when I’m mentally drained or in a rush on the way home – the Vartry Reservoir loop in Roundwood. Flat, quiet, scenic and uncomplicated. Most of my favourite runs are right at my door in Glendalough – Trooperstown, Scarr, Clara Vale, Camaderry and so on. The Lakelands beat the Irish trails, though, and I’d love to have those at my doorstep. My most important run is the Glenmacnass Road – a very tough road run which I have nicknamed “The Forge” because it’s where the steel you need in a road race is made. It’s tough, unforgiving surface with hard uphill and downhill when run at speed. A real test of technical, mental and physical ability. Once I do that well I know that none of the Irish road races will be any trouble.


Snowdon International Race
Snowdon International Race - one of René's favourites

Q: What races do you love the most & why?

A: The half-marathon is my favourite distance – whether on road or hills. It has the right mixture of stamina and speed for my current strengths, and I like that you can basically put a fast 5k at the end of a longer race where the very powerful runners sometimes have the edge run off them. The Wicklow Way Trail is one of my favourite races and a place where I have generally placed well and felt I could race to my strengths. Snowdon is another race I have a special relationship too and have had some of my best and worst races. An emotional roller-coaster really, so always draws me back. In these races you can engage in a bit of tactical and psychological warfare as well and get rid of some of the fighting instincts I think most of us are born with. I love races with a long fire-road finish where you can just use gravity, switch the mind off and reach crazy speeds.Cross-country is my secret mistress because I have so far been extremely ill-suited to it, so competing on the scene has been a real test. It’s satisfying to do a race where you know you have no aces to play in comparison to your competitors. I have rarely run well in a cross-country race but I love the tradition, the standard of competition and putting on the vest and running for my club. You’re representing the history of the club and it adds a nice layer to the events.


Q: Have you ran any Marathons or plan to race any?

A: I have run only two plus some longer stuff in the hills. My first was Dublin in 2007 when I ran 3:18. Last year in Copenhagen I had another go and ran 2:55. I hope to do a Winter marathon this year if I can get my work/life balance right. I feel I am too young to run marathons “for the hell of it”, so each one I do I want to be absolutely 100% on top of my game.


Q: Do you have any ultimate goals for this year or next?

A: I have a very ambitious ultimate goal that I keep close to my chest. But there is a plan in an Excel sheet going from today to my 41st birthday (8 years) which I believe is the necessary time to develop an athlete to their absolute potential. If I run a marathon this year, my aim would be to run substantially faster than the 2:55 in Copenhagen. I wore traditional racing shoes for that race and they almost crippled me, so with a consistent spell of training and 1 year working on my technique I’d expect to improve on that by a reasonably big margin. I ran close to my 5 mile personal best on no physical training earlier in the year, but need to take stock in the next race I do before planning any specific goals for this year.


Q: Whats your thoughts on sports gels? and do you use / eat them?

Cooked in Copenhagen marathon
Cooked in Copenhagen: René in his second marathon, while things were tolerable, before the heatwave took it's toll

A: They’re a bit like all processed food to me: good if you’re desperate or starving but should be avoided otherwise. Ben Medder, our natural movement consultant, told mea good rule: “If you cannot pluck it, kill it or pick it, it’s not food!” I used gels for my ultra/marathon running and will probably continue to do so because it’s not practical to eat real food in a big city marathon and can be hard for the stomach. But gels are not food nor are they a substitute for food and I’d prefer to make my own if I knew how. Generally for races around the hour mark, I have no need for fuel and I believe no athlete with proper endurance foundation would need them for races of that distance unless they under-eat regularly or are otherwise stressed out of their minds.


Q: What kind of food do you love the most & do you like wine or beer?

A: I love most of the foods I have given up: Pizza, pasta, bread, cakes and cheese. I find solace in the fact that I also love steaks (particularly bison and venison) and anything containing garlic! And I can still eat my home-made Bolognaise with salad instead of pasta or cook up Mexican or Indian with vegetables. So spicy does it for me. I try to eat only natural foods, avoiding grains and dairy except for special events like Christmas etc. where I do what I want. My “best friends” on a regular basis are probably sweet potatoes and pineapples! I’m a huge fan of craft beers and fine ales and stouts and lately have gotten a taste for proper Italian wine (while having a distaste for most any other wine oddly!). I drink wine weekly and try to avoid other alcohols most of the year saving them for special events.


Q: Would you like to give our readers some tips on their 1st races…

A: Here’s a story from Tony Riddle, my colleague and great mentor, that I like. It’s about boxing but makes sense for running too: most boxing gyms take a newcomer and throw him into the ring against their best middle-weight. They think it toughens him up. The newcomer will either never come back or he’ll be tough enough to keep training. Problem is that he’ll have learned one of two things: 1) how to defend desperately or 2) how to lash out frenetically. A first race can be a bit like that “middle-weight” – if you don’t know what you’re doing it can beat you up and how you do will determine your “default reaction” for most of your running career. Thankfully, running is not quite as aggressive, so most beginners tend to enjoy it well enough, but for others it’s a real battle for survival or a real shock to the system. So let the first challenge you take on be realistic and manageable. Race shorter races first and learn the skill before rushing into the marathon. Focus on fun over tactics, goals, physiology splits and so on for as long as possible. As soon as you start enjoying the sport enough to stick with it and get ambitious, go get the advice of someone who has a proven track record of creating technically good runners and understands what it takes to stay healthy and enjoy the sport for a lifetime and not just next month. Read magazines and articles for fun but believe nothing unless the person has done it. Pick a time-honoured and proven method and stick to it and try to ignore a lot of the noise that is out there or you’ll get constantly distracted and never get any real consistency.


Q: Would you like to say anything that i’ve not asked? feel free..

A: Just to say that running was a major positive force in my life and it can be in anyone’s life. It’s a fundamental activity that is part of our heritage and that we were all born to do well and effortlessly. Keep a healthy perspective whatever you do. Any virtue we have can turn on its head – a good work ethic can become obsession, focus can become single-mindedness, competitiveness can become antagonism and envy. John Lenihan noted in a course we did how he felt there’s too much focus on things that matter the least over things that matter the most in running nowadays. It’s all about technology, goodie bags, what shoes to wear, what watches to buy and the whole sideshow. Personally I’d like running to be back focused on training, camaraderie, competitors, tactics, results and, of course, fun. Running doesn’t really need all the glitz and glamour and I think you can see the harm it has done to football, even if it brought in a lot of money. I certainly don’t feel as connected to football or footballers as I did in the eighties, so running has a chance to be the sport that stands out and keeps its old school values intact.

M,S,R would like to thank Rene for his time & doing us a great interview..


Don’t forget to visit Mud, Sweat and Runners on their Facebook page and check out their group run dates!