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Q&A: COACH SAM TALKS RUNNERS' HEALTH & HAPPINESS

With marathon season around the corner and training well underway, we caught up with running coach and EVOSSI ambassador, Sam Willis, to talk about his passion for the sport, what he likes best about being a coach and his tips for staying healthy and positive.


Sam, kick us off with a bit about yourself: How did you come to be a run coach?


Hi guys, I’m 29 years old from Adelaide in Australia and have been running in some form or another since high school. Growing up playing team sport, I didn’t start competing in running events until around five years ago, but once I started seriously training and seeing results, I was hooked.

Sam during a trail race


As my training load increased, I began to develop some knee pain that soon brought everything to a halt, including my ability to grow and improve as a runner. This was incredibly frustrating and eventually I couldn’t run much farther than 5km without a flare-up.

I started seeing a physio who suggested increasing strength and activation in my gluteals – I remember thinking, you’re telling me my butt muscles are the cause of knee pain? He was right. The simple glute exercises he prescribed ended up dramatically improving my knees.

From then on, I developed an obsession with biomechanics and how the slightest hiccup in our movement can cause big problems down the track. I began delving into movement patterns and started teaching myself how to run properly, something I’d never done before. In fact, most people don’t learn how to run and move correctly in their youth and end up paying for it as an adult – hence my desire to become a running coach.


When helping others, which areas of running do you find most rewarding?

Seeing results, helping people overcome a pain point, reaching goals in general. No matter which stage a runner is in, I remind them that running is a process that takes time. That’s why celebrating any achievement, big or small, is important.

Focusing on form and technique is a great way to get inspired and stay motivated because a few minor tweaks can literally transform your running. Seeing a client go from struggle town to moving like a new person is exhilarating because it’s genuinely a happy moment for them. It changes them.

                                       

Building consistency is also important. It’s so easy to quit and say something like, “My knees hurt, running isn’t for me.” But that’s when it helps to remember part of the process is putting it all together: the strength work, the technique, the kilometres, the recovery.

Motivation won’t always be there – like that friend who disappears when it’s time to buy the next round – so learning how to manage fatigue and knowing when to stop is crucial. When all the pieces fall into place and work together, that’s the rewarding part.


How important do you feel strength training is as a runner?

It’s a matter of personal opinion, but I believe if you run consistently, whether it’s for fun, racing, whatever, you should be doing a certain amount of strength work. How much depends on your training loads, fatigue, time constraints, etc. Me, for instance, I do as much lifting as I can because that’s part of my process.

Lifting is a core part of Sam's training

If there is a bare minimum, however, it’s attacking the posterior chain at least once per week. The posterior chain is essentially the muscles around the thoracic spine, down to the calves. The calves absorb a hell of a lot of impact as the hamstrings and glutes are directly linked to your running power and efficiency. This type of training works the lumbar and thoracic spine and improves your posture, which benefits the rest of your body.

Oftentimes a weak muscle is mistaken for a tight muscle; we stretch that muscle thinking it’s tight when actually it might be a weak muscle taking on too much load. That means if you’re feeling tight and stretching does nothing, it might be time to start building some strength in that muscle.


With marathon season approaching, do you have any advice for an injured runner?

Seek help and find a good physio! And by good, I mean they should be managing your pain and your recovery. If they spend an hour massaging and give you nothing to take home, find someone new. A good physio will manage your pain and at least give you some strength/mobility exercises to work on. At best, they will give you an S&C programme and monitor your progress.



Patience is also key, especially knowing there’s rarely an exact timetable for injury recovery.

We’ve all been there: injured and down to 20%, then we rebound to 75% and feel great (because we are recovering) so we overdo it and go straight back down to 20%. It’s so common and such an easy thing to do (I’m guilty, but slowly learning!).

Avoid this temptation at all costs. You will be surprised how quickly you build up fitness levels again. The severity of each injury varies of course, but the principle remains the same.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

It’s important to surround yourself with positivity and people who encourage growth and development. I think the same goes for social media, too. The images and messages on our social feeds and in our lives should inspire us and promote love and self-worth.



My Instagram for instance is filled with people who I aspire to be like or who are passionate about things I can relate to. Life is a journey and so is running – it’s important to find a way to love it.

Some of my favourite Instagram accounts include: @erichinman, retired at 30 and living a life of clean eating, consistency and loads of activity; @mrcourtneyatkinson, an Olympic triathlete who documents his running journey in Australia; @rossedgley, who recently became the first person to swim around Great Britain; and @jockowillink, a true badass (if you don’t know him, stop what you’re doing and look him up).



Outside of social media, I simply love being around people who love running. That means my running club, my local Parkrun or even a friend who messages saying they’ve hit a PB. Essentially, anything fitness related is a motivator for me.


What advice would you give someone starting out on their running journey?

Find a running community. Join a club, sign up for your local Parkrun or even to the app, Strava. If you can’t find a community, build one.

I can’t stress enough how good a running initiative Parkrun is. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s a free 5km timed run that occurs every Saturday morning (in most cities). There’s no reward for first place, you’re only there to beat last week’s time. The sense of community and support is incredible, even the number of people I’ve spoken to who have had their lives changed in some way by Parkrun is a testament of itself.


Do you have your eyes set on any big running quests in 2019?

I would like to complete the Yurrebilla 56km Ultramarathon this year in my hometown, Adelaide. It covers some brutal terrain and is a true test of grit. I’ve been as a spectator for the last four years to watch my partner complete it – one helluva achievement – and the sheer diversity of people doing it is amazing. The runners span from 18 to 80.

It just shows that the trail running scene in South Australia is exploding. It’s fantastic to see so many people out on the trails taking part.

After Yurrebilla, I would like to run the Melbourne Marathon, sure to be a different experience altogether.


And lastly, what’s your favourite EVOSSI piece?

I like to keep it simple with the Victory Race vest. It’s an essential for me so I’ve got two, one blue and one black and I just love the fit. The Hero short is also great, super comfy and has plenty of hidden pockets.


Follow Sam's Instagram here.