Sophie, I really had to push to get you on for this interview. You have always been the humble type about your running achievements but I feel the progress you have made over the past 2-3 years with whopping pbs from 5k through to the marathon exemplifies just about the best present day example of fortitude and persistence I know! This is the stuff keen runners want to hear.
Thank you for the opportunity, Dane! It’s a great blog you’ve set up. When I reflect on the quality of your ‘guests’ I don’t really feel like little old me, quite fits the calibre of those you have featured thus far! However, like everyone, I have my own little story, and I hope my years of persistence serve to remind perhaps just one reader, that’s it’s a long road, but a pretty special one at that. I am humbled to have been asked to provide some insight.
Desi Linden recently said after her unexpected 2018 Boston marathon win; ‘Just keep showing up!’ This win was a victory for the ‘grafters’ and I feel this is what readers will love about your story Soph.
Your story is one about incredible perseverance and amazing improvement due to an unwavering determination, dedication and passion for the marathon.
What drew you to the marathon?
I think once I realised, very early on, that running longer and farther, better suited my ability (read: I have absolutely no speed!) I knew the marathon would be in the mix at some stage in my running journey. When or how it would come into my life, I was never quite sure about but running through my teens and twenties, there was always something in me serving to remind that this was all geared towards something longer, some day!
I can remember every detail of watching Kerryn McCann, Kate Smyth and Lauren Shelley at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, and considering I was just out of school then, a very impressionable time for a runner- when choosing to pursue the sport is up to the individual, considering the comforts of school sport no longer exist- I think those women that day, had a profound effect on me.
Meeting Steve Jones (Jonesy) three years later in 2009, and learning his amazing story, definitely instilled a burning desire in me to ‘try’ the marathon, and then of course running with, and being heavily affiliated with the Old Xaverians Athletics Club, and the de Castella family, does wonders for inspiring a young enthusiastic runner to dream of the 42.2!
If I was to say to you 10 years ago that by 2018 you will have 4 marathons under your belt all between 2:48 and 2:43, how would you have reacted?
Haha! Not too sure how I would have reacted back then, but safe to say I am Mrs Consistent! 2:47, 2:46, 2:45, 2:44.
Looking at my current marathon results as they are now, it’s true what Jonesy says when he calls me “the carpenter…just chipping away!” For me, I’d just like to swing a mighty axe! It’s coming though…it’s coming! Little by little.
I think 10 years ago, I’d have been almost relieved to know that my body and mind allowed me to step up to the marathon distance, indeed survive one, and then love it enough to keep going back for more! I think 20 year old Soph was definitely dreaming of being a marathon runner, but was perhaps filled with a combination of doubt and curiosity as to whether she would suit it, and it would suit her.
Give an indication to the readers just how much you have improved over the last 4- 5 years particulary? For example, am I right in saying that your marathon pace now is faster than what your 10km pb was 8yrs ago?
I don’t really like these ‘pump your tyres’ kind of questions, so I will keep it brief!
2017 was the pick of the bunch where I ran PBs over;
3,000m (twice, then a third time in a 5000m,)
However what stood out to me the most, and what I am most proud of, is my Winter Cross Country season where I finished 4th at the Vic Champs in June, 4th at National Cross Country in Wollongong, and 3rd in the individual ladder for accumulative points in the AV XCR season. I really feel like my break through in cross country was the highlight in what was, a solid year for me.
I have so much respect for the depth in women’s running in Victoria and Australia right now- it’s a phenomenal landscape- so to be right up there last year, was pleasing for me, to say the very least.
You sound quite Bruce McAvaney-esque with that last question Dane, all stats and facts- I guess you are probably right! I would never have thought of that, but my marathon pace now is probably quicker than I could run much shorter distances back then, so that’s a nice measure of progress to reflect on. Thanks!
What do you put this improvement down to? Anything in particular or numerous things?
Absolutely, the age old cliché, the ‘no secrets, no short cuts,’ rule of distance running…consistency! No doubt about it.
However, to delve a bit deeper, it’s probably what has influenced that consistency and for me, it’s staying injury free (except for one tiny blip a few months ago…more on that later!) since 2013. I noticed a direct correlation between achieving and maintaining a healthy, regular, non-manipulated, menstrual cycle, and running injury free. Then running injury free and managing 100+ kilometres, every single week, for 5 years consistently. I can probably count the number of days I have had off in that time.
Like many (SO many!) female distance runners, I had years of either amenorrhoea (no menstrual cycle) or irregular periods. Sadly, many women are ill informed about this condition and its influence on overall health, especially running, and indeed running injury free.
Many female athletes come to accept that it’s ‘normal’ to not have a regular menstrual cycle, but ladies…it is NOT normal! (Also please note: birth control or the contraceptive pill, does not count as a regular, normal cycle. These are synthetic hormones, therefore, provide no indication of your overall hormone health. You cannot get your period when you are taking the pill, you may simply have what’s called a withdrawal bleed.)
The best way of understanding the state of your hormone health, and therefore overall wellbeing, is to monitor your cycle (no Pill, no medication,) and ensure you have a regular period every 28-35 days, consistently. If you go more than 3 months without getting your period, this is a sign your body is under too much stress, and cannot ovulate, nor menstruate.
I believe that coaches, both male and female, should be in constant communication with female athletes about their cycle. If a woman is not getting her period naturally, then her training load, diet, and other lifestyle factors causing stress, need to be addressed. This is obviously a very complex topic, one I have only scratched the surface on, however I am very passionate about it, because I have experienced first hand the importance of a regular, healthy cycle.
As a health care professional I have seen countless women unable to achieve their athletic potential because of the effects of conditions like amenorrhoea, and I feel that whilst it is a sensitive and personal topic, it’s something that should be far more openly discussed in running circles, without the taboo or stigma more commonly attached.
I am not an expert in this area, and certainly do not claim to be! However, I have done extensive reading and research and spoken with a number of very knowledgeable people. If any person reading this would like to be guided towards some excellent resources for learning more, please do not hesitate to contact me!
Soph, that is such invaluable information that like you say really is a taboo topic that isn’t talked about enough. Readers if this reverberates with you please take Soph up on this generous offer or start opening conversation lines with family, close friends, coaches or trusted health professionals.
You were coached by the famous Steve Jones via correspondence for a number of years, is this still the case? And also did a bit with Xavier Athletics with Anthony De Castella, do you still jump in for runs here? If not what’s your current coaching/training group set up?
That’s correct, Dane. I worked with Jonesy for 7 years, from the time I first visited Boulder, Colorado, where he lives, right up until my second marathon- Chicago, 2016. Jonesy transitioned me from a keen 21 year old, who hadn’t raced much beyond the 15km distance, to a marathoner! He was very careful and cautious about the journey we took to become a marathon runner, ensuring I had years and years of base mileage, and general running and life experience in me, before we stepped up to the marathon, when I was 28.
I think that’s another reason for my consistency and very few injury interruptions…I have a lot of miles in my legs. Jonesy remains a phenomenal mentor and friend to me, but from a coaching perspective, the distance between Australia and the US, and my inability to travel there every year to train under him, took its toll. So now we chat when and how we can, but he does not write my program or ‘coach’ me per say.
Anthony De Castella is another incredible mentor and lifelong friend. Deeks ‘found’ me as a school girl, realised how much I loved running, and really guided me through such formative years. He inspires me to this day! Deeks is one of the most generous, selfless people I have ever met. I am blessed to be a member of the Old Xaverians AC, and credit so much of my fond running experiences to him. I still catch up with him regularly to talk about running and life, and still find great inspiration in his passion for the sport, and determination to bring out the best in people.
I have also worked with Jason Agosta, a brilliant podiatrist, former Australian Cross country representative and all round legend, who has helped me enormously as an athlete, and a professional.
My current training set up is fantastic- I am coached by Ant Rickards, and train with Ant, and Mark Guirguis. There are a few other boys who jump in here and there, but for the most part it’s Mark and me, training under Ant. We laugh because Ant’s two beautiful little children are Max and Stella (M&S) and his other two children are Mark and Soph (M&S!) I am not sure which two are higher maintenance!
We are training for the Gold Coast Marathon this July. Ant writes our program, and runs every step of it. He’s amazing. We call him the Prof. He’s such a professor. His knowledge and experience, coupled with his capacity and willingness to keep listening and learning, make it very easy to place a lot of trust in him. I am eternally grateful to Ant- and Jonesy, Deeks and Jason- for everything they do for me.
If I am not running with those boys, I am running alone. Something I have done a huge amount of over the years, and something I genuinely really enjoy. No music, no podcasts, just me and my foot steps. My boyfriend Josh jumps in for some of my easy second runs, which is great, and my brother Damo is great for a weekly run- we talk crap as we trot around the Tan in the dark after work, and I absolutely love it!
How many runs are you doing a week? How many kilometres do you cover each week in a marathon build up? What does a typical Monday to Sunday look for you in regards to training and work?
I run every day of the week. I always have. Under Ant’s program, I do two work outs per week, or one work out and a race. Monday is two easy runs of 9km (AM and PM,) Tuesday is a work out in the morning, Wednesday is a medium long run in the morning, Thursday is two easy runs of 9km (AM and PM,) Friday is a workout in the morning, Saturday is an easy morning run and Sunday is a long run that becomes more of a third workout as I try desperately to hang on to a group of boys who bowl around for (anything between) 27 and 36 kilometres.
I guess the total mileage varies week to week depending on work out & long run lengths, but anything between 120 and 140km would be fairly typical.
Outside of training, I work full time, Monday to Friday, as a podiatrist, at a small private practice in North Fitzroy.
You and Australian Comm Games Mara rep Virginia Maloney are pretty well joint at the hip. How’s she recovered? You guys do a fair bit of training together don’t you?
Gin’s doing well and taking some time to fully recover from what was a very tough, but very gutsy marathon performance at the Commonwealth Games. We actually don’t do any of our training together, to be honest! Gin has a great running group who she trains with, many of who compete for her athletics club in the AV competition.
However, like many of my wonderful and treasured relationships with some super star women around the country…I don’t need them as training buddies day in and day out, to have forged some incredible lifelong friendships. Something I’ll be forever grateful for.
So Soph, a bit about yourself, you are in your early 30s, you are a full time podiatrist, an avid Hawthorn FC fan, where are you living at the moment?
Spot on. All of the above. I am living in East Melbourne with Josh, exactly 1km from where I waltz into Gate 3 at the ‘G to see my beloved Hawks, from the comfort of the Hawthorn members! I am a bit of a brown and gold tragic- they’ve made me very happy over the years (obviously!) and continue to do so! We are indeed a very happy team at Hawthorn.
East Melbourne is fantastic for running, too. Plenty of options for places to run straight out the door. It’s also 2km from work, so I ride my bike to work each day, which I love.
Where are you practicing podiatry at the moment? How many hours a week?
I am very lucky to work at a fantastic podiatry clinic on Brunswick St- Fitzroy Foot and Ankle Clinic. It’s a sensational clinic and I love my work. I am there every day of the working week. I don’t consult on a Friday morning however, that’s my time to do volunteer work at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Parkville.
I offer foot massage for relaxation, to patients who are terminally ill with cancer and in palliative care, or those receiving chemotherapy and spending hours on their own ‘hooked up’ to their medication. It’s a privilege to work with people in this kind of environment. You learn a lot about yourself, and a lot about life. There are some terribly courageous people out there, and they’re not all wearing bib numbers and racing flats!
You have gone to Boulder Colorado a few time now. You’re pretty fond of this place. How many times have you visited Boulder your affinity with the place?
Correct. I love Boulder. It is one of my favourite places in all the world. I first visited in 2009, then went back in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2016. A return visit is always at the back (or front!) of mind.
Boulder is just a sensational mix of all the things I love- people living happy healthy lives, where physical activity and training is a staple in everyone’s day, nourishing food everywhere you look, and a pretty perfect climate and environment! Having said that, I definitely haven’t endured a full Colorado winter…but 9 months of the year are pretty perfect for running! The altitude is a bit of a bonus really. I wouldn’t necessarily say I go there for altitude training. I love a lot of other aspects about the location before loving the benefits of training 5,400 ft about the sea.
What do you love most about running? In know I would struggle but could you live without it?
No- put simply, I could not live without running. I love how pure and simple running is. How easy, yet how so damn hard, running is! Running is so humbling and also so rewarding.
I’ve noted a common theme through this blog of yours, about the tool that running is to foster a really good life. That resonates with me.
I touched briefly on some of the relationships I have forged through running, the friendships I have made. I truly have met some of the most wonderful and inspiring people who have shaped the way I live my life.
Lisa Weightman is a great example of that. I have been friends with Lis since we met (in Boulder, funnily enough,) 10 years ago. Naturally, of course, I look up to her athletic achievements and gain so much inspiration from what she’s accomplished…but I look at her life choices and the commitment she has to her family and her profession, the way she manages everything, whilst being a world class marathoner, and that inspires me to be great in all areas of my life.
I have wonderful friends in the Victorian running scene, and some absolute gems in other parts of Australia, and the US, NZ and the UK.
Travel for racing- the training involved, eating and ‘hotel’ing have provided me with some of the most fun times of my life! You never remember how you felt with two kilometres to go in the race, but you remember the trips to the grocery store that ended in belly aching laughter (for whatever ridiculous reason!!!)
As a podiatrist, what are your thoughts on the Nike’s Zoom Fly 4% marathon shoe?
Haha…you are asking the wrong person! I have only put one pair on my feet, and that was for a quick 30 second run on the treadmill at The Running Company, Clifton Hill.
For that reason alone I don’t think I am in a great place to make a call, however, the results (in terms of athlete performances wearing them) certainly speak for themselves, and as a podiatrist I cannot say I have seen any presenting injuries to suggest they are a shoe causing pain or problems for patients. However, to be in a position to really rate them, I need to have run in a pair at least 3 or 4 times! Even better to race in them.
I wear New Balance, and have done for years and years now. I love them. I’m yet to try a NB shoe that I haven’t really liked. It’ll take something pretty spectacular to convert me, however I would love to properly try the 4%ers at some stage, and see for myself.
If you were to give one piece of podiatry advice to all the keen runners out there to help keep their feet injury free what would it be?
This advice is based purely on where I see the most runners coming unstuck. And when I speak with my sister who is a physio and my brother who is an osteo, it’s a fairly similar trend across all disciplines, and I am sure you’ll agree with us, Dane!: too much too soon. i.e. Load management, or conditioning.
That might be relating to a 6 or 12 week block where a patient got a bit excited training for a race they signed up to do, or it might be what I am seeing more and more of, and that is people climbing up to race certain distances, they just do not have a base to provide for.
The marathon for example, takes years and years and years, to build up to! Not a couple of years, or even a few (in my honest opinion!) It’s week in and week out of running over 80km per week, without any injury or interruption, to even fathom stepping up to the distance.
A patient might manage to get through one, perhaps even a second marathon, but without the base, they break down. It happens all the time. The ability to sustain or maintain high mileage to keep training for these kind of events, is not there, because they don’t have years of mileage in their legs.
So, my advice would be. Appreciate the process! Embrace the process. Understand that nothing comes quickly, or easily, and if it does, it’s probably going to come unstuck around the next corner.
Ensure your biomechanics have been assessed by someone who knows what they’re doing, and will set you up in the right footwear with potentially the right orthotic if it’s needed, so you have a great (low risk) base to begin with.
Train to a structured program that caters for your needs- strengths, weaknesses, goals and ability, and one that manages training load carefully and cautiously.
I know you asked for one piece of advice, but I’ll give you one more! If you are out running, and something doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not right! I’m talking about a little niggle.
I had my first injury since 2013 in February this year, but thankfully nipped it in the bud which meant I had 2 weeks off, and not 6.
Something in my foot just didn’t feel right, so I stopped and didn’t run again until I had an MRI. The scan showed bone marrow oedema which is the very first stage of bone stress. Had I not stopped running, it would have developed into a stress reaction then potentially a stress fracture.
I appreciate that it helps to be a podiatrist, to understand the anatomy and what might be going on, but any runner who knows their body, can recognise something feeling atypical, and my advice is to react to it straight away and have it seen to!
Do you still do any work with 2XU? Or have you any ongoing relationship there? Are they still thinking of going into a footwear range one day?
No, I am no longer doing any work at 2XU, although I still keep in touch with a great number of people who I met through the company- my friends for life. I worked there for 10 years, and have fond memories of watching a tiny Australian sportswear company take-off. To see where they are now, the reach they have around the world, is incredible. I am proud to have worked there and love seeing the company achieve great things.
For me however, my heart is in healthcare, and I love being back in the clinic full time. I really could not answer the question about whether 2XU will launch a footwear range one day…never say never, but it’s not something I have heard whispers of! If it does happen, I predict it’s still a little while off, but nothing would surprise me with what they could achieve!
You are an avid yoga guru/pilates fan and you use floatation recovery a bit. How often do you fit ‘one percenters’ in like this each week? How do you feel they compliment your running?
I love yoga, and definitely rate that as my second favourite exercise, behind running! In a typical week, Josh and I do a Yoga class on Wednesday night, then I try and fit another one in on a Sunday afternoon.
I don’t do any pilates, although I do firmly believe in the pilates philosophy…I just can’t quite fit that one in at the moment! I try and swim once per week, which for me involves a 2km dip at either Richmond or Fitzroy pool.
If I can squeeze in one more ‘at home’ session, it involves my own core/stretching/yoga regime that I slot in where I can.
The Floatation tank is great too- I can get in and fall asleep for 2 hours without any real difficulty. The team at Innerverse in South Melbourne have been lovely to deal with- that’s where I would recommend going, to anyone interested in trying it.
I absolutely believe in the one percenters, and that includes a lot of sleep and rest, but naturally when working full time, it’s a time management thing and for me, certainly no lack of desire to slot in more maintenance, but just where and how I can do it around work and training is the main thing.
Ok, I have taken up far too much of your time, what’s next on the marathon schedule so we can follow your progress?
Great Ocean Road Half Marathon on May 20, then the big one, Gold Coast Marathon- July 1.
Ok awesome, we will look to get you back on Run Culture after the Gold Coast Marathon. PB or not it will be great to hear your race review. Just quickly, one more question before I let you go, any heat acclimatisation training planned for that last 10k?
The plan is to spend about one week in Brisbane prior to Gold Coast, and I’ve hooked up some training and support with Benita, which is always great- she has so much wisdom and advice and gives so generously of all her knowledge, so I am looking forward to that, and crossing my fingers for a ‘cool’ QLD morning on July 1!
Ok, great, well goodluck for the marathon prep, lets get to that start line! Soph, you are an inspiration to me and I’m sure after sharing your story to all the buddying runners out there, you will further inspire so many more. For those that want to reach out to Sophie Ryan, where can they find you?
I use instagram the most, of all the social media platforms, @sopheryan. I am also on Facebook, Sophie Ryan, and twitter @sopheryan.
I manage the social platforms for our clinic, @FitzPod but promise it’s not a page of disgusting feet photos! 😉
Thanks again for the opportunity, Dane. Sorry some answers are a bit wordy, but anyone out there who knows me will agree, I do love a good chat!