Nov. 17, 2020

02 - Olympic Trials Marathoner's Recovery Routine - Austin O'Brien

02 - Olympic Trials Marathoner's Recovery Routine - Austin O'Brien

Olympic Trials Marathoner's Recovery Routine - Austin O'Brien


Austin O'Brien didn't see his elite level of success until after college in two thousand sixteen, he got the idea to try and qualify for the Olympic trials marathon and in 2020, that dream became a reality when he competed in the Olympic trials this February after qualifying in November in 2019. Austin has been running 100+ miles per week for months on end, and he takes his recovery routine very seriously. We talk about how he fits his recovery into his busy schedule, sleep and one more unique practice he does as part of his recovery routine that is unique to him.


(transcript below)


Austin O'Brien's Information:





Jase Kraft's Information:







Jase Kraft: [00:00:00] Austin O'Brien didn't see his elite level of success until after college in two thousand sixteen, he got the idea to try and qualify for the Olympic trials marathon and in 2020, that dream became a reality when he competed in the Olympic trials this February after qualifying in November in 2019. Austin has been running one hundred plus miles per week for months on end, and he takes his recovery routine very seriously. We talk about how he fits his recovery into his busy schedule, sleep and one more unique practice. He does a part of his recovery routine that is unique to him. So let's get into it.


Jase Kraft: [00:00:53] You're listening to the Science of Sports Recovery podcast. Each week, we explore how to recover more efficiently from training so you can work out harder and realize your full potential. This is the Science of Sports Recovery podcast.


Jase Kraft: [00:01:21] Hey, Austin, it's great to have you on the show.


Austin O’Brien: [00:01:24] Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.


Jase Kraft: [00:01:26] Yeah, well, I know our listeners are excited to get into your recover routine being one hundred miles a week running. That's very impressive. But before we get started, I want to put out a fun fact, because sometimes it's hard to compare apples to apples, to apples to oranges in the sport world.


Jase Kraft: [00:01:48] So for those of you that don't know, according to run, repeat that, Austin, just making the marathon trials, the Olympic trials, puts him in the top point, zero six percent of all marathon runners. And in comparison to football, that would be like a high school senior graduating high school. Playing football has a point zero nine percent chance of making it to the NFL. So, Austin, you if you are a football player, you would essentially be good enough to be in the NFL. So you are definitely in elite company. And I just wanted to put that out there because that makes a little bit more sense to people, so. Like many elite athletes who start young. When was that for, for you, when did you start running?


Austin O’Brien: [00:02:44] Yeah, well, so my mom was always a runner growing up, so it was always just something I saw her do. But I actually initially went out for cross-country when I was in middle school, seventh grade, I was I started to really develop a love for basketball and I was totally obsessed. So my thought in seventh grade was, hey, I don't really care so much about football, so why don't I go for cross-country and get really get really fit, get in shape for basketball season, because that's my main sport right now it. Lo and behold, I started running really well, running fast, got better every single race and ended up winning the state cross-country meet in seventh grade. And it just kind of stuck that I ended up being a lot better at running than I was at basketball.


Jase Kraft: [00:03:33] Yeah, so with when you said, hey, I'm going to go out for cross-country, did you prepare for that season at all or was it just kind of like show up on day one, not knowing what to expect?


Austin O’Brien: [00:03:45] I mean, like I said, my mom ran, so I kind of knew a little bit about what she was doing. And I would go on, like little two mile runs with her. But honestly, all of my aerobic fitness was just playing basketball for six to eight hours a day, running up the court. So, yeah, in terms of like what you would normally do for a workout in a cross-country practice, it was totally new.


Jase Kraft: [00:04:07] Yeah. OK, and then just to be clear, that state me that was seventh and eighth graders or was that just seventh graders?


Austin O’Brien: [00:04:15] It was a separate division. So that was seventh graders. Seventh graders.


Jase Kraft: [00:04:19] Cool, cool and where you grow up? 


Austin O’Brien: [00:04:23] The eastern side of Iowa. I went to Pleasant Valley High School, and that's in a town called Bettendorf Cities.


Jase Kraft: [00:04:32] How big is that?


Austin O’Brien: [00:04:35] My school had about a thousand students. We were, we were a 4a school, which is the largest class in Iowa. But we are probably one of the smaller schools in that division.


Jase Kraft: [00:04:45] OK,


Austin O’Brien: [00:04:46] So my graduating class is around 250.


Jase Kraft: [00:04:49] All right. So you found cross country in seventh grade, I would imagine. Then you started doing track then as well and. Did you continue on with basketball where I mean, were you doing a sport through high school and everything?


Austin O’Brien: [00:05:06] Yeah, I was doing cross-country basketball and track for the longest time, I think of it. It was after my sophomore year that I, I stopped with the basketball. But, you know, I was I've been five nine since eighth grade and it hasn't changed.


Austin O’Brien: [00:05:23] So I saw the writing on the wall a little bit. I just decided to fall into cross country and track my junior year.


Jase Kraft: [00:05:32] Ok, so is that when you would say, like you were you're hooked on running, or did you know before then that you were like running? It's going to be my thing. I'm just going to wait out basketball until I can.


Austin O’Brien: [00:05:47] Yeah, that's a good question. And actually, it's kind of funny, I, I really didn't care for running at all. I, I really despise it for the longest time. And I think what brought me back was just the competition, the competition of it, and I was I was finding success competing against people at a pretty high level. So I was going to some of those AU and USA track and field national needs and getting top three finishes. So, I mean, I was finding myself competing at a very high level in middle school and I think I just got addicted to the competition aspect of it. That part was really fun for me, but it took a long time before I could honestly say I'm starting to love running. Yeah, and that probably didn't happen until college, honestly.


Jase Kraft: [00:06:37] Ok, so are you running year round in high school or is it just seasonal?


Austin O’Brien: [00:06:44] Yeah, so it was mostly seasonal.


Austin O’Brien: [00:06:46] I mean, I would always run a little bit, but before I while I was still doing basketball so we would have our summer cross-country prep period just easy running miles, no structured practice or anything, and then cross country season, obviously ramp up the training and then basketball. I would just kind of run casually outside of basketball practice whenever I wanted to, but I guess it ended up being year round. Naturally, when you do cross country and track, it does get pretty close like that. But there was a natural braking period in between each season.


Jase Kraft: [00:07:18] Ok, OK. Cool, so you went to college, you ran for with Central Park, right. How did that go? How is the transitioning from high school to college for you.


Austin O’Brien: [00:07:35] Yeah, so it was interesting, I, I was more of a middle distance runner at that point, so I got into Central College, a small D3 school in Pella, Iowa, and I was running a lot of eight hundred and fifteen hundred meter races and I started to see some success there.


Austin O’Brien: [00:07:54] But I wouldn't say that the elite level performances I was doing at like the middle school age group that had kind of stalled out, I saw glimmers of it in high school, especially my senior year. Yeah, but, you know, I was just running pretty good for, like a Division three school in our conference, but I wasn't really competing on a national level until my senior year. I, I started getting really good at some of the distance events. I actually lost a significant amount of weight to to help with that and ramped up the training volume. And then all of a sudden I found myself competing nationally again and cross-country and then again in in the mile and 5k distances on the track.


Jase Kraft: [00:08:37] So what was that volume ramp up from? Your junior and senior year?


Austin O’Brien: [00:08:45] Yeah, I was probably running, I would guess, when I got to Central is probably about 60 miles a week. And then it maybe it got into the 70s a little bit in the 80s during my junior year and then my senior year, I definitely had a few more weeks, but it was more more long term consistency in the 80s.


Jase Kraft: [00:09:05] Ok. OK, so you said you are competing nationally, then what what kind of meets places, times where you running and college?


Austin O’Brien: [00:09:18] Yeah, so it was. There was a few races where we would go and run against some of those really competitive Minnesota and Wisconsin schools who traditionally had a ton of all Americans and occasionally they would have like the individual national champion. So I remember there was one race we went to in lacrosse and there was a there was a guy that I really wanted to beat in the 8k and I beat him that day running twenty four, forty eight, I believe, for 8k on a pretty flat and fast course. And he was very good at that point. But then he actually ended up being a national champion before he graduated. He was a year younger than me, but that was, that was probably one of the turning points for me. And I was like, OK, I can compete at this level. This are, I'm beating some, some really high caliber runners here.


Jase Kraft: [00:10:13] Yeah. And for those that don't an 8k is a five mile race. So and he says twenty four, forty eight, that's a five minute pace for five miles there. So. So then after Central.


Jase Kraft: [00:10:26] I know, I know I actually have a personal connection with you because we raced against each other when you were at Mankato for grad school. So I guess first of all, it's blackout. What were you, what were you studying at Central? And then what was your grad school program?


Austin O’Brien: [00:10:45] Yeah. So at Central I was studying health and exercise science and I had a few options with that. But I've always been fascinated by how the mind works with with athletic performance. And I started looking for graduate programs. And that's where I, I got into Minnesota State, Mankato, into their sports psychology grad program. And that's what I studied for the two years while I was there. And since I studied abroad in my time at Central, I actually had an extra season of track eligibility to use. And that's where I got to compete against you and get dusted by you in the last hundred meters of a conference meet.


Jase Kraft: [00:11:23] That was, I want to say, dusted by any means.


Jase Kraft: [00:11:30] If we can find a photo of that, I'll stick it in the show notes because it is one of the most epic finishes with three guys in less than a tenth of a second apart, really straining for the finish there. So so what what kind of mile times where you're running in Central and Mankato?


Austin O’Brien: [00:11:53] Yeah. So my, my pr in the mile and still my pr the mile was fourteen point eight or nine, something like that. And I actually ran that at the division three national meet in twenty fourteen. And that, that got me the last all-American spot that year. I think I was, I was probably fit enough that year to run in the four seven-ish. But it's kind of hard to find opportunities where you get a race that takes you out fast. In Division three I ran my four ten. We actually our first half of the race was about two a later two or nine. So this is a pretty tough close to to bring in.


Jase Kraft: [00:12:35] Yeah, cool.


Jase Kraft: [00:12:36] Ok, so then through your college career, did you have any injuries or any I mean, what was especially with runners, is a lot of overuse and injuries. Is there any thing that was particular that stood out for you?


Austin O’Brien: [00:12:55] Nothing, really. I've been really fortunate on the injuries, obviously, I'll occasionally get some little nicks and pains that kind of go away if you take care of them. But I've never really had any significant like I need to stop running for three months type of injuries. There have been times where I've had like sore Achilles or plantar fasciitis, random foot pains or, or leg pains that caused me to have to change my plan a little bit in training. I do remember at Central in my undergrad I had and that's when the barefoot running thing was. It was a really big thing and, and there was a lot of mixed evidence on that. So I'm not encouraging people to, to try barefoot running. But I what I did do was I went from being a big heel striker to running more on the four foot. And I started to notice that I had a lot less knee pain and I was kind of nursing an injury in my ankle that just it was not like something that stopped me from running again, but it was more just a constant nagging pain. And that went away when I switched to more of a four foot strike. So I thought that was interesting.


Jase Kraft: [00:14:14] Ok, cool.


Jase Kraft: [00:14:18] Yeah. So you've been pretty healthy. And I know in our prior conversation you said one of your strengths is your durability. And I'm sure a lot of that has to do with your recovery routine, which will go over here in a second. But I'll take it. OK, so we've kind of gone through your college career after that. When was it? That Austin said I might be able to make the 2020 Olympic marathon trials.


Austin O’Brien: [00:14:48] Yeah. So my, my second year in grad school, I actually wasn't really running very much. I took this would have been in a way 2015, I took a significant amount of time off from running and when 2016 rolled around, it's an Olympic year and that's kind of when everyone gets excited and starts running really fast and I start seeing guys that I competed against in college when I was at Central, not necessarily qualifying for the Olympics, but they were going for some of those Olympic trials. Time's coming really close. And that's that's when I just got really excited and like, man, well, if they can do it. What's stopping me? And so I started training again. And it was it was a really rough start. After taking significant amount of time off, I think it was about four or five months. And it took a long time to to get back to where I was, obviously. But once I started going with it, I kind of had my eyes set on 2020, and I had this it was totally unrealistic at the time. And I just I wanted to qualify for the Olympic trials and something. And I think at that point I would have preferred it to be like the 5k or the 10k on the track. Yeah. And of course, that's still a dream of mine, if I can find an opportunity and and if I'm fit enough. But the what I notice is that those times just keep getting faster and faster and those races are more and more competitive.


Austin O’Brien: [00:16:19] And it's very hard to get into those into those races and even into the to the qualifiers. It's hard to even make a meet get into a knee where you can run that kind of time. Yeah. So I started to look toward the marathon and the marathon standard was breaking two hours and 19 minutes, which is about five eighteen pace to get a spot in the Olympic trials and. Of course, it's not an easy feat to do, but in my mind, it sounded more feasible for my ability level than, say, a thirteen twenty five K. So I started training for that and ramped up the volume and just kind of had some hit or miss success for a number of years. And then finally in late twenty eighteen I, there's kind of a friend of mine started working with Tom Schwartz, a guy who coaches can mentally pretty well-known coach in the field, and he went from being a good runner to being, you know, one of the best in the country. He actually broke it off and he actually ended up winning the national marathon championship in twenty eighteen. So after kind of seeing his trajectory, I was sold on working with with Tom. So I reached out and started that relationship in twenty eighteen and started to see some significant improvement in the marathon world.


Jase Kraft: [00:17:41] Yeah. Wow. OK, so you said you ramped up volume. What kind of volume. What are you doing now as far as miles per week?


Austin O’Brien: [00:17:50] Now I'm kind of stagnant. I would say probably been ninety or one o five for the last six, seven months. But when I was experimenting before working with my coach, I mean, there were times I would try holding like one ten, one twenty for a while. Yeah, there's just some when you're when you're coaching yourself, it's it's hard to be objective. So you don't really do the workouts that you need to improve or just something in your training system isn't balanced. Right to...