Matt Cooper is a legend of the trail and ultra scene in Australia. Not only for the results he achieves in races, but the manner in which he carries himself. He’s a truly passionate runner, finding happiness in the mountains and pursuing his love of ultras. What’s more, he’s incredibly supportive of other athletes and draws just as much pleasure from seeing them succeed as he does from achievinghis own goals. Most recently he ran a fantastic race at The North Face 50, winning comprehensively in a strong field. We caught up with him afterwards to learn more about his philosophies and training leading into the event.
You had an operation on your feet late last year, tell us about what it was for.
I had a neuroma build up in the bottom of my right foot over past couple years. I felt this build up and thought I could manage it, but with the lead up to Andorra last year, long days climbing and descending it just got to a point where my running was no longer feeling the flow it should have. Similar to a rock in your shoe (but an inch big) it was kind of taking a little of the joy out my time on the trail. I’m definitely not one too look to science for remedy, but unfortunately felt that this was the only way to remove a hard tissue that had built up which would then give me the opportunity to teach my body (or let it teach me) again.
How have you managed your return to running fitness?
With much respect for the feelings and messages my body gives me 🙂 This was actually a true blessing as it created a space for me to give focus to so many areas in my running which I had not before. Pilates, yoga, simply teaching my feet too really work properly again, as opposed to just be able to keep hitting the ground for long periods. I put no expectations on time (as in how long my recovery should take) but instead just gave it what I felt it needed. I did decide at the start of the year that I would keep all my mountain playtime relatively short this year and really focus on doing things right. It feels like it’s working and yet I feel like I still have plenty more to move on with too.
Coming into The North Face 100, you didn’t have an entry. What made you take the plunge at the last minute?
It was a vision for me quite some time ago in where I would have liked my body to be at – but I wasn’t forcing any decisions. My mind was saying no, because I truly feel this race is not very suited to me, but I knew within my body that it was what it needed to build that flow even more. I guess this has been part of ‘listening’ to my body and I was planning to do a 50k long run anyways and thanks to a good friend, an entry came up Friday morning and that was it.
What races do you have coming up?
The next 6 weeks will be very much training for the mountains. June 27th Mont Blanc 80, Skyrunning Ultra, Chamonix – July 13th Ice Trail Tarentaise Sky Ultra – August 31st Trofeo Kima Sky Ultra. I will keep to my plan of keeping it short this year and than very much looking forward to getting back into some milers again come 2015.
You’re a top coach and athlete, which title do you prefer?
I know this wasn’t an option, but my favourite title is actually being a dad 🙂 I guess as an athlete, I feel I really have so much more to learn, but whilst I’m doing this, if I can share this as best I can with others who are looking to play on similar trails/mountains – then it’s truly a ‘title’ that makes me smile.
What is your favourite race?
To me, a favourite trail race would have big mountains, technical trails, lots of wild animals, fresh river streams and finish at a local cafe 🙂
The Sky Ultra 100 miler from last year fit this picture pretty well – Ronda Del Cims (Andorra Ultra Trail). I had never been to Andorra before, and for a country that is only about 30km x 30km in size… it makes up for it in Mountains! 26,000m of elevation change in 171km through untouched mountains. The rawness of the trails, the beauty of its naturedness and the warmness of the local people. I would recommend it to any mountain lover.
Favourite race I haven’t yet done (but doing August this year) is the Trofeo Kima. A very unique mountain run held only every two years with a limited field of 100 runners. It’s very much about being a part of the mountain, than simply running it. Climbing, rock scrambling, very technical – raw mountain run.
And in Australia… Bright Alpine Climbathon, Buffalo Stampede, so many amazing races nowadays, but Alpine 100 mile I feel definitely takes you amongst some of the most amazing trails/mountains we have to offer.
Where do you train?
Probably like most runners, the trail at your back door seems to get the most run time. For me at the moment it is in the Southern Highands, NSW. There is quite a lot of trail between here, the Blue Mountains and the Coast. Then I’d spend every other week (currently) down in Bright where we we’ll be moving to very shortly.
What motivates you to put on the shoes and hit the trails?
Mountains! And also the sun, moon, wind, rain… really just anything. I feel that after some years of being in the mountains, I see that every time I get the opportunity to be on the trail, is an opportunity to just ‘be’. I don’t use training as a way of getting somewhere, more so as a way of being here right now. I kind of just really like the feeling of spreading my wings and splashing in muddy puddles.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer an aspirational ultra runner?
It’s not what you do – but how you do it.