This week, Michael Dermansky is joined by Paul Moritz, a long distance race walker and client of MD Health, to discuss his sporting and wellbeing journey.
Paul shares his experiences across a long racing career, including his three fundamentals of endurance sport success, the importance of strength work in his return after injury, and why having fun is so important – especially for endurance athletes.
In a challenging and often isolating sport – particularly when you’re trying to return to competition – Paul singled out the importance of the camaraderie between endurance athletes (in this case, an ex-marathon runner and MD Health client) in helping with your rehab and return to racing.
Let’s get confident!
CLICK HERE to read the full transcript from episode 32 of The Confident Body Show
Paul Moritz is an environmental consultant with a chemistry background and an active participant in Masters’ athletics. He has been a client of MD health since 2015.
Paul’s involvement in athletics goes back to 1975, albeit with a break between 1990 and 2010. His specialty is race walking, although he began as a sprinter and 400 m runner. In his ’20’s, Paul competed at local, State and National level. Since returning to the sport in his early fifties, Paul has extended this range of competition to include the Oceania Masters’ Championships in 2019. He is currently planning to participate in the World Masters’ Championships in 2024.
Paul is one who enjoys his sport, and recognises that, barring unexpected events, he is unlikely to be a world beater. It’s all about the endorphin rush that comes from training and competing; which is just another way of saying “Healthy body, healthy mind”.
Topics discussed in this episode:
- The three fundamentals of long term endurance sports such as race walking
- The underappreciated role of strength in all endurance sports
- How to improve technical performance in the sport as well as your ability to cope with the load to minimise injuries
- The two keys to returning back successfully after an (inevitable) injury
- The three fundamentals of long term endurance sports are: 1) Set specific and sensible goals – this gives you direction; 2) Pace yourself – setting the right number and length of workouts to challenge yourself, but not overtraining which over-fatigues your body and reduces your performance; and 3) Know your limitations – to avoid breaking down and going backwards. Progressive improvement over time and with boundaries is important for long term success. (7:45)
- Strength training is an underappreciated key to endurance sports. Improving the strength around your lower back, hips and pelvis improves both your technical performance in the sport AND your ability to cope with the load to minimise injuries, especially towards the endo of the event when the body is fatigued. (16:00)
- Injuries happen and are part of the experience. There are two major keys to coming back successfully. 1) Work on your core and pelvic stability; these muscular areas are extremely important for both control of the lower back and hips and for performance. 2) Treat rehab as training. Even if all you can do is a slow walk, put on your training gear so that your brain still believes that you are in a training environment. (19:30)
- Endurance sports are actually team sports involving a shared experience with other athletes – particularly in challenging times such as rehab and returning after an injury. The ability to relate and share experiences with other athletes is a major part of getting starting and keeping you going in what can be very lonely sports. (22:00)
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Click on the Dash icon below to see the entire show transcript
Episode 32: Full Transcript
Hi everyone. And welcome to the show that makes you become more confident in your body so you can keep doing the things that you love. My name is Michael Dermansky, I’m the senior physiotherapist here at MD Health. And I’ve got a special guest today – his name Paul Moritz. He’s been a long-term customer of ours and he’s a long distance walker. And we’re going to talk about exactly that today in the podcast and what has kept his body going and allowing him to do the sport he loves as well. Paul, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Michael. Thanks for having me.
Great. Well, let’s start a little bit more about your background. So tell us a little bit about your professional background, and then more about your involvement in sport and how you how you got into and how long you’ve been doing long distance walking for
Yeah, okay. So just for clarity, it’s long distance racewalking as opposed to hiking. But yes, I started athletics about the age of 16. I was a sprinter, did 100s, 200s, 400s. In my very first year, my club team, we fluked a state championship in a four by 400 meter relay. I thought, this is pretty good. So I kept at it.
But then I turned to race walking, when I turned about 20 or so, ironically, I thought 400 metres was too long. So I took up an event or discipline where the standard distance was 20 kilometres and I aimed to do 50. I did that until I was about 30 and then for one reason or another went into what we might call a retirement. But I came back to the sport when I was getting close to 50.
There were two big impetuses there. We had a group of people at work who were gonna take part in the Melbourne Marathon. So I said, yep, I’ll do the 10 kilometer. And then the next year I did the half marathon. And shortly after that, I had an encounter with someone I knew, who knew or worked with someone from Victorian Masters Athletics at the local venue. And he invited me along. And so that’s getting on for 10 years involvement with that now. So it’s been a journey.
Right. So what’s it looks like now? What is your sporting background look like now? What do you do at the moment?
I aim to do one night a week at one of the local tracks with Victorian Masters Athletics and I set myself a series of goals through the year. I’ve just done the Melbourne Half Marathon walking, which was my big goal for this year. Next immediate goal will be the state championships for Masters athletes on the track. And then the World Masters Championships are in Gothenburg in Sweden in about August next year. So I’m aiming to go there and complete the three events.
And what distance is that?
That will be 5,000 metres on the track and 10 kilometres and 20 kilometres on the road.
Okay. All right. And what are the, I mean, I know you’ve done longer distances for racewalking as well. What kind of distance were you doing? I think a few years ago, you’re doing quite a bit more than that. Is that right?
Well, when I was in my 20s, I used to brag somewhat that I was a 50-kilometre racewalker. So I finished three 50-kilometre events. And Australia’s got a very good history in international competition, particularly at Olympics and Commonwealth Games in those events. I was lucky to actually see on the track some of the great walkers from Australia’s past competing in the same races with me. Not competing against me but they were there. They were way up and finishing well before I did but it was a real joy to watch some of them.
Yeah, fair enough. Well, let’s go back a little more for what kept you back a little bit. So what issues have you had during your time in with race walking any particular issues that you want to listen to?
Back in my mid-20s, I, in a very bizarre circumstance, sustained a lower back injury, which affected me for a while immediately, but it’s persisted through the years. For many years I was doing regular chiropractic sessions, which were helping me do things like work in the garden and whatever, but once I got back into walking…
I needed something more intensive and strength building to overcome that. And in later years, which I think is probably an issue with walkers of my vintage, I’ve had a bit of an issue with maintaining straight knees and so complying with the rules of race walking. So strengthening the muscles that facilitate that’s been a fairly key thing of late.
Right. And in terms of, so with those things, I know we’ve worked on a particular lower back, which has been an issue as well. And lower back, particularly disc problems are really common with long distance walkers and runners as well, because of the loads on the area, muscles fatigue puts more pressure on the discs, and eventually there’s some failure there. So it’s very, very common. And from my perspective, it’s strengthening for the lower back and pelvis, hips and pelvis is super important as you do longer distances the fatigue starts to kick in. Having the strength to be able to maintain that control is a big deal, but whether it becomes a long term problem and you can do what you want to, but what you can’t do, we want to do, or you can do what you want to do from your perspective. What elements have really made the biggest difference and being able to continue to perform your best in the race walking.
When I started doing the sessions with MD Health, the most, almost immediate effect was improvement in my core strength. I could feel that, and based on what you and your colleagues had told me, that assists with maintaining the lower back in a better position. But it also meant that my posture on the track while I was competing was better suited to a) complying with the technical rules, and b), just having the endurance to complete the longer events. So core strength, initially, building that up is really, really important. And more likely, it’s been dealing with strength in the glutes and the hamstrings to get the legs in a position where they can perform with forward in what is a more or less artificial mode of movement. It’s not like running where you’re extending all the levers to get you with a big stride. You’ve got to do it differently with race walking.
Okay, fair enough. I mean, that’s as you alluded to about the back problems and the hip problems are very, very common in long distance running and walking as well. And so working on the strength of those muscles that support the area, the core strength from my point of view, don’t muscles, small muscle in the back or multifusus to major stabilizer in the lower back, very important and a glute max muscles there, they’re super important. Stabilizing muscles around the hips and pelvis as well.
And that’s one thing we’ve really worked strongly on. And I know when you’re having issues with those, uh, you know, in the lower back and hips and pelvis and we focused back on those areas as well. And then we start to see improvement in your performance as well and your ability to cope and perform during race walking as well.
If someone’s interested in doing a long distance sport, what recommendations would you make for them: both from a performance perspective and a longevity perspective in the sport?
I’d emphasise three key points. Set yourself a goal or goals. So when I started getting active again, it was going for a run at lunchtime and I had a really convenient circuit in the city and the goal was to initially to be able to run that without having to stop. There’s a really simple goal I set myself.
It’s important to set yourself goals. And so every year I like to do the half marathon. I have a former work colleague who’s now in Toronto. He’s just done his 50th half marathon. I’m sure he had that as a goal. There’s another guy I used to compete with years ago. He’s not around anymore, but he had a goal to finish 50, 50 kilometer walk races. Now that’s a big effort, but yeah, that kept him going. So set yourself goals.
Have fun. You’re not gonna do something for a long time if you’re not having fun. So I enjoy what I’m doing. It’s a bit of a cliche to talk about the endorphin rush. I do a training session before work and it clears up my mind and sets me up for the day. But having fun can also mean going to the track with the masters groups on a weeknight afternoon.
If anyone was interested in athletics, you could get involved with park run, you could join a club with Athletics Victoria. But if you’re in another sport, cycling, join a group of people, cycle everywhere, join a swimming club, particularly if you’re out of the 20s where they also have mastered swimming. Just get involved, join a group, have some fun. And the third one, which quite possibly might be the most important, is…
Just to know, we’ll be aware of your limitations. I know that I can’t do 20 miles now, but I can do 20 kilometres. So I don’t set myself a goal to do 20 miles because that’s 30 kilometres, that’s just too much of a limitation. My limitations wouldn’t let me do it. So, know your limitations, but of course, if you’re setting yourself goals, you’re probably gonna be training and maybe you’ll be able to expand what your limitations are. But yeah, they’re my three pointers for longevity. And I would, you know, with the point about having fun, I just come back in it and reiterate that when I went into retirement, about the age of 30, it’s because I’d stopped having fun. It took 15, 20 years for me to get back into it.
Right. It is a very interesting perspective because it’s going to be a lot, you know, it’s a, it’s a lot of work. And, and so if you’re not having fun doing it too, it’s going to be hard to put the effort in there. And I mean, particularly as swimming as well as swimming, a very lonely sport, if you’re not enjoying yourself and you’re joining company of other people.
Yeah, some people would think doing 15, 20 kilometres along the bike path in my local park was pretty boring on a Saturday morning. But I think doing 1500 metres, 3000 metres in a pool, where all you’re seeing is the black line at the base of the pool would be pretty boring too. But yeah, given that I can’t swim at all, I’m not speaking from a position of great knowledge there.
Well, another note as well, I mean, in that same direction as well, and we’ve talked about this in other podcasts as well, is you talked about setting goals, having fun as well. But what about where does recovery stand in your perspective as well? Because I know something we spoke about with other sports people and trainers as well, the importance of recovery in the whole process.
Hmm. Yeah, I learned very early on that I couldn’t race one day if I’d had a heavy training session the next. So my schedule looks at least a 24-hour recovery between sessions, whether it’s training or training in an event.
I’ve given myself a month off after the Melbourne Half Marathon. I’ve been doing other things, but that’s part of the recovery there. Recovery is really important. So a lot of people, I think, over train. They throw in too many sessions. So there’s a fine balance between the length and intensity of any given session you do and the number of sessions you do and the recovery you have between them. You’ve got to listen to your body.
Your limitations but you know get that balance right.
And it’s super important. I mean, we talked to a last podcast about that, you know, with professional badminton understanding, you know, how important sleep is, how important recovery is, more is not always better. It’s sometimes just more. And you’re telling us now the same message, the same story. You know, no, you know, I mean, I know this is not a recipe for everyone, but what’s a good session for you and what’s too much in a session and in a week for you.
Too much in a session would be every week doing 17 kilometres on my standard training course. So my standard is 14 and I will wrap that up to 17 a couple of times before I do a half marathon. Doing four training sessions and a competition a week would be too much. Three training plus a light competition is fine.
Again, that gets spaced out, so it gives you the recovery. I also vary the length of my training sessions. Sunday mornings, more time, I tend to do a big one, base load, but during the week I’ll mix it up 10, 7 or 6, depending on where I am and what circuit I want to train on.
Right. Okay. I mean, that’s, that’s a really good message as well. Like, you know, more isn’t more again, you know, how you do one long training session and the other ones are not. And, and it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean like, Oh, I won’t be able to do that for competition. Absolutely. So what you’re doing for competition is doing shorter ones that are concentrated and specific one longer one.
And then knowing if you’re racing one day a week, you’re not going to be doing more than three sessions in a week. Otherwise it’s too much. Your body is not going to perform at its peak. What about rest and nutrition? Where does that fall into line with your program?
Until recently, I’ve still been working full time and now part time. Um, and I’ve got a reasonable commute. So rest and sleep is sometimes an issue, but, um, now that I don’t have to go to work five days a week, I can get a few more hours in bed in a week. Um.
Nutrition, we eat fairly healthily here at home. I still have vivid in my mind, an acquaintance who came to see us and she looked at our fruit bowl on the kitchen cabinet. She said, that’s the biggest bowl of fruit I’ve ever seen. And didn’t look particularly big to me. It was half empty anyway. Lots of fruit, good healthy diet. Try and keep the junk food to a minimum. I don’t go to fast food hamburger joints unless I need a coffee when I’m out in the countryside. My late mother-in-law was a nutritionist, so that’s had a fair bit to do with how we eat at home.
Yeah. Well, another question that I guess is big for us as well as how important from your perspective is addition of strength training in endurance sport like race walking as well.
The thing I’d say to start that response is that walking is a very technical event. So everyone knows about the rule of maintaining contact with one foot on the ground at all the time. But there’s another element to the technical rules is that your advancing leg must be straight when it hits the ground. Your knees can’t be bent and it must maintain straightness until it’s in a vertically upright position. You need to have the strength to lock your knee before you make contact with the ground and keep it locked until your leg is vertically upright.
And I found that in longer events where maybe my strength wasn’t up to what it should be in the later parts of the event, fatigue sets in, the knee doesn’t lock. I’ve been picking up reports from the judges and being disqualified at times. So strength is very important from that perspective. And then to simply propel you along the ground for 20 kilometres or 21 kilometres for half marathon, you need the strength in the muscles that are working there so that you don’t suffer from fatigue and so just can’t keep going.
Yeah. Um, it’s interesting now that, you know, if you, if you want to be a good runner, if you want to be a good race walker, you have to do strength work. It’s just a must. If you’re going to be doing those things, you need to do strength work. You need, as you said, no limitations be specific about the number of workouts that you do and make sure your body’s strong enough for those two reasons. Number one, as you get towards the end of the walk as well, you can technically do the sport because you’re strong enough to do it and full stop. It’s important for repulsion.
It is one of the most underestimated things that run as a walker don’t do. Um, cause I, I’m going to be a good runner. I better do more running. I want to be a good walker. I better walk more, but all this stuff creates that base of which it allows you to have better performance. And from my perspective as well, protects your, your backs and hips and pelvis from, from excessive load. Because if those muscles aren’t strong around your back and pelvis and core, like we’ve talked about earlier in today’s podcast.
It puts excessive load on those, those back areas. And that’s when breakdowns starts to occur. When that area does way more than it needs to be doing. Um, and eventually something will fail. And so the, the tissues that shouldn’t take the load, take the load, something breaks and then you end up with a much more long-term problem takes a lot longer to solve if, if you, if, if you’re able to get back to your same level of sport.
So I take it you’ve had conversations with other racewalkers that are not performing at their best and saying, you know what, have you thought about doing some strength work?
No, I haven’t actually. Because generally, I’m more at the back of the field and it could be argued that I’m the one that’s not performing at my best. I would argue I’m performing close to my best, but my best is not as good as theirs.
Fair enough. Have you had any setbacks?
I’ve had a few injuries that have set me back this year, but they weren’t quite so severe. I had some major health issues about five, six years ago where the treatment was spread out over a period of time, so that made me fatigued and I didn’t feel like, well, I don’t know that I was up to doing my training, but at least – as much as for my mental health as my physical strength – I would go and walk part of my normal training circuit, walking the dog. I would put on my training gear, so that in my mind, I just wasn’t some middle-aged bloke out walking the dog on a Sunday morning, but I was there. I wasn’t working hard. My upper body got probably a little bit more of a workout restraining the dog, but that was my approach to dealing with that.
I came back from that really well. I had to miss my targeted half marathon that year, but I came back to do an Australian Masters Championship 20 kilometre event 12 months later, and that was good. It was an achievement.
So it’s interesting to say that too, is that the setbacks will happen and that’d be sometimes out of your control. And they may or may not be, may or may not be related to the, the sport that you’re doing as well. Um, and that’s, that’s part of the game, especially for a long period of time. Um, they’ll happen and then how you manage that just as important as how you would deal with the performance. And it’s very interesting that you say that, you know, you, you wore your uniform. You, you made your brain think “I’m still doing the training session.” Even if it’s not the same strength, volume, load that it normally would be. I’m training. This is what I can train with at the moment. And that’s what it is, but I’m still training and that’s a great healthy attitude to the training.
Paul, as we finish up, any last thoughts you want to tell listeners about long distance race walking – you know, best ways to go about it if that’s what you want to be doing with your life? And any pearls of wisdom you want to finish off with today?
It’s not specific to long distance sport, but when I thought about this, you know, when you’re giving me the questions beforehand, the thing that came to my mind was the shared experiences I’ve had with Group Pilates at MD Health, particularly with one guy, his name’s Robin. I recognised him as a former marathoner because he had much of the same Melbourne marathon merchandise as what I had. You don’t get that merchandise anymore, so it’s almost a collector’s item.
But that was a shared experience, shared heritage that we had, and we were able to talk about that, and how what we were doing with Pilates was helping me with what I wanted to do. He’s probably not in the stage where he’s going to do any more marathons, but just that shared experience and being able to talk about it with someone when you’re doing something to keep your body finely tuned for whatever you want to or need to achieve. I really found that helpful. If only just for the head space, as opposed to what it might’ve done for the body. If nothing else, it got me up out of bed and in it to East Kew at seven o’clock on a Friday morning.
This is not a random thing. I mean, there’s the ongoing conversation: the importance of exercise for mental health in terms of anxiety, depression, and so forth. But the shared experience of doing a similar thing with other people who’ve had other shared experiences in life can’t be underestimated. I see that all the time on a, on a daily basis, they’re creating an environment where people have shared experiences. Makes such a lift to everyone that they’re here. It’s not random. It’s not. Um,
It’s not just a nice thing to have. It’s actually a massive part of when whether people will or will not maintain their fitness and strength and being able to do things as well. Over 20 years, I’ve seen that shared experience is absolute gold of making people feel like they belong and that they will actually do what they need to for their body.
Technically everyone, a lot of people know what to do in terms of, oh, I should be doing this for myself. But having the motivation to do it, having that shared experience environment is a major difference whether people will or will not continue on to long-term what they should be doing for their body. That is probably one of the most important things you’ve spoken about today, Paul. That shared experience of doing these other people have had other similar experiences in their lives.
We’re humans, we connect with other humans. And that’s what we do, whether we like it or not, that’s such an important part of our social makeup.
And it’s just dawned on me that leads right back to something I said in response to your very first question. In my first season, I won a state championship in a relay event. So that means there were four of us on the team that won that event. There was a shared experience.
Right. And so, you know, quite a few years later, you are still doing an activity that you started off as a shit experience when you, you were a teenager. Um, yeah. Um, amazing stuff. Really, really important stuff.
Any last thoughts at all?
I think that’s all I’ve got to say today.
All right. Well, you had said quite a few things as well. I think those important things about setting goals, um, uh, being, you know, knowing the limitations as well. Um, and, and in, you know, and pacing as well, they’re all important things. And don’t be afraid of those shitty experiences. Most even individual sports like that seems like an individual sport, like race walking is a team sport, uh, with the, with the camaraderie of the people around you as well. Thank you very much for your time and your insights as well.
We would, uh, all right. Thanks for listening to this. We’ll talk next time. And I hopefully got a very special topic, which we’ll announce soon. So I’m coughing in the background. Thanks very much for your time, Paul.
It’s been my pleasure, Michael.
Thank you for listening to The Confident Body. For practical articles to help you build a confident body, go to MD health.com/articles.
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