Into the Wolfpack
Runner’s Tribe Journal: Written by Isaac Hockey
As part of my philosophy unit in year 12, we had to write an epistemological essay on one of six prescribed topics. I chose to consider the topic “Without the group to verify it, knowledge is not possible.” I wish it was possible to answer such a question with a simple yes or no, but this one took 11 drafts. I had to consider school, family, ethnic, religious and sporting contexts, and little did I know that not long after submitting this nightmare, I too would have to consider my group identities.
In November 2015, frazzled by the oncoming exam period, I lacked commitment to my running and cut ties with my squad of seven years in Geelong. This was a massive change in my life, and I am grateful to still be great friends with the members of Fast Track. I finished exams, and with the hope of entering The University of Melbourne I approached the man with the moustache, Bruce Scriven, who too lived in Geelong, but coached in Melbourne, to be my new coach. Bam, straight into it, the fresh meat of the Wolf Pack.
A major argument in my essay was that the sum of human knowledge is not contained within one group, and reliance on a single group for knowledge may ultimately limit our understanding. Funnily enough, the Wolf Pack amalgamates the wisdom of three very knowledgeable coaches, Bruce, Peter Fortune and Justin Rinaldi. Whilst we do have our individual groups, we often build programs that allow us to train together and do so at the same location. What primarily led to my squad change was a loss of love for the sport, the thing that drove me to keep at it throughout my adolescence. The Wolf Pack is home to three Rio Olympians: Linden Hall, Anneliese Rubie, and Peter Bol, yet, somewhat ironically, it is an incredibly chilled environment where a true love for the sport permeates. Prior to each session, we meet at a café for an hour to nurse our coffee addiction and engage in some squad banter. What I believe makes our squad unique is that the athletes are not only successful on the track, but live holistic, balanced lives. Just to brag a bit, we have three lawyers and an Oxford scholar, but above all, our members are genuinely loving people. Our legacies are not formed on the track.
I believe that those around me are fundamental to my success on the track, so it was necessary that I promote them a little before I chat about my year on the track. I often extend workout recoveries, or reduce my Sunday long run when I am solo, so the social side of running is vital to me. I conveniently work at the Running Company Geelong where we practice what we preach, so I have a plethora of people to train with throughout the week whether I am in Geelong or Melbourne. Conversely, the commute from Melbourne to Geelong (via public transport) for work is not very convenient but I gotta pay that expensive Melbourne rent! In Melbourne, I live with a training partner Mitch Thompson and an AFL footballer Hugh Goddard, so it is an active household! Mitch has an unparalleled love for our sport so I can always rely on him to give me the Diamond League summary the next morning.
My principal race this year was the 1500m at the World U20s in Bydgoszcz, Poland. This tour essentially involved living like a professional athlete for an entire month. Before reaching Poland, I ran large PBs over both 800m and 1500m in Mannheim, Germany and gave my first sample of blood and urine which was an interesting experience. The trip involved a LOT of card games and TV series as we had a surplus of spare time between training and meals. I was astonished with the dedication of some athletes, particularly Sarah Billings (read her article here) who did 90 minutes of stretching and conditioning daily, and failed to branch out beyond ‘green/everyday’ foods (as honorary dietician Linden Hall would describe) throughout the entire trip. Conversely, I devoured local delicacies daily, to the utmost shock of coach Steve Cain. Hence, I learnt from my own teammates and friends what is required to be the best in the world, and truly, running fast requires much more than just running fast every day.
I missed auto qualification to the 1500m final by 0.8 of a second, an ultimately bittersweet ending. I was very much a fringe dweller by seeding, but once you jump on the start line, personal bests are superfluous (Georgie Winkcup was seeded last, on crutches a week before the race, only cross training, then made the final!!). I felt like I did all I could, and was beaten by better athletes, I just wished I could carry my heat through to a faster time to attain the little q. Whilst it did not work out for me, Matt Ramsden’s front running deservedly grabbed him the q and he went on to race an amazing final. After a long month, my campaign was over within two hours of competition’s commencement. I hope that I justified my discretionary selection on the team, as there were five talented boys back home who too ran the qualifier to be there. I learnt a lot from those four minutes on the track, but a world championship is not quite the place where you want to sit down and take notes.
On the topic of notes, there was one unique aspect of the tour. Back in June, our flight home from the pre-departure camp in Townsville was cancelled due to inclement weather. I was supposed to sit a genetics exam at 8am the next morning. After copious emails and precarious cortisol levels, I was given a date to sit my exam. 22 hours before my heat in Bydgoszcz. That morning I was woken to the sound of ferocious door knocking at 6am. “Doping control” they said. As I was rooming with star Jack Hale I assumed they were sent for him, yet, bizarrely not. Needle in my arm, breakfast, a shakeout jog, a three-hour exam… it sure was a great way to keep my mind off my race! Another lesson in learning to be an adaptable athlete.
So, what’s next for me? As of January 1, I must heave my 55kg frame around in Open races. After returning from Poland, knowing that I would suddenly be out of my depth in most races in 2017, I lacked motivation to run. It became conceivable to me why the rate of attrition in athletics is significant as athletes attempt to bridge from junior to senior ranks. As athletes, we cannot tell if we will ever successfully make that leap into a senior national team: next season… in five years… never? We often endure concurrent stressors of work, university and family so it is not a surprise that the progression from World U18/U20 to Open is poor. As IAAF have ceased the U18 championships, there is valid assertion for an Australian U21/U23 squad to replace the U17 squad, but the ostensible implications of that could have its own article! The team coaches in Poland struck us almost daily with the advice, “Don’t let this be your Olympics…”
So, a few months down the track I commenced my season with a 47sec 5000m PB at the Vic Open Championships. In order to make the championship race – and I definitely do not condone this!! – I entered with 14:42 rather than my true PB of 15:10, but I hope my result (3rd, 14:24) justified my misconduct! It was far more enjoyable than I expected it to be, but in the meantime, my focus will remain on the 800/1500. As for 2017, I just hope to run as fast as possible and I have the luxury of chasing some great athletes! My colleagues at work tend to liken my 70km training weeks to that of a baby, but leading up to the 5000m champs I averaged about 90km and am excited to continue gradually increasing my training load over the coming seasons to a respectable, ‘adult’, level.
Hope I didn’t bore you too much,