Love him or just dig him; as Peter Bol, Joseph Deng, and Ryan Gregson will confirm – he is one tough nut to crack, when in shape. We caught up with the 2018 Commonwealth Games 800m bronze medalist, and reigning Australian 1500m champ, Luke Mathews.
RT: Luke, good to have you back on RT. In this strangest of years, your absence in Europe was noted and we are all missing your prolific and motivating Strava logs. Assuming ongoing issues with Plantar Fasciits is to blame? What’s the latest?
LM: Hey guys! Thanks for having me. Certainly been a tough year to start the least. I hobbled around most of January and February with on going plantar issues, so the delayed Olympics was somewhat a blessing in disguise. I’m not going to say I wouldn’t have made the team if it was on in 2020, but it certainly would have been challenging.
Since fully recovering from the torn plantar and cyst in my heel, I’ve just had a few niggles here and there that I’ve been managing. So I’m still working up to full training load. At the moment I’m trying to run most days, with 4 cross training sessions and 2 lifts a week. I’ve never been one to break records in November, so this year is no exception. If races are back in say February, I hope to be racing by then.
RT: It’s been a harder year for Melbournite’s than say, those in West Aussie, who have pretty much been carrying on like Covid doesn’t exist. How have you managed the Covid lockdowns and has it impacted your training much?
LM: Away from injury, dealing with the effects of COVID has certainly come with its challenges. As most of 2020 has been spent either in the gym, on the bike or in a pool, each week had an element of unknown, in that mum and I had no idea where or how training would work. Luckily enough, I was able to go most weeks without missing a single training session. I borrowed a watt bike from my girlfriends family, used my girlfriends pool for water running and did gym work in the car park of my s&c coach’s facility. And when I ran, mum and I made sure that we stuck to the 60 minute curfew of exercise for jogging and sessions. Luckily gyms and pools are now open, and we can get on with training as normal. As I decided to stay in Australia, I just had the mindset to get my body healthy. It was actually great to spend more time with my girlfriend and dog, without the pressure of racing being around the corner.
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RT: Your sponsorship deal with Under Armour. Everyone seems to love chatting about it, does he get paid, is it just gear, does he have a job too, how does it compare to Ramsden and co.? We get that such deals are contractually confidential, for good reason. But is there any light you can shed?
LM: Haha, I really find it interesting the way that contracts work in athletics. We all have NDA’s in our contracts that don’t allow us to talk numbers or specifics. I don’t agree with this at all, because it gives the athlete little to no bargaining power. I can’t really comment on what my contract looks like compared to other athletes, 1) because I’m not allowed and 2) because it’s not really right. Do I have another job? No, not really. I help my mum out with coaching a little, just because I love the aspect of grass roots sports and school athletics, and ideally one day I would like to hopefully coach someone to the Olympics. But my main focus and occupation is being a professional athlete. If I wasn’t making money, well, I simply couldn’t survive and travel like I’m able to, which would mean I would need to pick up some work: maybe that answers your question about whether it’s just gear. I’m also studying at uni – doing a commerce degree with a major in finance and marketing.
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RT: Olympics 2021. You have stated numerous times previously that the 1500m is the event you wish to target.
On the 800m side, you have the Commonwealth Games medal locked away, and in reality, Peter Bol and Joseph Deng, however fast they are, seem to really struggle to beat you. But that pure 400m speed to get through fast kickdowns in the Olympic heats may be an issue.
Then on the 1500m side, you have Stewart McSweyn, who let’s face it, is going to be hard for anyone to beat (depending if he runs the 1500m over the 5000m).
Then there are three other absolute guns in Ryan Gregson, Matthew Ramsden and Ollie Hoare (note: there are many others knocking on this door). At the 2019 Australian champs 1500m, you showed you can beat everyone when you are fit (albeit Stewie wasn’t in the race).
After this exceptionally long preamble, and given your interrupted base, is the 1500m still the one?
LM: I think it may be little premature on what my plan and ambitions are for Tokyo. Personally, I enjoy the 1500m more than the 800. But I think on my day – in the least arrogant way possible – that I am world class at both events, and making a final in either is possible. The plan for 2021 is to qualify in both, as I did in 2016, and make a call closer to the games. That being said, qualifying is going to be a massive challenge this year, given that I’ve been pretty banged up most of 2020 and the quality of athletes in both events are getting better and better. So running a qualifying time might not be enough to be selected on the team. I think that the effect of COVID through America and Europe will bring a heap of challenges with qualifying also, as I’m sure there will be less races and plenty of hoops to jump through just to get overseas.
Regardless, I’ll be doing all I can to qualify for both. I’ve always said, that when I’m in my best 800m shape, I’m in my best 1500m shape; and vice versa. So to put it simply, I’m not going to say which effect I’m focusing on, because at the moment I’m just trying to get through each week without a niggle.
RT: Speaking of that 1500m at the 2019 Australian Championships. You looked so bloody fit then, close to unbeatable. Do you sometimes think you should just copy your training for the 6 months prior to that race (injury permitting)? Whatever you did, it worked right?
LM: Haha I appreciate that. To be fair, I was bloody fit. And I wish nationals was a quick race, because I was ready to run something fast. But the opportunity to run fast when you’re at you’re fittest doesn’t come around too often. From the tail end of January to April 2019 was probably the best I’ve trained. In this time I ran 1:45, and won every 1500m I raced in. So, yeh, I think definitely when we get into the more quality work, we will be doing very similar training to what I was doing around that time. Fingers crossed I stay healthy.
I actually put a lot of my 2019 failure at world champs and the whole European season down to me not doing that training and going back to a more aerobic / endurance based program (this was my own fault, as I was overseas and doing more what I wanted to do, as opposed to listening to mum and her program). Whilst keeping up a fair amount of aerobic work, we were doing a heap of quality and speed endurance work, which I think helped with my kick finish at nationals and Perth 800m.
RT: What have you been up to in Melbourne this year, outside of training?
LM: Outside of training I’ve been trying to live a really normal life. My girlfriend and I moved into an apartment just outside of the CBD. We got a dog. We slept in if we had nothing to be up for. We ate great food. I did a little extra load at uni. Pretty much lived the life of all my mates that don’t do running. It was refreshing for a few months, but I was ready to get back into proper training.
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RT: Back to the Plantar Fasciitis. What’s the plan to avoid this coming back? Extra gym work, orthotics? Shoe change? What do the medicos advise?
LM: I think it’s a mixture of all those things. Planters are funny: there’s no exact reason to why or how you get planter fasciitis or tears. And there’s no real silver bullet that says: “do this for x amount of weeks and it’s healed”. So for me, I just let it rest. Now that it’s fully recovered, I’m trying to just strengthen the whole chain, form my core and hips, all the way down to my toes.
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RT: Mate awesome to have you back on RT and we wish you the best of luck on the comeback trail.