AlterG in Aussieland: The Martin Cooper Story

This week, we’re heading back to the land down under for some serious story-time from one seriously speedy Aussie runner. You may recall Martin Cooper from our previous spotlight piece on his rock star PT, Stephan Venter. Well, his blurb about how Stephan and AlterG helped him to overcome injury and achieve mountain running glory made me more curious than a monkey named George as to the details of his inspiring journey. Luckily, in addition to Martin’s harrier capabilities, he is also quite the master of the written word, and he enthusiastically agreed to share his story with us, even as he was in the midst of an altitude training block. What a guy! So, gather round, everyone, and give Martin your full attention, as he takes you away to a world of speed, strength, and really really steep hills. 

I initially saw the domestic mountain running season as a great way to get fit for the cross country season, but as I progressed through the year, I began to succumb to the allure of trialling for the national team to compete at the World Mountain Running Championships in Wales in September. Midway through June, I found out I had been selected in the Australian team after a third place finish in the national championships. My journey towards Worlds was aided, and often saved by Stephan and AlterG.

Martin, defying gravity!

Running is infamous for its (at least perceived) injury rate, and while as a young, late-coming runner (I started competing at 17, very old for a distance runner) I had experienced an array of ailments, including a stress fracture, I had never encountered anything like the amount of injuries sustained during mountain training. The criteria for a mountain running race differs each year; in even years, the course follows an entirely ‘up’ trajectory, with junior men’s courses often gaining over 800m in elevation from start to finish. In odd years,  the course is an ‘up and down’ format, in which there is essentially the same amount of ascending and descending. Last year, being 2015, saw up and down courses be used for all domestic and international championships. Training for these types of courses is especially brutal, as it is almost impossible to be competitive without being a competent descender, a skill which I honed through miles of running downhill, very hard. As you can probably imagine, hurtling yourself down a mountain is not your knees’ idea of a holiday. Yet the climbing required to gain appropriate fitness for mountain races is also extremely stressful for your patellas, and with there being very little flat in championship courses (never more than a kilometre, usually around 400m) there is really no option other than to do what you can. This philosophy is not ideal for athletes, obsessed with continual progression. For me though, it wasn’t a coach telling me this, but my legs, which simply couldn’t handle a large workload. While I have become accustomed to over 60 miles a week during track season (tracks being mercifully flat) I would often not cover half of that during a typical mountain running training week. I picked up my first knee injury at the start of  May, and from then had one form of knee injury or another until the season finished in September.

I had started working with Stephan Venter at Aurora Active at the beginning of January, occasionally popping in to use the AlterG during track season. The AlterG has become famous among the competitive running community thanks to its use in the Oregon Project training group, so it had always been a goal for me to use one. I never thought one would appear in rural New South Wales, and I believe it was an inspired decision for Stephan to bring one into a community that doesn’t have the same medical facilities as metropolitan areas. Once the mountain running season started, I realised that the services offered at Aurora would be essential if I wanted to train healthily until Worlds in September. Running on the AlterG became a weekly ritual for me; I’d do an hour in the evening after work, an hour I probably would not have been able to handle on any other surface. I’d set the my weight as low as 60% to relieve the pressure on my knees. Because of the AlterG, my mileage was essentially 12kms+ higher than it would have been had I stuck to conventional training facilities. It also aided my rehabilitation from injury, as I could focus on proper form and movement. There is no training tool that I have encountered that is half as specific to run training as the AlterG. These sessions at Aurora were supplemented with massages from Stephan that ironed out any kinks in my legs. I truly do not believe I would have performed satisfactorily, or at all, at Worlds if it were not for Aurora. They offered more than physical rehabilitation however; as many runners training for a goal would know, there are many days when the absolute last thing you want to do is go for a run. But coming into the palpably positive atmosphere of Aurora, with upbeat trainers like Stephan, and committed groups of people working out made me look forward to AlterG sessions. Aurora has been invaluable to me over the last year.

Martin Cooper, doing what he does best!

The World Mountain Running Championships in Wales was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The amount of attention given to the event was something I hadn’t been exposed to, and the having so many nationalities around made it a truly international race. Race day dawned bright and sunny over the Snowdonia town of Betsw-y-Coed in Wales. The race was, to be honest, the most painful thing I have ever experienced, but the dramatic scenery and passionate crowd pulled me along to a 35th place finish, the second junior Australian male. It was the best race of my life, and running down the finishing chute, lined with the flags of every country competing was like a dream (even if in the dream I was the first person to cross the line). I’m very grateful to everyone who helped me get to worlds, especially Stephan and the team at Aurora, as well as AlterG.

After September, my goals became track-oriented, my primary one being achieving the 5000m qualification standard for the U23 Australian athletics championships. I have not attained this yet, but my training has been going great, and with the help of Stephan and AlterG, I have completed three weeks at 100km, injury free! They also helped run a 25 second 3000m PR of 8:53 last month. Long term, I have no idea where my running will take me, but I’m sure Stephan, Aurora Active, and AlterG will be there to help me out!

Bravo, Martin and Stephan! You’ve made our AlterG hearts grow three sizes today! Martin, we are positive you will crush that standard, posthaste, and we will be watching for big things from you on the track and on the trails. The mountains may be tall, and the lactic acid may burn hot, but we are confident that you will fly to victory. Good on’ya, mate.