29. Barry Fudge: What it takes to win…..and keep on winning

Barry Fudge understands what it takes for elite athletes to win…and keep winning, and has spent a decade with a front-row seat to the training of the world’s best endurance runners. Barry talks to Sue Stockdale about what inspired him to work in elite sport, and the elements that enable the world’s best endurance runners to deliver medal-winning results, time and time again.

Barry is a highly motivated and experienced performance leader operating successfully in professional sport over a period of 4 Olympiads. He is globally recognised as a performance expert with multiple peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters and speaking engagements. Barry holds a Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours in Physiology and Sport Science as well as a PhD in Exercise Physiology from the University of Glasgow, UK.

Most notably, Barry was Physiologist, Head of Science and the Head of Endurance at British Athletics for over a decade where he constructed a world-leading endurance program, supporting the best coaches and athletes in the UK by ensuring that when a British endurance runner stood on the start line they were the best-prepared athlete in the field. Barry’s current role is founder of Lap 25, where he uses his considerable skills and experiences to support others to be the best they can be in sport, business and life. You can find out more about Barry Fudge on Instagram or Linkedin and connect via his website.

Barry Fudge transcription

Sue: Welcome to the Access to Inspiration podcast, where you can be inspired by people who may be unalike you. I’m Sue Stockdale. And if you haven’t yet connected with us on social media, you can find us on Instagram and Facebook by searching for access to inspiration. Or if you want to, to transcript of this episode, go to our website www.Accesstoinspiration.org. Today, we’re going to be focusing on the subject of elite performance and my guest today is Dr. Barry Fudge. He has supported elite runners over four Olympiads to help them to achieve their goals. He has a PhD in physiology and was until recently Head of Endurance at British Athletics, where he constructed a world leading endurance program for both coaches and athletes ensuring that when a British athlete stood on the start line for a race they were the best prepared athlete in the field. So standing on the start line today. Welcome  Barry. Fantastic. Well, it’s great to hear from you. And I know that your program was built around the motto of owning the start line and it helped you produce the multiple Olympic successes of people like Sir Mo Farah who’s won four Olympic titles. So, what is it that’s really important when people want to be owning the start line?

Barry: [00:01:26] So there’s a couple of things really that I focused on with the athletes and coaches, but the main thing was trying to get a bit of emotion going, which to spark that creativity with them and the concept is that they start with the end in mind. So they visualize themselves standing on start line, say for example, in Tokyo next summer and thinking about all the things that they need to do. To feel confident, to feel happy, to feel like they’re ready to go and take on the world when that gun goes off. So they start with that concept and it started some emotion in them and it starts to make them think about it, right perhaps I need to have done this workout, or I need to be in best body weight, or I need to have spoken to this person and so on. And so it starts to create something that goes, right by best point next August, I need to have done this and then allows a conversation about how do you get to that point.

Sue: [00:02:16] Now, I can see that making sense with the athletes themselves because they are the ones doing the work to be owning that start line. How does it work with the coaches? Because they’re having to work through the athlete to ensure that the athletes best prepared. So is it the same way to motivate the coaches?

Barry: [00:02:32] I think it does. In many ways, it’s more of a technical conversation as opposed to an emotional conversation. So for them, for example, there might be a specific set of workouts they needed to have completed by then. And sometimes it’s very easy to think. I’ll just do them by that point, but actually the underlying physiology and the preparation required to get them to be able to do those workouts successfully takes them a lot of though. And it might start in October the year before, and they might have various bits that they need to put in through the year to get them to that point. So it’s more of a technical conversation as opposed to what is going to make me feel confident. What is going to drive that performance when I stand in the start lane, if you were an athlete.

Sue: [00:03:12] One of the things that really focused our minds in the UK many years ago was a film Chariots of Fire. If we can remember that visual of all the athletes running across the sand in St Andrews in Scotland. And inspiration can have a pivotal role in encouraging people to strive for more than they think is possible. What inspired you to have a career in sport and in particular in athletics?

Barry: [00:03:34] Just generally sport is inspirational to people everywhere in the world. No matter where you are, it’s something that does capture the imagination of people wherever you go, whoever you speak to. But for me personally, I grew up in a house where sport was massively important and my dad was Welsh so we all played rugby and I’ve got a twin brother as well. So there’s always fierce competitiveness around sport. And actually the thing that got me into working for it was, I don’t know whether your listeners remember the old, British lions VHS tapes that used to come out after each tour. And for me, it was if I can’t play at that level, I would like to work at that level and be part of a team that contributes towards performance. So for me, it was watching that the team behind the team on those VHS tapes and quite awhile ago, that inspired me to go to university and learn about sports science.

Sue: [00:04:21] What is it about sports science these days that really has such a pivotal role in influencing athletes success?

Barry: [00:04:28] When I first started doing my studies in sport, most of the testing was done in the laboratory and it was, you know, quite an extensive process, a lot of control around testing and so on. Nowadays technology with things like GPS and heart rate and all the fancy gadgets that are out there are now, a lot of science is actually done in the field. So whether it’s measuring an athlete’s sleep or whether it is measuring an athletes run, there’s all sorts of technology there. Now that allows the sport scientist to work with the coach to perfect performance, but its completely different than going in and doing it in a very controlled experiment in a laboratory, would have probably been, in a university 20 years ago. You know, when I first started doing my PhD in Kenya, which was almost 15, 16 years ago, there was no such thing as GPS over there in terms of what running. Now, everyone has a Garmin watch or something similar that they track their training runs with and they load them up to the internet and the coach looks at it or the user and the social media profile. So technology’s had a big impact on the way scientists could work. You don’t actually have to work in a lab anymore. You can do all from a computer.

Sue: [00:05:35] And does that mean then that data and objectivity is playing a much more important role then?

Barry: [00:05:42] I would say so. I mean, I think that for science, as an industry has struggled with data in terms of the can be too many data points. And so some of these GPS watches for example, are measuring 10 to a hundred times a second. And so there has been a bit of a paralysis at times around which bits of data to use. And I think that the bigger advances that are coming in sports science and data is just figuring out how to use it better or how to get the information you need a bit more efficiently. Data now is as what people are very interested in particularly teams where they perhaps have lots of players and so on, and they’re able to do a very quick audit or analysis of where players are at.

Sue: [00:06:21] So in terms of the world of elite performance, which is what you’ve been immersed in for a number of years Barry, what is it that you enjoy about working in that world?

Barry: [00:06:31] It goes back to that inspirational thing, I think as well. And it does motivate me and it does inspire me to see what some of these people can do. They literally are the best in the world, what they’re doing. And it’s an honor almost to be part of something like that and see it unfold. And it’s particularly in the world of endurance running is the dedication, you know, there’s no such thing as an overnight success. And as you’re trying to get there today, grinding grafting, sticking at it, lots of bad days when it’s been tough. There’s a lot to be said for dedication. The thing I liked particularly about the top end is the detail that you can apply, which kind of suits my personality of planning, analyzing, and so on.

Sue: [00:07:09] So I can understand athletes and coaches for that matter being motivated to get to the top and to win an Olympic medal. For example, yet I’m imagining it’s a bit more of a challenge to sustain that success at the top over a period of years. So from your perspective, a sports scientist and somebody who’s underpinning that success, what helps to motivate those athletes and coaches to sustain performance over time?

Barry: [00:07:36] It’s actually a really, really tough thing to do to stay on top. And very few sports people really stay at the top for a long time. They tend to be very exceptional people. You know, somebody like a Mo Farah in endurance running or Usain Bolt in sprinting, they tend to be exceptionally talented individuals, but they do also go through very hard times in terms of emotionally or things that happen to them that they have to dig in and work against. So they’re definitely not immune to that. But there’s something unique with some of these people that seems to sit inside them that drives them on for one reason or another. And it’s very hard to put your finger on. But when I was doing my PhD it was based in Kenya and it was around why are Kenyans successful in endurance running? And one of the things that really came out of it was just their  background, their environment that they’re living in and their desire to get out of that living where you know the average wage was a dollar a day, 20 years ago in Kenya. And the running world provided an opportunity for people to get out of the country, earn some money and come back. So I think there’s different things that motivate different people, and that’s certainly different than what would motivate a British athlete to grow and be successful. Right now. It’s actually a very interesting area, but I think quite a lot of it is the people that are around you. The people that motivate you, it’s not just about winning medals after medals. It’s the people around you that keep you going, I think is one of the things for sure.

Sue: [00:09:01] So having a broader support system, people who are there to be with you during the highs and the lows that  is pretty important?

Barry: [00:09:09] Exactly. Yeah. Particularly the lows, I think is a really important thing. Over the years I’d worked with Mo Farah and watched him go to countless championships. But the one thing I would say that probably kept him going was the variety, in terms of, we always had a different year. So although it’s running, the set up the sessions, the way we ran the vote, certain things. Tried to vary it so that it wasn’t boring at that provide a challenge. And the beauty of sport is that there’s always some new challenge to go against as well. There’s always something you’re chasing, whether it’s one more year or somebodys record. So that’s one of the things about sport that if your body allows you, you can keep going.

Sue: [00:09:48] People might assume that elite athletes are full on at old times that they’re operating at their optimum. Now I’m imagining that recovery is actually quite a critical part of the entire process. Would you agree? And if so, how do you factor in recovery?

Barry: [00:10:04] A hundred percent agree again, take something like Mo Farah training wise. He probably is only training for about 15 hours a week. The rest of the time he’s recovering somebody smarter than me could work on the percentages, but it’s a very small amount of time that you’re actually training. Most of the adaptations come when you’re resting. And you’re recovering. It’s just massively important to understand that, particularly in sport. The training is just one component that you have to get, right. Recovery is a bigger component that if you don’t get right, you’ll never make it. And particularly as athletes get older, you have to concentrate on that recovery and rest even more. If your body’s not as young and adaptable as it used to be, the recovery is even more important. It’s probably the same for life in general. It’s massively important that people rest and recover and look after themselves.

Sue: [00:10:49] I’m thinking about some of the listeners who may be in the world of business. I think that health and wellbeing is becoming a much more prevalent part of the thing to pay attention to in the workplace. Have you seen that?

Barry: [00:11:00] Yeah, for sure. I mean, again, if you just take it from the sport world,  that the 80:20 sort of idea, which is probably around about what we’re talking about 20%, is providing 80% of your gains, it’s probably the same with recovery. And I think people in the corporate world can learn a lot from sport and one of the things I particularly like is sprints. Whether you have a goal within a period of time and in sport that could be four weeks where you work very hard and concentrate on a certain thing. And then there’s a block of recovery. And then you identify another four to six weeks and you go hard again. And then that works in life in business as well. The idea of identifying a target, which is quite close, going as hard as you can have a break going again, the human body likes cycles.

Sue: [00:11:43] If you’re enjoying this episode, you’ll probably want to keep up to date with all the news from us, hop on over to our website. Access to inspiration.org and subscribe to our newsletter. You can do this  at the foot of the homepage. And while you’re there, tell us what you think of the podcast series and which guests you have enjoyed the most. We’d love to hear from you. That brings us onto the subject of Tokyo, of course, because the expected cycle of the Olympics this year has not happened. How do you think that athletes and coaches need to be adapting to the delay of the Olympics?

Barry: [00:12:20] It’s a fascinating question because I don’t think anyone really knows. I think the people that do accept where they’re at and adapt instead of complaining and wondering what they’re going to do, we’ll be the ones who’ll be successful. Unfortunately, there’s nothing really anyone can do. And this idea about you can only control the things you can control. You can’t be changing the world. We can’t be changing what’s going on the coronavirus. So the ones who are able to adapt that move on, will probably be the ones that will probably be successful next year. The ones who spend the next six months worrying about how they can access their gym or where they’re going to train will probably struggle. But guess its a fascinating one. Who knows where we’re going to be in four months time, nevermind. Eight months time. So it will be interesting. And I think even if we get to the Olympic games, but the crowds aren’t there for one reason or another, again, it’ll be fascinating on how people perform at an empty stadium without the usual buzz that began from 80 or 90,000, seater stadium. So I think that there’s so many interesting questions about sport and Covid and what will happen.

Sue: [00:13:22] That’s an interesting conundrum for us all to be observing as well when, and if the Olympics happen in 2021. So thinking about your journey in sport, Barry, and your career, what motivates you to keep going?

Barry: [00:13:35] I feel my journey it’s definitely changed from beginning to end then. I think over the last couple of years, it’s been more about helping other people achieve their goals or at least a realization it’s about helping other people I think it always has been. And I think now I’m no longer at British Athletics, when I was there it was about helping those people that are identified by the Federation to be successful at Olympic games. Now it’s about helping a broader group of people and it could be, it will be athletes that will be coaches, but it could also be business. People who are interested in an insight into high performance sport and the detail and the planning that goes into it that might fit a business model that’s similar. So it’s very much about using some of the knowledge experiences, some of the science from high performance to help other people in a broader sense. That’s it. And it’s quite exciting. And we’ll see what happens.

Sue: [00:14:25] As you’ve been going along on your journey, Barry, how or who motivates and inspires you?

Barry: [00:14:31] Im always massively inspired by the athletes in terms of what they’re doing. Um, I think it does drag you along, in terms of their story, their journey, their challenges, their highs, or lows. One of the misconceptions probably if you work in sport is that it’s this glorious lifestyle and it’s great. And all the rest of it, the reality is that there’s normally a moment at some point where it comes good. The rest of it is hard work, its grafting. And I really enjoy contributing to that journey. Even if they’re not winning the gold medal, it’s helping people for me is massively inspirational. And it does motivate me. I do love sitting watching sport as well on TV. And I think that does motivate me to keep doing that type of thing. But I am motivated in a slightly different way than I am in terms of trying to use my experiences over the last four Olympiads that I have been part of, to help other people. And it does make me wake up in the morning with a slightly different emphasis than what I was doing before, but it’s nonetheless very rewarding.

Sue: [00:15:30] So the sense I get from what you’ve talked about on a number of answers to the questions is about the importance of attention to detail. And I’m just wondering if you can give us some examples of what sorts of details are athletes and coaches paying attention to these days, still in the idea of technology as something can give us detail, I’m just thinking average athlete that wants to get better. What details should they be paying attention to?

Barry: [00:15:55] Part of the process of the, on the start line is you visualize and you think about all the things that you need to do, but then also employ another strategy that I call it that so ADAPT.  A is for Ambition. So we work through a process and you go, right. So what you want to do, and for some of the people that I worked with, it might be to win a medal. It could be a want to run a marathon, or I want to improve my golf handicap, whatever it might be. That’s my ambition, then it’s D and that’s for determinants. And that’s like, well, what does it really take? And in the world I was in, if I gave you an example, if you’re a 5,000 meter runner, a male 5,000 meter runner, you know that you’ve got to be able to run under 13 minutes. You’ve got to be able to run the last kilometer in two minutes, 24 seconds. And you’ve got to be able to run the last lap in 54 seconds. And you’ve got to have a body weight less than 56 kilos. Those are the types of details that a coach and athlete would be looking at. And so it’s very much what does it truly take? And then what underpins that is the next one, which should be Assess. So where are you now with some of these components and where are you now with some of the things that we can test? So in endurance running you could test in the lab for some of these qualities that underpin a 13 minute, 5K or a 2.24 last 1K. So you have ADA and then the last most important, but it’s probably P which is Process. And the idea behind the process is just trying to work out what are the things would actually make the biggest difference and then which order should we do them in? And so. Again, when you sit with lots of athletes and coaches and I’m sure businesses do this as well, they come up with lots of ideas about how to be better, but the idea behind this component is how do we find out what will actually make the biggest difference or make the biggest gains and then which order to be, doing them in. And then the  last one’s T –  who’s on your team, who are the people that are accountable for the various things that we’re going to do when you pull it all together, you hopefully at the end of that session, you have a nice plan and kind of brings together, right? What’s the problem. What’s the ambition. What’s it going to take? Where are you? Now, what are we going to do first? And who’s accountable or who’s going to help you do it. That’s the sort of world that I would work in, very process driven, but done in a very natural, conversational sense. That is not like a tick box exercise. It’s very much just a process to work through and hopefully get the best out of people that way.

Sue: [00:18:16] I love the simple acronym, the easy descriptions, and yet no doubt the difficulty that lies behind that. And I imagine that for some people, when they get to the assess element of it, they actually start to really understand what something takes- that may switch them off at that point.

Barry: [00:18:33] I thought it does. Yeah. And it takes a lot of honesty to do it properly. A lot of people are unsuccessful because they’re not honest enough with themselves. And again, businesses I’m sure are the same. There’s lots of stories about businesses who, who didn’t see what was in front of them because they believed in their own party.

I think it’s the same with athletes and coaches as well. That without honesty, sometimes you get lured down the wrong path. Also, I think bringing somebody in external as well. So my previous role, although I was the head coach for the program, I was external in many senses to most of the conversations between athletes and coaches.

We talked together and I was able to come in and provide that structure and that framework and get some outside perspective that maybe they wouldn’t already see. So yeah, I mean, it’s. Adapt or die. I used to say it sounds a bit harsh, but  in sport it’s kind of true as well. If it’s a fast moving game that you have to keep your eye on and review and plan regularly, what you’re going to do against what it truly takes.

Sue: [00:19:31] My final thought, Barry is that that formula sounds relevant for people going into a world that is known. So one can understand what the realities are that are required as you say, to run a world-leading 5000 meters, for example, What about for businesses or for athletes or sports people, who truly want to step into the world of the unknown. They want to do something that’s never been done before. How would you adapt the adapt metaphor?

Barry: [00:19:59] That’s a really tough question. And I think a lot of it is trying to predict the future and British cycling, for example, the way technology moved on for them in terms of aerodynamics and bikes. And so on that, what it would have taken to win a gold medal and previous Olympics is no more relevant. So they had always looking for, you know, where’s it going to go to next? That there’s a certain amount of prediction, whereas a track and field, what it takes to win is actually reasonably stable. There’s always outliers, but there’s a generalization about what it’s going to take, having the right people around you asking the right questions is probably the key thing.

Like, well, what about that? And if you thought about that, but I still think a framework such as ADAPT or, Own the Start Line  allows you to work through some of those problems. Again, quite often. I think it’s good to have an external person to lead you through that sometimes. You can get stuck in your own paradigm. And you’re in your own way of thinking if it’s just you and your team sitting in the office, as you do every Thursday or whatever, I think that’s quite important.

Sue: [00:20:56] Well, I think you’ve given us a real insight into what sounds simple as a series of activities that it takes to get to improving one’s performance, but it’s consistency over time and relentless focus on those things, which sounds much harder.

Yeah, for sure. And I think if you think about the business world, you might get flash in the pan business that does well, but to have continual success, if you do have to keep your eye on the game, You do have to keep planning and reviewing and checking where you’re at. Moving forward and adapting all the time. And it’s just the same in sport. It’s no different, and it does take quite a special leader or person around you to keep you in that frame of mind and not take it for granted. I’m sure listeners can think of all different types of companies that haven’t adopted and moved from the times. You know, a good example, maybe Nokia with the phone. They were once the top, top companies in the world, but they didn’t adapt and they didn’t move forward with what was happening in sport and businesses. Exactly the same.

Well, it’s been lovely to speak to you about today and how can listeners find out more about you and the services that you offer on the internet and social media?

Barry: [00:22:04] They’ve got a website www.Lap25.com. I’m on Instagram as well at Lap25_consultancy. I’m just starting out with some new projects. My company’s based around education. Support and inspiration and lots of hopefully exciting things from can help lots of different people in lots of different walks of life.

Sue: [00:22:28] Fantastic. Well, it’s been inspiring to talk to you today,  Barry. Thanks so much for your time. So I wonder experiences motivated you to do differently. Are you going to get out your training shoes and start running or even improve your running? If you’ve already started? If you enjoyed what he had to say, then please leave us a review on Apple podcast. We’d love to hear from you. We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. Just go over and search for access to inspiration. We setting up a listeners panel recording discussion, where you can discuss with other listeners, what you have gleaned from these podcasts and what they have caused you to think or do differently.

If you’d like to find more about that and how you can be involved, then drop us a line by going on over to the website, access to inspiration.org and leave us a message on the contact page. Next week, we will be continuing with the theme of sustainability with my guest Milena Cvijanovich, a designer and architect who will be discussing the concept of sustainable luxury. I hope you can join us then.

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