At Runfisx we are very much focused on how ideas are applied in the real world, in real situations and environments. So we are very excited and honored to be able to share a recent Q&A between Runfisx and Marc Roig Tio. Marc has been working at the cutting edge of runner support and injury prevention with the very best runners in the world through the NN Running Team. In our opinion there is no one better right now to talk about how the world's fastest runners are supported than Marc.
RF: Let's start by setting the scene a little in terms of your journey. What is your academic and work background before working for NN Running? Have you always focused on running? Did you always aim to be a physio with elite runners?
MR: I studied physiotherapy in Spain and I did also a master's degree in High Performance in Sport. Since I am an athlete myself, I always wanted to work with athletes but it was not easy at the beginning while living in Spain. I started doing rehabilitation in small clinics in Spain (mostly aged people with low back pain) until I got my dream job: be the physio of Kenenisa Bekele.
RF: Cool. So how did you become part of the NN Running support team? Did you know Global Sports Communications before it became NN Running?
MR: This is a funny story. I traveled to Kenya sometimes back because my wife is Kenyan. In 2015 we decided to stay for 3 months and look for opportunities to remain in the country. And then I saw a tweet from Tom Goom (a famous UK physio) asking if anyone was interested to work with top athletes oversees. I said that I was interested and already in Kenya, so that gave me some advantage and the following week I moved to Ethiopia to be the physio of Kenenisa Bekele in the beginning of the Sub2 Project leaded by Yannis Pitsiladis.
After one month on probation, they hired me and offered me the job. But, to cut the story short, I will just say that at that time Sub2 was mostly funded by Global. Since my wife is Kenyan, after a few months I suggested if I could do the similar job (for Global, not for Sub2) in Kenya. They accepted and since Christmas of 2015 I am in Kenya. About knowing Global before, I actually did. Not a huge contact but I knew some of the employees and I already did peacemaking for Florence Kiplagat (one of their top athletes) when she did the WR's of Half Marathon in Barcelona. So they knew about me, as well.
RF: So today where abouts in the world are you based? (race season and off season) Do you work across different countries? Do you go to races to support particular runners?
MR: I am based most of the year in Kenya and I rarely travel to races with the athletes. There are other physios in Global and they usually travel more than me (at least about going to races with them). Since I am still running actively, I do travel sometimes for my own competitions or for pacing. And I like to take a month of holidays during the off season to visit the family and friends in Spain.
RF: For readers out there that don't know of NN can you describe what the NN Running Team is? Which countries it operates in and approximately how many runners there are?
MR: The NN Running Team is a new concept in athletics and a successful project of Jos Hermens to renew a bit the road racing. It's mostly a project of communication (until now, the information about how top athletes trained and do was either silent or of very poor quality). We see that fans like to know almost everything about the heroes in football, basketball, etc. but to do so in an individual sport was very challenging. The unity that NN has brought by creating an international team has made this job easier.
Of course there are many more aspects such as better physiotherapy approach or access, improved facilities, stronger ties with Nike... But I want to put on top that the biggest change has been in communication, on creating a new way of seeing marathons and making the athletes more role models to the fans.
I don't know the current numbers but on its first year, the NN Running Team had 60 athletes from 15 different countries.
RF: What would you say is your title and role with NN Running? What are you responsible for with the runners?
MR: I identify myself as a physio and pacemaker for the NN Running Team, but roles are very dynamic. Since we are now more physios working in Kenya, my role of giving massage has gone down quite a bit while I have become more important on the rehabilitation and prevention aspects. I would say I am becoming a strength and conditioning coach, but the lines between roles are not well defined. Living in Kenya, I have to be flexible to do a bit of everything and this is what I do. Up to the point that I am still training hard and dreaming of personal bests (because I am also an athlete for NN as well!).
RF: Clearly injury prevention is important with elite runners - is it easier or harder for them than non-elites? Do they put a lot more work in to stay injury free than non-elites?
MR: There is a huge difference between an elite runner and a non-elite: the time they spend resting. And resting is a huge, HUGE, aspect in injury prevention. Of course we try to focus on individual programs to strengthen the weakest part of every athlete, and most of them see that part of exercises as something very important. The amount of work or hours that we put there is small, but specific.
RF: What kind of methods would you typically be using to help the runners stay injury free? Massage, foam rolling, IMS, strength training?
MR: The most used one here in Kenya is the massage. The athlete likes it and it gives a very good feedback to the physiotherapist if you see the same athlete once or twice a week. Foam rolling is not common at all (except for those athletes that live in more rural areas and have less access to the physio). And strength training is becoming popular but we are going step by step. As for now, we are mostly doing exercises with only body weight with the marathoners and some extra weights for the track athletes, but season by season we try to improve on that.
RF: How much of your work is similar for all runners and how much is unique to each runner? Are there any specific areas that need to be individualized?
MR: There is a very basic core exercise program that we use for all the athletes: it works as a get together (keep the group united) and as a warm up for those athletes that have specific programs. Usually, those athletes with recurrent pains/injuries start individualized programs. We keep it simple.
RF: What do you see from your perspective are the most common reasons world class elite runners get injured? Is it simply over training or biomechanical or lack of functional strength?
MR: I would say that over training has the biggest part of it. And by over training I don't mean necessarily training too much but maybe resting too little and not counting the extra efforts (altitude, extreme heat, stress, etc.). Although I love biomechanics and running technique, I am becoming skeptical about changes in the way of running. I would much more suggest a very specific program of strength training that would bring, unconsciously, an improvement in the running technique. But again, the biggest intervention I would suggest is to rest more and adjust training intensity to avoid over training.
RF: Do you often see a particular part of the body that always needs help/work with runners? i.e glutes? hamstrings? lower back?
MR: The combination of hamstrings and low back (one or the other, but usually together) is a common area of attention. And never forget the Achilles tendons.
RF: What is your opinion on new technology? Do you or have you used technology to help you look after runners? Is there anything you particularly like?
MR: While I was in Spain, I liked to film runners on the treadmill in slow motion and get some data from there. I don't do it in Kenya because we don't access treadmills easily and because most of our athletes don't even know how to run comfortably there. I have a contact platform to measure jumps (squat jump, plyometrics) and an encoder to measure power/speed during weight lifting, but I am not using it with the track athletes because we are still in learning the technique properly before we start moving fast. I have to say that it's a part of my profession that I like, but the introduction of technology is slow in Kenya.
In September 2018 the leading NN Running team member and marathon runner under Marc's care, Eliud Kipchoge, broke the marathon world record by well over a minute by running 2h01'39''. You can find out more about this historic run here LINK
RF: What was it like watching Eliud break the record? Did you get to go to Berlin? Did you know for sure in your mind before the race that he would break the record?
MR: The day of the record was amazing. I was not in Berlin but in Eldoret, which was also fun to be. We all knew that the record was possible and I did my prediction of 2h02'37"; what we never expected was that he would go that deep. I think it's something that only himself knew it was possible.
RF: From what you have seen working with Eliud what do you think is his biggest skill/asset as a person and runner that makes him the best marathon runner? Is it Physiology? Psychology? Lifestyle?
MR: The biggest quality from Eliud is the mind. He loves the sport and he puts everything he can to make his best. It's not so much about making the World Record but making his best race every time he is in the start line. Luckily, because he is so good, that means to try the WR. But in his mind the motivation is the same that you and me could have: just do your best today and feel proud of it. And with this philosophy, he does also the training. I have never seen him under performing in a training because of feeling sick, tired or lazy. He is always in front.
RF: Finally. What tips would have for aspiring physios that want to work with runners? What lessons have you learned over the past years that you would be happy to pass on to others out there?
MR: It's not easy to get tips rather than the love of the sport and the motivation for getting out of the comfort zone. I didn't look for this job but I was ready to take it when it knocked at my door. Of course all the past background counts, because being an athlete and having visited Kenya and Ethiopia in the past was making my adaptation to this life much easier. Unfortunately, there aren't many options currently like mine, but let's hope that other brands make teams such as the NN Running Team and we can even have team competitions in the future (with good physios in every team!).
Thanks Marc for your time and insight. We too hope to see more running brands developing innovations like this.
You've been reading the first installment of the Runfisx Q&A series, part of our ongoing goal to share knowledge and insights from the coal face of runner injury prevention. If you've enjoyed this and would like to see us post more similar content, please let us know with a comment below. Equally if you have a particular interest area you would like us to shine a light on feel free tell us, as they might be others out there with the same thoughts.