The Warm Up: Q&A With Elite Runner Bob Bertemes
Elite Runner Bob Bertemes shares his thoughts on life, training, how to run faster and not take things too seriously.
Most of us participating in competitive endurance sports would like to go just a little faster. While there is no silver bullet or magic pill, speed can be achieved through hard work, consistency and variability in training.
We had a chance to catch up with Bob Bertemes (Instagram @berte.bob) to learn what it takes to go fast on race day. Bertemes, a self proclaimed recreational runner has seen quite a bit of success on the track. His accolades include a 5k PR of 14:26 and a 3:43 in the 1500 meters, earning him a world ranking in the top 250 in that distance.
AG: How long have you been running?
BB: I am 28 years old and running has been part of my life for all 28 years. My father used to be a triathlete and would go to the track at our local club, the Celtic Diekrich every Wednesday and Friday. As soon as I could run/walk, I joined the youth running groups. I felt like I belonged there and it always felt very natural to me.
I tried other team sports and I was okay, but I was always an exceptional runner. I loved it from the first second on.
AG: When were you introduced to structured training and how did that affect you?
BB: I had a very traditional running education in Luxemburg. In the beginning, you learn a little bit of everything: running as well as general movement in all track and field events. It is here you get to know your body, its abilities and how it functions. By the age of 12/13, you pick a direction based on the areas in which you excel.
I knew quite early on that I was a runner. I started with structured training at 14 years old and trained three to four times a week. By the age of 16 years, I was training six to seven days a week.
It brought structure to my life and that structure has carried through into adulthood. I train daily and rarely take a day off. My training is such a big part of my life that I plan all of my daily activities around it. On the rare occasion that I take a day off, I don’t even know when to shower because I’m so used to showering after training—that’s how reliant I am on my schedule!
AG: What are your primary goals that you are working towards?
BB: My goals are to keep getting better.
I want to run fast and achieve certain times, but seeing progress over time is most important. It’s lovely if it’s represented in time on the track, but it doesn’t have to.
I am also trying to transition to longer distances, focusing on the 5k, 10k for now and will start to work into the half marathon a little. I find a lot of joy in longer sessions. I’m quite sure I will eventually run a marathon…and run it competitively.
However, I’m not quite ready to dive into marathon training yet. I still feel like I have stuff to show on the track and in the 5k. Once the high volume marathon training begins, it will slow me down on the shorter distances, and I’m not ready for that yet.
Once I’ve gotten faster on the track I will transition to the full marathon.
AG: As an elite runner, I’m sure you observe quite a few “areas for improvement” among amateurs. What are some of the main missteps you see athletes taking?
BB: Well, I don’t see myself as an elite runner. I’m still a recreational runner, it’s my hobby. I work full time as a physiotherapist. But as a physiotherapist I see many many things that athletes, and runners in particular, do wrong.
- Change up your speed. Don’t just run at the same speed all of the time—this is probably the worst thing you can do to your body. Incorporate some strides at the end of your run, intervals or fartleks, at least one to two days a week.
- Practice at your race pace. Don’t expect your body to run fast on race day if you’ve never run fast in training. It will be hard for your body to run a seven minute pace on race day when you’ve only trained at eight plus minutes/mile. This is one of the biggest errors I’ve seen people make.
- Properly warm up and incorporate drills. This is the key to preventing injuries down the road. Consistency is key, and to stay consistent you need to remain injury free.
AG: Are there specific principles of proper warm up, dynamic movement and body care that you follow?
BB: When warming up, focus on the muscles you need most for that particular sport. For example, if you are a swimmer, warm up your shoulders. You should also focus on muscle groups that may have weaknesses.
I like to do my warm ups starting top to bottom: I start with my arms, work down to the hips then upper legs, lower legs and ankles.
AG: For avid runners looking to achieve their next PR, what should they focus on?
BB: Start by incorporating hills, which will promote better knee lift and open up your stride. It doesn’t need to be an entire hill session, just try and get in 5X100m hill repeats before moving back to flat running.
Find your pace based on feel. Your threshold pace—or your best 5k pace—should be based on feeling rather than a number (as your mood and/or health are variable factors). Additionally, with the abundance of GPS watches, runners have become very focused on hitting specific time paces. Try to base your session on feel, and if you feel good push a little faster, if not, slow it down.
We all have lives outside of training and we need to accommodate how our personal life, work, family and friends might affect how we perform in training.
Lastly, you will never accomplish something by overcompensating. For example, if you missed part of a session at the beginning of the week because you weren’t feeling as strong, don’t try to make it up in another session later in the week. You can always cut a workout short but it is not advised to add to a workout.