Lucas Bruchet and Justin Kent are Vancouver-based distance runners training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The pair grew up competing against each other in Surrey, BC, and became teammates on the University of British Columbia’s varsity running team.
Bruchet is a three-time national cross-country champion and represented Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This year Kent won the iconic Vancouver Sun Run, besting international competition to become the first local champion since 1992. They both hope to compete in the 5,000m and 10,000m races in Tokyo.
After testing our collaboration with Reigning Champ, Justin and Lucas sat down to discuss their training, what it takes to stay healthy, the mental challenges of distance running, and their advice for runners of all levels.
When did you guys start distance running? Was there a moment when things clicked and you realized it was something you wanted to pursue?
Justin: I grew up playing multiple sports. I was outside wing in soccer, and I always felt running came so much easier to me. I was able to run up and down the field, super fit, and I kind of just transitioned to it. My dad ran track and field pretty competitively when he was my age, so it was a smooth trajectory. I kind of wanted to follow his footsteps, but I don’t really have a moment. [To Lucas] Do you have a moment?
Lucas: I feel like a lot of runners don’t necessarily dream of being a runner at the start. You start playing other sports, and then you go out for cross country or track and you realize you’re just a bit better than everybody else. I think my teachers early on were like, “This kid has way too much energy, we need to find a way to burn it off,” and cross country was a natural outlet for that.
For me it was probably in high school, when you start to win your district, or your city, then go on to compete really well at the provincial level. You start to realize, “I might have the opportunity to go to school and do this.” It’s obviously not a huge sport in Canada, at least distance running. Maybe some of the sprinters like Andre De Grasse, that’s a little more iconic, but I just feel like you get a taste of winning and you like it, and you just go from there and see how far you can go.
How do you manage wear-and-tear, and how have past injuries informed your approach to staying healthy?
Justin: Just getting to the line healthy is the tough part. This is my first year [knocks on wood] that I’ve been healthy, for at least the majority of the year, so it’s been a learning curve. You definitely have to focus on a lot of the little things. The more you run, the more you have to do your physio drills, your roll out, your strength routine. I feel like I’m finally figuring it out.
Lucas: Since 2013 or 2014, I was Mr. Consistent, never more than a couple days off until the last year. I’ve had two significant injuries. One was a bit of a fluke, but the one I came down with this winter was somewhat sudden. It was a typical running injury, a stress fracture. More of an overuse injury. We’re fortunate because we have a good coach and a good support team in Vancouver, with physio and massage. I think being self-aware is a big thing. Whether it’s physio or stretching, hopefully by the point where we are, we’ve learned what we need to do, and for me that’s really staying on top of the physio and that sort of stuff, it makes a difference.
Justin: You’re constantly riding this fine line. You’ll be running your best race next week, or you’re hurt.
Lucas: That’s what happened when I got injured. We were down in San Diego and I lit the track on fire. I had probably the best workout I’ve ever had, and three days later I wasn’t running. I’ve been dealing with a bit of plantar fasciitis, but other than that, there was no inkling of anything being wrong. All of a sudden, I went for a run, came back, and later that night I couldn’t walk around the house.
It’s one of those things where you just have to put trust in your coach. We have probably one of the best therapists in the world here, and I’ve been working with her a lot more now because of that one injury. It’s working on your movement patterns, trying to make sure everything’s even on your left foot and your right foot, because if you’re taking more weight on one foot, it does a lot more than you think.
What does your training look like, is it primarily on the track, or does it vary?
Justin: It goes through cycles throughout the year. In the Fall we’ll avoid the track, it’s very repetitive through this part of the season.
Lucas: Going around the same circle, it gets a little hard on the body.
Justin: In the Fall it’ll be on grass and gravel, in the UBC Endowment Lands or Stanley Park, and we’ll put together 160 km weeks.
Lucas: We run a bit more volume through the Fall and Winter. We call it “Base Season.” You’re getting some volume in the legs and filling out for track season. Run a few road races here and there, and some cross country. Once we get into track season, we shift onto the track with a lot more intensity.
Justin: Most days we’re running twice, or one longer session, and two gym sessions a week.
Lucas: Basically a bit of everything. Some cross training. It doesn’t stop.
Ideally it doesn’t stop.
Lucas: That’s the thing with distance running that’s unique. Endurance sports in general, whether it’s cycling or swimming. It has to be so consistent for you to succeed. That’s why missing time is hard, especially with running. If you’re a triathlete and you’re injured, you’re able to cycle and swim and still improve. Running is such a unique movement, and if you’re consistently taking time off you don’t have the chance to build that steamroll effect.
I think it’s evident with Justin this year. For the first winter in a couple he’s been healthy the whole way through. He won the Sun Run, and he’s running PB’s, running faster than he ever has, and that goes to show that being healthy makes a huge difference.
Congrats on the Sun Run. For somebody from Vancouver, that’s like…
Justin: Thanks. The amount of attention I received, I did not expect.
Lucas: You’ll never live it down now.
Lucas, I’d like to touch on your experience at the 2016 Olympics. As a young guy from Canada, suddenly you’re in Rio, you’re around runners from all over the world, some of them giants of the sport. What did you take away from that experience?
Lucas: For me, it was extremely motivating. Over the years I’ve raced a handful of guys that were in the 5 km race, but standing on the start line with Mo Farah, who’s the double Olympic champion from 2012, he’s won the world championships two or three times in a row… They order you on the track before you start, and I was “hip one,” which means I’m the first guy on the inside. He’s right next me, and not just him, every other guy on the start line is as fast I am, and most of them are faster.
I worked my ass off, but I think your perspective changes when you start to be at that level and see what everybody else is doing. What you once thought was really hard or unachievable just becomes normal, and that’s what you have to show up and do at practice. It’s one of those things, you go to the Olympics and the mindset shifts, like, “I’m here and it’s great, but I’m also here for a reason.” I didn’t qualify for the final, but I stepped off the track like, “I want to be back here in four years, standing on the start line in the final.” It was really motivating for me, the fire was definitely lit after that race.
Justin, what have you learned from training with Lucas?
Justin: It’s always been like, “If he can do it, I can do it.” He was always a year older than me, when we were in high school at Kwantlen Park and Elgin. I would see him running all these fast times, and I’d be like, “Ok, give me a year and I can probably get there.” He’s encouraged me to believe that I could do that. It’s sometimes tough when you see these times people run. When you watch the Olympics on TV, it’s so abstract, it’s so far removed. But if you train with a guy and see what he does day-in and day-out, it makes it attainable in a way.
It’s the little things. Luc’s very methodical, just focusing on making sure you do everything, all your little stuff. That’s the biggest takeaway. This last year I’ve had to focus on the fact that it’s not just the running, it’s everything around the running. You can run 100 miles a week, but it doesn’t help if you’re not healthy.
Outside of staying healthy and riding that fine line you were talking about, so much of running is mental. How do you approach that aspect of the sport?
Justin: I’ve been getting really interested in that. If I have a bad race, really trying to re-evaluate my thought process during the race. Because the body follows the mind, and with all the hype around Breaking2 and Kipchoge, just his mental Zen… In a race you’re uncomfortable, but that’s just your mind, it’s just a sensation you’re addressing. If I’m having a bad day in a race, and I’m focused on, “I’m having a bad day,” it becomes a snowball effect of, “I’m not feeling good, I’m not…” You’re focused on the end result, as opposed to, “I’m here, just one more step.” I’m trying to be way more in the moment these days, and more focused on the process than the actual result.
Lucas: At the end of the day we do it because we love the sport. Maybe it sucks for a little bit, maybe it hurts for a little bit. If it hurts for the last five minutes of a race or training, that’s pretty good if it’s the worst we’re going to feel. Trying to remember we enjoy it is a big thing.
Justin: Smiling through the pain.
Lucas: I’ve always had a hard time talking about the mental aspect of it, because it’s always kind of clicked for me. I never really needed to deal or worry with that. The racing for us is the celebration of what we’re doing, and we work so hard for nine or ten months of the year… To actually step on the track and see what we can do is the celebration. Running is such a pure form of testing yourself, at least for me, getting out on the track and racing, that’s the fun part. I don’t get too nervous.
Justin: When your body’s screaming and your mind is telling you “it’s so easy to slow down,” that’s the most alive you feel.
If you could give one piece of advice to the amateur runner, whether they’re trying to become elite, or working 40 hours a week and struggling with motivation, what would that be?
Justin: Enjoy the process. I think that’s big. You’ll want to have these goals, but you’ve got to enjoy the day-to-day grind and have fun with it.
Lucas: It doesn’t matter how far or how fast you’re going. Just getting out the door and putting one foot in front of the other is good enough, and enjoy it, like Justin said.