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Member of the month: Peter Koopmans

We have a rather special Member of the Month Interview to end this December. Although not a current CrossFit GVA member, Peter Koopmans is definitely an honorary member. At the beginning of December, Peter took on a very special challenge on World AIDS Day to raise funds for a South African charity. The charity works to support sexually abused children and raise HIV awareness in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The challenge was to complete 15 Murphs in 24 hours. Murph consists of a 1-mile run, 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 air squats and a 1-mile run again, all while wearing a 10kg vest. For those of you who have done Murph once, you know how hard it is. To do 15 in 24 hours is truly an extraordinary feat.

We caught up with Peter after his marathon to talk about his training.

When did you decide to take on this challenge?
The idea came to me about 2 years ago after seeing a YouTube video by Dave Barry (UK), who had completed 24 hours of Murphs to raise awareness of the plight of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He finished 11 Murphs in 24 hours, and I thought maybe I could do one or two more than that. But on Memorial Day, May 28, American John Sullivan did 13 Murphs, so I had to set the bar a little higher.

Why did you choose Murph in particular?
Murph has a special meaning for me. This WOD is named in honor of Michael P. Murphy, a Navy Seal who died in combat in 2008 in Afghanistan, sacrificing himself to save his unit. I was in the military for 21 years, the last 10 as a member of the Special Forces. I've lost friends in combat and been wounded myself, so this story touches me personally. And as they say, "once a soldier, always a soldier"!

Are there any differences between the 24h of Murph and other tough endurance events you've done in the past?
I've done mountain ultra-marathons before, and while there are similarities, there are also a lot of differences.

First of all, the weighted vest, which adds to the rest and never feels snug. It weighs down your shoulders and is never really comfortable. If you don't tighten it enough, it moves too much; if you tighten it too much, it compresses your chest and prevents you from breathing properly.

There's also the general wear and tear on the body. When you do an ultra-marathon, it's mainly the legs that work, whereas Murph puts all the muscles to work: legs, shoulders, arms, abs... Apart from the duration, there's really no comparison.

How did you design your training plan?
I work with a coach, and we really focused on this challenge from the beginning of February. To schedule my workouts, we worked backwards from the date of the event. Heavy or long training sessions were mainly scheduled at weekends because

The aim was to do all 15 Murphs at least once in a limited time, and that's what I did two weeks before the big day: 3 Murphs on Friday, 5 Murphs on Saturday and 7 Murphs on Sunday.

All in all, to get to this point, here's what I've achieved since February:

  • 86 Murphs (+ 9 kg weighted vest), i.e. an average of 1 Murph per hour, almost 11 days of Murphing at a rate of 8 Murphs per day;
  • 5,675 unweighted pull-ups ;
  • 11,350 unballasted pumps ;
  • 17,025 unweighted squats ;
  • 6,785 weighted pull-ups (not including those performed during the Murphs) ;
  • 13,570 ballasted pumps (not including those made during the Murphs) ;
  • 20,355 weighted squats (not including those performed during Murphs) ;
  • And 97 hours of cyclic aerobic work (assault bike, rowing machine or skierg), i.e. around 12 days at a rate of 8 hours a day.

All this (weighted and bodyweight exercises plus Murphs) adds up to about :

  • 20,860 pulls ;
  • 41,720 pumps ;
  • 62,580 squats ;
  • And hours and hours of cyclical work.

So, all in all, my training volume was considerable.

One of my main objectives was to keep my heart rate as low as possible and never get into the red, to avoid depleting my reserves too quickly. All my training sessions were carried out wearing a heart rate monitor.

Nutrition and recovery clearly play an extremely important role. How did you manage these aspects?
It requires discipline on a daily basis. I prepared my own meals, making sure that all the ingredients were organic.

I also wanted to lose weight, and thanks to intermittent fasting, the elimination of low-nutritional-value carbohydrates and the volume of training, I went from 83.5 kg to 76 kg, which is almost the weight of a weighted vest, when you think about it.

I also had to do a lot of trial and error with my diet during the challenge, until I found the right formula. It took a lot of trial and error to find out what worked and what didn't, learning to avoid products that gave me heartburn or upset stomachs...

I tried to improve my sleep, which was quite a challenge as I've been suffering from insomnia for years. Every night, I followed a relaxation ritual before going to bed, always at 10 p.m. on the dot.

I did a lot of assistance exercises to preserve my shoulders (I was particularly worried about my left shoulder, where I'd been shot when I was in the army).

I also went regularly to my osteopath to correct alignment problems and to a physiotherapist for a deep massage.

Did you feel ready on D-day?
I knew I'd done the necessary work, but I was nervous. I'd started to reduce my training volume two weeks before the event, and it felt like my body was lacking activity. Aches and pains came out of nowhere, and on Monday, D-6, I woke up with a sharp pain in my shoulder. Fortunately, my osteo managed to more or less put everything back in order and, with his agreement, I decided to at least give it a try and go for it.

How did you prepare the event logistically (equipment, schedules, etc.)?
As far as the schedule was concerned, I had drawn up a plan for 15 Murphs interspersed with rest periods. The idea was to complete the first Murphs in 55 min and the last ones in 70 min. The rest time would initially be 20 minutes, gradually increasing to 50 minutes. In the end, I kept to the planned start times, but all my Murphs took between 50 and 59 min (the last one was even the fastest).

In terms of logistics, and especially equipment, every detail was important. So here's a list of the things I had in place.

Potholders : If I had torn my hands in the first few hours, it would probably have been the end of the adventure. So I had to find a way of warding off danger for as long as possible. I used Picsil Falcon potholders (which are very thick) combined with neoprene wrist bands(Rehband) to avoid friction, but in addition I put lubricant(Bodyglide) on the inside of the potholders to reduce friction on the palms.

I also made sure to file down the horn on my hands, using a metal rasp.

During the challenge I had 4 pairs of potholders at my disposal and I changed them before each Murph to make sure I started with dry hands.

Shoes : I used standard running shoes rather than Reebok Nano or Nike Metcons. The reason was that they offered better cushioning. You'd think that wouldn't make much difference, but when you're running for 48 km with a 9 kg vest on your back, your ankles, knees and lumbar vertebrae are put to the test. The lack of cushioning in regular CrossFit shoes would certainly have been a source of discomfort, at best, if not injury.

Clean T-shirts : I sweat a lot, so I made sure to put on a clean T-shirt for each Murph. This prevented me from getting cold during the breaks.

Knee pads : I used standard neoprene knee pads, lowering them for the running sections and raising them mainly for squats.

Headband : To prevent the sweat from burning my eyes, I wore a Gutr headband, which wicks perspiration away from the sides of my face. I also had a towel attached to the cage so I could wipe my face from time to time.

Miscellaneous : Among the details that are nonetheless important, we can mention :

  • Have a box nearby where I can put my water bottles;
  • iPad or lap counter: I always had my iPad handy, to help me time Cindy's laps and make sure I was getting enough rest between laps;
  • Stack of discs under the pull-up bar: To avoid having to jump to reach the bar and do my pull-ups, I built myself a little step. This enabled me to place my hands correctly and avoid tearing them, which would have happened if I'd had to jump.

I also always had 2 people next to me counting my reps and preparing my drinks, so I didn't have to worry about it. They also made sure I had enough to eat during the breaks.

These are points of detail that came to mind during the months of training and preparation, but it's well known: it's all in the details.

What did you eat during the event?
Nothing ... at least nothing solid!

During my preparation, I realized that the stomach (at least mine) completely stopped working during training and that it wasn't a great idea to eat during breaks because the stomach couldn't digest solid food properly.

So I've stuck to liquids.

In total, I must have ingested nearly 20 liters of drinks, as follows.

During each Murph :

  • 800 ml of a mixture of unflavoured carbohydrate drink(Vitargo: 2 scoops) and BCAA(Gu: Summit tea: 1 scoop);
  • 400 ml water.

During breaks:

Did anything go more smoothly or more smoothly than expected, and if so, which?
Actually, it was harder than expected because my legs exploded very early on (after the4th Murph), and I think that's because of the breaks.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to this during my preparation, but the fact is that during my workouts I took relatively short breaks, so the muscles never really had time to cool down and become ankylosed.

In training, I did Murphs once every hour with 7-8 min rest in between. During the challenge, my breaks were much longer (20 minutes at the start and up to 50 minutes towards the end) and this was by design, so that I could refuel properly. The downside of this strategy was that my muscles became completely stiff. As a result, the beginning of the run was very painful for my legs, and during the first series of pull-ups I felt as if my back and shoulders were being ripped out.

I knew it would hurt after a while, but I didn't think the pain would come so quickly. And once you're in pain, you have to move forward mentally. Suffering and accepting that suffering is part of the game, and fortunately I was in a good frame of mind. I never thought about giving up, I took the Murphs one by one until the 10th or 11th, and once I got there, I was pretty sure I'd go all the way. I'd done more than half the work, visualized myself finishing my very last Murph and tried to smile through the pain.  

How did your recovery go after the event? Did you manage to sleep? Did you feel any pain?
I was pretty sore for the rest of the day on Monday, but as soon as I got home I soaked myself in a hot bath with essential oils and Epsom salt. I stayed awake until about 9 p.m. (basically emptying the fridge) and managed to sleep for 6 hours, which wasn't too bad considering my accelerated heart rate. The next day I went to work, did an hour of gentle assault bike to flush out the toxins, and by Wednesday I was feeling 100% again. I think my recovery was aided by the fact that my body had become accustomed to a considerable volume of training over several months. By Thursday, I was back to normal training.

What advice would you give to someone wishing to take on this kind of challenge?

Start early : don't take it lightly! When they see a challenge like this, most people think only of the big day, whereas success depends on all the work done beforehand. Personally, I spent 10 months preparing.

Use a heart rate monitor: When preparing for any kind of endurance event, I recommend using a heart rate monitor. It helped me regulate my effort to stay within target intensity zones.

Discipline : Set yourself rules and stick to them throughout your preparation. Training, nutrition and recovery must become your number-one priorities, every day.

Be present every day: There will be good days, bad days and even worse days. You have to do what you have to do every day, without exception. There's no question of taking shortcuts or giving up.

The right frame of mind: You need to train your mind as well as your body. Whether to combat the monotony of training (there's only running, pull-ups, push-ups and squats, and a limited number of possible combinations) or to prepare yourself mentally for the effort ahead. In your head, you need to be ready to put in the work and see it through, even on days when you don't feel like it.

Have a mantra: I borrowed mine from David Goggins. When I was in the depths of pain during the challenge, I kept repeating to myself, "Stay strong, keep fighting," over and over again.

And finally, learning to accept the pain : It's going to hurt... You have to accept it, and grit your teeth.

What's the next challenge?!
Haha!!! I'm in the process of resuming my usual workouts (CrossFit). I think I can say I have a good aerobic base, but I haven't touched a barbell or weights for 10 months, so I need to work on my strength, technique, etc. again. That's what I'm going to concentrate on for now.

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