Member of the Month: Peter Koopmans

We have a special blog/member of the month interview for December. Although he is not a current member of CrossFit GVA, Peter Koopmans is definitely an honorary member. At the beginner of December, Peter took on a very special challenge on World Aids Day to raise money for a South African charity working to support sexually abused children and to increase awareness around HIV 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, all while wearing a 10kgs weight vest. For those of you who have done Murph once, you know how hard it is. To do 15 in in 24 hours is truly an epic achievement.

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

When did you decide to do this?
The idea of doing it originated about 2 years ago after I saw a clip on YouTube of Dave Barry (UK) who did a 24 hour Murph to raise awareness for soldiers that came back with PTSD. He did 11 Murphs in 24 hours and I was thinking, maybe I can do 1 or 2 more than that. But then last memorial day May 28th there an American, John Sullivan did 13 Murphs, so I had to raise the bar a little.

What made you decide specifically to do Murph?
Murph has a really special meaning for me, it’s named after Michael P. Murphy, a Navy Seal who was killed in action in 2008 in Afghanistan, sacrificing his life for his team. I’ve been in the military for 21 years, my last 10 years as a Special Forces operator. I have lost friends in combat and was wounded in action myself, so I can relate. And as they say: ‘Once a soldier, always a soldier’

How does this compare to other difficult endurance events that you have done in the past?
I have done ultra-mountain marathons in the past and while to some point it compares to the 24 hr Murph, it’s so different on many levels.

First of all the weight vest, which, as an additional implement, never seems to fit quite right. It weighs on the shoulders, never feels really comfortable. If you make it too loose it shuffles around too much, if you fix it too tight, it constricts your chest and prevents you from breathing properly.

There is that, but then also the taxation of the entire body. When you do ultra-running, it’s mainly the legs that are working, when you do a Murph your entire body is working, legs, shoulders, arms, core…. Other than the time domain, there is no comparison really.

How did you design your training plan?
I work with a coach and we really started focusing on this challenge since the beginning of February. To design the training plan we did it counting backwards from the date of the challenge.

The goal was to do the 15 Murphs at least once in a compressed period of time and I did this 2 weeks before the challenge. 3 Murphs on Friday, 5 Murphs on Saturday and 7 Murphs on Sunday.

But all in all to get to that point, I did since February a total of

  • 86 Murphs (+ 20 lbs weightvest) if you count on average 1 Murph per hour that would be almost 11 days of ‘Murphing’ @ 8 Murphs per day
  • 5675 unweighted pull ups
  • 11350 unweighted push ups
  • 17025 unweighted squats
  • 6785 weighted pull ups (not included the ones I did in a regular Murph)
  • 13570 weighted push ups (not included the ones I did in a regular Murph)
  • 20355 weighted squats (not included the ones I did in a regular Murph)
  • And 97 hours of cyclical aerobic work (assault bike, rower or ski-erg) which is about 12 days @ 8 hours per day

Everything (weighted and unweighted + the ones during a Murph) combined that would be roughly:

  • 20860 pull ups
  • 41720 push ups
  • 62580 squats
  • And countless hours of cyclical work

So, all combined, that has been a considerable amount of training volume.

One of the main things I was aiming for was to keep my heart rate as low as I possibly could and stay out of the red zone to avoid running out of juice too fast. All my trainings were with a heart rate monitor.

Nutrition and recovery are clearly super important, how did you approach this?
It requires discipline on a daily basis. I prepped all my meals myself making sure the ingredients were all organic.

At the same time I wanted to lose some weight and with a combo of intermittent fasting, cutting out the empty carbs and the training volume, I went from 83,5 kg to 76 kg, which if you look at it is almost a weight vest.

I also had to test and experiment a lot with the nutrition I would take in during the event until I found the right formula. Lot’s of trials and errors to discover what worked and what didn’t, some products gave me acidic reflux, others would upset my stomach.

I actively worked on improving my sleep, which was a big challenge because I have been suffering from insomnia for years. So, every day I had a wind-down ritual prior to going to bed, went to bed the exact same time (10 pm) every day.

I did a lot of accessory work to keep the shoulders healthy (one of my worries was my left shoulder because that’s where I took a bullet when I was injured while in the military).

And I passed regularly by my osteopath to realign my body and a massage therapist to get deep tissue massages.

Did you feel prepared going in?
I knew I had put in the work, but I was nervous. The last 2 weeks I started tapering towards the event and it was like my body was missing doing stuff. There were aches and pains coming up out of nowhere and the Monday before challenge I woke up with a sharp pain in my shoulder. Luckily my osteo managed to more or less repair everything and in consultation with him, I decided to give it at least a try and go ahead with it.

How did you prepare the logistics of the event, equipment, scheduling etc?
For the scheduling I had made a plan with the timings of the 15 Murphs and the rest in between. The plan was to do the initial Murphs at 55 min and the last ones at 70 min. The rest period in between would start with 20 minutes and then gradually increase to 50 minutes. I stuck with the starting times of the Murphs but in general I did them all between 50 and 59 min. (my fastest one was actually the last one I did).

When it comes to logistics and more in particular the gear prep it came down to nitty gritty details, so here is a list of the things that were in place.

Grips: Ripping hands early in the event would have probably been a show-stopper, so I need to figure out to try postpone that for as long as I possibly could. I used Picsil Falcon grips (the really thick ones) and what I did was making sure there was extra neoprene protection (Rehband) on the wrists to avoid chafing but additionally I administered grease (product named Bodyglide) on the inside of the grips to avoid friction against the palm of my hands.

Also, I made sure I regularly was filing down the calluses on my hands with a metal grate.

During the challenge I had 4 different pairs and I changed my grips after every Murph to make sure I could start with dry pair.

Footwear: I used regular running shoes instead of the regular Reebok nano’s or Nike Metcons. The reason being because they provided more shock absorption during the run. It may not seem to make a lot of difference but wearing a 20 lbs vest and running with it for 48 km causes quite a bit of stress on the ankles, the knees and the lower back. The lack of absorption of regular CrossFit shoes would definitely have caused discomfort (at best) or injuries (worst case).

Fresh t-shirts: I sweat a lot and therefore I made sure that for every single Murph I was putting on a fresh t-shirt. It prevented me from getting cold during the breaks.

Knee sleeves: I used the regular neoprene knee sleeves, lowered them for the runs and then put them mainly for the squats.

Sweatband: to avoid the burning sensation of sweat running in my eyes, I used a Gutr sweatband which evacuates the sweat on the side of the face, I also had a towel hanging on the rig so I could wipe off the sweat from my face every now and then.

Other: Maybe minor things but equally important were the following:

  • Having a box next to me, where I could put my drinking bottles down
  • iPad or round timer: I made sure to have my iPad next to me all the time, it helped me to keep track of my Cindy round times and make sure to have sufficient rest in between rounds.
  • Stacked up weight plates on the rig. To avoid having to jump up the rig for my sets of pull-ups, I used a little step up to get to the pull up bar. This allowed me to place my hands on the bar properly and avoid ripping them which could occur if I had to jump up.

Also, I had permanently 2 people around me to count my reps and to prepare my drinks. Not having to do that myself, they also made sure I refuelled properly during the breaks.

It was really small details that I discovered during the months of training and preparing, but as they say ‘The devil is in the detail’.

How did you eat during the event?
I didn’t … in the sense that I had no solid food whatsoever.

I discovered during the prep that the stomach (at least mine) was completely shutting down during the workout and that eating in the rest periods was not a great idea in the sense that the stomach could not properly digest solid foods.

Therefore I stuck to liquids.
In total I must have taken in close to 20 liter of liquids so here is what I had.
During every Murph:

  • 800 ml of a mix of a flavourless carb drink (Vitargo: 2 scoops) and 1 scoop of BCAA (Gu : Summit tea).

An additional 400 ml of water.

During the breaks:

  • Extra water
  • 2 cups of extra salted Miso Soup
  • 1 electrolyte capsule (Hammer Extreme Endurolytes)
  • After each 3- Murphs a protein recovery drink (Hammer Recoverite)

Was there anything that was harder and/or easier than expected and if so what?
Actually, it was harder than I anticipated because my legs blew up very early in the challenge (after Murph 4) and I think this was because of the breaks.

It may have been something I overlooked during training in the sense that when I was doing my Murphs during training, my breaks were relatively short, so the muscles never really had the time to cool down and stiffen up.

In training I did Murphs every hour on the hour with 7-8 min rest in between. During the challenge my breaks were much longer (20 minutes in the beginning up to 50 minutes towards the end) and that was deliberately scheduled to allow for proper refuelling. The downside of this approach was that my muscles would become completely stiff. As a result the start of the runs were extremely painful for the legs and that the first rounds of pull ups it felt as if my lats and shoulders were being ripped apart.

I knew at some point it would become painful, I just didn’t expect it to become painful so fast. And once the pain kicks in it becomes ‘mind over body’ … Suffering and embracing the pain is part of the deal and luckily my head was in the right space. I never thought about quitting, I took it one Murph at the time until Murph number 10-11, and once I reached that point, I was pretty sure I would make it. I was over halfway, I kept visualising finishing my very last Murph and I tried to smile through the pain.

How did the post recovery event go? Were you able to sleep? Were you sore?
I was pretty sore the remainder of Monday, but as soon as I came home I submerged in a hot bath with essential oils and Epsom salts.
I stayed up till about 9 pm (pretty much raided the fridge) and managed to get 6 hours of sleep in, which considering the jacked up heart rate was not too bad.

The next day I was at work, did an hour of light assault bike to get the toxins out and by Wednesday I was feeling 100% again. I guess what helped with the recovery was the amount of volume the body had gotten used to over the past couple of months.  By Thursday I was beck to regular training again.

What’s your advice for anyone taking on this kind of challenge?
Start early: Don’t take this lightly! When most people look at an event like this, they usually just see the event, but succeeding a challenge like this is just the product of the amount of work you have to put in beforehand. My prep took 10 months

Use a heartrate monitor: to prep for any kind of endurance event, I would recommend to work with a heartrate monitor. It helped me dictating the pace to stay in certain ‘effort-zones’.

Discipline: you have to stay disciplined for the entire prep. Training, nutrition, recovery are becoming your main priority every single day.

Show up every day:. You’ll have good days, you’ll have bad days and you have days that are worse than that. You have to show up every single day… there is no cutting corners, no DNFs.

Mindset: Train your mind as much as you train your body. Whether it’s to fight the monotony of the training (it’s running, pull-ups, push-ups, squats and there are only a limited amount of ways to mix that up) or whether it’s to mentally get ready for the amount of work. Your mindset has to be wired to be willing to put in the work and to keep going, even on days you do not feel like doing it.

Have a mantra: I stole mine from David Goggings…. When I was in the darkest and deepest pain during the challenge, I kept internally rambling; “Stay Hard. Stay in the fight.”, over and over again.

And finally; Learn to embrace the pain: It’s gonna hurt…. Accept it … Bite through it.

What’s next?!?
Haha!! I am getting back to my regular (CrossFit) training now. It’s safe to say that I have a decent aerobic base, but I haven’t touched a barbell or weights for 10 months, so I need to get stronger again, work on my lifts etc… so that’s gonna be my main focus.