“Short, dark and handsome, with femininely beautiful calf muscles” was James Kuegler’s response when I asked him, in the midst of a crippling bout of writer’s block, how he would describe himself. “I’m not letting you off that easy” was the next statement. Ok James, point taken.
I guess that this sort of sums up the man himself; direct, with an emphasis on self reliance and agency ( I was free, as James pointed out, to use the quote or not), and an engaging humour, which is one of the more disarming things about him. James is a qualified chiropractor and runs the eponymous James Kuegler Coaching, which works with endurance and multi sport athletes. This iteration of James’ coaching practice is in it’s relative infancy, as in early 2015 James significantly altered the brand, focus, and structure of Cadence, James’ previous and well established coaching business.
In addition to being a coach, James himself is an athlete, holding the title of three times New Zealand Great Santa Run Champion (he specifically asked me to lead with this). James has done a bunch of other things as well, including a 60 kilometre Tarawera Win, a second place at the Coast to Coast two day, representing New Zealand at the Commonwealth trail running championships, and, most recently, in September this year, winning the 60 kilometre 10 Peaks ultramarathon in the Brecon Beacons.
I usually conduct these interviews via email, however James was insistent we meet in person and throw in a run beforehand. James turned up, bright eyed and sporting a fetching moustache which gave him a rather dandy-ish countenance. My initial worry about running with an elite level runner whom I probably have 20 kilos on evaporated as we set off for an enjoyable mixed terrain hour around the Domain. I wish I’d had a voice recorder going as we were running, as the conversation flowed easily (in between my gasping), however I needn’t have worried about “leaving it all out on the trial” as James was engaging and candid in his answers to my questions as we sat for coffee afterwards.
Where do you call home?
Drury is South South Auckland, on the urban fringe. It’s a far north as I’d like to be in suburbia and the minimum distance south that I can be to still feel accessible to farmland and wide open green spaces.
What is your current occupation?
I’m qualified as a chiropractor, I am working as a coach at James Kuegler coaching. I’m a combination of a coach, a chiropractor and I guess a part time psychologist, which comes along with being both of those things.
Stop making excuses. To elaborate, I meet a lot of people who look at a runner, or look at me, or look at someone else and say “I wish I could do that”…
What is your history with running?
Going through high school I was always going to be an All Black, I did a lot of orienteering in that time as well as hiking, I’ve always loved the outdoors. in 2006 I spent the year working and drinking in the UK and probably didn’t enjoy myself if I’m being honest. In 2007 when I got back I decided I was going to do Coast to Coast, so I started training for that. I’ve done a few Coast to Coast adventures and more recently I’m focussed primarily on the running, so I’ve been running for just shy of ten years, competitively anyway.
What’s your main motivation for running? What facet of running do you enjoy most? what stands out as the best experiences for you, and why?
I run because I enjoy running. That might sound like an interesting thing for people, but I don’t run because I want to put it on Facebook or want any glorification, although I guess there’s an element of the ego that comes through. I oscillate with this a little bit from a competitive standpoint, where I feel like my competitiveness is tied up with my ego in a negative manner, or a positive manner for that matter.
I love getting into the outdoors and exploring, whenever I go to a new place, if I move somewhere or if I’m just hanging out, I’ll always try and get a map and set about in whatever time I have available to me to colour in the map and explore as many different roads and trails as possible. I would never consider myself exclusively a road or a trail runner. I’m a runner, I like to run everywhere, a variety of terrain.
As for my best experiences; This year I was lucky enough to spend about a month in the Alps between Switzerland and France. Going to hang out there, and run some cool places with some cool people was one of the highlights. It was crazy, when I went over I had no plans to race, which was confronting to go “you know, I’m just going to run and train”. I did race a couple of times towards the end of the trip but it was more because the races were there. Certainly the second one (The 10 peaks, which James won) was because I was in the Brecon Beacons in Wales and the race was on.
How far was that race?
It was a little bit different, you had a map with a route marked on it, which was meant to be 60km, but you had to navigate, there were no course markers, but you had a marked map, but, it was the Brecon Beacons..
That’s where the British SAS train, they do that forced pack march, and people die doing it..
Absolutely, we were fog bound the whole time, in the middle of summer, and it was freezing. It was not great, but it was an awesome race.
In regards to your training, are you structured? or do you go more by feel?
Yeah, I’m pretty structured in the way that I train. Part of that is because i’m coaching other people and my structure falls into the same structure (as theirs). My running is periodised depending on what I’m focussing on, it’s broken down into chunks. I guess a typical week for me is a key road session Tuesday, key track session Thursday and a key session in the weekend. In between there it’s whatever else fits into the mix depending on mileage and bits n’ pieces. Obviously, If I’m hanging out in the Alps that changes things, but still, within reason, there will be a balance between specific and nonspecific training. I think a lot of people make a mistake in going either too much to specific training or not enough in terms of specifics, with too much either way. There has to be a balance.
I don’t run because I want to put it on Facebook or want any glorification..
Do you have a favourite place to run? If you could pick out of anywhere you’ve ever run, what would be your favourite, and why?
Rangitoto Island in Auckland is one of my favourite places to run. It’s so close to Auckland city suburbia, yet it’s so untouched. You’ve got a few cottages on there, owned by some families that can’t sell them unless it’s back to the crown, you’ve got a great mix of moderately packed volcanic sand, as well as the rough off road. A favourite session of mine, when I was training for Coast to Coast with Gordon Walker (who won three Coast to Coast titles) we would paddle over from either Takapuna or Okahu Bay, run for two, two and a half hours and paddle back. The other thing about Rangitoto is it’s like a microclimate. Because it’s volcanic it’s typically five degrees warmer than here in Auckland. Yeah, some of my favourite training sessions have been over there.
When did you start offering your services as a coach and what do you bring to a coaching relationship that people will find valuable?
I started chiropractic college in 2008, in 2010 I took six months off and worked for a company that was a combination of physiotherapy, biomechanics and pilates. As a result of that and my relationship with Vibram Five Fingers and the boom of minimalism, coaching spawned out of helping people learn to run better, using my knowledge both as a runner and my chiropractic studies.I built from that as I needed to have an income to continue study and pay the bills.
I have a reasonably unique skill set as a coach as I come from a physiological background. I’ve studied anatomy and physiology at university, as well as my chiropractic degree, which has a very deep engagement in philosophy. I guess I bring together the psychology, the philosophy and the science and my own experience as a runner.
So, it’s not cliche to say that it’s a whole of system approach?
Totally. My coaching with athletes often becomes less about the physiological and more about the psychological.
You said before that you like running because you like running, but how is running important to you and your life’s direction? Is it an integral part of your life?
Running is an integral part of my life and I’m probably at my most creative when I’m running, in terms of the number of blog posts and the number of ideas that come when I’m running. A lot of people talk about running as a way of having a release, a way to get away from their problems, For me, running is about tuning in, both from a technique perspective, as well as everything else.
A favourite session of mine, when I was training for Coast to Coast with Gordon Walker.
What advice can you give to people who want to follow their dreams and do what they love?
Stop making excuses. To elaborate, I meet a lot of people who look at a runner, or look at me, or look at someone else and say “I wish I could do that” and the reality is, when we tune into most people’s story, they didn’t come from being an elite level athlete. Most people never thought they could run an ultramarathon until they ran one. When I started training for Coast to Coast, and maybe I was fortunate, good upbringing or management or whatever, but I never had any doubt that I’d be able to finish Coast to Coast. I’m 171cm was weighing in at 75kg, I was a plump wee thing when I got back from the UK after 12 months, but there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to get there, It was just a case of “okay, what is the process of breaking this down into chunks?”. It may sound cliche, but the journey of 1000 miles starts with one step.
Everyone I’ve ever asked that question has said the same thing, “Are you built different?” “No, I’m exactly I did it because I think I can do it”.
I think once people get into it, physiology and psychology plays a role in how far or fast someone will go in terms of the competitive element, but it’s important to realise that most people, and certainly for me, never got into this to be competitive. It was just a by product of the fact that maybe I can push myself for harder or longer than other people.
Have you been involved or associated with, any causes that advocate for the community or certain populations?
Have I ever run for a cause? I’m not a massive fan of running for a cause, in some ways, I think it’s selfish because..what am I trying to say.. The classic example is this, I’m going to go and run marathon x in country y for charity. If you just went and ran the marathon wherever you live and dedicated the money on the flights and accommodation to charity, for most people, you’d probably contribute more money that way. I do support some causes, and where possible will try to give back to the running community. But often I try to do that away from running, I have some strong views around moving people to optimal and away from dis-ease.
A charity like “Kidz First” for example, are about moving people in the right direction. I’d love to do a charity run where I’m running for health, but I don’t know where the funding would go. I would love it if there was a foundation that focussed on moving people towards health rather than away from disease. I absolutely get that that there needs to be research into x y and z when it comes to medical issues, but I would like to see more focus on moving towards health rather than curing disease.
Can running benefit the wider community in more ways than increased fitness, what if everyone ran?
I always talk about, both in my own running and my coaching, some guiding principles. These guiding principles are; There is no single right answer, You must experiment and learn from your successes and failures, Your body is the best teacher, Patience is mandatory, Relaxation is the secret to great form, and You must enjoy the process. I maintain that there are a lot of people who run in our society who run for the wrong reasons. And the wrong reasons often are things like “I run because I want to be healthy, I run because I want to lose weight, I run because..” you know, whatever it might be. I think if running is done from a place of I ENJOY running, then absolutely you are going to get secondarily those health benefits in terms of being healthy mentally, physically, and potentially lose weight, although there are better ways to lose weight. I think that these shouldn’t be the prime motivators.
Running is an integral part of my life and I’m probably at my most creative when I’m running.
What if everybody ran? Nearly everyone with two legs and a pelvis has run at some point in their life. If everyone ran for the right reasons, then there is massive health and enjoyment benefits. From a movement perspective, running has the potential to be abusive on the human body done in the wrong way, and extremely restorative to the human body when done in a way which is congruent with the anthropological make up of the human body.
Do you ascribe to any strategies around achieving balance in your life? if so, what are they?
Totally, I have some foundation practices which I engage in on a daily basis in terms of grounding myself and make sure that I put myself first. I have a client who has the mantra “the king trains first” so first and foremost I need to look after myself in terms of my training and my mind, body and soul. The more than I can look after myself, the better equipped I am to look after everybody else.
The Oxygen Mask analogy?
Exactly. You have to pull the mask over your own face first. When I look at times when I’ve gone to darker places, and when I reflect on those times, it’s generally a case of giving to others before I give to myself. And it’s easy to get into that trap. Especially in our current Western mindset and culture.
You’ve been through a few iterations of your coaching services and brand. Which I guess speaks to the nature of progression. Are you satisfied with where things are at the moment?
Am I satisfied? yes. James Kuegler coaching as a brand and company is extremely joyful to be a part of. It is fledgling in it’s existence and has massive potential to grow, develop and will certainly evolve. It’s the third iteration of me as a coach.I’ll never be totally satisfied, I guess I have a subconscious rule that I write that “I must be perfect”, I don’t know where that comes from. Is James Kuegler coaching perfect? no, not at all. and it won’t be because perfection doesn’t exist. Am I in a good space in regards to the thought behind it and an enjoyment perspective? Totally.
Was it hard leaving Cadence (Coaching, James’ second iteration of his coaching service) behind?
Totally. It was a good brand.
Where to from here? where do you see yourself in five years?
I was just discussing this with my partner, Anna. She’s a practising chiropractor and is 75% of the way through a ten year plan and I’m 50% of the way through. We’re looking at those plans around life, career and family. As to where I’ll be in five years? I’ll still be based in Drury, I’ll still be coaching and working with a wide range of athletes both in New Zealand and Overseas. I’d like to think that I’d be financially successful, that would help.
…so first and foremost I need to look after myself in terms of my training and my mind, body and soul.
They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but it can fund a research team to investigate the problem….
Totally, and money isn’t a great motivator for me, however one of my mentors would say “money might not be a great motivator, but what are the things that you want to do with that money?”, and it’s challenging to live (this lifestyle) in a western world without money.
I’d love to grow my business Overseas and I’d love to grow towards coaching juniors. If I can help juniors run well and train hard, that existence flows naturally into adulthood. It’s absolutely possible. New Zealand has a rich history of successful runners and athletes. We punch well above our weight globally. As much as I love coaching adults to achieve their goals, I have a passion to help youngsters to achieve their full potential. Unfortunately, with adults might not get to your full potential due to their starting point. If I don’t meet someone until they are 40, then they’ve missed their endurance or middle distance peak.
It’s what you are fighting against, you’re clawing back from adults. Most times , You aren’t even starting from a middle ground….
That’s it, if you’re able to get a kid into good strength, flexibility and movement patterns then hopefully you’re not going to get a broken adult, you’re going to get someone who can strive for their full potential and find joy in running throughout their lives.