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Q & A: Champion, Darren Southcott

Darren Southcott is relatively new to trail running and was unknown to many when he won Vietnam Jungle Marathon 42k; however, with a sub 2:30 marathon, he was always one to watch and he has proved it is possible to translate road speed to the hills. 

Let’s kick off where it all began – when did your running journey start and how?

I first started running when I was a teenager, mostly recreationally to keep fit for other sports and activities. When I was 16 years old I was enjoying pushing myself in a few fun runs and school races, so I decided to join an Athletics Club in London. I soon fell in love with the sport and raced on track, road and cross country. It was only very recently that I have discovered trail running!  

We know you have a seriously quick road marathon PB – what is it, where did you achieve it, and how did you get to that level?

I ran my marathon PB and only marathon to date in Melbourne in 2022. I managed to achieve a time of 2.27.45 which I was really pleased with!  

I think the strength came from lots of years of consecutive running and managing to stay injury free. The long runs and marathon sessions were all done in the humidity of Singapore and was running around 115km per week in the buildup, which prepared me well for the later stages of the race. 

What did you enjoy more, your 42k road PB, or your marathon in Pu Luong at Vietnam Jungle Marathon? In fact, was it possible to enjoy running that pace on the road?

I am going to take the easy option here and say I enjoyed both the same! Pu Luong was very special; I love getting into the trails and tackling the challenges which trail running presents whilst enjoying the fantastic scenery. Trail running has also taken me to some amazing locations I may not have seen otherwise.  

I do also still love pushing myself on the roads, particularly when you have strong fields with a lot of depth. It’s also a challenge to maintain discipline and keep as consistent pace as possible for all 42km. 

Darren Southcott

Did you adapt your training moving from road marathons to the trails?

I have always combined running on the roads, track and trails throughout my years of training. I try to keep on the softer ground when I can to protect my knees. Leading up to the trail races we tried to find a few more hills and run hillier slower routes to try and replicate the trail racing environment as much as possible.  

What was a typical week of training coming into your trail marathon?

A typical training week would be as follows: 

Monday – 13-15km at 4.40 per km pace on the flat road near my home in Singapore  

Tuesday – Rest Day ahead of Wednesday’s session  

Wednesday – Track workout of 8-10km, normally broken down into: 

  • 8-10 x1km 
  • 5-6x1600m 
  • 20x400m (or some combination of running 10km pace or quicker) 

Thursday – 13-15km at 4.40 per km pace on the flat road near my home in Singapore 

Friday – 13-15km at 4.40 per km pace on the flat road near my home in Singapore (I have a few different routes I use so it doesn’t get too repetitive but I normally have maximum of 100m elevation over the whole run).

Saturday – Tempo session. Typically 30km of running with 10-15km at marathon pace broken down into 5km or 10km segments around a 10km loop. These sessions are great for building strength especially as we normally have tired legs from a steady first 10km done a 4.05 per km pace. The tempo efforts will range from 3.30-3.40 pace per km.

Sunday 20-30km on the trails, we typically head to MacRitchie Reservoir and will not worry about pace here, it’ll be about running on the uneven ground, running to feel and getting through the trails on tired legs from a hard week’s training!    

VJM 2022 Darren Champ 42k

How did your nutrition strategy differ for a road vs a trail 42k?

The nutritional demands of a road marathon differ slightly to a trail race, purely because you are running for that much longer on the trails. I made the rookie error of thinking I could run my first trail race of 30km without solids or gels and really paid the price over the last 3-4km!  

For a marathon I tend to use Maurten which comes in both drink and gel form, taking on a few mouthfuls of drink every 6km and then would take 3 gels throughout the race excluding one on the start line.  

For the Trails I make sure I am eating at least every 10km – something solid which will be an energy bar, a gel or some high sugar energy sweets.  

I believe if you are hungry it is too late, so it’s important to keep eating and working out what foods work well for is an essential part of the training and preparation! The most enjoyable food I’ve have so far was a stroopwafel which gave me a good lift!  

What advice do you have for other road runners moving across to trail running?

My advice would be to firstly give a trail race a try and see if you enjoy it. The trail running world has so much variety and races are in all different parts of the world so it’s a great way to travel and explore whilst doing the sport we all love.  

From a training perspective I would say get used to adjusting your road running pace to the trails and feel comfortable running at a different tempo and do not underestimate the toll some of the climbs can take on your legs!  

VJM Champ Darren Southcott 42k

What did you think of VJM?

VJM was a wonderful event, and I enjoyed the whole experience! The race village was great, the organisation was fantastic and the people at the feed stations were friendly, helpful and very encouraging!  

The course was fantastic and there was some nice underfoot conditions for running which meant we could stretch our legs out a bit! It was definitely one of the highlights of my racing calendar last year!  

Do you have any highlight moments/memories from VJM 2022?

One of the main memories was getting (eventually!) to the top of the main climb and witnessing the fantastic view as you head back down into the valley. The other highlight was breaking the tape at the finish line. This was my first trail race win and so will always be a special race for me!  

Darren VJM 2022 Champ 42k

Do you listen to music when you train? If so, what are your top 3 running tracks?

I don’t often listen to music when I train. I feel running is a great escape and it’s where I do my best thinking and enjoy the surrounding sounds, particularly if I’m on the trails as opposed to the traffic of a big city! I do have a running playlist which I use when I run on a treadmill if I’m travelling or want to do marathon sessions and the weather doesn’t quite allow me to run the pace I want outside. My three favourite tracks from that playlist are: 

  • Buck Rogers by Feeder 
  • Not Giving In by Rudimental  
  • Rock ‘n’ Roll Star by Oasis

Besides the health benefits, what else has running brought to your life?

Running has brought me to places in the world that I never thought I would visit, and it has enabled me to meet some of my very best friends. As I train 6 days a week, I sometimes see some of my training partners for at least 3 or 4 of those runs and it’s amazing how you always have something to talk about and how well you can get to know people when enjoying something as simple as an easy 10km run together!  

Do you have any running heroes?

My main running hero would have to be Steve Prefontaine who ran for the USA at the 1972 Olympics.  

He ran every race from the front and has some fantastic quotes. My favourite of which is ‘To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift’. Unfortunately, I only know of his exploits from Youtube videos and the various books and films of his life.  

Another big running hero of mine is Haile Gebrselassie who I was lucky enough to meet when I was on a running holiday to Ethiopia! Not only was he a great competitor and ran in one of the best 10,000m races of all time beating Paul Tergat, he was also a lovely guy who’s famous for always smiling.  

As I have moved to the trails, it’s hard to look further than Kilian Jornet who not only wins the biggest trail races but will take on Fastest Known Time Challenges and keeps setting new boundaries for the sport.

Want to read more trail running and ultra race interviews with our Vietnam Trail Series champions and competitors? Check out our interview archive here.