Breaking Barriers with Darren Liu

Breaking mental barriers: Train to Play health coach conquers 100KM Ultra Jungle Run.

By Coach Jonah

Regarded as one of the toughest 100km trails in the world, Train to Play’s resident health coach, Darren Liu, recently completed 29 hours on foot at Ultra-Trail Unseen, Koh Chang. How’s that for his first marathon?!

Here’s a full insight into how he managed to complete the extraordinary test of will and overcame all the physical barriers along the way.

Firstly, well done! An amazing achievement, what made you take on the challenge? 

I was looking for something really brutal to do -something to work towards that tested physical and mental barriers, and also something “epic” that only a small percentage of the world would tackle. I’ve competed in a Spartan Beast race before (30 km + 30 obstacles), and that was pretty gnarly - so something along those lines. 

“What about a 100km ultra run? Wait. What about a 100km ultra TRAIL run?” 

The rabbit hole started from there. I found a race that was far enough away to get some decent training in. Well, initially it seemed like a decent amount of time, but if you ask an experienced ultra trail runner, ideally you want to train for 8+ months.

Enter: UTKC - Ultra Trail Koh Chang 100KM, one of the toughest 100KM trail runs in the world!

Preparation is key for all athletes! How did you get started with your training? (Training)

Luck would have it that my good friend Glenn Gabriel took up the challenge too, and with him being a savvy marathon runner already, his experience and leadership really streamlined the training regimen. 

We followed a training schedule that he found from an experienced trail runner on the web. An example of what a week of training looked like: 

Tuesday: 10KM, Wednesday: 5KM, Thursday: 10KM, Friday: 5KM, Saturday: 340 minutes, Sunday: rest, Monday: rest

Side note: strength training regularly definitely helped my performance, considering 90% of the race is a power hike.

This type of training is definitely tough, can you tell us a little more about what you ate? (Nutrition) 

Not to toot my own horn, but 90% of my meals came from Genius Bar. A lot of clean, real and whole foods that packed the nutrients my body needed to sustain the training and recovery. 

If you’re putting the right things in your body, everything from your gut, your mind, your muscles, and essentially all your biochemical processes work optimally so you can perform your best come race day. 

My nutrition non-negotiables for prep: well-sourced red meat, wild-caught fish, kimchi, sweet potatoes, duck eggs, avocados and bone broth.

Every athlete goes through tough times, what pushed you to continue? (Mindset)

Nothing can really prepare you for that experience in the jungle, and it’s even harder to explain to people about all the low points. For me, it was important to constantly remind myself how lucky and blessed I am to have healthy legs to even take on this challenge. I chose to go through this suffering, so I must go on. It was also important to literally take it one step at a time and hold back on thinking about how much longer I had left. Be present. Take time to appreciate the fact that you’re in the thick of a beautiful jungle that people rarely get to see. 


The 100km trail-run took a big toll on your body. What is your recovery plan? (Recovery)

The training and recovery regimen leading up to the race definitely determined how I would feel after the race. Again, nutrition is a huge pillar that can’t be overlooked when it comes to recovery. 

Nutrient-dense diet = optimal organ function = faster and more efficient recovery.

Other parts of my recovery plan were to prioritize sleep, dip in an ice bath, plenty of Thai massages, and most importantly, to REST and stay off my feet for a few days.

What's the most important thing you've learnt from this experience?

You can’t do great things alone.

I was extremely lucky to have people on my side that made this feat possible; an awesome race partner, a supportive crew that waited hours for us at the checkpoints for emotional support, and motivating messages from friends from back home (Toronto).

Behind every great accomplishment is a great team, and they don’t get enough credit for what they do.

What are the key takeaways you can give to the train to play community?

The biggest takeaways can be summed up in a couple of quotes that I rehearsed in my head like a mantra throughout the race:

“Comparison is the thief of joy” -- everyone is on their own journey, so don’t worry about what the guy on IG is achieving and focus on developing your own character -- your way.

“It’s amazing what people can do when they decide they want to do it.” -- the only way to grow is to do uncomfortable things. 

Where can we find you to find more?

IG: @darrennnliu is my personal account where you can follow how I train, eat, play etc.

IG: @geniusbar.bkk - follow for more nutrition-focused content and good-looking food!


Finally, anything else you would like to add?

Just a friendly reminder to never forget to be HUMAN. I witnessed many occasions during the race where people stopped to help other racers when they were in their lowest lows -- even though making good time was a priority. The memory of rejuvenating someone else’s spirit will last a lot longer and have a bigger impact on the world than finishing 30 minutes faster.

Darren is part of the Train to Play nutrition team, you can join him in interactive workshops that help you take your nutrition to the next level. He’ll be giving exclusive tips that focus on game & tournament preparation, reading food labels and understanding the latest diet crazes!

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