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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Animal House to altitude house for Ben St Lawrence

Animal House to altitude house for Ben St Lawrence

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Animal House to altitude house

Ben St Lawrence being tested at the Australian Institute of Sport.

By Michael Gleeson
The Age
December 3, 2011.

JUST a short time ago, Ben St Lawrence was living life like a lead in Animal House. The past few weeks he has been living life as a lead in altitude house.

His life is a study in transformation. St Lawrence is the national record-holder in the 10,000 metres who has already run the qualifying time for the Olympics next year and will run the Zatopek in Melbourne next Saturday night and hopefully get the placing he needs to make certain of his seat on the plane for London.

For three weeks he has lived in ''altitude house'' at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra with training partners Collis Birmingham - who held the 10,000 metres record that St Lawrence beat earlier this year - and steeplechaser Youcef Abdi.

The training regimen demands an almost monastic life of discipline and control to sleep and live for weeks at 3000 metres altitude simulated in the small apartment, only really leaving twice a day to run 10 kilometres at a time. It is a long way from his former life. That former life was as a student who, having been a talented runner at high school, gave himself a year off running to enjoy the student lifestyle. He took to it with such gusto, a year of partying turned to two. Two to three. Three to four.

"The old me could never have done something like this,'' he said. ''I would have gone crazy being cooped up like this. If there was something going on out at the pub or somewhere, I had to be there. But I did that for five years and it wore me out and I made a few lifestyle changes and went to the other end of the spectrum, eating healthy, training, sleeping right.''

St Lawrence is referred to in athletics as the track's Geoff Huegill (the Australian and former world champion swimmer who shed more than 40 kilograms to make a successful comeback). Unlike Huegill, he had not been to the pinnacle already when he found himself at the bottom of the mountain and trying to climb. He shed about 20 kilograms, went to the Commonwealth games in Delhi and is a national champion.

Asked if media descriptions of his former life have been overstated, St Lawrence sheepishly smiles and admits: "I think it might have even been understated, I don't want to go into too many details that my mum might read, but I was off the rails completely."

He was kicked off campus and warned he would be ejected from his exercise science and psychology degrees. "One morning I woke up with my head in an Esky in a house I didn't know where I was, with gravel under my lips and cuts and bruises on my body and I just thought to myself 'what am I doing to myself here?' That was when I decided I needed to change my lifestyle, not to become an elite athlete but just to become a normal person and live normal hours.''

He got a job, bought a bike and started to get fit. The Commonwealth Games in Melbourne was the moment he saw former running peers competing and realised it should be him. So running became serious. And now he is one of Australia's most serious runners.

He is a long way from Animal House.

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