When last week’s newsletter arrived in your inbox, Michael Wardian was only halfway through what ended up being a pending Guinness World Record for running ten marathons in ten consecutive days. He covered 262 miles in 29 hours, 12 minutes, and 46 seconds, or 2:55:17 average, on about 20 total hours of sleep (that last fact alone makes me want to take a nap). Wardian ran the first seven on seven different continents as part of the World Marathon Challenge and completed the last three around a certified 5K loop at Hains Point near his home in Alexandria, Virginia, cheered on by local supporters. He covered the last three marathons in 2:50:00, 2:48:43, and 2:44:33, respectively, closing out the final mile under 6 minutes. Oh, and for shits and giggles, on the 11th day, Wardian did not rest. Why rest when you can race a 5K with your dog in 17:01? I’ll get the answer to this question—and many more—later today when I talk to Iron Mike for next week’s episode of the podcast. Stay tuned.
“There were days when I was just so exhausted and I didn’t even want to get up out of bed because I didn’t even see the point. There was so much time that I spent wishing that the accident would have killed me because it felt like it was easier than to have to face the pain and face the challenges of everyday life. But then I’d receive a message and some voice of encouragement, sometimes from a dear friend, sometimes from a complete stranger, and it just built this community that I felt that I had near and far and it again let me discover the strength that I had within me, whether or not it was still there. Trail running, I felt, I could experience it in a new way but talking with complete strangers or my friends supporting me, it also allowed me to dig deep and find that within me.”
It was a real treat to sit down with Hillary Allen for this week’s episode of the podcast. Every week on this show I try to glean as much insight and inspiration as possible from some of the top athletes, coaches, and personalities in the sport of running and this week’s guest has those two things in SPADES—and it really comes out in this conversation.
The 30-year-old Allen, a North Face-sponsored trail and ultra runner from Colorado, has made her biggest mark in sky running, which takes place in super gnarly, technical, high alpine environments. She was the U.S. Sky Running Ultra Champion in 2015, and has course records and podium finishes at races all over the world. The crazy thing is: she’s only been in the sport for a few years and rapidly ascended the ranks—quite literally—in a very short amount of time.
But there’s so much more to this special human. Allen has a Masters degree in neuroscience, she’s got a thing for bugs and grew up wanting to be an entomologist, she was a collegiate tennis player, she coaches other runners, and is just one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Allen also has an incredible story about survival—she fell 150 feet off the side of a mountain while racing in Norway a couple years ago—which we covered from a few different angles in this conversation, amongst a slew of other interesting topics, including using running and races as a way to explore places she’s never gone, the issue of burnout in ultrarunning, how she got her nickname, “Hillygoat,” the craziest wildlife encounters she’s had on the trails, running a 2:50 self-supported marathon to see if she could go faster than she did in her first, her love of science and the outdoors and how that’s impacted her life, and much, much more.
Postscript: Allen broke her ankle in late January, just a couple weeks after we recorded this conversation, an injury that required yet another surgery. “Things happen for a reason—if you chose to let them,” she wrote on her blog. “I’m reminded to take a deep breath, feel what I’m feeling and believe. BELIEVE. That this too, will create, reignite and provide an opportunity for growth.”
“The idea of doing what you love doesn’t happen by accident. Like if I went to drama everyday, sure I’d have fun but it would have been misdirected. And I was fortunate enough to have what I loved and learn it but really cultivate it and really be around other people that loved it. And that’s probably the theme that will come out of this conversation, whether it’s a peer of mine that I’m still friends with because we raced against each other in high school or Mike Fanelli, who was running around the track with me at age 50, or my parents—it doesn’t matter the demographic, we shared that. And I want for our high school kids to have that. They’re coming to practice with two coaches that love it so much, they’re surrounded by teammates that really love what they’re doing, and it’s the culture that we have, it’s the community we’re trying to create.”
Incredibly excited to welcome Jake Schmitt to the podcast this week. The 31-year-old is a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon with a personal best of 2:15:09. He most recently ran 2:18:03 at CIM and has his sights set on competing well at the Trials in Atlanta a little over a year from now.
Schmitt was a state champion cross-country runner in high school and an All-American in track at the University of Washington. Aside from being an accomplished athlete, he has coached at his alma mater, Redwood High School, for the past nine years alongside his mom, Laura—who is also his coach—and they’ve developed one of the top distance programs in California. This mom and son duo also cofounded the Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio just north of San Francisco, which is the first of its kind on the west coast.
We talked about all of those things in this conversation and then some, including Schmitt’s tight-knit family, where he gets his competitiveness from, how his parents taught him to love running without forcing it upon him, why he loves monotony, the importance of restraint in bringing along high school athletes in their training, developing a healthy team culture, and a lot more.
Darren Rovell for The Action Network:
I often wondered why big track meets run by pros also included high school events. That became more clear to me Saturday night in Boston: It’s essential to draw the crowds. Betting could change that. Plus it could change athletes’ lives. Broadcasters would pay more for rights. The USATF could sell its data like all of the other sports leagues, and it could spread the money around.
Darren Rovell, sports business reporter and senior executive producer for The Action Network, wants you to wager on track and field. In fact, he thinks, the sport would benefit from it in a multitude of ways. (more…)
Sydney McLaughlin made her highly anticipated professional debut at her sponsor’s indoor meet on Saturday and she won the 500 relatively easily. Now, to be fair, it wasn’t a super strong field, but a win’s a win for New Balance’s marquee athlete and anything less would have been a bad business move for both parties at this stage of the game. The brand invested a lot of money in the 19-year-old Olympian, who, in addition to being heralded as the sport’s next big star on the track, is looking to expand her footprint off it: She’ll be putting in a lot of work into growing a mainstream, non-track insider fan base through her relationship with top Beverly Hills talent agency WME. McLaughlin’s marketability is huge. But so is the pressure of being the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian in four decades. If she has the success she’s shown that she’s capable of on the oval, along with being able to capitalize on the opportunities off it, the hurdler could reach Bolt-like global icon status by 2024 (if not sooner).
“I just kind of started to give myself a little bit more credit for what I’ve done and stopped having that need to incessantly prove myself. Because nobody else is thinking of me that way, nobody else is quantifying other people that way, it’s just yourself. And so I made the choice to stop doing that to myself because the priority for me is health—because I can’t do the running if I’m unhealthy, and it’s as simple as that. The racing doesn’t matter; if I’m going to race terribly because I’m ill, then why am I bothering anyways?”
I really enjoyed sitting down with Devon Yanko for this week’s episode of the podcast. We caught up a little week before the recent Houston Marathon, where she ran 2:39:34—less than a minute off of her personal best—to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta.
Yanko is a super accomplished athlete who has run almost 100 races of marathon distance and beyond. She’s also won two ultra-distance national titles on the roads, represented the U.S. at multiple world championships, been on the podium at Western States, won the Leadville 100, held the Grand Canyon Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim FKT, qualified for two Olympic Trials marathons, and has finished in the top-5 at Comrades. In short: she is a badass across a range of distances and on a variety of terrain.
This was a loaded conversation and I think you’ll take a lot away from it. We talked about how Yanko got into running after growing up as a basketball player, how the sport of trail and ultra running has evolved since she first got into about 13 years ago, getting over a tough year in 2018 that was full of health issues and injuries, the importance of community, her proudest accomplishment as an athlete, sharing her story of teenage sexual abuse and how that’s impacted her life over the past 20+ years, what can be done to bring more women into trail and ultra running, opening a bakery with her husband Nathan, and much, much more.