“I could remember standing at the start line the next year and [seeing] how impactful what I do—that solidified it for me—how impactful a job I have to see the world come here and run this race. And when the howitzer went off, I couldn’t pull myself away and I was really overwhelmed at the time. It was a testament to all the work we do to put this on and just standing there and seeing the people run past the start line…it was just overwhelming, but it was something I’ll always, always remember.”
Really enjoyed sitting down with Peter Ciaccia, president of events at the New York Road Runners and race director for the New York City Marathon, for the podcast this week!
Ciaccia, 65, will be retiring next month after 18 years with the organization. He took over race director duties for the world’s largest and most popular marathon in 2015 and oversees the production of every NYRR event throughout the year. Ciaccia, who is “committed to growing and sustaining a vibrant, inclusive running community,” has helped grow NYRR’s total number of finishers by over 40 percent.
We covered a lot of ground in this conversation, including: what he’ll miss most about his job, and the mark he hopes to leave on the organization—and the sport—when he steps down after this year’s New York City Marathon; how he plans to spend his time in retirement and the origins of his impeccable fashion sense; his upbringing in the Bronx and how that shaped his passion for health and fitness; why he first got involved with the NYRR in 2001 and how his role there has evolved over the years; his time working in the music industry and how that experience has influenced the way he thinks about and puts on running events.
I asked Ciaccia about the importance of professional athletes to races and what he’s done to help bridge the gap between the front of the pack and the back of the field; anti-doping and NYRR’s Run Clean initiative, which he spearheaded in 2015, and why that’s so important for the sport; the NYRR Youth Wheelchair Training Program, which he helped launch in 2016, and the opportunities it’s created for disabled kids; and whole lot more.
“I grew up with faith and I do think that my life has a purpose—and maybe it’s not what I thought it was going to be, but I think that it does help me at some junctures with this disease. This isn’t how I would have chosen my life to turn out at all but maybe this is my way of fulfilling my life’s purpose and trying to raise awareness for these rare diseases that really do actually need it. I would never have raised my hand to do this, but someone has to.”
I’m super excited to have one of running’s most impressive power couples joining me on the podcast this week: Gabe and Justin Grunewald.
Gabe is one of the top middle-distance runners in the United States. She has run 4:01 for 1500m and was fourth at the Olympic Trials in that event in 2012. In 2014, she won a national title in the 3000m and has been competing at the top of the sport for close to 10 years now. But beyond all that, she’s got an incredible story, one that involves a near decade-long battle with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare, incurable form of cancer that’s returned four times since she was first diagnosed in 2009. She’s had multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, and just has generally been on a crazy rollercoaster ride with the disease since the age of 22.
Justin, her husband, is a super solid runner in his own right. He’s qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and is now a budding ultrarunner, who I’ve been fortunate to coach since last fall. By day, or night rather, he’s a doctor, working long shifts in the hospital, and has a very intimate understanding of the seriousness of his wife’s condition.
It was a real treat to sit down with these two recently to talk about all kinds of stuff, from how they met as student-athletes at the University of Minnesota to Justin’s foray into trail and ultrarunning and what Gabe thinks about it; we got into Gabe’s health situation, what she’s been through over the past two years, how her relationship with running has evolved in that time, and the competitive goals she still has for herself; we talked about her role as a cancer advocate, starting the Brave Like Gabe Foundation, and coaching celebrity Chip Gaines for his first marathon, to what it’s like for Justin, as an MD, to be so close to the situation on both a personal and professional level. We talked about the power of positivity and living life to the fullest, what Gabe and Justin hope people take away from her story, and so, so much more.
Arbitrary a milestone as it may be, I’m proud to share this 150th edition of the morning shakeout with all of you. It’s still crazy to me that this itch I felt the need to scratch almost three years ago is still going, growing, and evolving week in and week out.
This once-every-50-weeks update, which I like to call the State of the Shakeout, is my version of an annual shareholder letter, intended to provide all of you, my loyal readership, with a look back at the past year and a peek at what (hopefully) lies ahead. (more…)
I’ve got a new sponsor to tell you about this month: Enda. Enda makes an awesome lightweight running shoe called the Iten that has cemented a spot in my rotation. I’ll share my thoughts—and get into the specs of the shoe—in a bit but here’s what I find super cool and unique about this company: their shoes are made in Kenya! Enda, co-founded in 2016 by Navalayo “Nava” Osembo and Weldon Kennedy, is “on a mission to bring Kenyan athletic excellence to runners everywhere and fuel economic development in Kenya.” (I recently had a chat with Osembo to learn a bit more about the company, how it came to be, its influences, biggest challenges, and goals for the future, which you can read here.) In short: Enda makes a great product that supports a worthy cause. As Osembo told me in an interview, “We’re the most socially conscious shoe on the market. We give a percentage of our revenues, not profit, to projects in Kenya that support local communities. Our customers get a chance to vote on which project we should support, hence giving them a chance to see the impact that their purchase is making in Kenya.” The shoe itself, which sells for a very reasonable $100, has a 4mm heel-toe drop and weighs in at just under 8 ounces for men and women. I’ve found it to be perfect for quicker runs and workouts with enough cushion and support for the occasional long run. It fits snug but true to size—with a roomy enough toe box to accommodate even my fat forefoot— and just lets your foot do what it wants to do. If you purchase a purchase a pair of Itens on endasportswear.com, you’ll get a free handmade beaded Kenyan bracelet with the word “SHAKEOUT” on it (see what it looks like right here). To get the SHAKEOUT bracelet with your order, add it to your cart at this link, then add a pair of Itens to the cart, use the code “AMSHAKEOUT” when you check out, and you’ll get the bracelet for free. I’m proud to be partnering with Enda for the month of October and hope you consider giving the Iten a try!
“I’m not trying to build some empire where I need to be liked by as many people as possible. I just want to be myself and be myself publicly—until I don’t anymore, then I’ll just shut down all my social media accounts.”
Stoked to welcome Lauren Fleshman to the podcast this week! Fleshman, who turns 37 on Wednesday, is a retired professional athlete who still maintains sponsorships with Oiselle and a number of other brands. She’s won two national titles, has represented the United States in numerous international competitions, and, in 2011, placed seventh in the 5,000m at the world championships in South Korea. These days, Fleshman wears a lot of hats: mom to two young children, wife to professional triathlete Jesse Thomas, co-founder of Picky Bars along with Thomas and professional marathoner Stephanie Bruce, coach of Little Wing, a small group of elite female runners based in Bend, Oregon, practicing writer, and one of running’s most outspoken advocates on a variety of topics and issues.
We talked about a lot of different things over the course of this 60-ish minute conversation: coaching, how the various coaches she worked with throughout her own athletic career have influenced her current perspective and philosophy, and what can be done to create more opportunities for coaches, especially females; Picky Bars, and how she and husband Jesse Thomas don’t let the business consume every moment of their lives; her recent recommitment to leaving the sport better than she found it and using her platform to spur meaningful change even though she’s no longer competing; her current relationship with running and what she misses most about being a professional athlete; what’s changed in the sport since she turned pro in 2003 and whether or not she’s worried about the sport’s future; the advice she’d give 21-year-old Lauren upon graduating college; writing, when it came into her life, and what her process looks like; and much, much more. (more…)