Podcast: Episode 35 with Kim Conley

By Mario Fraioli |
Conley finished fourth at the recent NYRR Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K. Photo: Justin Britton

“Not to sound cheesy, but anything is possible. I think that when you set your mind to something, and make a plan on how to get there, then you just chip away at what the next step of the plan is and you keep working up to the next step on the staircase basically—and it’s amazing how far you can go.”

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Really enjoyed sitting down with two-time U.S. Olympian Kim Conley this past weekend after she finished fourth at the NYRR Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5K, a race which doubled as the U.S. 5K road championships for 2018.

The 32-year-old Conley, who has been battling a series of injuries since early 2017, is finally healthy again and setting her sights on returning to the track in 2019. Based in Sacramento, where she lives and trains with her husband and coach, Drew Wartenburg, Conley ran collegiately at nearby U.C. Davis, where she graduated in 2009 with modest personal bests of 16:17 for 5000m and 4:22 in the 1500. Despite not being fast enough to land a sponsorship deal after college, Conley knew that she still had some unfinished business in the sport, so she decided to stick with it. It’s a decision that has certainly paid off: Conley has made the last two Olympic teams in the 5000m, captured national titles in the 10,000m and half marathon, and improved her personal bests to 15:08 and 4:07, respectively.

We covered a wide range of topics in this conversation, including: what Conley has taken away from her most recent injury experience; her marathon debut in 2016 and what she learned from that race (and why she’s going to stay focused on the track through 2020); the state—and strength—of American women’s distance running right now; her own progression in the sport, from good but not great high school and college runner to two-time Olympian and national champion; her new upcoming biography, Underdog, which comes out next spring; the shutting down of NorCal Distance, her current training situation in Sacramento, and what’s it like to be coached by her husband, Drew Wartenburg; what other runners can take away from her story; and much, much more. (more…)

Podcast: Episode 34 with Sanjay Rawal

By Mario Fraioli |

“It’s really inspiring to see someone push themselves and challenge themselves…Bringing out the achievements of people who are fighting the odds, and really putting into context today’s race, even for a pro, because even a pro is overcoming something tremendous each race they do—it’s never rosy. And understanding that hardship, I think, will give people context into the meaning of a particular race for a particular runner, whether they’re an amateur or the world’s best.”

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It’s a treat to have filmmaker Sanjay Rawal on the podcast this week to talk about his new documentary, “3100: Run and Become,” which takes an intimate look at one of the most unique foot races on the planet, The Sir Chinmoy 3100-Mile Self-Transcendence Race. What is the 3100? In short, it’s the longest certified road race in the world, and runners attempt to complete 3100 miles in 52 days (or less) around the same city block in Queens, New York. That’s just shy of 60 miles per day, for two months straight, around the same 0.55-mile stretch of concrete, in the middle of summertime.

The 43-year-old Rawal, who lives in New York City but grew up as a competitive runner in California’s East Bay, studied under Sri Chinmoy after graduating from UC Berkeley. Chinmoy, who passed away in 2007, was an Indian spiritual teacher who believed running provided an opportunity for people to challenge themselves and their pre-conceived limitations, a state he referred to as “self-transcendence.” Rawal, who has not yet attempted the 3100, has been working on the film since 2015. In it, he explores the theme of running as a spiritual practice throughout history, weaving three other cultural narratives around the story of the 2016 edition of the 3100. Rawal visits Arizona’s Navajo Nation, spends time with the Mt. Hiei “running monks” of Japan, and also goes into the bush with the persistence hunters of the Kalahari, showing how running is one of mankind’s most primal activities as well as one of our greatest cultural connectors.

We covered a wide range of topics in the course of this conversation, including Rawal’s film, how it came to be, and how it’s changed him as both a person and a runner; the 3100-Mile Self-Transcendence Race, its origins, and its unique appeal; the role that running plays in the different cultures featured in the film; the connection between competition and spirituality; what can be done to make coverage of running events more appealing; the idea that running is something more than a competitive pursuit or form of exercise, but it can serve as a teacher, a form of prayer, and a celebration of life; running culture and what that means exactly; and much, much more.

This exchange was very different from many of the others I’ve had to this point—there was no talk about training, nutrition, recovery, or the state of the sport—but it was also one of the most enlightening that I’ve had in quite some time. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or recreational runner, a miler or an ultramarathoner, this conversation will change the way you look at running and the role it plays in your life.

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Podcast: Episode 33 with Ben Rosario

By Mario Fraioli |

“You have to look at it like a business. What do you want the culture of your team to be? Focus on that and make sure that the people you’re working with are bought into what you’re doing. Because I’m telling you right now, you could raise Bill Bowerman from the dead and he could write your schedule, but if you don’t have the people that you’re working with believing in you, and believing in each other, and believing in what they’re doing, it’s not going to work.”

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It was a blast to sit down with Ben Rosario, the founder and head coach of HOKA Northern Arizona Elite, for this week’s episode of the podcast.

The 38-year-old Rosario, who started the team in 2014, has had a long and varied career in the running industry. As an athlete, he ran for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, qualified for two U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, and finished second at the U.S. Marathon Championships in 2005. He moved back to his hometown of St. Louis that earlier that year, where he first worked as the special events director for that city’s marathon, and then went on to co-found Big River Running Company. After selling his share of the business in early 2012 and moving to Flagstaff shortly thereafter, Rosario worked as the marketing director for McMillan Running and also did some work as an elite athlete coordinator and race director back in his hometown of St. Louis. Through it all, Rosario has coached other runners at all levels, leading him to his current role with HOKA NAZ Elite, “a professional sports team whose mission is to recruit, develop and produce distance runners to compete at the very highest level of international athletics.”

We covered a lot of bases over the course of this conversation: Rosario’s career path, and the route he took to get where he is today; how he got into coaching and the influence different coaches have had on his own development as an athlete, coach, and person; what race weekend looks like for him when he’s got athletes competing; the origins of NAZ Elite and how he sees the group evolving in the coming years; how he measures his team’s impact beyond race results; what NAZ Elite is doing to make themselves relatable to average runners; the benefits of group training for all levels of runners; the importance of rest and recovery after a marathon and what that looks like for his athletes; how he furthers his own education as a coach and his advice for young coaches; what’s exciting him about the sport right now, and a lot more.

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Podcast: Episode 32 with Peter Ciaccia

By Mario Fraioli |

“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.”

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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.

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Podcast: Episode 31 with Gabe and Justin Grunewald

By Mario Fraioli |

“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.”

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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.

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Podcast: Episode 30 with Lauren Fleshman

By Mario Fraioli |

“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.”

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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…)

Podcast: Episode 29 with Mario Mendoza

By Mario Fraioli |

“To me that’s faith. To me that’s faith in running. So I think runners understand faith because a lot of times we don’t really see something and it might even take years, but then it’s like ‘Whoa! Where did that come from?’ But it was actually because you stuck with it—something in you believed.”

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Really excited to have Mario Mendoza join me on the podcast this week! Mendoza, a 32-year-old from Bend, Oregon, is a five-time national trail running champion, three-time USATF Trail Runner of the Year, and has represented the United States six times in international competition. He’s placed in the top-10 at the last two IAU Trail World Championships, finishing sixth in 2018 and ninth in 2017. We recorded this episode the day before his last race—a third-place finish at the Under Armour Mountain Running Series 50K at Mt. Bachelor this past Saturday—and two days before the birth of his son, Jair Giovanni Mendoza.

We covered a lot of ground over the course of this hour-long episode: the message he’ll give his newborn son upon entering the world, what it was like growing up in a Mexican family on an avocado ranch in Cambria, California and how that experience has shaped his perspective on life and running, his work as a pastor and what faith means to him, how he got into running and the various ways his career has progressed and evolved over the years, why he’s constantly reminding himself not to get caught up in outcomes when it comes to racing, why representing the United States at global championships is so important to him, and a whole lot more.

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Podcast: Episode 28 with Sarah Sellers

By Mario Fraioli |

“My goal isn’t to garner more media attention or to shock the world or to even top Boston. My goal is to keep the love of the sport, to stay healthy, and to continue chipping away at times because ultimately I think [that] kind of like Des Linden has shown the world, if you are able to stay healthy and train consistently for a long period of time, that’s where you get really good.”

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Stoked to have Sarah Sellers on the podcast this week! The 27-year-old Sellers, who works as a nurse anesthetist in Arizona, was the surprise second-place finisher at April’s Boston Marathon, running a personal-best of 2:44:04 in cold, windy, wet conditions. Sellers, who took home $75,000 for her efforts, didn’t realize she was the runner-up until after she crossed the finish line.

In this conversation, we talked a bit about what’s changed for her since Boston while looking ahead to her next big race, the New York City Marathon on November 4.  We also discussed whether or not she’s felt an added layer of pressure after her breakthrough performance at Boston, how she’s learned to move on from bad races, where her mental toughness comes from, injuries and the changes she’s made to her training and lifestyle in order to stay healthy, defining herself as more than just a “runner,” balancing training at a high level with working a demanding hospital job, the importance of the support system she surrounds herself with, and a lot more.

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Podcast: Episode 27 with Kara Goucher

By Mario Fraioli |

“When you have things that are out of your control, that are weighing on you and really causing you angst on a daily basis, your running is not going to be what you want it to be. It can be a great escape, it can be a place you go to find calmness and peace in your heart and your mind, but you’re not going to perform at all what you’re capable of performing.”

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Thrilled to welcome Kara Goucher to the podcast this week! Goucher, who recently turned 40, hardly needs any introduction: She’s a two-time U.S. Olympian, world championships silver medalist in the 10,000m, sub-2:25 marathoner, and has finished on the podium at both the New York City and Boston marathons. Beyond her competitive accomplishments, Goucher serves as a role model to runners worldwide, particularly women and young women, who are inspired by her example.

We talked about a number of different topics over the course of 40 minutes, including how she’s dealt with racing anxiety throughout her career, the impetus behind her new book, Strong, what life’s been like for her since speaking up as a whistleblower in the Nike Oregon Project investigation three years ago, how she navigated the disappointment of finishing fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, what’s keeping her competitive fire fueled at the age of 40, the effect training with other world-class women like Shalane Flanagan, Jenny Simpson, and Emma Coburn has had on her career, the appeal of ultrarunning, what’s exciting her about the sport right now, and a lot more.

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Podcast: Episode 26 with Mauricio Díaz

By Mario Fraioli |

“And then at that same point, I was running and I found out that running was just the best vehicle and the best way and medium to know a place—and eventually, also [to] get to know yourself.”

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Really enjoyed sitting down with Mauricio Díaz this week for a conversation that had nothing to do with training, racing, or current issues that exist within the sport. Instead, we talked about running as it relates to adventure and exploration while serving as a cultural common denominator around the world.

Díaz is the VP of marketing for Aire Libre, a company out of Mexico City he accidentally co-founded with a couple of his friends that creates immersive weeklong running experiences that are partly athletic, but mostly cultural, extremely educational, and undoubtedly transformative.

In this episode, we talked about the importance of culture and storytelling, and how those two elements are at the center of everything Aire Libre does, from the content they create to the experiences they cultivate. Díaz describes the group’s initial adventure—56 miles through the Sonoran Desert in northwestern Mexico—along with some of the other culturally focused and socially conscious follow-ups he’s led, such as running along the Arizona-Mexico border to explore the land of the Tohono O’odham nation, and many other stories that I think will pique your interest and may even get you to view running through a slightly different lens. (more…)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mario Fraioli
Mario Fraioli is a writer and running coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area.