“I think my purpose is to share peoples’ stories, share my story, share any stories that will impact peoples’ lives. And I love the idea of the content that I create living beyond me, I do. I try not to get too wrapped up in legacy and all that crap but when I do allow myself to take a step back and look at the work that I’m creating, to have it impact people, beyond just the small circle of runners, to actually create runners—people who have told me that they started running, not necessarily 100 milers, but marathons, 5Ks, because they’ve seen a film of mine—man, you can’t put a price on that.”
I really enjoyed sitting down with my friend Billy Yang for this week’s episode of the podcast. Billy has been one of my most requested guests since I started the show a year ago and I was finally able to pin him down for an hour last week at The Running Event in Austin, Texas. (Spoiler alert: An hour wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all the things I wanted to cover, so I’m going to have to have Billy back for a round 2 at some point. And with any luck, it won’t take another year for that to happen.)
For those of you who don’t know, Billy is one of the preeminent filmmakers—and now podcasters—in the trail and ultra running space. If you’re not familiar with his work, I recommend checking some of it out for yourself at billyyangfilms.com or The Billy Yang Podcast wherever you like to listen to audio content. It’s inspired me on many different levels and I can guarantee you that it will move in some way.
Billy and I touched on a number of different topics in this conversation, including how we got our respective starts in the storytelling business and why we do what we do, when he picked up his first video camera and realized it was something he wanted to play around with and eventually pursue, and how losing his dad spurred a lifestyle change that led to him quit smoking and take up running. We also talked about struggling with low self-esteem throughout his life and how he’s worked through those times, self-consciousness and dealing with outside opinions, embracing the journey and living the life that’s authentic to him, what he sees as his personal purpose, and so much more.
“I’m just excited about being a part of the sport—my love for running and the community continues to evolve. My boy, 4 years old, did the turkey trot yesterday and he loves to race. We go to the track at Point Loma Nazarene and [we’re] raising that next generation of runners. There’s a lot of up-and-coming athletes that I think are going to do some pretty incredible things and so again, I think it’s on us, as the promoters of the sport, the media, journalists, the shoe companies, the industry people to all take a look in the mirror over the holidays here in 2018 and really decide, ‘What do we want 2019 to look like and what do we want 2020 to look like?’ We get to write our own history and change the game how we want it to be changed, so I think that cooperation and collaboration and storytelling is really what gets me excited about the future of running.”
It was a lot of fun to sit down with my former colleague, Dan Cruz, for a freewheeling conversation that gets into the weeds of what’s happening right now in different areas of the running world.
Cruz is the former vice president of communications and public relations for the Competitor Group, where he worked from 2008 through the end of 2017. During that time, he focused a lot of his energy and attention on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, attending hundreds of events around the world, directing all external communications as well as social media strategy, and sharing stories from the front of the field and the back of the pack alike.
We jumped all over the place over the course of this hour-long chat, talking about Cruz’ career and how he got into the running industry despite having no prior experience in it—or even real interest in the sport—and the ways in which his passion for the sport grew and evolved over the course of 10 years, professionally as well as personally; the power of storytelling and why it’s important for growing the sport’s fanbase; the ever-changing landscape of the running media and where he sees it going; running culture, what that term means to him, and why it’s important; why he thinks the sport needs more trash talking and rivalries to help make it more interesting to follow; and much, much more.
“Running is such a passion for me and such a source of joy. It’s really my way of experiencing life but also a way of exploring the world, and so I really look at it from that lens and I’m always interested in new ways of exploring either the planet or my own capabilities or bringing other people along with me who maybe haven’t done something as long or as vert-y, or whatever, and that kind of is what drew me to trail running in the first place.”
Really enjoyed sitting down with Ladia Albertson-Junkans for the podcast this week. The 32-year-old is one of trail and ultrarunning’s rising stars, along with being one of the sport’s most versatile athletes. Albertson-Junkans, a two-time cross-country All-American at the University of Minnesota, has accomplished a lot in the past few years, and here are some of the highlights, in no particular order: She made her ultrarunning debut in 2017 at the competitive Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, Washington, winning in 4:17:44, and then represented the United States at the IAU World Trail Running Championships that summer, where she finished 13th overall. She followed that up earlier this year with a win at the Way Too Cool 50K in California in 3:44:01, the fourth-fastest time in race history, and top-five finishes at both the Broken Arrow Skyrace and Speedgoat 50K this past summer. She’s also very good at running uphill, finishing fourth at the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, which qualified her for that summer’s world championships, where she finished 15th and helped the U.S. to a bronze medal in the team race. Oh yeah, Albertson-Junkans also qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon this past May with a 2:41:52 clocking at the Silo District Marathon in Waco, Texas, which she ran to support her best friend and college teammate, Gabe Grunewald.
We covered a lot of different topics over the course of our recent conversation, including the cancellation of the North Face Endurance Challenge Championships, where Albertson-Junkans was set to make her 50-mile debut; her sense of adventure and how she’s able to meld it with her competitive interests; getting into ultrarunning and what she’s learned during her short time in the sport; versatility as an athlete and why that’s important to her; coaching herself and how she builds flexibility into her training schedule; the power of community and its role in the furtherment and longterm health of the sport; the importance of having a team behind her throughout her competitive running career; what’s inspiring her to try and qualify for next year’s Western States Endurance Run; and much, much more.
“If some of the people at the very front would start with these groups in the very back and see people’s journeys, they would be changed—and they would realize, not only are these people working so hard at it but they [will] actually physically see what they go through to get to where they are. You know, I have people come up to me at races and say, ‘I know you won’t believe this, but I used to weigh 500 pounds.’ And you’re looking at somebody that weighs like 180 pounds and they’ve lost 320 pounds, and they say, ‘Yeah, I couldn’t even walk out to my car without stopping and sitting down. I’d get out to the curb and had to sit down because I was out of breath.’ And now they’re going to run a marathon. How does this transformation happen? Something gets to ’em…there’s something out there. When we connect those people, that’s when our sport is really going to take off.”
It’s an honor to welcome Bart Yasso to the podcast this week. Known as “The Mayor of Running,” the 62-year-old Yasso retired from Runner’s World at the end of 2017 after 30 years with the publication. Yasso, who served as Chief Running Officer for the last 10 years of his career, attended thousands of races around the world, serving as an ambassador for the sport at all levels and celebrating the achievements of top finishers and average runners alike. And while he hasn’t exactly stopped doing those things since entering retirement, he’s scaled his event travel back significantly to spend more time at home and on the golf course.
Yasso and I caught up recently and talked about all sorts of stuff, from how he got his start in running to how he landed his dream job at Runner’s World in the late 1980s, and how his role there evolved over the course of three decades. We got into his retirement and how he’s spending his time now that he’s not traveling to an event every weekend of the year. There was some discussion about the state of the sport, the various ways that it’s grown and changed over the last several decades, and how we can do a better job connecting the front of the field with the back of the pack. We talked about running media, the various directions it’s gone over the years, and where he sees it heading moving forward. Yasso also shared his thoughts on how runners of all levels can inspire one another, his ongoing struggles with Lyme disease, Yasso 800s (of course!), and a lot more.
“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.”
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…)
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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…)