Podcast: Episode 39 with Billy Yang

By Mario Fraioli |

“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.”

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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.

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Podcast: Episode 37 with Ladia Albertson-Junkans

By Mario Fraioli |

“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.”

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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.

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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 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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Rob Krar Climbing Back Up The Mountain

By Mario Fraioli |

Here’s Rob Krar appreciating a fog-filled view from atop Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California about five weeks before winning the 2015 Western States Endurance Run. That race, his second-straight States victory, was the last time he completed 100 miles on foot.

That is until three days ago, when Krar, on somewhat of a whim, won the Leadville Trail 100 through the high mountains of Colorado in 15 hours, 51 minutes, and 57 seconds, the second-fastest time in the race’s 35-year history (and Krar’s second victory at the event). Oh yeah, he did that just a week after finishing 14th overall in Leadville’s 100-mile mountain bike contest, which he completed in a stout 7:08:27. It was an epic performance by any and all standards, one the 41-year-old Canadian—who struggled physically and emotionally last fall while sidelined with a knee injury—called his “most fulfilling race yet.” He sat down with podcaster Billy Yang between races and opened up about his most recent bout with depression, explained how he uses mountain biking and ski mountaineering in his training, and talked about how he’d eventually like to return to Western States, amongst other topics. Krar also recapped his Leadville race(s) with Ethan Newberry on last night’s Ginger Runner Live, which you can watch here. (And if you want to nerd out even more, go nuts crunching his ride data and run splits from Leadville on Strava, and then read this Q&A he did with one of his sponsors to learn how he went about recovering between the two races.)  (more…)

Podcast: Episode 25 with YiOu Wang

By Mario Fraioli |

“I think that if you maintain good relationships with people, if you act in a way that is helpful to others, that is kind, that is giving, and you just hold yourself to a high standard, then opportunities will appear before you—and [when they do], just say yes.”

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Super excited to welcome YiOu Wang to the podcast this week! YiOu is the reigning U.S. 50K trail champion, two-time winner of the Lake Sonoma 50, and an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier with a personal best of 2:38:46, in addition to being an Under Armour and Camlebak-sponsored athlete. Full disclosure: I coach YiOu—we’ve been working together for the past 2-1/2 years—and this episode marks the first time I’ve interviewed one of my own athletes for the podcast.

We covered a lot of ground in this 90-minute conversation, including YiOu’s recent year-long trip around the world—she and her husband were working as teachers—where she visited (and ran in!) numerous countries, experienced many different cultures, and stuck to a training schedule despite being in a new place every few days. We also talked about immigrating to the U.S. as a young child, “almost failing P.E. because I couldn’t run the mile,” what inspired her to take up running in college, chopping nearly an hour off of her marathon personal best over the course of seven years, transitioning to (and training for) trail and ultra running, where her competitiveness comes from, and much, much more. (more…)

Podcast: Episode 24 with Magdalena Boulet

By Mario Fraioli |
Photo: Chad Riley

“My first run ever, I remember just having the feeling of so much joy. I said, “Wow, how come I’ve never experienced this before in the pool? This is so cool.” And it was more about just the fact that I had this feeling of being competitive that never really clicked in swimming.” 

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And the rest, as they say, is history. It’s a huge honor to have Magdalena Boulet as my guest on the podcast this week. Magda is one of the most incredible athletes—and human beings—that I’ve ever had the fortune of getting to know. The 44-year-old Boulet, who grew up in Poland and moved to Germany before immigrating to the United States as a teenager, made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon (and owns a personal best of 2:26:22 for the distance), has qualified for numerous national teams, and, over the last five years, has established herself as a top international ultramarathon runner, winning the prestigious Western States Endurance Run in 2015 and, most recently, the grueling Marathon des Sables, a six-day, 250-ish kilometer stage race through the Sahara Desert.

Boulet, who works at GU Energy Labs in Berkeley, California as the VP of Innovation, Research, and Development, has called the Bay Area home for over two decades. She’s married to former elite miler, Richie Boulet, and the couple has a young son, Owen.

We covered a lot of ground in the course of this hour-long conversation and I felt like we barely scratched the surface of Magda’s story, what she’s accomplished at various distances and disciplines throughout her competitive career, and how she’s able to juggle competing at an elite level with being a wife, mom, and executive, amognst other things, so we’ll just have to schedule a Round 2 for another time. (more…)

Hardrock 100: It Didn’t Have To End That Way

By Mario Fraioli |
Photo: Xavier Thévenard—Facebook

Xavier Thévenard of France was disqualified from the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run over the weekend. Here’s the short of it: Thévenard, one of the top mountain runners in the world, takes water and gets some assistance from his crew outside of an official aid station 46.8 miles into the race. This is a violation of the event rules and the incident is documented by a bystander, who, encouraged by his friends, notifies race officials of what he saw. An immediate investigation ensues, including multiple interactions with Thévenard and his crew, the last one at the Mile 91.2 aid station, where Thévenard is disqualified—the first disqualification in race history (there would be another one later)—and given the option to finish the course (without appearing in the results) or drop out of the race. He decides not to continue and the ultrarunning world erupts like a volcano over the whole ordeal, and with good reason: It didn’t have to end that way. No really, it didn’t. Just read the rules. (more…)

Podcast: Episode 21 with Dean Karnazes

By Mario Fraioli |

And I thought, “My god, I’ll never get to that level.” And if someone at that level can’t make a go of it in the sport, and you want to make a go of it in the sport, you’re going to have to do a lot more than win races, or just race. You’re going to have to figure out other revenue streams to make a go of it, especially if you want to commit your life to this, which I really did.

It was a treat to have Dean Karnazes join me on the podcast this week. The 55-year-old Bay Area resident remains one of the most recognizable figures in ultrarunning—if not all of running in general—for his accomplishments on and off the race course, which include multiple sub-24 hour Western States finishes, 10 Badwater finishes (including a win in 2004), 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days, cross-country runs, a 350-mile run on no sleep, and countless more.

Karnazes’ achievements have inspired many, and angered some, but the breadth of Karnazes’ impact on the sport, and peoples’ lives, is inarguable. He’s authored four books, including the international best-seller Ultramarathon Man, which helped bring widespread notoriety to the sport of ultrarunning and led Time magazine to name him one of 100 most influential people in the world. Karnazes, who has sponsorship endorsements with The North Face and other brands, has also done a lot of work for charity, including Karno Kids, which has helped provide financial support for organizations and programs focused on improving health and wellness for children. (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.