“I think at Furman I ended up doing a lot on my own, just thinking, ‘Oh, I have to do all this stuff to be good.’ So I ended up overdoing a lot of things that I ultimately was kind of wearing myself out trying to get all this stuff done—just in my head to have an edge on everybody. But I think a big factor now is just that I’m letting myself recover and rest and I go into every race feeling super good and super fresh because I have taken the time to focus on letting my body relax and only stressing it out when it needs to be stressed. I think that’s been a big factor…I found that giving myself actual ample time to recover and rest has been the biggest change for me. I think it’s a big factor to the success I’m having now.”
Frank Lara is a professional runner for the Roots Running Project out of Boulder, Colorado. He also works part-time for Strava as a community management representative. Most recently, Frank paced 20 miles of The Marathon Project at sub-2:09 pace, just a couple weeks after running a massive personal best of 27:44 in the 10,000m. In 2020, he was named the U.S. 15K champion a few months after the winner of the race was sanctioned by USADA for a doping violation.
I enjoyed this conversation, which we recorded back in December, just a couple days before Frank’s pacing assignment at the Marathon Project. We talked about transitioning from collegiate to professional running, his biggest learnings as a pro, and developing the confidence to compete at the highest level of the sport. He also told me about learning how to rest, chasing his curiosities, and a lot more.
“If we don’t know what the most important thing to do in a day is, or in a moment, then we will become more like leaves, blowing with every breeze. And so I think there have been times in my life where if I wasn’t clear with myself on my own priorities or my goals then I was behaving more like a leaf and being blown around—and I don’t think we want to be like rocks, where we’re not affected by anything, but I think I’ve grown and try to be more like a tree where there’s some roots but you can still feel the breeze. I say this thing—that tomorrow starts tonight—and I really mean it when I say I just prepare as best I can for the next day or the next thing I’m doing so that I give myself the best chance at attacking what my north star is first.”
Alexi Pappas is a professional athlete who holds the Greek national record in the 10,000-meters and competed for Greece at the 2016 Olympic Games. She’s also an award-winning writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Runner’s World, The Atlantic, Outside magazine, and other publications. Her first book, Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas comes out on January 12.
This week’s episode of the podcast—the last one for 2020—is a “best of” compilation of highlights from 12 of the most impactful conversations I’ve had over the past 12 months. To provide a little context: I put out 47 episodes of the podcast in 2020—totaling almost 100 hours of conversation—and picking out soundbites from only a dozen of them to highlight here was really freaking hard. I literally have notebooks full of stuff that I’ve learned from every single guest and I simply cannot express enough gratitude for all that they’ve shared with me and, in turn, all of you.
If you’re a devoted fan of the podcast, it’s my hope that this second annual “best of” episode serves as a bit of a refresher or maybe a reminder to revisit an old episode or two. For those of you who are newer listeners to the show, welcome. Use this episode as a nudge to check out some of the conversations you may have missed while also letting it serve as a primer for what’s to come in 2021.
Whether you tune in to every episode of the podcast or only listen every once in a while, I just want to say: thank you. I’m tremendously grateful for your interest and support. I’m a little over three years into this podcast journey and the impact it’s had on my life and many of you who listen regularly is immeasurable. I’m so glad to have all of you along for the ride and sharing in these experiences with me.
There is no sponsor for this week’s show but if you’d like to support my work directly, you can become a member on Patreon at themorningshakeout.com/support, where, for as little as a buck a week you can help keep the morning shakeout sustainable and also gain access to some exclusive content like The Weekly Rundown, my Patreon only podcast that I co-host with my friend Billy Yang, the occasional “emergency pod,” and other perks that pop up from time to time. A big thank you to all of you who are already members—your support means so much to me and I cannot thank you enough for it.
“It’s not just like you can have a bad race because you get too nervous. No. The very essence of, in the middle of a race, you’re asking yourself, ‘Can I maintain this pace? Can I speed up? Can I slow down?’ And that decision, which you’re asking yourself with every stride essentially, is not answered by, ‘I can’t speed up because some physical parameter is maxed out,’ because it’s not—it’s clearly not, you can keep going. Instead, it’s maxed out by your brain’s assessment of how hard you’re going and whether that is something that is sustainable and will get you to the finish line. And so fundamentally, you make that switch that, ‘Oh no, at every point, unless I collapse on the ground, at every point through a race, it’s been my mind that’s deciding whether I can keep going or whether I can speed up or not.’”
Alex Hutchinson is the author of the New York Times best-seller Endure, which is one of my favorite books of the past few years, he’s a contributing editor at Outside magazine, where he writes the Sweat Science column, and his byline has also appeared in numerous other publications.
We recently had a great conversation about writing, running, and the path he’s followed in both of those disciplines. We also talked about the concept of endurance, which he wrote an entire book about, the limits on our potential, the future of connected fitness, and a lot more.
“I started to wonder decades later if running for me was the first time that I had ever had facts ascribed to my name. And I wonder if being lied about and called racial epithets from a young age and to know from age 4 or 5 that I’m living in a society that speaks of you in a way that you know is not accurate and you know is not who yourself to be. And so for an entire lifetime of people lying to you and lying about you, saying you did something that you didn’t do, saying that you were someplace that you weren’t, somebody saying or assuming you would do something or had done something that had never even entered your mind. I think running, and getting times, for the first time, for me, as a teenager, was the first time that I ever had experience with facts, you know what I mean? You can’t lie about your time. You can’t lie about your race. It’s there in the newspaper, in the results section, and I think that that experience was so intoxicating to me, that like, you could call me whatever you want, and you could say all these racist stereotypes about black people you want, but you can’t never say that Knox Robinson didn’t run 9:41 on a Tuesday night.”
Knox Robinson is a returning guest to the show. He first appeared back on Episode 12, which was recorded Boston Marathon weekend in 2018. He was also the first person I interviewed for the morning shakeout’s Going Long series almost four years ago.
In addition to being a friend of mine, Knox is a writer, coach, and athlete who is now based in Los Angeles. Prior to that he spent years in New York City, where he co-founded the Black Roses NYC running crew. Knox ran collegiately at Wake Forest before stepping away from the sport for the better part of a decade to work in the music industry. He managed the careers of various artists, and also served as the editor-in-chief of the Fader, a magazine dedicated to covering hip hop and indie music, style and culture.
We recorded this conversation back in late July but I’ve held onto for a couple of reasons: 1. Knox was a guest on a lot of other podcasts this past summer and I didn’t want this one to get lost in the shuffle; and 2. This was at times, quite frankly, an uncomfortable exchange as we discussed difficult topics like running while black, race in America, the role of the media in all of that, and more. But I’m sharing it here today in its entirety because it had a profound impact on me and I hope it will do the same for you. We got into Knox’s roots and his background as a runner and a storyteller, his writing practice and what it looks like, and the idea of running as a sort of leveling agent. We also discussed his recent move to LA and what he hopes to achieve there, setting up a high altitude retreat in the mountains of Mexico, and a lot more.
“If you’re going to be a good coach, you have to believe you’re really good, right? You have to balance humility with confidence. You have to believe you’re really good. And I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I believe I’m really good. And so, even then I did, even when I was uncertain, so I also did have this false sense of like, ‘Well, they’ve got to hear from me. I’ve got the answers. They’ve got to hear from me.’ None of that matters if you’re not building a connection with each of them every day. I think a lot of it was when I was young, man, [it was] ‘I’m going to put my stamp on this, this is what we’re going to do.’ I wish I could go back and have actually enjoyed it more.”
Chris Miltenberg is one of the top collegiate cross-country and track coaches in the United States. He’s currently the director of cross country and track and field at the University of North Carolina, where he took over last year after holding the same position at Stanford from 2012 until mid-2019. Prior to that, he was the head women’s cross country coach and associate head coach for track and field at Georgetown from 2007-2012. He got his start in coaching at Columbia, where he worked as an assistant from 2004-07. Milt’s resume is incredibly impressive. His women’s cross country team at Georgetown won the national title in 2011, his teams have earned 10 podium finishes in NCAA Championship competition, not to mention numerous conference and regional titles over the past 16 years. He’s had dozens of student-athletes earn All-America honors, many have gone on to run professionally, his teams have been recognized for their success in the classroom, and Coach Milt has racked up more coach of the year awards than I can count.
We recently had a conversation about coaching, the path he’s followed, challenges he’s faced, and who he’s learned from along the way. We talked about why he left Stanford for Carolina, how he and his teams have been navigating the pandemic, and why he ultimately believes the events of this past year have helped him, his staff, and his team focus on what’s really important. Milt also told me how paranoia and insecurity fuel his work ethic, why that’s gotten him into trouble sometimes and what he does to keep himself in check, how he keeps himself sharp as a coach, and a lot more.
“I think you should ditch worrying about your heart rate and just go by feel. Easy is a feeling, it is not a number. Sometimes you need parameters if you are prone to running too hard on your easy days but you should be able to ask yourself, ‘Does this feel easy?’ and if the answer is no, you need to back it off a few notches. And even if the answer is yes, there’s no harm in backing it off a notch because an easy run, the purpose of it, is to yes, maybe get in aerobic work but it’s mostly to recover from the quality work that you’re doing and to be able to absorb it. And on a truly easy day, you really can’t go easy enough. I’ll tell my athletes sometimes, ‘I want you a step above walking.’ And that’s going to be different for everyone, or everyone’s perception of that is going to be a little bit different, but the point is, it needs to feel easy, it can’t just be your watch telling you that here’s the number that you’re supposed to be at and it’s easy because you’re at that number because we’re not programmable robots, we’re human beings. And you need to be able to check in with yourself and be honest with yourself and ask yourself, ‘Is this truly easy?’ and if it’s not, have the discipline and the confidence to back off so that you’re not overdoing it.”
This week on the podcast I’m answering listener questions in the final Ask Mario Anything episode of 2020. We got some good ones about diversity in the sport, running with my dog Tahoe, easy run paces and weekly mileage, shoes, setting goals, and more. On the other side of the mic for this one is John Summerford, who I spend a few minutes catching up with before we dive into reader questions. (Side note: Check out the first installment of John’s new documentary series, “Leaving LA,” on Instagram, which pairs well alongside an update he shared with me in the preamble to this podcast.)
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions and apologies for all the ones I wasn’t able to answer in this episode. Got a question for the next Ask Mario Episode? Send it to me here.
“What I love about running, and what I love even more about running than I ever loved about dancing, is how human it is. It’s a fundamental human gait: We crawl, we walk, we run, technically, apparently, skipping is also another gait, and so when you get better at it, for myself, I just felt more human. At that point in my life already, I had been through so many movement methods in trying to get myself together as a dancer: so much yoga, Klein technique, Gyrotonics, Alexander, Trager, everything that was out there I had done, practically, that I could find, and that was a lot. It all had effects, gave me different sensations. There’s a certain way that I feel after I do yoga, but after I run, I realize I feel more human, as in a member of my species—it’s really pronounced, really profound—and I really love working with that more than anything else.”
Jae Gruenke is a highly sought-after expert on running form and technique. She’s also a Feldenkrais Practitioner, founder of The Balanced Runner, and has helped countless runners from beginners to Olympians improve their form and performance since 2003.
I’ve been following Jae’s work for a little while now and recently found out that she doesn’t live far from me, so we sat down at a local park and had a conversation that I think you’ll really enjoy and take a lot away from. We talked about what it is that Jae does exactly and how she uses the Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education to help runners with their technique. She told me how she got into running after years as a professional dancer and how solving her own problems led her to working with others who were navigating similar issues. We discussed what mainstream publications miss when it comes to running technique, common places where runners go wrong, and what she considers to be the six elements of good form. We also got into cadence, the influence of footwear, the analyses she does on the elite fields in major races, and a lot more.
“There’s things we take for granted, as athletes, as coaches, and sometimes when you have those things taken away from you, you really just realize how much they mean to you and I think every opportunity we get to show up to work, every opportunity we get to showcase our talents, it should be done with gratitude, it should be done through gratitude. Gratitude should be the entry point to all that we do and all that we accomplish in life and I think as long as we keep that as our center focus, your perspective in sport and in life—you know, sport right now but definitely life in the future—it just changes.”
Diljeet Taylor is the Associate Director of Cross Country and Track and Field at BYU, where she’s coached since 2016. In 2019, her women’s cross-country team finished second at the NCAA championships—only six points behind Arkansas—and it was the first time the Cougars had been on the podium since 2003. Prior to BYU, Diljeet coached both the men’s and women’s cross country and track programs at her alma mater, Division 2 Cal State Stanislaus, for nine years.
I absolutely loved this conversation and I think you will too. We talked about how Diljeet and her team have navigated the pandemic on both an individual and collective level. She told me about her emphasis on gratitude and why it’s such a big part of the culture she’s created at BYU, her mission of empowering women, and the importance of investing in people and not performances. Diljeet and I discussed how she got into coaching, the influence coach Frank Gagliano had on her decision to pursue it as a career, and how she makes it work as mom of two kids and full-time Division 1 coach. We also talked about the self-check she does every day, the effect of social media on athletes this day and age, balancing confidence and humility, and a lot more.
“If the book tells you anything it’s just that there’s this long history from go of this kind of behavior, whether it’s sexist behavior or outright mistreatment of women I guess is probably the biggest one that comes to mind. It has been happening for a long time and when I first started reporting in 2017 or even in 2016 looking into Nike and on another assignment around the Nike ecosystem, I heard these stories that…I just couldn’t, when I first started reporting I couldn’t believe the stories I was hearing. They just seemed like, this must be made up, this is too ridiculous.”
Matt Hart is a freelance journalist whose writing covers a wide swath of topics from sports science to adventure and exploration to performance-enhancing drugs, nutrition, evolution and more. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, National Geographic, Adventure, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other publications.
Matt has a new book out and we spent the entirety of this conversation talking about it. It’s called Win at All Costs: Inside Nike Running and It’s Culture of Deception and man oh man, it is a hell of a read. The book, which is out now, takes a deep dive into the story of the Nike Oregon Project and the infrastructure that supported it, tying together themes of deception, systemic cheating, abuses of power, gender discrimination, medical malpractice, greed, and more. I received an early copy of the book and even though I knew a lot of the story, I couldn’t put it down and knocked it out in a weekend.
In this episode, I ask Matt about the origins of the book, the myriad of complex characters involved, his difficulties in reporting it, why he thinks Nike is sticking by coach Alberto Salazar and paying for his legal defense, and what needs to happen at Nike for the corporate culture to change. We also discuss whether or not we can believe what we’re seeing in sport, if there’s anything more to this particular story, and a lot more.