“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.
“By nature, diversity is uncomfortable, at least initially, right? Until we can embrace and accept the discomfort of having someone with a different opinion, a different life experience, and different idea, or way of doing things. That part is not trendy or glamorous. We like to think that diverse community—the idea of it is a lot easier to swallow. I think there’s a lot of introspection that needs to be done and we don’t all know how to do that, nor do we have the language, but we need to be willing to listen and learn and not everybody’s ready for that, I don’t think.”
Carolyn Su is the creator of the @DiverseWeRun Instagram account, which she launched as a place to highlight runners from different backgrounds and share their stories with a wider audience. I first became aware of Carolyn a few months ago when she was featured in a Runner’s World article along with 10 other BIPOC runners speaking out about their experiences with racism and perceptions of diversity within the running community.
In this episode, Carolyn, who is Taiwanese-American, told me about how she found running while she was struggling with an eating disorder in college, why she still has a hard time calling herself a runner sometimes, and how running ultimately became a source stability in her life. We also discussed why she started @DiverseWeRun, what it’s going to take to tackle the issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation in running so that we can create a more equitable and accessible sport for everyone, and a lot more.
Where’s that work ethic come from? “For sure my grandmother, and I think growing up without a mom and a dad. You know, nothing was ever handed [to me], we had to work for everything. Also just seeing that’s what’s needed to survive in this world is the art of working hard. I don’t expect anything—I just want to work hard. I just take pride with having the magic in things, you know. I just want things to always go well. I know things will not always go well but I think my grandmother and growing up definitely with that chip on my shoulder and just having to work hard.”
Marquis Bowden is a 31-year-old runner based in Los Angeles and he first came on my radar several weeks ago when I saw him featured in a film from Tracksmith called Race Day is (still) Sacred. I then started hearing him pop up in my podcast feed, which then sent me down the rabbit hole and landed me on articles about him in both Tempo Journal and Runner’s World, and I just knew we had to have a conversation.
A former college basketball player who says that running found him a few years ago, Marquis has big goals in the sport. He ran a two-minute personal best of 2:39 last month for his virtual Boston Marathon, and while he has a long way to go on paper to achieve his goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, Marquis has the tools, the drive, and the guidance to take him to some pretty incredible places.
His humble, hard-working nature, and the pride he has for his family and community, is also admirable and all of that really comes out in this conversation. We talked about his journey in the sport, how his training has evolved, and all that, but we got deeper into his story: about growing up in the inner city of Compton and Carson, California, and being raised by his grandmother because his parents were out of the picture. Marquis told me about reuniting with his dad just a few years ago and how that missing puzzle piece fit back into his life. We also talked his lack of self-belief as a kid and how he grew his confidence, his work ethic and having a chip on his shoulder, patience and playing the long game, as well as the importance of living each day with gratitude and love. We also discussed what it means to be a black male in running today, how we can increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport, and a lot more.
“What we do on the daily basis to have success in our sport sets you up so well for what you’re going to be doing in the real world. But just the pursuit of success in our sport does so much for success in the real world, I feel like. If you can train as hard we do for a 10K, say, and then go out there and just squeeze every bit of yourself out of yourself for 25 laps and mentally stay engaged that whole way and talk yourself through all the tough points of the race, I mean, you can do anything. Like, I have yard projects that are just daunting sometimes and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got this, you know?’ and it’s all because of my running background. So I feel like, you know, just what we do as runners goes a long way.”
Gary Towne is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated collegiate coaches in the United States.
Gary has coached cross-country and track at Chico State since 1996 and his Wildcats have been one of the top NCAA Division II programs in the country for over 20 years. Last fall, his men’s team finished third at the national cross-country meet while the women’s squad placed seventh—it was the 23rd top-10 team finish for the men, and 18th top-10 placing for the women. In his nearly three decades at Chico State, Gary’s teams have won dozens of conference titles, he’s coached over 100 All-Americans, and guided three individual national champions. He’s also won numerous coach of the year awards himself, but what he’s most proud of, however, is his teams’ academic success and the fact that nearly 100 percent of his student-athletes have graduated from college.
We covered some really good ground in this conversation and I think you’re going to take a lot away from it. Gary told me how he’s kept his athletes excited and motivated in recent months after this year’s cross-country season was cancelled due to the pandemic. He also described the toll it’s taken on him as a coach. Gary shared his thoughts on collegiate track programs getting cut around the country and what can be done to prevent more of them from getting axed moving forward. We also talked about creating support systems within his teams as well as developing and maintaining a strong culture. He also told me how his training philosophy has evolved over the years, whether or not he coaches the men and women differently, what success means for him as a coach, and a lot more.
“Yeah, I’ve had moments of like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ And so that’s pretty cool because I think it’s really important to enjoy those moments. I feel like people are always looking to the next thing and the next goal and that’s a huge part of the sport but I also think it’s really important to sit back and be like, ‘Wow, this is happening right now.’ I think just taking it one step at a time and just enjoying where you are is really important.”
Elle Purrier runs professionally for New Balance Boston. The 25-year-old represented the United States at the 2019 world championships in Doha, where she finished 11th in the 5000m with a personal best of 14:58.17. Indoors this past winter, she broke the American record in the mile at the Millrose Games, running 4:16.85 in one of the most exciting races I’ve watched in quite some time.
We covered some good ground in this conversation. Elle told me how she’s gone about her business during the pandemic and after the Olympics were postponed; we talked about how her training has evolved in her first few years as a professional, why underemphasizing mileage in HS and college has helped her stay healthy and perform at a high level as a professional, and the workouts that let her know when she’s ready to rip on race day. We also discussed what it was like growing up on a dairy farm in Vermont, the parallels between farming and running, racing some of her childhood idols as a pro, and a lot more.
“I think that’s probably what my mother said about being self-destructive: that I go until it breaks. I probably could start to find this balance much before but I’m just pushing it, pushing it, pushing it until it’s too late and then, like, ‘OK, or I die, or I need to change.’ And it goes up to that point. I hope that all these chapters are closed and that now the balance is here.”
Kilian Jornet is one of the greatest endurance athletes of all-time. The 32-year-old Catalonian has won major ultramarathons like Western States, UTMB, Hardrock and others, he’s captured multiple world titles in ski mountaineering, and he holds fastest known times up and down Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Denali, Everest, and other mountains.
In this conversation we talked about how he’s changed his training focus during the pandemic and the biggest lessons he’s learned from taking a new approach, his relationship with competition and how it’s changed over the years, and how he thinks about risk now versus when he was a younger athlete. We also dissected his propensity toward self-destruction and pushing the boundaries of pain and suffering, experimentation and fear of failure, becoming a climate advocate who is working to protect the environment and mountains he loves so dearly through his new foundation, and a LOT more.
“You gotta go do it. Lean into the unknown. We have this term, especially when I work with football players, called contact adaptation. There’s a reason they had training camp prior to the season—it’s not just so they could squeeze in extra games, it’s so they can get used to hitting one another and what have you and that actually can decrease the risk of injury. Well, none of these coaches now have contact adaptation. They don’t expose themselves to anything, which leads to a higher likelihood of breakdown. The dose makes the poison. You’re all leaders in different contexts but you’re not leading if you don’t actually lead anybody and nobody can find you. You don’t have to coach world beaters, you don’t have to coach all day every day for 60 years—that kind of experience can be just as toxic as no experience at all—but you do have to lead somebody, you do have to create something. The core lesson there is you have to do. You can’t just ideate and be like ‘Yeah, man, I’m a leader.’ That doesn’t work.”
Brett Bartholomew is one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world. He’s worked with a diverse range of athletes across 23 sports, at all levels ranging from youth to Olympians. He’s the author of the best-selling book Conscious Coaching: The Art and Science of Building Buy-In, which, as a disclaimer, I helped edit. Through his company, Art of Coaching, he also works with members of the United States Special Forces, Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and universities to help develop more effective leaders and improve interactions and communication.
This is mostly a conversation about coaching—not the technical aspects of strength and conditioning for runners, though we do touch on that a little at the end—but more about the interpersonal side of the craft: the importance of relationships, building buy-in, developing trust, and communicating well. Brett also told me his story about being hospitalized for disordered eating at the age of 15 and how that experience led him down the path of wanting to learn how to communicate with people more effectively and ultimately become a coach. We also talked about putting pressure on yourself, navigating chaos, managing different personalities and emotions, learning to be adaptable, and a lot more.
“It got to the point where I was looking in the metaphorical mirror and saying to myself, ‘Alright, what am I going to do here? You’re sacrificing your job effectiveness by doing as much as you can with this podcast as often as you can and by not making a decision, you’re making a decision.’ And ultimately it came down to the fact that I just believed that I could turn this into a profession. I didn’t exactly know how to do it or when it would happen but I just started to believe. And ultimately that belief kind of ruled the day for me.”
Matt Chittim is the man behind the incredibly popular Rambling Runner podcast, which is a show about dedicated amateur runners who are working hard at the sport but also balancing running with the rest of their lives. On the other end of the spectrum, he also hosted Season 1 of The Road to the Olympic Trials podcast, which followed the training, racing, and experiences of some of America’s best runners as they prepared for the Olympic Trials Marathon this past February in Atlanta. Matt is a natural conversationalist as you’ll pick up upon in this episode and I highly recommend checking out both of his podcasts.
In this episode, we of course talked podcasting, how he got into it, what the tipping point was that lead to his show’s explosion in popularity, and how his prior careers as a coach and fundraiser have informed his approach to the craft. We also talked about Matt’s journey in the sport, reigniting his own running fire in his mid-20s, and his current Mastering 40 pursuit of trying to break a 40-minute 10K at the age of 40. We also discussed competitiveness, imposter syndrome, and a lot more.