“It’s kind of like what you pay attention to grows. What you’re the most aware of—if you’re focused on an area where you’re not measuring up and you’re beating yourself up about that instead of seeing yourself a certain way—Ryan puts it well, where he’s like, ‘The first step in becoming a mentally tough runner is to believe you’re a mentally tough runner.’ It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if you think, ‘I’m not tough.’ But the opposite is [that] you start by believing that, then the more you lean into that, and believe in that, it grows.”
Sara Hall is one of the best and most versatile distance runners in the United States. She’s won numerous national titles from the mile to the marathon and and she’s the sixth-fastest American female marathoner of all time after her 2:22:16, fifth-place finish at Berlin last fall. Sara is the wife of previous podcast guest, two-time Olympian, and American half-marathon record holder Ryan Hall, and the mom of four adopted Ethiopian girls: Hana, Mia, Jasmine, and Lilly.
This conversation covered a lot of ground and I think you’ll really take a lot away from it. Sara told me about growing up in Santa Rosa, California, and getting into running as a 13-year-old, she opened up about dropping out of the Olympic Trials Marathon earlier this year and what it’s been like bouncing back from that disappointment, and how she’s thinking about training and racing right now in the midst of a global pandemic.
We also talked about the biggest lessons the marathon has taught her over the years, her tendency to be hard on herself after bad races and workouts, and what she means when she calls herself a “high maintenance sleeper.” We also discussed how her relationship with her husband Ryan has evolved since he retired from the sport four years ago, how she’s talking to her daughters about the racial injustice issues we’re facing in the U.S., the role faith plays in her life, and a lot more.
“It was sort of like this coolness of everyone telling you [that] you can be awesome and you’re not aware of it yet, but you’re starting to believe it, you’re starting to follow in the steps of this path you think you’re destined to be on. And that—over and over—any movie with that theme, like goosebumps, I’m hooked. I remember watching an anime, Dragon Ball Z, growing up and I’m just like, ‘Man this guy just keeps getting stronger every time he trains. Holy moly, he’s doing things he never thought he could do.’ And honestly, once I discovered track after football I was like, ‘This is what I’ve been watching all those movies my entire life for.’ I think there’s something hidden deep inside of me that’s kind of special and it’s just a matter of time before it comes out. And I just loved that, and now I would say that’s transitioned to photography and directing. I feel there’s something special that I have to offer that is started and rooted in running and track and I’m really, really excited to see where I can take that skill, or habit, or blessing that I’ve been given and seeing what’s next for me.”
My guest this week is one of my favorite photographers and storytellers in the sport of running, David Bracetty.
David lives outside of Philadelphia and he’s done editorial work for publications like Runner’s World, Like The Wind, and Meter magazine. He’s also shot commercially for New Balance, Puma, adidas, Brooks, and other brands. What I love about David is his unique style and penchant for finding and telling the story that no one else seems to be paying attention to. David hustles hard—I’ve witnessed it myself firsthand—and it shows in the quality of his work.
There is a lot to this conversation. David’s got an interesting backstory and it was trip to dive into it with him In this episode. He told me about how his Puerto Rican upbringing influenced his worth ethic and creativity. We talked about how he got into running, the rocky road he followed with the sport through college, and learning not to let his self-worth get tied up into being a runner. David told me about his odd hobbies and interests as a kid, saving up to buy his first camera in high school, and why he’s always been someone who’s quick to say yes to things and then will figure it out on the backend. Finally, we discussed the biggest ways he’s evolved as a photographer and a creative, what his relationship with running looks like now, and also his latest project. It’s called the 4 Years Ago Project, and it’s an audiovisual experience featuring athletes who competed in the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials talking about what they felt that day, what’s happened since, and where they are now.
The 4 Years Ago Project was entirely self-funded. If you’d like to support David’s work to help offset some of his costs, you can do so here.
Note: There will be a spread of select photos and commentary from Bracetty’s 4 Years Ago Project in the next issue of Like the Wind magazine, which will be published at the end of August. You can pre-order a copy of that issue here or start an annual subscription to LtW at this link. I’m a paying subscriber of LtW and it is far and away my favorite running magazine. It comes out four times a year and it’s chock full of amazing stories and beautiful imagery printed on sumptuous paper that you’ll want to keep, well, forever. Want to learn more about Like the Wind? Listen to my podcast conversation with co-founder and editor Simon Freeman from May of 2018 right here. (more…)
“Running to me represents freedom and I don’t want to just confine myself to running to numbers, like trying to run to specific mileage on a given day or just running to specific paces every day. There’s a freedom to it and a fluidity that I think is really, really important…Not every workout has to build toward something or target a specific energy system, especially right now where there are no races to build toward. For me, and what I’m trying to preach to my athletes, it’s like, look, you almost gotta think of running right now as more of an outlet than ever. Like sometimes you just need to remind yourself what made this pursuit fun in the first place.”
This week on the podcast you get to hear from me in the second Ask Mario Anything episode of 2020. I answered a number of listener questions about coaching, training, nutrition, making adjustments, my past struggles with disordered eating, and more. On the other side of the mic for this one is John Summerford, longtime producer of the morning shakeout podcast, and we kick this one off mid-conversation talking about the importance of consistency and “getting your reps in,” regardless of the pursuit. John is talking about playing music with his brother for the first time since quarantine started—the very same brother that plays drums for the theme music 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.
“Who do we get to see? And therefore, who do we get to believe in? Not only to understand people better, but I think to understand for younger kids especially how they get to travel through the world and what their potential could be. It’s a lot harder to imagine yourself being something if you’ve never seen anyone that looks like you doing it. And we internalize these images of who gets to be a surfer and who doesn’t, or who gets to be a marathoner and who doesn’t, or who gets to be, you know, a politician, and who doesn’t. So yeah, that’s what I mean when I say representation.”
Faith E. Briggs is a runner, documentary filmmaker, and advocate currently based in Portland, Oregon, and her work focuses on diversity and representation in the media and outdoors. Her latest film, This Land, is a story about land access told through a journey of inclusion and empowerment, where she and a few other runners ran 150 miles through three U.S. National Monuments and assess what is at stake if previously protected lands are reduced and if the public is largely unaware about it.
I had been looking forward to this conversation for a while and it did not disappoint. We talked about the mix of excitement and trepidation Faith is feeling midway through 2020, working through some of the confusion she’s been experiencing, and why representation in the media is more important now than ever before. She also told me about the the appeal of mountains, trails, and ultras to someone who ran the 400m in college, redefining “conservationist,” her love of words, language, and storytelling, and a lot more.
“So many of my relationships with anything or anyone in life that I care about the most is a relationship of high highs and low lows. There’s something deeply human about a relationship with anything that can offer you the greatest joy in your life and also the greatest sorrow or greatest pain. Running grounds me toward that more viscerally perhaps than anything else. It’s a reason why I keep doing it. It more than anything serves as a sort of…I don’t want to say a metaphor for life because it is life, but as a way for me to understand life. So to deny it that is to deny it it’s ultimate complexity and I have to acknowledge that they’re are going be days that running makes me feel more joyful than anything and there are going to be reasons that have to do with running that are the reasons that make me feel maybe ashamed or maybe scared or maybe deeply sad—and that’s hard, but it’s real.”
Devin Kelly is a runner, writer, and a poet based in New York City. His work has appeared in The Guardian, LitHub, Catapult, Longreads, and in other publications.
I first became aware of Devin in late 2019 when I read his essay, “Running Dysmorphic,” which explored his relationship with competitive running, exactness, and giving himself permission to be exactly who he was. It really resonated with me and my own experiences as a competitive runner who has dealt with body image issues in the past.
More recently, my college cross-country and track coach, Karen Boen—who you can listen to and learn more about in Episode 115, by the way—sent me an essay entitled, “What I Want to Know of Kindness.” The author: Devin Kelly. That piece, which also hit me on a deep level, isn’t really about running, at least explicitly, but it put on display the depth and strength of the relationships that develop when you share a lot of miles with someone over a long period of time—you know, the kind of bonds that just don’t break.
Anyway, I knew I needed to talk to this guy and here we are today with an impactful conversation about running, writing, exploration, masculinity, wrestling with shame, self-worth, hope, and a lot more.
“One of the main things too is people just kind of sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s so unbalanced that I think people of color sometimes feel uncomfortable going into this sport that is just predominantly white. I’ve never really let it be any sort of limiting factor for me and I know there a lot of people of color that still feel that trail runners and runners in general that these are my tribe of people, it’s so welcoming. I don’t feel racism in our sport. That doesn’t mean it’s not lacking racial and ethnic diversity but I think the more that we start to see that diversity, the more people will say, ‘Oh, they’re doing it, I can do that too.’ It’s the same thing with recovery, it’s when people start seeing other people do it, “Oh if they did it, then I can do it.” And so that’s kind of why I wanted to be more open about my recovery but also I wanted to be more open about this topic too, is to inspire people—like no, you’re welcome here.”
This week, I had a great conversation with ultrarunner Yassine Diboun. Yassine is a super accomplished athlete. He’s finished in the top-10 at Western States, has represented the U.S. internationally at world championships, and he’s been super competitive across a wide range of distances. He’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.
Yassine’s got an incredible story about how he changed his life and I’m excited for him to share it here with you in this episode. We also talk about the relationship between confidence and consistency, his longevity as an athlete, and how to keep the fire burning. Yassine also told me about experiencing racism throughout his life, the systemic barriers that prevent people from participating in the sport of ultrarunning and what needs to change, creating more opportunities for kids of color to get outside and experience nature, and a lot more.
“I definitely don’t have any regrets in pursuing sport to the level that I did because I think one of the wonderful things about sport is that it’s a very simply definable thing and mostly it’s a quite healthy thing for a young person to go all-in on. I fully went all-in on sport—at one point, I lived, breathed, I must have bored people around me as a lot of us as athletes probably have done with my obsessive level of interest in it. When you go all-in on something, you gain so much learning from that, the kind of learning that you don’t get when you do anything half-assed. If you just go at it fully, full commitment, you learn and you get so much back.”
Andy Blow is a friend of mine from the UK. He’s a sports scientist with a degree in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Bath and he specializes in sweat, dehydration and cramping. A former elite-level triathlete, Andy won an XTERRA age-group world title and he also has multiple top-10 finishes at Ironman and 70.3 races to his name. He’s worked as a sports scientist and advisor in the world of motorsports, but it was overcoming his own struggles with cramping and hydration as an athlete that led to him specializing in electrolyte replenishment and founding the company Precision Hydration.
In this conversation, we talked how dropping out of a cross-country race as a kid had a profound impact on him and helped shape his approach to sport and life, letting his identity get tied up in sport and how he learned to separate the two, why it’s hard for him to be objective and analytical sometimes even though he’s a scientist, where athletes are missing the mark with hydration and how solving his own problems as an athlete led to the founding of his company, battling burnout in his career and strategies for catching yourself before falling into a deep hole, and a lot more.
“While it’s terrible that it took murder for many runners to wake up to the social injustices that we face in America, I’m excited that it ignited a group of people who know what it means to keep momentum going—because that’s what this movement needs, this movement needs momentum, and every single runner knows what that means when I say that. So, I’m excited to see a group of individuals that has grown over the last few months take action to make change, to influence their networks, to diversify our sport, and to not stop until they can put their hands down and say, ‘Wooof, OK, I think I did something today.’ And then do it again tomorrow. Because that’s what we do too, so that excites me.”
Kamilah Journét is a native of Southern California and began running track in junior high school. She told her coach that she wanted to be a 100m runner, eventually found her way into cross country and, well, let’s just say she discovered her happy place to be somewhere in between.
Kamilah, who has a personal best of 4:51 in mile, ran collegiately at UC San Diego, she coached high school for a little bit, and has worked in marketing in both the running and outdoor industries.
In this episode, Kamilah told me about her introduction to the sport and how her relationship with it has evolved over the years, how her competitiveness manifested itself when she got into running, and how majoring in communications in college has shaped the way she looks at the world and approaches her work. We also talked about what it means to be black in America, what it’s like being a black woman working in the running and outdoor industries, and along those lines, what brands in those spaces can do better when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. Kamilah and I also talk about inclusiveness in running, how we, as runners, can address tough issues like diversity and racism in our communities, and a lot more.
“We really bought in—and I really bought in. Like, I really believed that we could be good, I really, truly believed that, and I got them to believe it. In fact, when we hosted our first NE-10 Championship, we had this snow squall come across the field. It was freezing, it was like blowing sidewards, and I bring the women into the sports complex, and I said, ‘Everybody, be quiet.’ I said, ‘Just listen to all the people who are complaining about the weather.’ And they were all listening. I said, ‘You’re going to march out that door and you’re gonna beat every one of those women that has been complaining about the weather because this is our campus.’ And we just like pounded our chests and we walked out there and we won. But I just remember loving it, and believing in it, and I just wanted people to believe in me. And to see it grow like that, it’s like raising a child. It was just so gratifying.”
This week’s episode of the podcast is a really special one. I got to have a long conversation with someone who has had a profound impact on my life and has played a major role in shaping the person I am today, my college cross-country and track coach, Karen Boen. A lot of how I think about training, coaching, and life in general is due to her influence.
Coach has been at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts since 1997, when, at the age of 40, she took a part-time role to coach a women’s team that was about to be cut as a varsity sport. Twenty-three years later, under her guidance, the Stonehill women’s cross-country team has been to 19-straight NCAA Division II Championships. She took over the men’s cross country program in 2002 when I was a junior—we weren’t very good, but a year later we qualified for the national championship for the first time in school history, and the squad has gone back every year since. Coach was also the director of both the men’s and women’s track and field programs until this past year, stepping down from her role as head coach but remaining on staff to continue working with the distance runners. In her time at Stonehill, Coach has developed over 70 All-Americans, her teams have won 38 conference titles, and she’s been named conference and regional coach of the year more times than I can count. Last December, she was one of six coaches inducted into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame, a well-deserved honor that recognizes not only her achievements as a coach, but the leadership, passion, and inspiration she’s brought to so many others.
In this conversation, Coach talks about growing up in the projects of South Boston with a single-mom and two brothers; being told that she had “perfectionist syndrome” as a kid, and how that’s influenced her approach to life; getting the opportunity to escape Southie and attend college, where the only advice that was given to her was “don’t f* this up.” She recalled how she got into track and field in college, and eventually distance running in grad school. She talks about accidentally falling into coaching at the age of 40, taking a small team that was on the brink of extinction and developing it into a nationally ranked program, being a full-time female coach at the collegiate level while having a family and maintaining a social life, why she’s always focused on surrounding herself with fantastic people, the importance of setting boundaries, the biggest barriers facing female coaches today at the collegiate level and elsewhere, and so, so much more.
“I have a lot of goals in running and I have a lot of dreams in running but I feel like I love to run—period, end of sentence. And if that is kind of all I’m ever going to say about my running career from here on out, I’d maybe be a little bit disappointed, but at the end of the day, I want to run when I’m 80. I want to run with my family, I want to run with my friends, I want to run with my dog, and those miles that I can put in going forward, I hope they lead to really cool things on the track, but if they lead to really cool things through, you know, other opportunities that come forward in the future, that would be just as cool. So maybe looking ahead, I’m not trying to write my future out maybe like I used to, I’m just trying to go a little bit more with the flow and see where the run takes me.”
Mary Cain is the youngest American athlete ever to represent the United States at the World Championships, which she did in 2013 as a 17-year-old high school phenom, finishing 10th in the 1500m final. Earlier that year, she broke numerous high school and junior records from 800m through the 5000. She turned professional in the fall of 2013, joining the Nike Oregon Project under coach Alberto Salazar in Portland, Oregon. In 2014, Cain broke more junior records, won a senior national title indoors at 1500 meters, and then the world junior championship at 3000m outdoors. It appeared she was on top of the world until it all came crashing down in 2015 and 2016, when her performances suffered, seemingly inexplicably. Mary left the Oregon Project in 2016 and returned home to New York, where she enrolled at Fordham University and began training with John Henwood, who helped coach her in high school. She spent much of 2017 and 2018 battling injuries and had pretty much fallen off the radar from a competitive standpoint.
Then, last November, Mary came forward in The New York Times with a powerful op-ed sharing her story of the emotional and physical abuse she suffered while as an Oregon Project athlete. The piece exploded online and revealed details about how Mary had suffered from disordered eating while a member of Salazar’s team, missed her period for three years, broke five bones, and suffered from thoughts of suicide. Following that story, several other former Oregon Project athletes backed her claims of similar mistreatment going back at least 10 years.
Mary, who is now 24, recently took a full-time job at Tracksmith as the community manager in New York City, where she continues to live and train with an eye toward returning to world-class competition.
In this conversation, which got emotional at times, we got into the details of her new employment arrangement, talked about the importance of not being outcome-oriented, the energizing effect of being actively involved in her NYC running community, and how she picked herself back up after leaving Oregon and returning to New York.
We also talked about Mary the person vs. Mary the runner and when that flipped for her, what she experienced during her time in Oregon, and being self-critical and feeling helpless when she was told she needed to lose weight to run faster. She also told me when she realized the environment at the Oregon Project was a problem and why it took her so long to realize it and leave, if her training partners and teammates at the time showed any concern for her while she was suffering, how she’s thinking about her running goals in the next few years, and a lot more. (more…)