“I think over the years I started to realize it’s more than just running. There is more to life than just running. Obviously it’s a big part of what I do but I’m starting to realize that we need to make sure our happiness intact. I try to make that a part of my life. I try to stick to my schedule, I try waking up early, I try going to bed early, just trying to be positive. I try not to feel entitled and hopefully I’m this positive light for these kids. I just want to be a good role model more than anything. And I don’t want to ever complain or anything like that.”
Brenda Martinez is one of the best middle-distance runners in the world. She’s a got a silver medal in the 800m from the 2013 world championships, she was on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the 1500m, she’s won a national title, and has stood atop the podium at numerous other events. The 33-year-old is a native of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and she ran at UC Riverside where she was a national runner-up in the 1500m and a three-time All-American. She now lives and trains in Big Bear, California, only an hour from where she grew up.
We covered a lot in this conversation and I think you’ll take a ton away from it. Brenda told me about her relationship with the legendary Joe Vigil, who’s coached her since 2011, and the impact he’s had not only on her competitive running career but her life as a whole. We discussed her running camp, which kicks off its 8th year this week as a virtual experience for high school girls and boys. Along those lines, she told me why it’s important for her to give back to others and serve as a role model for young kids. We talked about not allowing yourself to get distracted or affected by the actions of other people and keeping focused on what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Brenda told me her 2013 world championships medal upgrade and the importance of fighting for clean sport. I asked her about her experience at the 2016 Olympic Trials, where she made the team in dramatic fashion in the 1500m after getting tripped up in the 800m final a few days before. We also talked about her competitiveness, creativity, learning to be self-reliant, and a lot more.
“Running isn’t always comfortable. It’s not always like some sort of nirvana that you’re jumping out of bed and clicking your heels to do. But having those kind of whys really kind of reframed me rather than having one why of, ‘it must be about the medal, it must be about the time.’ You have different whys…you need a pocket full of whys basically depending on the day to achieve your goals, really.”
We covered a lot of ground in this episode. Marcus told me about his journey into running, how his relationship with it has evolved over the years, and why he views the marathon as a metaphor for life. We also discussed his relationship to anxiety, learning to be happy within yourself, and why it’s important to have a pocket full of whys. He also told me about growing up black in the UK and why he had chip on his shoulder as a kid, launching Black Trail Runners and the fight for intentional inclusion in the sport, and the importance of opening up access to running and creating positive change in our local communities. We also geeked out about podcasting, talked about Marcus’ relationship with Instagram, where he has a sizable following, and much more.
Sometime last week the morning shakeout podcast surpassed 2 million total downloads. It’s only a number, but it’s pretty incredible that it was only 11 months ago when we crossed the 1 million mark. A huge thank you to everyone who has tuned in to the show, shared an episode with a friend, posted a review, and/or offered feedback—it really means a lot to me and I’m forever grateful for your continued interest and support.
Here are the 10 most-listened-to conversations since we hit a million in case you missed one the first time around or would like to revisit a few:
“I’ve said this many, many times. I’m 67 years old. I got busted when I was 33, got out of prison when I was 34. I spent the first 33 years of my life, Mario, everything was about Mike Rouse. Everything I did. What kind of great car can I have? How much money can I have in the bank? How big a house can I get? How can I have the prettiest girlfriend? How can I have the most success? The best title? How can I have all the things that society depicts as successful? Going to prison put me on a whole ’nuther plane and level. And I realized that the rest of my life I wanted to spend giving back because doing that is so much easier than trying to be somebody that you’re really not. So [for] 33 years, basically the first half of my life, was all about me. And since I was released from prison on February the 27th of 1987, everything’s been about everybody else. Now I can’t say that about every decision I’ve made and every action I’ve done, but for the most part, my life now is spent trying to give back to other people.”
Mike Rouse is close friend of mine—I’ve known him for 10 years and helped him edit and publish his first book, Zero to 60—and he’s got an incredible story that I’m excited for him to share with all of you. I don’t even know where to begin when describing this man: Mike, who is 67 years old, started running in the mid-80s while he was in prison, where he served 14 months of a five-year sentence for possessing cocaine with an intent to sell. That experience behind bars changed his life for the better and led him down a path of running and giving back to the communities and causes that mean so much to him.
As a runner, Mike has done more crazy stuff than anyone I’ve ever known, which is saying a lot. Over the past 33 years he’s been involved in the sport, Mike has run over 130,000 lifetime miles. He’s completed 261 marathons, 34 50K races, 79 races that were over 50 miles but less than 100, 40 100-milers and/or 24-hour runs, 12 Ironmans, and 6 ultramans, where he’s a 3x age-group world champion. One of the coolest things about Mike is that he regularly uses his running as a vehicle to bring awareness to and raise money for causes and organizations he believes in, like the Blazeman Foundation for ALS, the Boot Campaign, Navy SEAL Foundation, and others.
This is a long conversation—the longest one I’ve ever recorded for the podcast to date—but I promise you that you’ll want to listen to it until the very end. It’s full of incredible stories and numerous examples of inspiration. Mike told me about overcoming cocaine addiction and discovering distance-running while he was behind bars, getting into the specialty running industry—an industry he still works in—not long after he got out of prison, why he’s comfortable being alone with his own thoughts and has never listened to music while on a run, the link between substance addiction and ultrarunning, his keys to staying healthy and motivated at the age of 67, what he means when he says to “be somebody” and “give people roses while they’re living,” and a lot more.
“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.