“It’s difficult for runners to communicate, ‘Why do you do this?’…’Do you want to be skinny?’ ‘Do you want to be healthy?’ It’s like, well, that’s nice but ultimately it was challenging myself, working hard toward a goal, being able to do something I couldn’t do before. I really liked that. I was telling somebody the other day [that] I’m still chasing that high school [runner]. I still chase high school cross country. I still love that moment where running, it comes down to a tunnel and it’s just me versus me and that dialogue in my head to try to get the most out of myself. I still love that—that’s why I keep running today.”
Greg McMillan is one of the most recognizable running coaches in the game today. He’s the founder and head coach of McMillan Running, one of the world’s first and most respected online coaching companies. Greg started sending workouts to his athletes by way of fax machine way back when, which tells you how long he’s been in the business. He has a Masters degree in Exercise Physiology and has worked with thousands of runners from beginners to Olympians and every ability level in between. Greg has coached 12 National Champions, thousands of Boston Qualifiers, and has had a number of athletes compete at global championships over the years. The creator of the popular McMillan Running Calculator, He has written numerous articles for different publications, he was the managing editor of Peak Running Performance for three years, and is also the author of “You, Only Faster” — with a new book due out this spring.
Aside from his coaching accolades, Greg is also an accomplished runner in his own right: He was a state champion in high school and in 2009 he won the USATF Masters Trail Marathon National Championship.
This was a conversation about coaching, Greg’s influences over the years, the path he took to get where he is today, creating the McMillan Calculator, the importance of exposing yourself to different training philosophies, what it’s like working with a wide range of athletes, including his own professional group that was based in Flagstaff from 2007-2013, and much more.
“Running is something that I was always good at, something that I would do no matter what, it was always my little escape in some way. Whatever was happening at home, running would just make me feel a little better when I got to go out. It was just my escape and I needed it—I need it to this day. It’s the only time that I feel that nothing negative could touch me.”
Fernando Cabada is a former professional distance runner who is still competing at an elite level. In 2006, he ran the seventh fastest American debut marathon of all-time, clocking 2:12:27 at Fukuoka in Japan. In the buildup to that race, before he even signed his first professional contract, Fernando broke the American record in the 25K, running 1:14:21, an average of 4:47 per mile, capturing his first national championship. He won two more national titles in his career at the 2008 U.S. Marathon Championship and 2011 U.S. 25K championship. He has personal bests of 1:02 for the half marathon and 2:11:36 for the marathon, which is pretty damn impressive no matter how you slice it.
The results don’t even begin to tell half of Fernando’s story, however, and we get into the rest of it in this conversation: from his his rough upbringing in Fresno, California, where he suffered abuse at the hands of his father, to the close relationship he has with his mother and how that’s even strengthened in recent years. We talked about being embarrassed by who he was as a kid and how he’s worked to put that behind him later in life. He told me why finishing second in a school yard race as a 9-year-old was the best day of his life to that point. Fernando explains why he was feeling more depressed than ever in 2014 despite it being his best year of racing ever, and how he picked himself up afterward and found a way forward. We also his relationship with running now and the place it occupies in his life, and a heck of a lot more.
“I think it’s a release—it’s easier when you’re able to go all in. If you have that second thing, that second chance, you have to constantly be deciding whether or not you’re gonna do it today, you’re gonna do it then—it’s way easier to be like, ‘This is happening now. I’m going all in and I’m going to either die or crush it today. And that for me is the key to success in so many things. The things I haven’t done well in is when I wasn’t able to go all in and I sort of second-guessed what I was doing, how long I was going to be doing it, the long-term implications. It’s all about being in it for the long haul and being all in.”
Greg Billington made the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in triathlon and finished 37th at the Games in Rio. He retired from the sport a year later and took a full-time job working for Visa in San Francisco. While on a rotation in Dubai, he joined a local running club and ran the Pyramids Marathon in Egypt, winning it in 2:32. He then won last year’s San Francisco Marathon in 2:25:24, then ran 2:22 and change at New York, and finished the year with an incredible 2:16:42 performance at CIM, finishing 8th overall, and easily qualifying for this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials in the marathon. How good is this guy? At CIM, he was in 52nd place at 30K and picked up 44 spots over the last 8 miles to put himself in the money. Just incredible.
Greg and I had a great conversation that I’m excited to share with all of you. We talked running, triathlon, going all-in on a pursuit, the physical and mental side of coming back from injury, what it means to go “full Billington,” and a lot more.
This week’s episode of the podcast is a “greatest hits” compilation of sorts to round out 2019.
I’ve gone through and culled clips from nine of the most impactful exchanges I’ve had over the past year with some of the top athletes, coaches, and personalities in the sport of running. Why only nine? One, putting constraints in place forces me to think more critically about the choices I’m making and two, three rows of three photos looked best in the cover art for the show.
I feel really fortunate that I get to have these deep and layered conversations each week—many of them have a profound effect on me and teach me something about running, coaching, or living a better life—that I then get to turn around and share with all of you on the podcast. In this episode you’ll hear from Colleen Quigley, Frank Gagliano, Terrence Mahon, Hillary Allen, Brad Stulberg, Stephanie Bruce, Steve Jones, Sally McRae, and Ken Rideout. These guests in particular stood out to me amongst the dozens that I sat down with in 2019. They all bring something different to the mic and I am confident that you’ll glean a valuable bit or insight or inspiration from each of them that will improve your life in some way.
If you’re a devout fan of the podcast, let this episode serve as a bit of a refresher course 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 episodes you may have missed while also letting it serve as a primer for what’s to come in 2020.
Whether you’ve listened to one episode of the podcast or all of them, thank you. I’m so glad to have you along for the ride and sharing in these experiences with me. (more…)
“I am camped out in that third category of the emotions of the experience. I get a lot of messages from other dads who have jobs and have kids and have families—I sense in their writing to me that they’re almost saying, ‘Thank you for giving me permission to care about something that is totally superfluous but matters to me and that fuels my passion for the rest of life.’ Because I just get the sense that when they lay it out—they have jobs, they have kids, they have a lot of constraints and responsibilities—but maybe they were searching for something to keep them fired up and just keep them happy about the day and they read my writing and they’re like, ‘Wait, this guy is not talking about splits, and he’s not talking about workouts too much, but he seems to be saying that it’s OK to really really really care about something that doesn’t matter.’ But it matters because life is just a journey.”
I really enjoyed this week’s conversation with my friend Peter Bromka.
Bromka, who I’ve known since our college days competing against one another in New England, just ran 2:19:02 at CIM a couple weeks back to miss the Olympic Trials qualifying mark by an agonizing two seconds.
We talked about that race in this conversation, amongst a whole host of other pertinent topics, and I think you’ll find this one to be equal parts inspiring, insightful, and emotional. Bromka is a 38-year-old dad and husband who lives in Portland, Oregon, he works full-time, and he has come a long way in the past 5 years to get where he is today. (more…)
“Many times I’ve woken up and thought, ‘Oh, what can I do to get out of this? Can I fake an injury?’ And then I realize it’s just me. The only person I’m faking is me. The only person I’m lying to is me if I do if I do that. And the same thing with not finishing a race: I’m the only person that I have to answer to. One of the things that Teddy Atlas talks about on our podcast is being a game quitter. It’s much more painful and much more difficult to quit than it is to stick it out and give your best. Cause you have to live with that quit and that failure for a fucking long time. And the pain of suffering through especially a race where someone’s not trying to like, literally kill you. You can do this. And I get up and I find myself going through the motions and it’s almost like I’m on autopilot because in my heart I’m like, ‘No I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to put myself out there. I don’t want to be exposed.” That fear of failing is incredibly powerful for me. But like I said, the pain of not giving your all lasts with me forever and as I said earlier, I’m the only one that cares and I know that, but I care, I care if I fail and I care if I didn’t give 100 percent, and I don’t know, it’s like a mental exercise for me.”
I’ve got a great guest for you this week and I think it’s one of the best conversations I’ve had in the two years that I’ve been doing this podcast: I sat down with my friend and athlete Ken Rideout the night before this year’s Cal International Marathon, where, the next day, he ran 2:28:25 to place second overall in the Masters race, and win the 45-49 age group. It was a 5-minute lifetime PR for Ken, who is a 48-year-old dad of four kids, he works full-time in finance, travels a ton, co-hosts the popular boxing podcast called The Fight with Teddy Atlas, and gets out to train hard first thing every morning because he says it helps keep him stable.
Ken is one of the most raw, driven, and passionate people I know, and it really comes across throughout this conversation—all the way down to some of the language used, so consider yourself warned. Like me, he’s a native of Massachusetts who landed himself in California a few years ago. He had a rough childhood growing up in Somerville, spent his college years working as a prison guard, he boxed and played football and hockey before finding endurance sports later in life, and has generally just followed a super interesting path to land himself where he is today. (more…)
“The first thing I tell athletes who are injured is: Let’s focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. You can’t run, and oftentimes when we’re injured that’s the thing that we focus on, ‘God, I can’t run. This is awful. It sucks.’ And yes, it absolutely does but you can do something in most cases. Ninety-nine percent of people who are injured can do something, so if you can do any of those things that I just described, go and do those and that’s going to give you a sense of purpose, it’s going to help you feel like you’re working toward something, and it’s going to help you either maintain or continue to develop your fitness. If you can’t, maybe it’s a good opportunity to get in the gym and work on becoming a stronger athlete. If the reason you got injured is because there’s weakness somewhere that you hadn’t addressed, then this is your chance to go and address that. And when you are able to get back to running, you are going to have a more solid foundation than you did before you got injured and hopefully won’t get injured again. So the bottom line is focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.”
Back by popular demand: Ask Mario Anything, featuring yours truly taking a wide range of reader and listener questions from Jeff Stern, editorial assistant for the morning shakeout. In this episode, I catch up with Jeff about what he’s been up to of late, then I respond to your inquiries about my coaching influences, when to eat before a marathon, cross-training through injury, the best running performances of the year, writing a book, what’s exciting me in running right now, and a lot more.
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 my way by dropping me a line on Twitter.
“I think, for me, it’s just if I can help people along the way, that’s great. There isn’t any big thing that I hope to accomplish or be remembered for. A good friend of mine pointed out, ‘When you help someone, you don’t know the ripple effect of that.’ So, if I can help someone, and that helps them do something else that affects a large amount of people, I think I would be happy with that. I think it’s just having good intentions and helping whoever needs my help along the way.”
It was a real pleasure to sit down with three-time Olympian Jen Rhines for this week’s episode of the podcast.
Jen is one of the most versatile and accomplished distance runners we’ve ever had in the United States. She made three-straight Olympic teams from 2000 through 2008 and competed in a different event at each one of them: the 10,000m in Sydney, the marathon in Athens, and the 5,000m in Beijing. Over the course of her 20+ year competitive career Jen qualified for 11 world championship teams and she won 5 national titles.
Today, the 45-year-old lives in San Diego with her husband—and past podcast guest—Terrence Mahon, and together they founded The Mission Athletics Club in 2018, one of the top post-collegiate training groups in the country.
“So, the cool thing is a lot of my friends in Boulder were trail runners, so they’re like, ‘Hey, maybe you should just try trail running. You don’t even have to be fast at it—you could just try it.’ And I was like, ‘I guess I could but if I’m going to do it, I want to do it well.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’ll see, it’s going to be different.’ I mean, the first trail run I ever went on I was like, ‘This is really awesome. You get to be in nature. This is awesome. I love this.’ And then I did start thinking, ‘OK, so how do I get better at this?’ I think that’s just kind of part of my personality, I guess.”
I enjoyed talking to Coree Woltering for this week’s episode of the podcast. Coree is professional trail and ultrarunner for The North Face. He’s based in his hometown of Ottawa, Illinois and loves to race at a variety of different distances and disciplines.
The 29-year-old has run 5 hours and 30 minutes for 50 miles and he’s eyeing a Golden Ticket in the spring of 2020 with the hopes of getting back to the Western States Endurance Run next summer.
We covered a lot of ground in this exchange, from how Coree went from being a fast 400 and 800m runner in HS and college to qualifying for the half Ironman world championships as an amateur triathlete, and eventually transitioning to becoming a competitive trail and ultrarunner; what it’s like being a gay black man in ultrarunning and endurance sports and how he’s advocating for more diversity, why ultra-distance races in the midwest don’t get the credit they deserve, how he got into coaching and who has influenced his philosophy along the way, and a lot more.
“One thing that has been really amazing about reporting on this industry is that I actually am really inspired by it and get really motivated by it and I’m just so motivated by all the amazing women that are balancing running with jobs and also families. I think every single woman that’s qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials right now, and all the women behind them too—sometimes it just comes down to talent, it’s not about work, and I totally respect that—what the women are doing right now specifically is amazing and I think I’ve kind of been like, ‘If they can do this, I can too.’ It’s very tiring and I can always stop. I think that’s important to remember and that’s what I tell myself when I start to get really tired, ‘I don’t have to do this, remember why I’m doing it, it’s because I want to.’ And I think that’s enough to keep me going.”
I had a great conversation with Lindsay Crouse, who is a producer, editor, and writer at The New York Times—and a pretty damn fast marathoner in her own right—for this week’s episode of the podcast. If you’ve been paying any attention to running news the past couple years, or just big headlines in general, you are definitely familiar with Lindsay’s work. Some of her most popular pieces include The Shalane Effect, which she wrote about Shalane Flanagan and the elevating effect she’s had on other women; she broke the piece about how Nike does not guarantee female athletes a salary during their pregnancies or immediately after giving birth; she produced the piece in which Allyson Felix told her story around Nike and pregnancy; and, most recently, she was responsible for the Mary Cain op-ed speaking out about the abuse she suffered under her former coach, Alberto Salazar.
We recorded this episode a couple weeks ago before the New York City Marathon, so the Mary Cain piece hadn’t dropped yet, but we got into plenty of other good stuff, including Lindsay’s own trajectory as both a writer and runner, the biggest takeaways from her reporting that she has applied to her own training, how her experience as a competitive athlete informs her perspective as a journalist, and a lot more.