“Both disciplines attract that type of person, who can chase down specific goals, who is competitive, not necessarily with other people, but with themselves. I think that’s a big thing you see in dance and it’s a big thing you see in running—yeah, you’re competing for the top spot, you’re competing for the spot in the company, you’re competing for the lead role on Broadway, if you’re in high school, you’re literally at dance competitions that you want to win. In running, yeah, if you’re at the front of the pack, it’s the same: you’re competing to break the tape. But I think inherently what I see a lot of in both is this idea of wanting to be your best self in your discipline, and seeing what that brings out in you as a person.”
Ali Feller is the host of the super popular Ali on The Run Show podcast, where every week she talks to inspiring people who lead interesting lives on the run and beyond. I’m a longtime listener of her show, she has a great range of guests from top pros to average age-groupers and all sorts of other folks who are doing unique things in and around running. Plus, Ali is an incredible interviewer who just really knows how to keep a conversation flowing.
But in this episode, she’s my guest and we hit on a lot of different topics, from dealing with imposter syndrome and learning how to push it to the side, to attending the Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta and what she took away from that experience, why she’s way more passionate about other people’s running than her own (and when that flipped for her), starting her podcast and how it’s evolved over the course of 200+ episodes, battling Crohn’s disease since the age of 7 and how that’s impacted her running and her life, the strategies she uses to manage stress and anxiety, and a lot more.
“For me, I actually like being in the corner with my back up against the wall because it forces me to figure a way out. And I’m not feeling that just yet, or at least to a degree where I feel like I’m in trouble, but if I do, I’m going to figure a way out out of it. I don’t know what that is right now but you get creative with it.”
We are back with the first Ask Mario Anything episode of 2020, featuring yours truly taking a wide range of reader and listener questions from John Summerford, producer of the morning shakeout podcast, who will tell you more about who he is, how we got connected, what he is working on, and how his relationship with running has evolved in the first part of the show. After that, I respond to a number of questions about how to adjust goals and training when your race gets cancelled or postponed, the Olympic Trials Marathon, my shoe rotation, coaching resources I recommend, how my wife and I met, 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’m obsessed with everything I pick. Whatever it is, I don’t really question it. Most of the time, my obsessions, I don’t know what’s happening when they start. I just tug on a thread a little bit and then just full on yank on it and connect it to a bus and drive it out of town…The idea of exploring and learning and my mind just exploded at university. Exposed to psychology for the first time, like Psych 101 just changed everything. It was like, ‘Wait, this is how we work?’ I know more about myself now than I ever did and I think that was the productive push to this idea of pulling on a thread that was good, and it was really sports photography that was that first passion that turned into something, rather than just a passive interest. I mean, when I was a teenager in high school I started building the internet and playing with HTML and CSS and thought it was neat that you could make stuff move on a screen, and I had my own little website for cars that I was building. So yeah, I guess I’ve always been obsessed. I totally forgot. I’ve always been this obsessive, 100 percent.”
Jody Bailey is one of the top photographers in the running game today and I’ve been a big fan of his work for the past couple years. He calls himself a “visual ethnographer of running” and his photos and stories have appeared in media outlets such as Tempo Journal, InnerVoice, and Like the Wind magazine, in campaigns for brands like Brooks, ASICS, Saucony and others, and in various other places.
We recorded this conversation the morning after the recent U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, which, in addition to being an awesome event on its own, served as Jody’s unofficial 4-year anniversary of his introduction to running and photographing the sport. We talked the spark that ignited his interest in running and desire to document its culture, how he got his start in sports photography, being self-taught as a photographer, web designer, and computer programmer, how curiosity and competitiveness fit into different areas of his life, the importance of community, the current landscape of running photography, and a lot more.
“The day that Kobe Bryant passed away, something snapped in me. I realized how short life can be—and I never met him, and I didn’t even know him much, but the things that people were writing about him, there was just something that made me snap out of it. I realized that I hadn’t seen my family for over 3 years. Why had I not seen them? I had not seen them because I was making excuses that I was working very hard to make the Olympic team, but I don’t think I had my mind and heart in it. In that moment, I realized that I was wasting time and making excuses and not really taking advantage of the opportunity that I had, and in that moment, I decided that I was going to fully commit to making the team. So that was seriously the day that I recommitted myself to making the team and believing that I was going to make it.”
Aliphine Tuliamuk recently won the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Atlanta to qualify for her first Olympic team. She ran away from Molly Seidel in the last two miles of the race to break the tape in 2:27:23 and fulfill her American dream.
The 30-year-old is a native of Kenya and became a U.S. citizen in 2016. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona and trains with HOKA Northern Arizona Elite under coach Ben Rosario. Aliphine is a graduate of Wichita State University, where she was 14-time All-American and earned a degree in public health. She’s a now a ten-time national champion as well as a two-time guest on this podcast, initially appearing back on Episode 15, which you should go listen to if you missed it the first time around.
This conversation was mostly focused on the Olympic Trials, how the battle actually played out versus how Aliphine thought it would go, and what life has been like for her in the days since winning the race. We talked about Aliphine’s Olympic dream and developing a renewed sense of appreciation for the opportunities she’s been presented in life. Aliphine told me about the impact that Kobe Bryant’s death had on her mindset heading into the Olympic Trials, why she was uncharacteristically nervous in the days before the race, what the final stretch of the race was like for her when she realized she was going to make the team, how she will use her elevated platform to inspire more people moving forward, and a lot more.
“I see coaching as an art form—and it’s the science [that] gives you the tools that you need—but just like we found out that you tie two strings together and you pluck it, it reverberates and it makes a noise, it doesn’t mean you can play Little Wing on the guitar. So we know what physiology looks like, what blood flow looks like, what muscle function looks like, but taking that and putting it into a program for a human being, to me, is an art form and that is an infinite pursuit.”
Michael Olzinski is a good friend, coaching colleague, and occasional training partner of mine. He’s one of the most interesting people I know as well as one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. He’s got a Masters degree in exercise physiology and primarily coaches triathletes as a member of the staff at Purple Patch Fitness. He’s also the co-founder and head coach of the Nth Degree Athletic Club, one of the most popular and fastest-growing run crews in San Francisco.
Mike played hockey and lacrosse through college but took an interest in endurance sports while in grad school and has never looked back. He started running road races before transitioning to triathlon for a while and, in recent years, he’s actually put on the spikes and competed in middle-distance races on the track.
In this conversation, we talked about where Mike’s interest in athletics started and how it’s grown over the years, why he’s gotten into racing middle distances on the track in his mid-30s, the influence his coaches have had on his life and how he landed in his current profession, the differences between a cheerleader and a coach, working through rough patches in running and in life, starting his own run crew and sharing his love for the sport with others, and a ton more.
“Coaching, I would argue, is the least about the workouts. In fact, if you’re a coach, you should have phenomenal workouts. You should have a progression that takes a child, an adult, anyone—in four years, of course they’re going to get better, you just have to write it out properly. It’s written in every book, you can pick up any book, anyone can be a ‘give workout’ person. What isn’t easy, unless it is, is knowing how to connect with a person, to get the most out of them, so they can feel good about themselves…You have to be very careful about how you connect with people. We as coaches have power, for sure, the people we are coaching can be vulnerable so you have to make sure you’re not taking advantage of that or crossing the line. That’s your job, it’s not the athlete’s job. As close as the athlete comes to you, you have to know where it needs to stop, where the line is, and a mature coach knows how to do that.”
Laura Schmitt retired from coaching the cross country and track teams at Redwood High School in Larkspur, California, last summer after 35 years at the helm of both the boys and girls programs. In her three-and-a-half decades at the school, she guided numerous league champions, state champions, and even national champions, all while building a team environment centered around inclusivity and developing a love of running. Her love and enthusiasm for running is equal parts infectious and inspiring. Laura is a mom of three children, and coached all three of her kids while they were in high school. She’s also an entrepreneur: In 1990, she founded Marin Enrichment, a play-based preschool that’s still going strong today and led by her daughter Caitlin. In 2016, she and her son Jake—who was my guest back on Episode 48 of the podcast—opened the Thoroughbred Treadmill Studio, which was the first treadmill studio on the West Coast, and they’re set to open their second location next month in San Francisco.
In this conversation, we talked about running, community, coaching, family, parenting, and entrepreneurship—all things Laura knows a lot about and has had a lot of success in over the years—and a whole lot more.
“I think I’ve just learned that whether you’re running a 5-hour marathon, a 4-hour marathon, a 2-hour marathon, we all go through the same struggles in training—whether it’s mental, whether it’s physical—and [my athletes] are always telling me, ‘Oh my gosh, we look up to you because you’re running 2 whatever hours,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m looking up to you because your training runs for your long runs, you’re out there for 3, 4 hours. That is amazing. You’re balancing your family, your job, your running—that’s what’s truly amazing. My running, that’s all I do all day is I go run. But you have all these other things you balance.’ So I think they just show me that with determination, it’s cheesy, but you can do anything because they’re balancing real lives and still running great, which has been really fun.”
Lindsay Flanagan is a professional distance runner sponsored by ASICS and she’s gearing up for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on February 29. Last fall, she finished seventh at the Chicago Marathon in a personal best of 2:28:08 and most recently, at the Houston Half Marathon, she ran 1:09:37—a 2-1/2 minute improvement on her previous personal best—and is heading into Atlanta with some awesome momentum.
We recently had a great conversation about how Lindsay is feeling heading into the Trials, why she’s over the shoe discussion, and how she’s learned to keep her composure in high-pressure situations. We talked about what she’s learned from racing nine marathons over the past five years, dealing with injuries and the dangers of keeping too fit while she couldn’t run, and the changes she’s made in recent years to keep herself healthy and strong. We also talked about what she’s learned working with age-group athletes as a coach with Run Doyen, who her heroes in the sport are, the popularity of her last name, and a whole lot more.
“As long as I can come across the finish line—whatever chosen distance, and I’ve raced them all—knowing that I couldn’t possibly have run one iota faster, that to me, that’s satisfying. I like being in that position, I like being under the pressure, I like finding myself in a state of uncomfortability. I like being in that space and I like really engaging in the self-talk, so for me, that’s my drug…Your potential is not comfortable. I dig exploring that. I’m my own little guinea pig.”
Mike Fanelli has worn a lot of different hats in the sport of track and field over the past 50 years: he’s a solid athlete with a 2:25 marathon personal best and over 110,000 lifetime miles on his legs, he’s a great coach, having guided 14 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifiers, one national champion, and three times he’s served as head coach of a U.S. national team. He’s worked in marketing at major shoe companies, he’s represented athletes as an agent, he’s served as an elite athlete coordinator for different races, and he’s even been a color commentator for a number of events. But most impressive—to me, at least—is that Mike is one of the biggest track nerds and historians the sport has ever known. He calls himself a “cultural storyteller of the sport” and every day on his Facebook page he posts a snippet of track and field related history or trivia that he dug up—analog style from the massive archive in his garage—that will blow your mind.
This was conversation about the sport the two of us both love so much, how “juvenile delinquency” got Mike to start running as a young kid, competition as a means of exploring your potential, the importance of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, and a lot more.
“Obviously I’d love to be a world-class runner—like I’d love it, that’d be awesome—but I know there’s so much more in my life and so many more things I can do and my life isn’t just running. Obviously I knew I missed running, I will try to admit that, but I really did feel content. But I still had this feeling and I’m like, ‘Well, it’s over now. It’s officially over. I’m done.’ I’m running like 40 miles a week, just kind of having fun, I’m not competing. But it never really went away and then I don’t really know, I really just fell into the marathon.”
CJ Albertson is one of the most intriguing athletes heading into the Olympic Trials Marathon at the end of February. The 26-year-old ran a personal best of 2:13:40 at CIM last December to finish a close second behind Kenyan Elisha Barno. Last April, he ran 2:17:59 to break the indoor marathon world record and he’s broken 2:20 in each of the five marathons he’s competed in, most of them lower key efforts near where he lives in Clovis, California.
I first learned about CJ from a reader of the morning shakeout newsletter, who told me to check out some of the runs he was putting up on Strava, like multiple solo 30-ish mile training runs averaging 5:15 to 5:20 per mile. I started following CJ in his buildup to CIM last December and was impressed by his penchant for hard work and ability to seemingly recover very quickly between big efforts.
In this conversation, we talked about his unorthodox training methods and how, as a collegiate coach at Clovis Community College, he’s careful not to let his own training influence that of his athletes; he told me about his independent streak and tendency to push things to the extreme; we got into the race that sparked his return to competitive running after an up-and-down collegiate career at Arizona State; we discussed self-experimentation and some of his crazy things he’s tried to help him recover faster; he also told me about his wife, Chelsey, a fellow Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier and how she’s his secret weapon on race day, and a lot more.
“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.