“There was definitely a time in my life where I had to tell myself, ‘It’s OK to be broken.’ That’s OK. The goal in life isn’t to be perfect—nobody’s perfect. There’s no one in history that we can point to that’s lived a perfect life. So, the reality is—and you said this so wonderfully when I was at UTMB and I was like, ‘I know this,’ when I was so disappointed in my performance, I was so down—and you said, ‘It isn’t about how you finish, it’s about how you respond to this journey and how you continue on.’ And I’m like, ‘I know this, I know this,’ and that is just a great reminder for everything in life because life, when it comes down to it, it’s the journey that’s the most fulfilling part.”
This week I sat down with one of my most requested guests: Sally McRae. The 40-year-old mom of two is a professional ultrarunner living in Southern California and—in the interest of full disclosure—I’ve been her coach for a little over two years now.
Earlier this year she won her first race on the Ultra Trail World Tour, the Mozart 100, and more recently she finished 23rd at the UTMB, her highest ever finish at that event, in what was one of the grittiest races I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness firsthand.
This is a long episode folks, coming in right at about 90 minutes, and it does not disappoint. So much to take away from this one about relationships, communication, competitiveness, learning to give yourself grace, recognizing our victories, remembering what’s important in life, and so much more. (more…)
“One of the really cool things about trail and ultrarunning in particular is people go so far into the unknown and I think that, as an element of humanity, doing something where there’s a legitimate chance that you’re going to utterly fail and get taken off by a helicopter—right, that’s going to happen tomorrow, people are going to get flown out by helicopters—the fact that there’s a sport that people can participate in that has these neat elements to it, I think it’s good for everybody. It’s obviously good for me because I’m in the sport, I’m in it professionally and I earn a living doing it, but I just think it’s good for society to have those things that can really test you, so I just hope that the sport continues to maintain its edge, attract new people, be viable, and be fun to come out and do these types of events.”
Really enjoyed sitting down with a coaching colleague of mine, Jason Koop, for this week’s episode of the podcast.
Koop is one of the most highly respected and successful coaches in ultrarunning. He’s the head ultrarunning coach for Carmichael Training Systems, a company he’s been working for since 2001. Koop ran collegiately at Texas A&M and he’s coached athletes of all ages and ability levels over the course of his career, including some notable ones such as Western States champion Kaci Lickteig, Dylan Bowman, Dakota Jones, Stephanie Howe, and others.
We caught up a couple weeks ago in Chamonix, France, where we were both supporting athletes during the UTMB festival of races, and a few days before he was about to set off for the Tor des Géants, a 330K trail race through Italy’s Aosta Valley. (Ed. note: Koop finished 27th overall in 97 hours and 6 minutes.)
We got into a lot of coaching nerdery in this one, including the path Koop has traveled to get where he is today, the importance of education, experience, and observation as it pertains to coaching, how his mentors and colleagues have made him a better coach, balancing volume and intensity in training, how he responds to criticisms of his employer and why he doesn’t just start his own coaching company, the growth of the competitive side of ultrarunning in recent years, and much more. (more…)
“The way I approach running, it’s totally a joyous pursuit for me—which doesn’t mean that every day is happy, but I do it because I love it and I feel good when I run, and the racing is just a fraction of it. I had run all summer training on the happiness principle, where if I’m training happy and not stressed and I’m enjoying it, then I’m training strong and I’ll be healthy. And so that was just a reminder to let it come from within and to tap into that deep pleasure I take in running that really has nothing to do with competition.”
Excited to welcome Katie Arnold to the podcast this week! The 47-year-old Arnold is one heck of an ultrarunner—she won the Leadville Trail 100 last year in 19 hours, 53 minutes and 40 seconds, which, incredibly, was her debut at the distance—and earlier this year she was second at the Ultra Race of Champions 100K. She’s won numerous other races throughout her career, and is hoping is to run the CCC—a 101K race that goes from Courmayeur, Italy to Chamonix, France—as part of the weeklong UTMB festival of races in late August.
Arnold is also an incredible writer: She’s a contributing editor and former managing editor at Outside magazine, where she worked on staff for 12 years, and currently writes the Raising Rippers column about bringing up adventurous kids—of which she has two of her own—for that publication. Arnold has also written for the The New York Times, Men’s Journal, ESPN the Magazine, and numerous other publications. She recently wrote her first book, Running Home, a memoir about her relationship with her father, grief and resilience, adventure and obsession, and the power of running to change your life.
We covered a wide range of topics in this conversation: “smile” and “flow,” what those words mean to her, and why they’re important when she races; reverse goal-setting and how this strategy sets her up for success; balancing competitive running with the rest of her life; her “real life training plan” and how that helps prepare her for races; the importance of observation and paying attention to what’s going on around her in life; how death can wake us up to the powerful realization that everything is changing all the time; her new book, how it came to be, and what she hopes readers take away from it; and a lot more. (more…)
“As long as I’m true to myself then hopefully that benefits other people and ideally it’s a symbiotic relationship and it’s something I want to keep doing—and again, I’ve got to find ways to tweak it, it’s all about tweaking that and finding things that keep me fueled to push boundaries that are still left there for me to explore and then other times just be content. It’s a funky balance, for sure. It’s hard to not have that drive, have that competitive spirit, but at the same time it’s still there once in a while—and appreciating it and fueling it a little bit—but overwhelmingly there’s not going to be as much drive, and that’s OK.”
This week’s guest is Scott Jurek and he hardly needs an introduction, especially if you’re a fan of trail and ultrarunning, so I’m going to keep it as short as I possibly can: Jurek has won pretty much every major ultra race there is to win, including the Spartathalon, the Hardrock 100, the Badwater 135, and the Western States Endurance Run a record seven straight times. He also set the speed record on the Appalachian Trail in 2015, completing it in a little over 46 days, and in 2010 he set a U.S. record for the 24-hour run, covering 165.7 miles. Both of those records have since been broken but Jurek’s overall running resume is one that isn’t likely to be matched anytime soon.
Jurek’s also a best-selling author—he’s written two books, Eat and Run and North, which chronicled his 2015 AT adventure—and he’s also a husband to his wife Jenny and a father of two young children, Raven and Evergreen.
We recorded this conversation a couple weeks back alongside a trail in in Boulder, Colorado, where he lives, and we covered all kinds of good stuff, from being back at Western States last month after 10 years away from the event, to how the sport of ultrarunning has evolved over the past several years, to using running as a way to give back to other people and organizations he cares about, making the sport accessible to more people and knocking down the barriers to entry, overtraining and the importance of rest, how long it took him to physically and emotionally recover from his Appalachian Trail FKT, and a lot more. (more…)
Self-care. In fact, it’s the good kind of grit. Don’t believe me? There’s research to prove it. “The kind of grit that comes with self-sacrifice and self-criticism actually leads to an inability to learn from one’s mistakes and to bounce back from trials,” Emma Seppälä PhD, write for Psychology Today. “It is linked to anxiety and depression and makes us feel beaten down when we mess up. However, there’s another kind of grit and mental toughness that will get you ahead over the long run–not to mention increase your happiness in the process. It’s the kind of grit that is linked to self-compassion.”
Check out the complete morning shakeout issue #191.
When last week’s newsletter arrived in your inbox, Michael Wardian was only halfway through what ended up being a pending Guinness World Record for running ten marathons in ten consecutive days. He covered 262 miles in 29 hours, 12 minutes, and 46 seconds, or 2:55:17 average, on about 20 total hours of sleep (that last fact alone makes me want to take a nap). Wardian ran the first seven on seven different continents as part of the World Marathon Challenge and completed the last three around a certified 5K loop at Hains Point near his home in Alexandria, Virginia, cheered on by local supporters. He covered the last three marathons in 2:50:00, 2:48:43, and 2:44:33, respectively, closing out the final mile under 6 minutes. Oh, and for shits and giggles, on the 11th day, Wardian did not rest. Why rest when you can race a 5K with your dog in 17:01? I’ll get the answer to this question—and many more—later today when I talk to Iron Mike for next week’s episode of the podcast. Stay tuned.
“There were days when I was just so exhausted and I didn’t even want to get up out of bed because I didn’t even see the point. There was so much time that I spent wishing that the accident would have killed me because it felt like it was easier than to have to face the pain and face the challenges of everyday life. But then I’d receive a message and some voice of encouragement, sometimes from a dear friend, sometimes from a complete stranger, and it just built this community that I felt that I had near and far and it again let me discover the strength that I had within me, whether or not it was still there. Trail running, I felt, I could experience it in a new way but talking with complete strangers or my friends supporting me, it also allowed me to dig deep and find that within me.”
It was a real treat to sit down with Hillary Allen for this week’s episode of the podcast. Every week on this show I try to glean as much insight and inspiration as possible from some of the top athletes, coaches, and personalities in the sport of running and this week’s guest has those two things in SPADES—and it really comes out in this conversation.
The 30-year-old Allen, a North Face-sponsored trail and ultra runner from Colorado, has made her biggest mark in sky running, which takes place in super gnarly, technical, high alpine environments. She was the U.S. Sky Running Ultra Champion in 2015, and has course records and podium finishes at races all over the world. The crazy thing is: she’s only been in the sport for a few years and rapidly ascended the ranks—quite literally—in a very short amount of time.
But there’s so much more to this special human. Allen has a Masters degree in neuroscience, she’s got a thing for bugs and grew up wanting to be an entomologist, she was a collegiate tennis player, she coaches other runners, and is just one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Allen also has an incredible story about survival—she fell 150 feet off the side of a mountain while racing in Norway a couple years ago—which we covered from a few different angles in this conversation, amongst a slew of other interesting topics, including using running and races as a way to explore places she’s never gone, the issue of burnout in ultrarunning, how she got her nickname, “Hillygoat,” the craziest wildlife encounters she’s had on the trails, running a 2:50 self-supported marathon to see if she could go faster than she did in her first, her love of science and the outdoors and how that’s impacted her life, and much, much more.
Postscript: Allen broke her ankle in late January, just a couple weeks after we recorded this conversation, an injury that required yet another surgery. “Things happen for a reason—if you chose to let them,” she wrote on her blog. “I’m reminded to take a deep breath, feel what I’m feeling and believe. BELIEVE. That this too, will create, reignite and provide an opportunity for growth.” (more…)
“I think my purpose is to share peoples’ stories, share my story, share any stories that will impact peoples’ lives. And I love the idea of the content that I create living beyond me, I do. I try not to get too wrapped up in legacy and all that crap but when I do allow myself to take a step back and look at the work that I’m creating, to have it impact people, beyond just the small circle of runners, to actually create runners—people who have told me that they started running, not necessarily 100 milers, but marathons, 5Ks, because they’ve seen a film of mine—man, you can’t put a price on that.”
I really enjoyed sitting down with my friend Billy Yang for this week’s episode of the podcast. Billy has been one of my most requested guests since I started the show a year ago and I was finally able to pin him down for an hour last week at The Running Event in Austin, Texas. (Spoiler alert: An hour wasn’t nearly enough time to cover all the things I wanted to cover, so I’m going to have to have Billy back for a round 2 at some point. And with any luck, it won’t take another year for that to happen.)
For those of you who don’t know, Billy is one of the preeminent filmmakers—and now podcasters—in the trail and ultra running space. If you’re not familiar with his work, I recommend checking some of it out for yourself at billyyangfilms.com or The Billy Yang Podcast wherever you like to listen to audio content. It’s inspired me on many different levels and I can guarantee you that it will move in some way.
Billy and I touched on a number of different topics in this conversation, including how we got our respective starts in the storytelling business and why we do what we do, when he picked up his first video camera and realized it was something he wanted to play around with and eventually pursue, and how losing his dad spurred a lifestyle change that led to him quit smoking and take up running. We also talked about struggling with low self-esteem throughout his life and how he’s worked through those times, self-consciousness and dealing with outside opinions, embracing the journey and living the life that’s authentic to him, what he sees as his personal purpose, and so much more.
“Running is such a passion for me and such a source of joy. It’s really my way of experiencing life but also a way of exploring the world, and so I really look at it from that lens and I’m always interested in new ways of exploring either the planet or my own capabilities or bringing other people along with me who maybe haven’t done something as long or as vert-y, or whatever, and that kind of is what drew me to trail running in the first place.”
Really enjoyed sitting down with Ladia Albertson-Junkans for the podcast this week. The 32-year-old is one of trail and ultrarunning’s rising stars, along with being one of the sport’s most versatile athletes. Albertson-Junkans, a two-time cross-country All-American at the University of Minnesota, has accomplished a lot in the past few years, and here are some of the highlights, in no particular order: She made her ultrarunning debut in 2017 at the competitive Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, Washington, winning in 4:17:44, and then represented the United States at the IAU World Trail Running Championships that summer, where she finished 13th overall. She followed that up earlier this year with a win at the Way Too Cool 50K in California in 3:44:01, the fourth-fastest time in race history, and top-five finishes at both the Broken Arrow Skyrace and Speedgoat 50K this past summer. She’s also very good at running uphill, finishing fourth at the 2016 U.S. Mountain Running Championships, which qualified her for that summer’s world championships, where she finished 15th and helped the U.S. to a bronze medal in the team race. Oh yeah, Albertson-Junkans also qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon this past May with a 2:41:52 clocking at the Silo District Marathon in Waco, Texas, which she ran to support her best friend and college teammate, Gabe Grunewald.
We covered a lot of different topics over the course of our recent conversation, including the cancellation of the North Face Endurance Challenge Championships, where Albertson-Junkans was set to make her 50-mile debut; her sense of adventure and how she’s able to meld it with her competitive interests; getting into ultrarunning and what she’s learned during her short time in the sport; versatility as an athlete and why that’s important to her; coaching herself and how she builds flexibility into her training schedule; the power of community and its role in the furtherment and longterm health of the sport; the importance of having a team behind her throughout her competitive running career; what’s inspiring her to try and qualify for next year’s Western States Endurance Run; and much, much more.
“It’s really inspiring to see someone push themselves and challenge themselves…Bringing out the achievements of people who are fighting the odds, and really putting into context today’s race, even for a pro, because even a pro is overcoming something tremendous each race they do—it’s never rosy. And understanding that hardship, I think, will give people context into the meaning of a particular race for a particular runner, whether they’re an amateur or the world’s best.”
It’s a treat to have filmmaker Sanjay Rawal on the podcast this week to talk about his new documentary, “3100: Run and Become,” which takes an intimate look at one of the most unique foot races on the planet, The Sir Chinmoy 3100-Mile Self-Transcendence Race. What is the 3100? In short, it’s the longest certified road race in the world, and runners attempt to complete 3100 miles in 52 days (or less) around the same city block in Queens, New York. That’s just shy of 60 miles per day, for two months straight, around the same 0.55-mile stretch of concrete, in the middle of summertime.
The 43-year-old Rawal, who lives in New York City but grew up as a competitive runner in California’s East Bay, studied under Sri Chinmoy after graduating from UC Berkeley. Chinmoy, who passed away in 2007, was an Indian spiritual teacher who believed running provided an opportunity for people to challenge themselves and their pre-conceived limitations, a state he referred to as “self-transcendence.” Rawal, who has not yet attempted the 3100, has been working on the film since 2015. In it, he explores the theme of running as a spiritual practice throughout history, weaving three other cultural narratives around the story of the 2016 edition of the 3100. Rawal visits Arizona’s Navajo Nation, spends time with the Mt. Hiei “running monks” of Japan, and also goes into the bush with the persistence hunters of the Kalahari, showing how running is one of mankind’s most primal activities as well as one of our greatest cultural connectors.
We covered a wide range of topics in the course of this conversation, including Rawal’s film, how it came to be, and how it’s changed him as both a person and a runner; the 3100-Mile Self-Transcendence Race, its origins, and its unique appeal; the role that running plays in the different cultures featured in the film; the connection between competition and spirituality; what can be done to make coverage of running events more appealing; the idea that running is something more than a competitive pursuit or form of exercise, but it can serve as a teacher, a form of prayer, and a celebration of life; running culture and what that means exactly; and much, much more.
This exchange was very different from many of the others I’ve had to this point—there was no talk about training, nutrition, recovery, or the state of the sport—but it was also one of the most enlightening that I’ve had in quite some time. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or recreational runner, a miler or an ultramarathoner, this conversation will change the way you look at running and the role it plays in your life.