RML

On my two-hour run in the cold rain yesterday, I came across a hooded man with a large duffle bag slung over his shoulder. I was out on a country road and I don’t see this kind of thing too often. As I passed him, I gave a quick wave, and he called out to me:

"Sir…sir…"

I turned around and ran up to him.

"Sir," he said again, shoving his wet glasses up so he could see me. "Where is the nearest restaurant around here?"

I told him he was out in the middle of nowhere. I said that he had about 2 miles of good walking, up some big hills, until he got to an old tavern. It sounded like something from Treasure Island.

"Do you know where I am?"

I tried to tell him, but it’s hard to give anyone who’s never been out there a frame of reference other than, “You’re in the middle of horse country with a lot of winding roads. It depends.”

I asked him where he was going.

His glasses kept slipping down his nose and he said he needed to get to Lincoln University. “It’s six hours of walking,” he said. “I think.” 

I didn’t have my phone (run simple + pouring rain). I told him that and apologized.

He removed his slippery glasses and wiped them with his sleeve. “That’s OK,” he said. Then he took a deep breath and pulled up his hood. 

"Good luck," I said.

I wonder if he made it.

THE OUTSIDER

image

Our next interview is with 31-year-old Fernado Cabada.

Fitting with Cabada’s California roots, the artwork for this piece was provided by Photoshop artist and tutor Andrew Kavanagh who lives in Los Angeles. Andrew is the founder and head organizer of the Photoshop and Lightroom group on Facebook. Many thanks also to PhotoRun.net for allowing to use to the original photo of Fernando for free.

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Before jumping right into the interview, one small advertisement:

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Now to Cabada. What kind of an intro does he need?

Well, he’s a man on a mission. As you’ll see, Cabada is out to prove to the world that he’s not to be written off. He desperately wants a legacy and is tearing down the track at this very moment trying to secure it.

Call it a comeback? 

Like all the interviews here, I’ve left it pretty much unedited for you.

Raw.

It’s a chance for you to get to know Fernando more than you would if you read a short human interest story about him or an 800-word blurb in some glossy magazine.

So, without further ado, I now raise the curtain and give you Fernando Cabada.

RML: I read your new blog and one of your first posts had something to do with jumping off a bridge. What does that mean? Why did you call it that?

Fernando Cabada: You know when you are scared about something and you don’t know the outcome, like jumping off a bridge into a lake? It’s just kind of scary. But then you are just like, “I’m just going to jump up and do this.” So, for the longest time I played around with the idea of having a Web site or a blog. I think to some extent everyone cares what someone thinks. I felt that over the years I had a pretty good following on Facebook and I felt like it was getting to be the time where I should start something.

So back to the fear concept you talked about. Are you afraid of putting something out there on a Web site or is the fear something to do with moving into the next phase of your running career? Why talk about the concept of fear in the first place? 

That is a good question and it kind of makes me think. I think it was putting myself out there a little bit. I kind of put myself out there on Facebook with my status, but I can only put so much. I can’t write a whole freaking two or three pages of something for a status. It’s just kind of putting me out there a little more and not worrying. I’m not going to have someone proofread it and say that I need a comma here. That’s the thing I didn’t want to have to do. But I was wondering how to do a blog? Honestly, I’m kind of wrapped up in my own world. I’ve read some people’s blogs. I’ve read probably four people’s blogs in the past four years. I don’t even know how to do Web sites. I didn’t even know how to start one up—hadn’t even thought about it. I just found the right person to do it and got that going. Really, I just wanted to get something going by the end of the year and hope to have it better in 2014.

So you are saying that the reflection about jumping off a bridge then is just about doing a blog? But is it at all in any way about the steps you’ve taken in your career, because you’ve moved and are in Big Bear now. You have a new coach.

No. Honestly, I didn’t think about that. I’m only thinking about that now, because you’re bringing it up. So now it’s kind of interesting. No, I don’t think it’s that. But I could see how it could be like that. I’ve changed a lot. I’ve done a lot of stuff in my life as far as coaches. I think if you want to survive in this sport, you got to mix it up sometimes and why not? I’m not dead. I’ll change my mind a thousand times if I have to, but I’m still in this sport. I’m still doing it. I’ve been successful. But no—that jumping-off-a-bridge thing didn’t have much to do with changing at all. It was more purely putting myself out there a little more.

As I was preparing for this interview, I found some more interesting things that you wrote. Here’s another one: “When I was younger, I didn’t know how to properly express myself and get my point across.” And then this one: “I had to surrender myself.” You had this break and gave up a little bit on running. You were in North Dakota. You came back—-

For a couple months, yeah, but I came back. I can see what you are saying. I just think it’s through age and maturity. I think eventually, I just grew up a little more. I accepted myself. For some people, it’s harder to accept certain ways. When you grow up not with the best things or the best opportunities, it’s kind of hard to break out of that. It really is hard—especially when you thought a certain way when you grew up. I don’t think people understand that. People say how important the neighborhood is that your kid grows up in. The parents are educated. It’s really important for this. I want to make sure I set it up right for my future kids. I think, especially over the past three years, I felt that I really understood myself. And for quotes where I didn’t know how to express myself, it’s like, you know, whenever you’re talking to someone and they say something that’s defensive, you take it defensively. I think automatically, I would always be a defensive person. Let’s just say when I was on Letsrun. My name was King Cobra. I was a user. I had a password and all that stuff. In college, I remember I was on that thing 40 or more hours a week. I was on Letsrun all the time. When there was a NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] subject, I was on it. It’s what me and my teammates did. And after 2007, I kind of stopped all that, just because I just wasn’t winning. I don’t know what I was trying to win from. Everyone was anonymous. If anyone attacked me on there, I would try to argue back. I just think I went about it the wrong way before then to express myself. It’s just part of growing up for me. It took me a little longer. Some people never get it. I’m all right with it now. I kind of want to try to break away. I want to direct my focus on something else. My past is my past. There are people out there who grew up like me and they need a role model. They need a hero, and I can be that. I always have to bring it back to where I came from. Even though I don’t want to seem like I’m crying from it. My life is my life. I don’t want no one to have pity for me. I might be poor right now, but that’s my choice. I can go and do something else, but I simply don’t want to, because I am bitter in a lot of ways. I will always say that I want to inspire people, but yeah I’m still bitter inside over who I want to prove wrong, because there are people that I want to prove wrong. It has nothing to do with anyone on a message board; that’s not even it. It’s more like personal—people from high school, coaches. There people that I know personally that I couldn’t connect with that bug me. I had an ex-girlfriend—and I’m not going to say her name—but maybe people will get on to this, which is fine. I’m still thinking about what she told me. She told me this: She said, “Fernando, 30 years from now, nobody is going to remember you.” I remember, we were in an ice cream shop and I walked out of that ice cream shop. I was mad and I didn’t now what to say. That haunted me till now. We broke up later. Parts of me want to keep in it [running] just to prove her wrong, because I cared for her so much. I almost believed it. She kind of brought me back to reality. Maybe it will be true that no one will remember me, but I want to try. Who doesn’t want to be remembered? In a way, I kind of want to prove her wrong. [He chuckles.] Thirty years from now, I hope someone will bring me up.

Ok, so how will you be remembered then? What’s Cabada’s 30-year plan?

Shit. Whew.

Is it going to be the marathon? 

Yeah, the marathon is my best opportunity. See, I just don’t know if I’m going to be good enough to be really, really remembered on a world scene or a national scene. Maybe on a local scene? Me being from the Central Valley—from Fresno, California—people have talked about me since I was young, back 15 years ago, because I’m local there, so I guess I would be OK with that realistically. I don’t know if 2:09 will be good enough to be remembered thirty years from now. I mean Bill Rodgers, someone like that, he won Boston and he is remembered. I don’t know if I will ever be in that same category, which I’m at a point where I’m not giving up. I’m OK if I’m not on that level. It looks like I’m probably not going to be. I only have so many years and it kind of sucks to even say that, but it’s just realistic. I tell you what, though, and I hate to be repeating it over and over and over, but I really think that I’m finally getting it and I’m about to be in the best shape of my life. I think I am right now. The half marathon this past weekend [Big Sur Half Marathon where he ran 1:03:25]: I don’t think my fitness necessarily showed it. But whatever excuses I want to throw in, it just didn’t happen to me. I’m going to have to wait for another performance and it’s going to have to be Houston [Marathon], probably.

But you were top American in Pittsburgh [at the EQT 10 Miler on November 3].

Yeah. I’ve been kicking some American ass. That’s for sure. I’ve been beating some really good guys. In Pittsburgh, I beat like five 1:02 [half-marathon] guys. But I’m not going to get credit. No one is going to give me credit. I don’t think so. I think people like my competitors and other people that follow the sport…I don’t think they are going to start a Letsrun trend about me, saying, “Oh, look how good Fernando is doing!” I think a lot of people are used to not giving me a lot of credit and that’s fine. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’m going to keep kicking ass. There is going to be a point where I’m not going to be denied. I’m going to go do it. And all the people that hate on me: They are going to be my fans.

Did you just say that all the people that hate on you are going to be your fans?

Yeah, after a while they will. I think a lot of them have returned already. There are people I know who are my age and probably didn’t like me in college, because we were young and more hateful. You know, you get on the Internet and look at the results back in college hoping that your other competitor did that, just because that’s what a lot of us did. But I think that a lot of people who were my age, I think people who gave up themselves, they still see me at it. And they say, “Hey man, Cabada. I’m really happy that you stuck at it and are doing well.”  

You had mentioned 2:09. You’re a 2:11 marathoner. Where did you get 2:09? Is that your goal?

I think that’s the realistic goal for now. [He sighs.] It better happen before the next Olympic Trials, because if I’m not in that shape then there’s no way I’m making the team.

Look at the Americans now in the marathon. Don’t you think that this is the time? You’re in your marathoning prime in terms of your age. This is your shot. Don’t you think that the American depth in the marathon is declining?

Oh definitely. Yep, it is my time.

Are you optimistic about that?

Yeah. The scariest thing that I’ve told myself—and it’s always been kind of a disappointment for me in the past—is that I know that I have what it takes. That’s the thing. I just haven’t done the proper thing. I haven’t done the proper training. I’m finally where I need to be with my training. I just barely got here [in Big Bear]. And the set up that I got here is going to put me in the position to make the top three—not come from behind, hoping that the top guys fall apart, but to actually be amongst them and race from the get go up front. At the Trials, back in 2012, I thought that it was going to go out conservative and pick up in the second half, but I got proven wrong. They took it out in 1:03. I just wasn’t ready for that, but next time I will be ready for anything, whether it goes out 1:07 or 1:02. I know I am capable of doing it.

You talked about your set up at Big Bear. What’s that mean? I know Carlos Handler—a friend of yours—coaches you.

Yeah.

Where do you live? You talked about being poor. Are you sleeping on a cot?

[He laughs.] No, I have a house. It’s a small, two-bedroom, one bath home. It’s not a modern place. It’s at 6700 feet. What we do is we jog every day here, but do workouts at sea level. Sea level is a little under an hour and a half to get to. Three times a week we drive down and do all our stuff there. The reason why is because you could really be specific and get the right intensity in. A lot of people like to train at altitude, because they have no choice because they are seven hours away from sea level. Anyways, at altitude you want to run 4:50 [per mile] pace and you are saying that you’d be so much faster at sea level, but I don’t know if I believe that, because I think a 4:50 mile is a 4:50 mile. Your legs are moving at a 4:50-mile clip. You are hoping that you are going to go faster at sea level, while in this situation I never have to hope for anything. When I go into it, whether it is 4:30 mile repeats or 4:40, whatever, it is very specific. Your body is not going to get broken down as quick. I’ve been OK with it so far. That’s what it’s really about.

How are you making ends meet? How are you paying the bills?

Races. I run for money. With $2000 a month, I’m OK. I can survive on $25,000 a year. I’m not in debt. I’ve essentially paid off my car. I paid back my school loans thanks to a big marathon win in 2008. I pretty much got in debt after that. I won with my bonuses and everything like $47,000. I just put myself in a position where I don’t have to stress so much. I’ve never known any way else besides not having money. I will go buy myself dinner and if I want a pair of pants, I guess I can do it. I got what I need. It’s always kind of kept me hungry and I’m fine with it.

You had a hard upbringing as a child and in this interview you’ve mentioned the struggles in your life. Do these struggles make you a better runner? Running is the business of suffering, right?

Yeah, to a certain extent. Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s hard to always be self-motivated. Who doesn’t break down once in a while and ask themselves why they do this? Sometimes I question myself. I mean, I’m human—especially when I go back home and see my friends. I see some of my friends who are drug addicts and in and out of jail. It makes me appreciate the kind of lifestyle I have now. I’m in a safe environment. A lot of people make big deals out of little things. It kind of makes me laugh, because there are a lot of problems out there in the real world—outside the running world—and we are all stuck in our own la-la land here. When I go back home, I see real problems. I’m hearing some drama. It kind of puts it in perspective. I mean, man, I live a great life. Somebody might be running from the law and they’re stressed out about this. Somebody is out to get somebody and I’m over here about ready to get to a nice big city and go race, so my worry is the competition. I don’t have real problems. That’s the point. It’s not like I live in a cardboard box. I got everything I need. I remind myself of that. I don’t have any problems. Everything that I’ve done is my choice to live this way. If I want to run for money it’s my choice. We all have choices and this is the life I chose.

If you look at East Africans in the sport, stereotypically there are tons of them—a lot of depth there. A lot of them struggle and they don’t take anything for granted. Do you think that we in the U.S. live a cushy life? Do you think that makes us weaker in terms of running?

Yeah. I was just talking with my coach. I was joking and I said when I get interviewed, people ask me what motivates me. You know what motivates me? Not being able to turn on my heater all day. My motivation is being able to afford that. My motivation is getting new tires for my car, because they are kind of worn out right now or fill up my gas tank. We were joking, but it’s the truth. I think having to struggle a little bit is good—to stay hungry. Right now, today, I’m thinking that I kind of need a little more money. I’m kind of getting behind on my credit card. I’m just not making enough for my upkeep. A little bit of that makes me hungrier to make sure I race well, so when I wake up tomorrow morning, I’m putting myself in that corner. Like you said, these Africans, they struggle. A lot of them have their wives and their kids back home. I’m sure they struggle. That makes them want to work harder. Definitely, it makes you a little weak when you have a cushioned life. When you’re desperate, it makes you dig down more. 

Do you feel like a role model to struggling Latino kids?

Oh yeah.

Do you have people writing you?

Oh yeah. When people give me comments on my athlete Facebook page, a lot of people are Latinos—whether they are from Central America, South America, or here in the United States—wherever they are at. They say, “You represent us well.” One of them told me I was the fastest Latino marathon runner in the United States. I never really thought of it that way. A lot of Latino runners—kids—want to look up to Ryan Hall, but they can’t. They almost can’t imagine being him, because they’re not him. They’re not the All-American boy. They’re not [Dathan] Ritzenhein. They’re not [Galen] Rupp. I’m the closest to it. I’m the one they look up to, because they look like me. Some of them might sound like me. Their lifestyle growing up, a lot of it, they can just relate to me. I think a lot of people who don’t like me can’t…I just don’t think they’ve ever related to me. They are different than me and I think that sometimes when people are different, they just never get to know them in the first place. They don’t understand their culture or the way that they talk or the way their personality is. I’m a lot of different. I’m not the All-American boy. It’s not going to happen. I’m just me. There are people—a lot of people—millions of Latino boys that do grow up like me. That’s fine. It does give me motivation, and so therefore I don’t ever want people to see me fail or give up. I’ve fallen down before. That’s fine, I think. You struggle. You fall. But at some point I think a lot of people don’t give up on me because I’m 31 and haven’t given in yet. I’m still going. I’m still going to continue.

You called Ryan Hall an All-American kid. Do you feel like an outsider?

Oh yeah. I’m an outsider.

Do you like being an outsider?

I’ve always kind of been one. I remember when I moved from Fresno—when I moved to the ghetto. I was like nine or ten years old. And 99% of the whole school was white people, and so therefore it only made still hang out only with Hispanics. Why? Because we look the same. Our lifestyle is the same. We all got free lunches together. [He laughs.] That’s just who I was comfortable with. It broke up when I was in high school. I went to Buchanan High School. It’s probably one of the best schools for running programs for boys and girls in the nation. The California State Meet is always held there. Their facilities are better than some colleges. Going there, 90-95% was white. It was hard for me. I was on the cross-country team and got along with everybody. Then I started being around people who weren’t like me my sophomore and junior year, but I was still different. I went to Arkansas. I was different. I’ve always kind of been different. I’m different now. How many Hispanic [runners] are there besides Leo Manzano and German Fernandez? There aren’t that many—especially in track and field. But it’s not about that, really. I guess I kind of get motivation to inspire people of my own race. But as far as that, it’s really me against everybody. I want to get as fast as I can—whether they’re white, African, whatever. I’m still trying to beat everybody.

I had read that your father was in and out of prison during your childhood. Is he still alive?

I would think so, yeah. Once in a while I hear from him. He’s a heroin addict. He’s on the streets. He’s living on the streets. He’s a bum.

I thought he was perhaps still in prison.

I just don’t know. I don’t keep in touch with him. Sometimes I hear from him through one of my family members, but other than that he’s the lowest of the low. He picks up cans every day just to get his fix. That’s my Dad. When he was younger, it was a little bit different. It was like he was a badass, but he’s still a loser to me. Whether you’re a badass or looking for cans for drugs. Whatever. I can’t glorify it one way or the other. He wasn’t there for his wife and kids.

You had this break with your professional running where I think you were supervising a cleaning crew for a hotel in North Dakota.

Yep.

Why where you in North Dakota and why were you supervising a cleaning crew?

The thing is, that whenever I get interviewed, people always get everything mixed up. I just don’t understand it.

Ok.

This is how it went: There’s a family that I know in North Dakota that I met, because I went to North Dakota back in 2004 for a semester, Minot State University, NAIA. While I was there, it was kind of like a host family. They looked after me. I ended up having a relationship with them. They came out to the Olympic Trials. They supported me with my running and everything. When I was there, all this oil money was starting to come in. I was thinking that I could get a job doing that. There were hookups that I had. I was actually studying to get my commercial driver’s license. I needed a permit. Once I got a permit, I was going to get a job in the oil field, driving trucks—nitrogen into the oil wells—something along those lines. In the meantime, the family that I knew, they were part business owners of these hotels. This [hotel] was one that was being built. In the meantime, I was trying to study and get a job in the oil field, making some real money. I ended up kind of being put on the spot to take over [supervising cleaning crews]. It was a bunch of young girls and they were being paid $25 an hour and they were lollygagging. So I needed to take control and tell them what to do, so I was like a supervisor. I did this while I waited for my real job, but that never happened. I just decided that I needed to come back. I drank and decided to talk about what I could have been. It felt long when I was up there. I wasn’t on the Internet or Letsrun anymore. When you don’t talk about running it can seem like years. 

You’re at a point in your career where you want to make a mark. You got that one shot. You want to be remembered in 30 years. Have you ever been tempted to dope?

No. That’s one thing. I’m beyond frustrated, you know. I just feel like it’s so unfair that people are doing this. The thing is, to my defense, I haven’t been around or been in the position to be offered that. I was never good enough where an agent or doctor would come to me. I’ve never been in a big group where people are doing that stuff or in another country. I never put myself in that position. That’s one thing that I hope that people can see or give me credit for. No one needs to give me credit for doing that right thing, because that’s what I want to do. It’s for my selfishness. I didn’t even take vitamins until like 2009. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t even take vitamin C. I took iron and stuff like that. I got introduced to iron in 2004 when my ferritin count was like a 9. I never went to the doctors or did any of this stuff. I am at this point where I can’t even think about that, because that’s all I got left is my word. I just would never jeopardize it. I remember one of my cousins, an active gang member, he said, “You know, you walk around your neighborhood, your street, and you drop out [of the gang], everyone is going to say that you are a piece of shit.” People might try to tell stories about you, saying what this or that person did, but in the end all they are going to say is, “Look at that dropout.” It’s like the same thing with a drug cheat. Let’s just say someone ran and did everything right, but when they are 28 years old, they did something to cheat. Let’s just say somebody, there’s a story about them in high school, and people say, “Oh yeah, so-and-so was a sophomore in high school and he ran the mile and he won this big race.” And then someone else is going to say, “Wait a minute, are you talking about the drug cheat?” That person could have cheated for less than six months, but just doing it one time and being caught in the face of all the years that you’ve put in is for nothing. Your whole memory is just trashed. And that’s not what’s scaring me. I’m not saying that. I’m just using it as an example of something I’d never want to do. It’s not worth it. Even if someone told me I could make $5 million a year, but then you would get caught in two years. Let’s just say I made $10 million. I’d rather have my name good and clear. People judge me in other ways, and that’s fine, but there’s no way I’d ever want people judging me as a drug cheat.

So that last question was about currently banned substances and people who use them. But do you ever think about the fact that you’re not with an elite group. You’re not part of these groups that have all this money and can throw science and scientists—all this technology—at performance. Do you ever feel like nowadays it comes down to who has the best doctor who can prescribe the right amount of the perfect drugs and still stay above board? Do you feel like the sport has evolved this way—to the point where if you have the right amount of money, then you will get the Olympic medal, because you will have done all the right things thanks to technology and wealth? Do you ever think about that?

Yeah. I’m not trying to say anything bad about [the Nike] Oregon [Project] or anything over there. It’s not even that. I don’t think anyone is really cheating at all over there. It’s not even that. I just think they have smart people on their side who know things. It’s like someone who knows how to check iron and take this dosage of iron. It’s like someone who can say that you need to take this much calcium. They just know how to run tests and take blood, I guess. They know how to check for things. If you have issues, then they fix them. But yeah, you’re right. A lot of people do have money. People who have access to that are successful, but I don’t know. I think American running has taken a step backwards. I remember Chris Solinsky ran 26:59 [10,000m]. All these other guys like [Matt] Tegenkamp ran under 13 minutes [for 5,000m].

So what happened then?

I don’t really know. I don’t want to speculate or say anything about that, but all I know is that I’m glad that I’m getting back on the track. I’m glad that everyone is waiting up for me, because I’m coming. That’s fine with me. If people want to slow down a bit, that’s all right, because I’m catching back up. And once I catch back up, all I need is a little bit of fire, because I’m not bashful. I want that success. All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. Going back to what I was saying: I don’t know if people were doing something that they shouldn’t have been doing before. I just don’t know. I think that the biological blood passport is slowing people down. I’m not saying for any particular person. I’m glad that they are coming out with that and that there are new tests coming out. I’m just ecstatic. I hope that more people get caught. I’m thankful that I didn’t ever—. There are a lot of stupid things that I’ve done in my life. Not that I’m surprised that I haven’t been unethical. It’s just with running—I’ve always been passionate about it. I’ve cared. I don’t know if someone came to me when I was 22 years old. That was ten years ago. I don’t know how it would have been, but it didn’t happen. I don’t know these situations. There are some stories I hear about people being around medalists and if a medalist is taking this then maybe they were so young and naïve that they took it. I don’t know. Everybody has to deal with the consequences of their actions.

When you are standing at a starting line do you ever look to your left and your right and say, “OK, that guy or that guy is on something.”?

I might get bashed for this, but I think a lot of people are. Not just Americans, though. I think we do a pretty good job staying on top of people. The other month, I was thinking about who was getting tested. I’m like one of the top five people. I’m wondering why I’m getting tested when I’m not making teams or making this big money. Are they out to get me? I’ve had my blood tested eight times—not just urine tests—I’ve been tested nine times already this year. I was tested more than people like Abdi [Abdirahman] or Meb [Keflezighi]. Ryan Hall was only tested by USADA once or twice maybe this year. I just don’t think it’s fair. Now, that’s us. When it comes to the [East] Africans or the Moroccans. I don’t think there’s as much regulation. I think that a lot of people go to these smaller races that don’t have drug testing. But what can I do? I know that some somebody shouldn’t be able to beat me by three minutes. There’s no way in hell. I’m not slow like that. I’m very skeptical. I’m not stupid. A lot of people will tell me that I should quit complaining and go run harder. It’s not just that. I think a lot of people want to believe that hard work pays off. But unfortunately not all the time and it’s not fair. All I can hope for is that there are other tests that come out and that they slow people down. I’ll get my chance again one day when a non-African can break 2:11 [in the marathon] or 62 minutes [in the half marathon]. That should mean something. For now, the people who cheat just mess everything up for the rest of us.

What do you think about lifetime suspensions for dopers?

Of course. That would be awesome.

A lot of runners want this. Why don’t we have it in place already?

Probably, because there always exceptions. Maybe there could be degrees of punishment. There is a difference between someone shooting up EPO as opposed to someone taking something from a vitamin that they didn’t know and it’s against the rules. I don’t know. I was never really into all that drug politics stuff. It’s like government stuff. I didn’t really get into it until the past couple years when I just felt like it was really getting out of control. I had no clue about it. I remember back in 2007, I had no clue about what drugs were. I knew nobody that knew anybody that knew anybody that had doped. I was naïve in that way. I thought it was like high school where the person that works the hardest is the fastest person that wins. People like Martin Fagin. I remember back in 2009, he broke 61 minutes. Now that I think about it, I was like, “Why didn’t I catch that before?” You could just tell, I guess, when people have that quick success. But you just don’t know who to trust anymore. All I can do is focus on myself.

In your blog, you mentioned that you imagined by the time you were 30, you’d be a 2:08 guy. You’d make a lot of money and travel all over the world. You went on to say that the reality now is that you are a 2:11 guy. You said you are desperate to get fast like you since were and that you would make some serious changes. So what are your serious changes?

My attitude. Not feeling sorry for myself. No longer making excuses. I need to put my running in other people’s hands, and being responsible. I have to be the one to blame for allowing myself for getting away from what I know what needs to be done. When I was in college, the college system is really good in terms of pushing. There’s indoor and outdoor track as well as cross country. We are running the mile or on a relay, DMR. We just had a variety of distances in our legs. We’d do long runs. We did all these workouts. I was just so hungry to make my mark. I was aggressive. I think I am faster than that. I think I can improve it, especially in the spring. I think I am going to break 13:34 and 28:25 [his PRs for 5,000m and 10,000m respectively]. I just think it’s about change. But even taking it further: I don’t think I’ve worked as hard as I possibly can. I’m getting there. I was talking to my coach tonight and over the past couple weeks. We agreed that I haven’t really worked that hard. We are always worried that I’m going to get overtired. Or we are focusing on stuff that I don’t think we should be focusing on. We are getting away from speed. In order to run 2:04 or 2:05, I think you almost have to run sub 13 minutes. If someone gave me that speed, I’d run 2:06. [He laughs.] I need to get fast like that to run 2:07 or 2:08. It’s all about going back and trying to get that mile faster. When I was in Boulder at altitude, it was really hard. I just got hung up at doing everything at 4:40 or 4:50 [per mile] pace. In a race, if you go under 4:40, you fall apart. I just think that I have to get faster and make changes like that. I need to do all-out sprints, like 400[m]s. I just did 5 x 400 at 54 [seconds]. I’ve never even touched sub-60 since 2007. Now I’m at 54. I’m frustrated right now. I’m frustrated, because I know I’m capable of doing it. I can talk about it all I want, but those are just empty words. I’m so desperate just to get back there and start racing. In 2006, I ran 1:02 and 2:12. That was my debut: 2:12. I debuted at 25K and broke the [American] record. I just want to get there, but get better. I know I’m capable. I’m going into my prime years. I’m kind of glad I’ve realized all this and have time to fix it. I should never be outside the top 5 in a U.S. championship whether it’s a 10K or a marathon. There’s just no way. I just don’t think there are that many people who are better than me. On any given day, someone could beat me, but given my raw talent, I just don’t think anyone can match that. They better have like East African descent in them, because that’s going to be the only way. Other than that, if it’s just one-on-one and I’m clean and they’re clean, I should be the one that’s better. If someone is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, then they will beat me. But I don’t know how that works. I don’t know if someone’s been cheating for years, I don’t know if it makes them slower after a while, because you see a lot of people who were on the top of world levels, but they are only there for a couple years. There are some Africans who are 2:04 or 2:05, but are only that fast for a couple years. They are then gone. Why is that? I just don’t know if it [doping] taxes you after a few years. I guess I just have to keep taking them one by one. Whoever I race I have to race, even if it’s another generation of drug cheats. I guess that’s what I have to do. I can only do the best I can.

Last question, Fernando: We get into a time machine and go forward 30 years. What do we find about you on Wikipedia or whatever they have then?

Oh man. I don’t know. I don’t know. Right now, I’m kind of disappointed and not as enthusiastic about my future as I should be. I just think over the years of being injured and having disappointments, have humbled me to not think too crazy about it. Dreams are good, I guess. Dreams are free and they keep me going, but I’m just really in tune right now with what I think I can do. I just don’t know if it’s good enough to last the 30 years. I don’t believe if I run 2:09, that that is going to last 30 years. Going back to the beginning of this interview I mentioned that my girlfriend at the time. What she said inspired me to work at the time. I can work hard all I want, but maybe I’ll never achieve that. If that helps me to keep going then I guess it was a success. I guess whatever it takes, right? Whether or not we are trying to prove a phantom wrong or something like that. Sometimes I Tweet things that I don’t even think too much about. I just do it. I think I Tweeted that I think it doesn’t matter who you are trying to prove wrong—whether it’s real or not, if that’s what it takes. Whatever it takes. I think a lot of us think that way. We want to prove somebody wrong, but we don’t even know who that person is. 

Hearing Out Hesch

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The RML roadshow has moved from the darkened trails of Davidson, North Carolina, to the shady pharmacies of Tijuana, Mexico. 

Quite a leap—from a two-time Olympian to an admitted drug cheat, but that’s how it worked out, I guess.

Anyway, our next interviewee is Christian Hesch.

(Thanks again to NYC artist and my fellow collaborator, Borbay, for the original painting that accompanies this interview. You can watch Borbay’s time-lapsed brilliance in action here)

Back to Hesch: In September of last year, he was given a two-year suspension for admitting to using the banned performance-enhancing drug, EPO. But since he wasn’t caught via a failed drug test, his suspension was reduced to 18 months.

According to this article, Hesch’s cheating shenanigans were first discovered by his teammates with Nike Team Run LA who chanced upon an empty EPO vial and confronted him about it.

So here’s about 45 minutes of Hesch in his own words over a year since the scandal broke.

——- 

RML: What have you been up to since you were suspended?

Christian Hesch: Since the sanction came down, I run about once a week, maybe twice a week if I’m lucky. I’m finishing up my pre-requisites for med[ical] school at UNM [University of New Mexico]. I got about a year and a half left on that—two years to my bachelor’s [degree] and what else? I’ll be putting a roof on my aunt’s house here shortly. That will be a fun project. That was what caused one of my injuries some time ago. [He laughs.]

What caused one of your injuries?

Putting on a roof. I seem to get hurt doing that.

Why did you move to New Mexico?

I’ve got a lot of family here. I didn’t get into UCLA. My choices were UCSB, UC Davis, or UC Irvine. Surprisingly, financial aid is less in California than it is out here. I’m here and I can cover all my school expenses and even use a little bit of my money to help defray some of the paybacks and whatnot. I even have a little bit left over to go camping now and then. It’s amazing what financial aid I can get here, and I’m out of state. I’m considered an out-of-state student. I’m pretty thankful. I do have a lot of family out here. I live with my aunt. I have a great place to live. There are 50 or 60 Hesches in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and the Las Cruces area.

Are you a fan of Breaking Bad? 

I’ve heard there’s a television show named Breaking Bad. I’ve heard it was filmed in Albuquerque. I know there’s a guy named Walter White on it. Never seen the show in my life. I couldn’t tell you what it’s about.

It’s about drugs.

Yes, the irony is rich, isn’t it?

So you haven’t seen it.

Nope. I’ve never seen a single episode—not even a clip. Maybe some day when I actually have some free time, I’ll get around to watching however many seasons there are of it. I’ve never had a TV in my life. I don’t have a lot of time for it.

You want to be a doctor now?

Yeah. That’s probably what I’m going to have to do at this point. I thought about possibly going to P.A. school as a physician’s assistant. I think at this point it makes more sense to go the M.D. route. I enjoyed emergency medicine. I enjoyed working on the ambulance. There are a lot of tradeoffs. There are some negatives to it. By and large, there is a lot of variety in emergency medicine. You don’t get the same patient twice and you get off your shift. I don’t think I want to be a specialist, because I don’t think I want patients. I want to be able to go home at the end of my shift and not expect to get called back in three hours.

Your suspension is lifted I think in November of 2014. Is that right?

It will be officially lifted in four months. I will go ahead and serve it out to October or November. Officially, it will be up in March.

Are you going to resume a competitive running career or are you done?

I don’t know. That’s still debatable. The second-biggest question is if I will have time. The biggest question is if I will do it for the right reasons if I do. What I don’t want to do is go back just so I can put up some times and go, “Look, I can run this clean.” I would do it essentially as a way to put up a middle finger to a bunch of people. That’s not a good reason to come back. That doesn’t help anything. That doesn’t show any contrition. That doesn’t show any apology. Would I come back and make money off of it? Probably not in the cards at this point. Would I come back and run competitively? Possibly. As far as taking money for running: I don’t know if that’s the best idea at the very least for a year or more. If I came back, it would be advisable not to take any money regardless if I won any money for some time. Obviously, it’s my prerogative to do that, but out of it I must show contrition. I can’t say, “Ok guys, I’m back and I’m going to go back to sweeping up.” It’s just kind of tacky. I don’t know if I foresee racing for money again. If ever.

Do you miss racing? 

No, I don’t. I don’t know if I should say this publically, but I never really enjoyed running. I enjoy the travel more than anything. I enjoy travelling. I enjoy seeing new places. I was talking with some guys today about that. Sure, the money is nice, but I don’t really care about that; I care about seeing different places that I’ve never been to before. I dig that. I totally get off on that. I love just seeing a place I’ve never been. I love seeing a different way of life. It’s a real great way to understand just how blessed you are—to live where you live. These places are economically so different. It’s like wow. I’ve never seen this before. This exists in America. I’ve seen this in the third world, but to see that it actually happens in America. You get to see a ton of beautiful places, too. How can you beat that? To get paid to do that on a regular basis week in and week out? At this point in my life I can’t live out of a suitcase, but when I was doing it, gosh it was sure fun.

You had mentioned paybacks earlier. What’s your status on paying back money that you were awarded in races when you were on EPO?

How about work in progress? Obviously, it’s not all going to happen at once. I don’t have a big chunk of bank account sitting around to dole out I’m doing what I can. That’s another good reason to come to UNM. I get to use some of that money for that. Some of it, and I’ll be frank, some of it probably won’t get paid back. Will I take some heat on that? Of course. Is that ethical of me not to? I don’t know. I think the devil’s advocate or the angel’s advocate, if you will, says, “Hey, you screwed up. Pay it all back.” I have a little bit of difficulty flogging myself by looking up and figuring out how to get a hold of the guy who ran 16:55 behind me at a Podunk cherry-pick 5K for 250 bucks or 500 bucks, and I ran 15 flat. And it was in August five months after I had done anything. Then it’s pretty difficult from a physiological standpoint to argue that there is any benefit at that point. Ok, it’s impossible. Now, caveat to that is that of course I’m always a month or a month-and-a-half accelerated in my training, so in reality, I should be a month-and-a-half behind where I’m currently at, so yeah, that is a fair contention, but when I jog 15 flat and I probably could have run 14 flat or 14 point, and the next guy ran 16:55, I’m just like, “Really?” Ok, so maybe if I hadn’t done EPO six months prior, maybe I run, I don’t know, maybe I run 15:10? 15:20? If I choose to run faster, obviously I could have run faster. At what point do I stop flogging myself? I don’t see that [paying back everyone] as absolutely necessary, but a lot of people would disagree and say I’m wrong. The ones that are important to me are the ones I will take care of. For example, a guy that finishes three seconds behind me in a race, I’m not for certain that I would have needed that, and it’s like eight months after my last EPO. Come on, I think I got a reasonable argument for that. But, it’s three seconds. That’s very easy to say, “Come on. How do I know that you were dogging it?” In my mind I could have run 20 seconds faster if I had to, But the next guy was 30 seconds up the road, because it was a half marathon. I’m not going to try and go after that guy for a $200 difference. But, it’s the appearance of it. Regardless whether I think I would have beat him or not, I think the best thing to do is to take care of things like that.

Do you have people hounding you for money?

No. Nobody is really hounding me. There have been a couple of people that actually got in contact—three people that actually got in contact. One of them I’m still in progress with. Another one, I shouldn’t say this, but another one kind of disappointed me with some of their public proclamations afterwards. They would have been a lot higher on the list, but I kind of went, “OK, I’ll put this one a little lower on the list.” Is that a piss-poor attitude on my part? Probably so, but I am human.

It sounds like you think you get to be the judge on who gets paid back and who doesn’t. So no one has come after you with a lawsuit? No one has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all these runners?

No.

So no legal action has been brought against you for the money you won while you were on EPO? 

No. My follow-up to that would be: Have you ever seen that happen? Ever? I mean Lance Armstrong, sure, but that’s not actually for prize money. I guess you could almost put that one out. But you come back in time and look at anybody who’s ever been sanctioned, and I have yet to see a single person who has ever paid back any prize money. I am absolutely not saying that for what I am doing. I am merely half-rectifying my wrong. This does not fully rectify my wrong in any instance. You just don’t see that. Nobody pays back money. If there was some legal means, if our government would pass some legislation where there was some legal means to do that, yeah you can go to small-claims court or civil court—-good luck with that. Even that is probably not likely with the way evidence works in the legal courtroom, but if there were some way to regulate sport like that, to where, say a baseball player had to pay back his salary for that time, where a runner had to pay back his salary and/or his prize money. Things would go a long way to dissuading doping. When there are relatively no consequences it kind of sucks. Depending on your ethics, it’s a lot easier to cross that line. Obviously, if you have some crappy ethics like I did, then it happens a little sooner than it does for some people.

You had mentioned Lance Armstrong. Do you feel like you are the Lance Armstrong of the running world right now?

God, I sure hope not. [He laughs.] And if I said yes, then good Lord that would be an arrogant statement.

To put it differently, do you feel any similarities between your situation and his?

No. Not particularly other than we both lacked ethics, sure. I don’t know that I feel too much in common with him. I would certainly say I’ve never been treated that way. I could gripe about how I’ve been shunned by people and shunned by friends. But how is that not deservedly so, so you could say that is a similarity. That’s a stretch at best.

You talked about getting shunned and the negative consequences of your actions. Have you had people who are sticking by you that you are surprised that they are?

Yeah. It went both ways. With one or two caveats, I wasn’t surprised that anyone wanted to distance themselves or not have any association with me. I can’t blame them for that. I was talking with someone today, because I had to look in the mirror. I feel the same way—not necessarily towards dopers, but I have a big thing with drunks. There’s one fellow runner in particular that I just always had zero respect for the guy whatsoever, because he was a raging alcoholic. I kind of lumped those people a little bit in with drunk drivers, because invariably those people drive drunk. Invariably, we all go, “Ha-ha. Good thing you only took out that mailbox. Thank God nobody got in trouble. How about you thank God nobody got hurt? Thank God nobody got killed? And that kind of thing really hacks me off. I’m really judgmental about it. I’m so judgmental about this group of people that have their own transgressions, and I so I can’t not expect people to see me in the same way. You can’t have it both ways. I can’t blame it when somebody doesn’t want to talk with me. I was surprised with a couple. I was bummed, I should say, to lose a couple of friends. There was one in particular. She was one of my best friends. I would look forward to every time we would go to a race together. I would look forward to seeing her and her fiancé at the time. We were all really tight. I would stay with them when I would go to their town. When they would come to my town I would take them out to places. We just had a great time together, and it took a year until she would talk to me again. That was probably the roughest friendship of any of them that went away.

Can you tell me who this person is?

I don’t think it’s necessary, but otherwise, most of my friends that are my friends, they will still be my friends. To use a similar analogy, if one of my friends gets busted for drunk driving or he cheats on his wife I’m going to be incredibly disappointed in him, but I’m never going to go, hey Tim, I not talk to you or, hey Laura, because of one particular transgression. I feel that is kind of hypocritical of me to do regardless of my circumstances. We all have our skeletons. Not everyone’s skeleton makes the news. Some people have different skeletons; I just don’t know what they are. It’s better that way, because I can’t judge them. [He chuckles.]

You are someone who cheated and got caught. What do you think about the state of the sport when it comes to doping? You were one person who got caught. Is it prevalent? Have you seen any other instances of doping when you were doing it?

I can’t really say that I’ve seen a ton. My personal feeling is that it’s not. I’m trying to keep my own biases for athletics out of it. But I feel like it is at least in this country, I think it’s minimal. I’m a bit ethnocentric with that. But I think in other countries it probably is equally minimal. Obviously we are seeing spats of cases from certain countries. At the same time, look at us. We probably got ten people on current sanctions right now. Obviously, our population is 50 times bigger than country X or country Y, but the point stands that we got our own problems. In the distance community in America, I think, by and large, it’s pretty darn minimal. That would be my best guesstimation.

When you were doing it, you never saw anyone else doing it?

No.

So you were on your own?

Entirely. It had to be that way, because if anything ever came out, which, go figure, I didn’t want anyone else to be involved with it. I didn’t want to ever put that on anyone else and have it stain anyone else. It had to be entirely on me. There was no nobility in that whatsoever. It was simply I just didn’t want my crap to stain anyone else. That’s the last thing you want to do, especially when somebody is more or less unawares.

You did old-school EPO—shot-in-the-arm doping. What do you think about the complexities of these supplements that all these athletes are taking these days? They may not be banned substances, but you have been bringing up ethics a lot, so I was wondering what you think about athletes out there who perhaps come close to the ethical line in terms of medications they are taking and maybe they shouldn’t be in order to run faster.

Yeah there’s a lot of debate out there that seems to have flared up recently. You know what, unless it’s prohibited—and this was one of my gripes with the stone throwing with my case—is that I feel like I deserve every stone that came my way; however, throw it out equally at every single doper. And you can kind of take that a little further and go, “OK, if you truly feel that way and you are willing to vocalize it so loudly, then you think it’s responsible to vocalize it about every other doper as well. Now, transfer that attitude to, “I don’t think this medication is right; I don’t think people should be allowed to use medication X or Y.” Then lobby the system. Start doing some grunt work. Try to get WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] or USADA [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] to change it. Do a study on whether or not it shows performance enhancement. If you truly believe that athlete X is getting unfair advantage because of whatever, then go take that medication and prove that it has some kind of benefit and take it to USADA and lobby them to change the prohibitions. Until then, I’m not going to sit there and go, “Well that guy is pushing it.” Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t, but he’s working within the rules and if he’s working within the rules, then I’m thankful he’s not doing what I did.

You talked about going and doing the grunt work and making changes in the sport. Has anyone come to you to help out? You went to these pharmacies in Mexico. Is anyone coming to you to help shut down these places and this shady system of buying EPO?

I’ve had discussions about that. I’ve had discussions with individuals as far as things that will actually make a difference. There are discussions I’ve had with USADA of course. How much can really be done in terms of stopping someone from going across the border and doing that? Not a whole heck of a lot the way it is with our current border security. The most effective way to do this is to increase testing and more targeted testing—more effective testing. This thing with announced-race testing is ludicrous. It’s good and it is a necessary deterrent. I won’t say it’s a waste. It’s definitely not a waste. However, is it the best use of funds when everyone knows that they just need to stop a couple weeks before the race and they aren’t going to test positive at the race? It defeats the purpose—especially when you publicize it. That’s the biggest thing. I remember a U.S. championships race. It was a couple years ago. I liked this guy [the race director] a lot. He’s a good guy. He means well. He does a lot for the sport and is just an all-around good guy. The only time in my life that I’ve ever been pissed off at him was when he publicized it. [He said], “And there will be testing.” I was like, “Gosh dang it. What the heck are you doing? You just gave a free card to anyone that wants to [dope].” There were a couple athletes there that I’m rather suspect of. It gave one or two athletes who may not have the same ethics as us a free pass by announcing it. You can’t do that. You cannot do that. There has got to be an absolute surprise, because otherwise it’s just far too easy. Once that starts to come into vogue and it becomes a little more surprising, I think you might see a little difference. There’s a big marathon majors race in this country that I think they have had one positive [result] in the last 8 or 10 years. However, probably 10 of the guys who have raced at that race in the last 8 or 10 years have eventually turned up positive. Are we really to think that those 10 went to this particular marathon, as big as it is, and were totally clean unless they happened to get caught? Come one. The one guy they caught: That was just pure stupidity—absolute stupidity. That was simply an IQ test that he failed.

So it’s stupid to get caught with announced testing. What about USADA banning Christian Hesch for life instead of this two-year thing that he got? Would that help?

I think it probably would. It wouldn’t completely eradicate it of course. There are always people who will chance it. Would I have chanced it if I had known it was life? Probably not. At that point, shaving off a month or two until I can race again: That’s not worth a lifetime. It’s a statistics problem. Your expected value is a heck of a lot higher than the chance of getting caught. You think about a lot of people who are off by themselves. You hear that there are whole groups doing it. Maybe that’s a little bit riskier, but you are still kind of protected. I think it would help. It wouldn’t completely eliminate it, but it would certainly help. Maybe it would cut it down by 50%.

Do you think that the running world should give you a second chance? Would you like a “do-over” card?

Hmm. Well, define a second chance.

You talked about people shunning you. There is a lot of anonymous hate out there aimed at you on Letsrun. There are a lot of angry people out there. Do you feel like you would deserve being able to run again for money competitively and be accepted back into the community and not as some shunned person who doped and got caught?

I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect people to support me again. I think that is where a lot of the hate mail comes from is when you emotionally invest in someone. You go out and cheer someone. You look at the race results—follow the race results, send the nice Facebook message that says, “Hey, way to go, nice job!” It’s the high five in a race. The cool down together. You at least feel like you made a bit of an investment in someone. And then when someone betrays you so coldly, how can you not feel like that? That’s not going to thaw out overnight. It won’t necessarily thaw out in over a year. It would it be nice to be buddy-buddy with people again. I think that is potentially a little unreasonable. Would I appreciate equality and the way they treat me versus the way they treat everyone else? Absolutely. That’s the only thing that really gets me a little disappointed. I don’t have much of a leg to stand on with this—to gripe about it, but I do see it from time to time. It’s an easy example to pick on, but why not? It wasn’t the only one, but it was the most obvious and most blatant. There was a guy who wrote a diatribe about me shortly after it happened. So, the [Lance] Armstrong news had already come out, but we hadn’t seen the full dossier yet. They hadn’t dropped the full 1000 pages. So, Armstrong’s news comes out. My news comes out a week or so later. He writes a diatribe about what horrible person I am, blah, blah, blah. And about a week after that, they drop the full 1000-page report on Armstrong and so the guy Tweets out, “Well, left wrist finally bare. First time in ten years. Gotta say I’m a little disappointed.” I’m like what the—-. Are you kidding me? Come on. Come on, dude. I mean, I know you love Armstrong, but come on. Seriously? It’s like whatever. I don’t mind being lambasted, but I respect so much when people lambast everyone. I don’t want to use the words, “Oh I feel picked on,” because come on, that’s just bullcrap, but when it’s not blatant. Ok, so it’s a different sport, but I had this guy who totally ripped on me afterwards. Understandably so. We’ve raced together a few times. He was always a reasonable enough guy, but I saw him Tweet out something like “so proud of [George] Hincapie blah, blah, blah.” He was at a race with Hincapie and I guess Hincapie did some new style of racing or something just for fun. So he Tweeted that. Really? Really? Come on, dude. Come on. [He chuckles.] Oh well, what can you do? You can’t win them all. All I can do is hopefully show some more positive actions than I’ve shown in the past. I’m not going to change everyone’s mind. But my hope would be at least if someone is going to hold on to any grudge or disappointment, that they would at least be willing to say it to my face and talk with me about it. I’ll have a chat with anyone. I’ll explain things not that there’s much to explain, but I’ll be happy to give a personal apology to anyone—to clear up anything that they might think like, “Oh, first you stole a whole bunch of money and then you stole more by selling your story.” Wait, really? Selling my story: That would have been great to have been paid to do that. You could route the check to me, because I never saw it. But, hey, whatever. If someone wants to espouse that and spread it around, that’s fine. Just go ahead.

You’ve been through a long storm. How have you coped with this? Some people would turn to religion. A lot of people would turn to drugs—

[He laughs.] Oh the irony of that.

Or alcohol. 

You want more irony?

Sure.

I’ve never been drunk or high in my entire life. How is that for irony? But I’ve done EPO. Go figure. Go figure.

So what has been your rock to weather this storm? You’re not running and running is usually good therapy. What are you doing to help?

Every so often I go run, but I’m pretty darn busy with school. In the immediate aftermath, I was working for my father—helping with [home] remodels, and that can be pretty darn busy. Getting set up to move here and be in school and everything lined up for that kept me busy, too. I really don’t have a lot of free time to sit and dwell on it. You talked about people hating on me, but the ones that I’ve actually had a discourse with have been pretty civil. I had a kid who is from here, Albuquerque. He doesn’t live here at the moment. He was posting up and down on my Facebook page. “You’re such a douche bag this” and “You’re such a douche bag that.” He had every right to. Those were reasonable statements that he was making. And we had a chat offline and I don’t know if I’d say we were friends, but we’re pretty darn cordial. When he comes to town we go for a run. If I make it up his way, then we’ll go for a run and have a beer. I hate to say this, because it will sound arrogant, but people who are reasonable about it, I’ve had no difficulty with or issue with. It’s an action. It’s a crappy action, and if you want to, call it a heinous action, but so are a lot of other things in life. If you want to extrapolate far enough you could say that the guy that cheats on his taxes, if enough people do it, it causes a social welfare program to go under and so the government can’t fund it. So that means a poor person who is barely surviving and gets assistance from some social service that is cut. How heinous is that? That’s a pretty big stretch to make, but if really want to go that far, you can. Do you really crap on the guy who cheats on his taxes? Not really. It’s like whatever I don’t do it. People say, “Well that’s a pretty dumbass thing to do, but I’ll still be your friend.” It doesn’t mean, “I’m going to go tell everyone what a great guy you are,” because you aren’t necessarily a great guy in every aspect. I just really haven’t had to deal with a ton of crap that’s undeserved, because I see the stuff that comes my way as something I deserve, because it is. I just don’t see what there is to really get down about. It wasn’t something like, “Oh, I lost my job and that sucks. I can barely pay my bills.” It wasn’t something out of my control. It was completely in my control and they were my choices and so you deal with it. That’s all you can do. I suppose you could try to run away with some coping mechanism, but that’s just never been my M.O. in life, so it’s never really been an issue.

I went to your Twitter account and see that you have a photo of you running on the track. Where you doping when that photo was taken?

No. That was probably close to ten years before the first time that I did.

I’m asking that question, because I’m wondering if you still identify yourself as a runner? People usually put things on Twitter that they identify with.

I’m not sure exactly which picture you are talking about, but I’m pretty sure it’s a board-shorts picture in the background.

Yep. It’s a background picture of you running in board shorts on the track.

That was like 2001. I don’t know that I really take an identity from any one thing. Ok, so maybe that’s my coping mechanism. It’s watching Seinfeld or something—

[At this point my phone died and I called Christian back a few minutes later.]

So we left off with your identity and how you cope with the effects of the doping.

I’m a very pragmatic person. The [doping] situation was entirely due to my decisions and choices, so you deal with it. It wasn’t like something that just happened to me randomly. It didn’t just happen randomly. It was a direct result of my decision. It’s my decision. It’s my problem. I deal with it. That’s why it was just something I never get down about. It’s just something to be dealt with. I’m thankful for in a way that it happened, not for the way that it happened. I’m thankful that it finally got me out of the sport and finishing up school, because who knows how long I would have kept milking along just eking it out—putting off school another year, another year. At some point, reality had to be faced. I was actually done a big favor by all this happening.

Head Games

A nice excerpt from RUN SIMPLE thanks to Trail Runner mag.

Running is 100% mental. Think it and learn how to get through it—make peace with those arrows in your legs and side—and you will kick some ass.

Summer of the Caveman

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My old blog once had this crazy-ass training philosophy posted on it. I’m reposting now, because people write me occasionally asking what happened to this poor thing, and since I’m back, I figured it was time to dig up the calcified bones.

At this point Summer of the Caveman is like Gaudi’s Sagrada Família—unfinished and really strange. <Begin advertisement> But some of this ended up in my awesome book, RUN SIMPLE (like the “die rolling for a workout” part). Check out RUN SIMPLE, please </end advertisement>.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and it gives you some sort of reason to run today. Maybe you will possibly win some large medal that will end up in a landfill thanks to it. Maybe you will qualify for the Olympics thanks to it. Or you’ll just beat that annoying asshole—the douche who wears his Boston Marathon jacket everywhere in town—that guy who always beats you in the Barney Fife 5K; you’ll kick his ass.

Use it for something.

Maybe I will update it soon. Maybe I won’t. Check back often to make me feel good about my site stats.

Either way, enjoy it, my fellow Caveman.

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"Once I saw a prizefighter boxing a yokel. The fighter was swift and amazingly scientific. His body was one violent flow of rapid rhythmic action. He hit the yokel a hundred times…but suddenly the yokel, rolling about in the gale of boxing gloves, struck one blow and knocked science, speed, and footwork as cold as a well-digger’s posterior. The smart money hit the canvas."

 ~Ralph Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN

Preface:

There are two types of people in this world: those who are spoiled-brat 
prima donnas and those who are invisible men who work their asses off.

Be the latter.

The former types ride around in MGs, the latter folks, in VWs with Lincoln Logs for gas pedals. The former types get hometown send-offs, free XBOX 360 breakrooms at climate-controlled, artificial altitudes with unlimited Gatorade; they get Second-Coming of Pre, Sports Illustrated articles X 2, Olympic-ring tattoos for their 20th-place showing behind Bekele and a million Canova-coached Qatarian transplants; they get engaged to beautiful women from the beautiful bloodlines of the beautiful white Senators. The latter types, us folk, we are the cavemen; the former, well they are the beautiful people who have evolved from the cavemen into perfect beings.

Never forget this.

That’s how things have been and that’s how things always will be.

Forever. 

These latter types are Elia Kazan’ed during races and poo-poo’ed by the running gentry atop Mount Boulder. They truly are invisible men. They aren’t supposed to do what they do. They belong behind a cubicle wall, aging into obscurity and oblivion—pushing up small poppies in their mid-size plot overlooking the superterrifichappyfunmall. They are the ones who are supposed to read the magazines and sit in the stands—watching life pass by for the beautiful people.

Grazing cattle—nothing more.

Those on the track vs those that aren’t supposed to be on the track.

Period.

Fuck what’s suppose to be.

Fuck it.  

Time for the Summer of the Caveman.

You can take part in the Summer of the Caveman at any time.  Join me. Your times don’t matter, your abilities don’t matter. You can be anywhere on the evolutionary map. It’s your mindset that matters.

We hired the reporter for the Subelite Wannabe Times to do this thing as an interview. Imitation is the best form of flattery so we are 
copying The Summer of Malmo in this Q&A regard.

SWT: Tell me what you mean by the Summer of the Caveman?

DL: You know, there’s something to cavemen. Cavemen are the most overlooked and under-appreciated historical figures. We are 
supposed to laugh at cavemen and treat them as yet-to-evolve semi-simians. We even got that zany Ringo Starr to appear in the movie 
called, well, Caveman. But there’s a lot more to cavemen. We have a lot to learn from them; we should respect them and not mock them.  Why? Because they lived in caves; every day for them was survival. They’d figure out that fire was bad by sticking their hand into the fire. They didn’t have someone telling them that fire was supposed to hurt. They were history’s first naysayers. Everything for them was empirical.

SWT: Ok, and what does this have to do with running?

DL: The running world is full of people telling you that fire is hot, that you can’t do this and you can’t do that. If you run a 5k only so fast, you can only run a marathon so fast. It’s McMillan’s calculator incarnate. The same people tell you that you have to stretch and you have to do striders, that you have to follow their plans and their formulas and fire up Excel to run fast. Yep, you have to hand them money for all this too. These cretins have their hands out first and foremost. Helping you? Well, that comes next after they pay their bills and build their summer houses and buy their Ranger bass boats. So we listen to these fuckheads and we get conditioned into grazing on their bullshit calculators. We give away the fact that we are all descendants of cavemen who tested fire. We leave glory and greatness up to the beautiful guys who sit in the MGs and subtly mock those who are brave enough to test the fire—guys like Brian Sell. The more Sells we get, the more we turn over this fucked-up apple cart. I think Sell beating Culpepper at Boston sent shockwaves into the gentry’s world where things are neatly ordered into the haves and the have-nots, between supposed-to-happen and never-will-happen according to the big silver-spoon calculator atop Mount Boulder. Whenever someone does something they aren’t supposed to do, yes, putting their hand into the fire, it makes the establishment look around. It tests them and it makes them uncomfortable.  

In short, we’ve lost our empirical nature. We accept what is supposed to be. We don’t test anything; we wallow in mediocrity.

Look, SWT, it’s running for Chrissakes. It’s caveman shit. Put one foot in front of another. Anyone can do this and we are all humans. We can all run and we can all teach ourselves to run fucking fast. You don’t need an MG, a town sendoff with a guy in a Punxsutawney top hat patting your silver-spooned ass on the back for you to learn how to run fast. You need the Summer of the Caveman ‘straight off the fucking boards.’

SWT: Lydiard or Daniels?

DL: John Frusciante

SWT: Back to the Summer of the Caveman, what do you have to do to live the Summer of the Caveman.

DL: About time you asked. There’s several key elements to the Summer of the Caveman:

1. Caveman Shit

2. Mileage that will make you cry “straight off the boards.”

3. Marathon pace, marathon pace, fucking marathon pace! Use the 40-second bracket plan.

4. Recovery

5. Smart Racing

6. Magna Carta adherence

7. Weight control and discipline in all things. Discipline. Structured discipline first and foremost.

8. Beards and hair. Beards are a must and hair must be Lance Armstrong-short—maybe shorter.

9. Chicks. Whatever man. I’m not spending a damn dime more on the timeless and incalculable ritual of trying to move seminal fluid a matter of inches (ha!) across a membrane. It’s either in the works or its not. Note to self: monks may be on to something

10. Diet. Meat (or seitan) will be required.

SWT: What about your supersecret writing project? How can you do the Summer of the Caveman and write the supersecret 
thing?

DL: You aren’t going to ask me about 1-9?

SWT: I ask the questions around here, big boy.

DL: That’s caveman to you. Next question.

SWT: You already have a 2:29 Magna Carta. What’s the difference between that and this Summer of the Caveman?

DL: The mindset. The Magna Carta stays. It’s the real deal. I have to do all those elements to hit 2:29, but it’s just the bones. A being needs bones and a framework to exist, but what has been missing all along is the spirit. The Summer of the Caveman is the spirit. I’m going to talk here about the spirit and the brain that sits atop the bones and propels this body into a 2:29 come October.

SWT: We keep hearing about all these hard plans and all these hard things you are doing and that you profess. What gives us confidence that what you preach will come to fruition? I mean for a while, you had us drinking from the 2:29 VCM Kool Aid and then you pop a horrid 2:36. What’s up with that?

DL: (pausing for a long time). That’s a good question. Just trust me. The Summer of the Caveman will yield a 2:29. If it doesn’t, then there’s six more years of trying and then after that, it’s Thor Heyerdahl, the Kon Tiki, and the whole fucking Pacific.

SWT: You got me there, caveman. Now, walk me through how one enters into the Summer of the Caveman?

DL: To start, the summer solstice for this year will be at 12:23 UT which is 8:23 am EST on 21 June. This is when the sun is farthest north and since this whole thing is called the Summer of the Caveman, we can’t start it until we really are into the summer. Until then, I’ll do something like The Spring of the Homo Heidelbergensis which will still be some hard shit but not yet fully evolved into putting hands into flame. I’m pretty much recovered from my marathon so I’m ready to roll. 
Lets break the elements into pieces and start with #1. Caveman shit.

1. Caveman shit:

Start here to understand where it came from first. Caveman shit will happen according to the lunar calendar. When there’s a full 
moon, I’m doing some caveman shit.

SWT: Wait a second, stop. The lunar calendar?  Why?

DL: We are all creatures of the moon. I also like the band Luna as well as the quote from the Chilli Peppers’ song that the lunar landing was ‘filmed in a Hollywood basement.’ The moon’s too powerful for man to conquer it. Remember the flag that waved? There’s no wind on the moon. No way. Besides, since Luna sings “Star Spangled Man," why not combine the two? You know, be a crazy man during a crazy period of the month and pay homage to something that can’t be conquered. The moon can take on a symbolic meaning of sorts—it’s the human spirit. Don’t fuck with it; you never know what it can do to you. I just made all that up, but I like it.

This will be my source for timing caveman shit workouts.

SWT: Go on, #2?

DL: #2 is Mileage. For me this will mean the following:

Three-week cycles. One week of 125 then 1 week of 140, then 1 week of 50%=70. If I can hang with 140, I may go to 160 in subsequent cycles.

SWT: Why this mileage? Why?

DL:  I’m going straight off the boards; it’s what I have to do. I don’t have the talent, so I’m throwing mileage at the problem. Durden did this shit and so did Rodgers and so did Meyer. If you throw mileage at it and you fail, at least you tried. Plus, Brian Sell taught us all a lesson at Boston. Brian’s high school two-mile times are close to what I ran in high school. Hey, there’s always hope, right? He never said ‘no’ and ‘can’t’; he got his ass 
out on the roads and busted out 160 mile weeks for years under the auspices of the Hanson brothers.  Plus, I’m not going for a 2:10 or an Oly. Trials 3rd-place showing, I’m going for 2:29:59.

Big difference.

He believed, so I’m believing and I’m using mileage as my weapon. We learn to read so we can learn to learn. I’ve read all the ”Brief chats with…” on all the Web sites from all the running reporters over the years.. I’m using knowledge and I’m trying to apply it. And how about them Africans? Guys who live with nothing and walk around everywhere, guys who are expected to run fast so they run fast. How about that? Ta-da! Simplcity—another caveman trait. Keep it fucking simple and keep it real.

Can I say something else real quick?

SWT: Sure.

DL: I’m aware that someone (it wasn’t me, I ASSURE you, just check my homepage to see if you find a letsrun.com link there) posted this bullshit textbox website—pretty much intended for 10 regulars on my sad site—on letsrun.com’s b-board where anonymity = brazenness. Fellas, go easy on me. My times suck. Let’s clear the air on that as well as the fact that Ritz. could lap me in the 800. This is about my own mindset here, not boasting or bragging or comparing penis sizes (ha!). Thanks SWT.

SWT: No problem, go on.
DL: Ok, here’s what you have to do. This is #3. This is tailored for marathon-specific training. First, write down your marathon goal pace in min/mile.   

image


Now, let me explain this. You are going to use 3-week cycles.

Week 1 = Workout week
Week 2 = Caveman week
Week 3 = Rest week.

Workout week has 3 main events: mile repeats, threshold run, MP run.

Caveman has the caveman shit event plus insane mileage

Rest week = 50% caveman mileage.

Workout Week:

Your workout week goes down like this…

Start with mile repeats. Do them at 20 seconds faster than goal MP, rest = no longer than the interval time itself. Try to do interval time minus 1 minute. If you are new to mile repeats and this is your first ‘summer of the…’ experience, then start with 4 or 5 reps as your first workout and increase 1 to 2 repeats per workout week.

  • Recover the next day-2 days (I’ll talk recovery later..)


Do a threshold workout.  Do 2 x the reps you did during your mile repeats at + 20 seconds MP.  For example: You do 5 mile repeats at 5:23, you do a 10-mile threshold workout at 6:03.

  • Recover the next 2-3 days


Do a MP run at MP = 1.5X your mile repeat intervals. So if you do 5 repeats you do an 8 miler at MP (cavemen round up).

  • Recovery days


Caveman Week:

During your caveman week, the goal is twofold: go crazy and run until you drop.

Your mileage you do is up to you. I’m going to go for 160 miles by the end of the summer.

Now, the fun part. Your  caveman shit workout will be derived as follows.

1. Write a list of the 10 most craziest workouts you can fathom. Number them 1-10.

2. When your caveman week arrives, get out a 10-sided Dungeon Master die and roll it. The result of chance will be the workout you do. The marathon’s pretty much up to training and fate so why not get used to getting screwed?

SWT: Stop, Dungeon Master dice? What the hell?

DL: Everyone should have leftover Dungeon Master dice from back when Gary Gygax’s name rolled off the tips of tongues across the fruited plain. If you don’t have a 10-sided die, then here you go.

SWT: That’s it for caveman week?

DL: Oh hell no. During caveman week you must also do the following:

1. Eat lots of meat. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, then soyburger it up, yo!

2. Watch the movie CAVEMAN

3. Listen to this song before a run.  (Queens of the Stone Age, You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire)

Sing the lyrics..rock out..turn this shit up….LOUD  You need a SAGA.  A SAGA…..that’s the only way to make it to your goal…

A SAGA..

Dead bull with the life from the low
I’ll be massive conquistador
Give me soul and show me the door
Metal heavy, soft at the core
Gimme toro, gimme some more

Pressurize, neutralize
Deep fried, gimme some more

Space flunky, four on the floor
Fortified with the liqour store
This one’s down, gimme some more
Gimme toro, gimme some more

Shrunken head I love to adore
B-movie, gimme some gore
Gimme toro, gimme some more
B-movie, gimme some gore

Gimme toro, gimme some more

4. All other songs during caveman week must be sung by men with beards and long hair. Options:

a. Anything by Rob Zombie.

b. Soundgarden’s, “Rusted Cage” or any other song from the Bad Motorfinger album.

c. Any of John Frusciante’s six solo albums.
————————————————
Runs during the caveman week should be relaxed pace—no faster than 1 min/mile + MP.  The caveman event should 
happen timed with the full moon and most likely at the end of the week.

Depending on your fitness, you are free to do other things in the week such as faster paced running/races/hills etc as 
LONG AS YOU COMPLETE THE CAVEMAN WORKOUT FIRST.

Also plan to do long runs during this week.  Go for a couple 20 milers…this is where you start working in the long runs.

Meet Fam

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Back in 2006, I started a Web site with this name: Roads, Mills, Laps. Now’s it’s simply called RML, because Roads, Mills, Laps is too tedious of a name.

It was first a blog about my struggles and babblings as a somewhat wannabe sub-elite runner and then, as my marathon times began to fade, it turned into a pseudo running journalism site where I interviewed runners and asked them whatever the fuck I wanted to ask them. I did the pseudo journalism thing, because I believed (and still believe) that the sport of distance running is not properly covered and that we can do better if we want to call ourselves journalists or even pseudo journalists.

Anyway, old skool RML got some traction. I had a lot of hits. I rode a fun wave for a while, but then it kind of died and I tried to jumpstart it a few times with no luck.

Until now.

It’s back and I have tried a new approach to get a pulse on this thing. I’ve teamed up with artist Borbay with a new collaborative series of interviews with elite runners. He paints their portrait, and I ask them the questions. 

I first met Borbay, a 14-minute 5K man back in the day, when I had the assignment to cover him for the NYRR magazine.

His work is quite good. You should check it out.

You can even see how he painted Fam’s portrait here.

Our first interviewee is Anthony Famiglietti who really needs no introduction other than “Fam” is a two-time American Olympian in the steeple and has always been one to speak his mind.  

Fam has recently started his own brand, Reckless Running. You should check it out.

I caught up with him on the phone on Halloween. The interview was in two parts: Part one was during the day and part two was later that same night. For part two, Fam was running and talking to me the whole time.

During the interview, Fam told me he spoke to NPR for 30 minutes once and they ended up using like 30 seconds of the talk, so I promised him I’d transcribe everything.

And so I hope you like all 8000 words of it. Enjoy.

————————

Meet: Fam Part One

RML What have you been up to these days? It looks like you recently won a 5K in under 14 minutes.

Fam: Basically, after the 2012 Trials, which I didn’t run, I decided to just step back for a year and have fun. I wanted to have fun in an unusual way. I want to try and run fast where I wanted to run fast—not necessarily in a highly competitive way. People are always talking about bridging the gap between the elite athletes and the rest of the pack. It’s said, but no one ever does it. I’ve sort of immersed myself over a year communicating with people in a way that I wouldn’t be able to as an elite runner. I pick races that are family-oriented so that my wife can go, my baby can go, and my nephew can go. I spend time before the event and after the event. It’s a good way for Reckless Running to continue to connect with the community and with consumers across the U.S.

That’s what I did.

I chose races that I hadn’t done in the past. I just wanted to find fun things. A lot of them have cool prizes like free vacation packages. We just won a vacation package to Myrtle Beach last year. We had a blast. Hope to do that again. I’ll talk to athletes before the race at the starting line and tell them who I am and what I’ve done.

Afterwards, sometimes I’ll offer free coaching and guidance. Some people I meet for the first time. A lot of times I learn more than they do. It’s been super fun. Typically, I try to peak for the “Run for the Ta-Tas”, which is an awareness race in Wilmington [North Carolina]. It’s a super-fast course, but there are a lot of twists and turns. It’s kind of like a steeplechase in that they give about 500 women a two-and-a-half minute start. The first finisher wins $1000. It was just mayhem, running past baby joggers with 90-degree and 180-degree turns. It was crazy. I won it last year and almost won it this year, but lost by six seconds. There was a lot of traffic this year as far as the women runners. I went out like at 4:17 pace [per mile]. I got all jacked up and ran a little too hard. Because I had to run extra distance going around people and they changed the course this year, it was a little long and my GPS said I ran it in like 13:52, which would have been third or fourth at the U.S. Championships this year. I had to do it solo in those conditions.

I’m competitive at the U.S. level, but I’m doing it in a unique and odd sort of way.  It was total mayhem. You get to the half mile and you run into all these women, the walkers. It’s crazy. It’s a fun and interesting race. For me, running these races that aren’t highly competitive, it’s hard to try and push myself. I do this at the local community runs.

There’s a group called the Davidson-Area Running Team. They are just local runners with a huge range of ability. Some people run 9 minutes a mile down to 5 or 6. I would say that anyone is welcome to come out and give them a huge head start for my mile repeats. If I don’t catch them, I’d give them a free DVD. It was a cool way for them to see how I train and take the veil of mystery away. Some people are like, “You come to this stop sign at this time of day and start your watch and go?”

There’s no magic. It’s just hard work.

Yep. No magic and lots of hard work for years.

Are you getting a lot more out of your running now that you are a man of the people? Are you seeing a different element of running?

As a professional runner, you are never satisfied. It’s all about performance and how fast you run. Even if you get a personal best, you feel like you should have run faster. If you are ever satisfied, you will never progress. Running races this way is the satisfaction. The time is an additional bonus in the end. It’s a totally different perspective on being competitive. I see some of these people elated to finish a race and they hit a PR that they didn’t consider they could do. It’s sort of like a refresher for your running. If you are ever agitated with the sport or grow bored with it, it’s a good way to get reinvigorated by running with some of these people.

Are you retired? How would you describe your dreams right now?

I wouldn’t say I’m retired, because the initial reason I took downtime was injury and illness, so it was at first me sorting through it. I never told this in an interview, but a lot of people never knew that I had [the] Epstein-Barr [virus] at the end of 2007. I was going to try and run sub-13:00 for 5K on U.S. soil. I was in phenomenal shape. Ran like a 7:40 3K earlier in the season. I was in New York City represented by adidas being watched by my grandparents who had never been to my race before. Right there in Icahn Stadium, and I did a photo shoot for Running Times a week or two before. We had filled the water pit at Icahn and shot photos of me. And I just got crazy sick afterwards. I’m not sure if it was the water that got up my nose or whatever. I thought it was just the flu. I tried to run that race at Icahn and ran like a 13:50-something 5K. I just felt horrible. I had never felt like that before. I tried to bluff it and run the U.S. Championships in steeple. I think I finished 5th behind Daniel Lincoln.

The next day, I tried to go out for a run and I couldn’t walk let alone jog. I knew something was wrong before the race. I think I said in a documentary that I did called Run Reckless that it was chronic fatigue. I couldn’t get out of bed for week. For two solid months I couldn’t do any physical activity—no running, no walking, no swimming.

Nothing.

I thought I was going to have to retire then. I had to start from scratch and came back to win the Olympic Trials steeplechase in the way that I did. For me the perspective to come through injury or illness happened by being patient.

Part Two: Later that night.

RML: What do you want to do, running-wise? Do you want to go to the Olympics again? Where are you focusing these days?

Fam: I don’t know. The last thing I was talking about was the injury and illness thing. I got sidetracked in 2010. I had an injury. I had to just stop training, reassess, and start with that, too.

And so, fortunately, when you run for your own brand, you can stop. You can take time away. You can take as much time as you want. Unless you are running for a sponsor, a week or a month away is a lot. You know?

Yeah.

And so for me, I got to sit back. I got to figure out what were my priorities. Heading into 2012, I qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon. That was on the radar. But the injuries that I had were [he chuckles as he runs] hallux rigidus, which is arthritis in the great toe on my right foot, and that is the foot that I tend to push off with my dominant leg—especially in steeplechasing and stuff like that.

So, for a marathon, I got it from the shoes I was wearing. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was parting ways with adidas. Initially, I had done that to explore new territory in the marathon. I was at that time, predominately a steeplechaser 

And I wanted to pursue new avenues and new distances. And so in [20]09, I started with the Gate River Run. I won that and I was heading in the right direction. The injury stuff started popping up. I was two steps forward and one step back. I tried to go sub-13 [minutes} for the 5K and make up for what I lost in 2008—those opportunities. It didn’t come. That was my goal: run as fast I possibly can and find out what my PRs are. I wanted to find out where the bottom of the well was. I think that is the goal for a lot of people. Where is that bottom of the well? For me, I’ve gone way further than I’ve ever thought. It’s a lot deeper than I thought it was. I think I’ve surprised a whole lot of people. Myself included. There’s an air of contentment when you do you things you don’t really expect. You have the drive to do them. You want to see how fast you can do them. The expectation is there. The marathon was one of those things that I wanted to step into. If I did it, I would have to be all in. Everything would have to be set up. All my ducks would have to be in a row to have a great debut. In order to be more than a back-of-the-pack person or an also-ran, a lot of things have to happen. Am I rambling?

Not at all. So, are you going to try for the marathon?

So here’s what happened, man. I’d like to say this is what my goal is and this is why, but I got sick. I had a foot injury. I tried to make up for lost time. I really tried to say that I’m still here. And I trained hard—harder than ever. I started working with a new advisor. And was doing workouts that were breaking all my cardinal rules of training as far as intensity and volume and especially as far as intensity and volume at altitude. But you’re training for ten years and you have results and then you ask: “Was I really working hard enough?”

[He laughs.]

Was it my work ethic or is it just something else? What does it take for me to be a world leader, because I’ve been knocking on that door for a while and I need to get into that territory soon before that door closes, and so I worked like crazy. I initially started with that half marathon in New York City. Before that I was working out a gym where the MMA fighters would train at. While I was there, I would be flipping truck tires and doing stuff with sledgehammers. This was 2010.

I was crazy fit.

I also adjusted my training where I started doing workout days the same day as my lifting days. My recovery days would be “full” recovery days. It was not a good idea. I do not recommend that, especially for a guy like me. Some of these guys at the gym were just so intense. I didn’t have a coach there to pull the reins back.

Sounds like this place was a CrossFit gym.

It wasn’t CrossFit. It was before CrossFit hit the mainstream like it is now. There was similar type of training there. I’m a guy who likes to understand how different types of people train. Cross-training isn’t something that I will cross off the list. And so I started lifting like this and getting stronger. I ran that half. Even when I got to the starting line I knew something was off.

At the same time, Flagstaff was snowed in and once it’s like that up there it sort of stays. People were telling me to not bother coming up, because I couldn’t train. That was my go-to for my longer-distance races—to go to altitude and get dialed in—especially at Flagstaff. I decided to order a[n altitude] tent for the first time—the only time. I was using a facemask on a bike in the morning to simulate 12,000 feet, because you sleep in a tent, you don’t run in it. It was a bad idea.

[He laughs].

Too much.

When you are guy like me, you are talking about avenues of training that you don’t explore, and no one has any advice to give me. They have maybe cyclists that come in there. I had to trail-blaze a little bit to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, because training at altitude is a hell of a lot different than training in a tent at night. When I got to the starting line of that race, I didn’t feel right. I was on 61-minute place at 15K and then I came crawling in. I ran like 1:03. It was like a death, death march. I didn’t take any water or any GUs in that race. It was a terrifying feeling. I never felt like that in a race. I was thinking, “If this feels this bad in a half marathon  [He chuckles.], what is it going to do in a real marathon?” Right around that time, that event pushed me over the edge. I was getting sick training at altitude—really blown out. At the Gate River Run, it was excruciating from the start. I should have dropped out. Runners are thickheaded, you know?

Yeah.

I had this chronic fatigue where I couldn’t walk or jog. What is it this time? I thought my career was over. I had to figure it out at this point. I started listening to people who thought it was my thyroid. Once that popped up, I got advice from Doctor Jeffery Brown, a guy that all those guys use.

The go-to guy.

When someone tells you that you are ill and that you need to take medication to live let alone run without it, you’re terrified. How the hell am I going to run again? How would I ever run a marathon if I felt like this in a 15K? So I shut everything down and took four months off. So I was just dealing with injuries at the time. I couldn’t find shoes that work. My feet are so messed up now that I couldn’t wear any shoes on the market—anything. I did this interview for NPR and I talked to them for 30 minutes. They used a 30-second clip where I said, “Zappos probably hates me; I buy their shoes and return them.” They didn’t understand what I was trying to tell them and that’s that I can’t get sponsored by a company if I want do, because their shoes aren’t what I need. At the time, I was already with Reckless Running and I didn’t need it. I said, “Look, the system isn’t structured right. If you were a runner in my position, you couldn’t sign with a company. You couldn’t. Those are the rules. From the get-go, the doors were closed that way. Reckless Running gave me this freedom to explore any shoe I want. And ironically, I’m back in adidas. [He laughs.] It’s funny because, it took two years to figure out the shoe I could wear.

You’ve been talking for quite a bit and I have a ton of questions I have to ask you. But first, where are you running right now?

I’m on the Greenway Trail in Davidson, North Carolina.

I hear you running. I hear your feet hitting the ground. How are you talking to me right now?

I have my iPhone with the headphones in.

That’s pretty hardcore.

Hey, I could be pushing the baby jogger right now. [He laughs.]

Do you have a headlamp on?

Nah. This is my time of day to really run. I used to run in Central Park at 8 o’clock [p.m.] on. It’s just so crazy in the park with traffic—people doing tours and cars and cyclists, but once it hit dark, people just scattered. The park was just wide open. The park was my personal racetrack. It’s my time of day.

How do you see where you are going?

I’m just running in the dark, man.

You’re running in the dark on a trail in North Carolina?

Yeah, you can see the moonlight. I can see where I’m going.

Well, pay attention to where you are going. I don’t want you to fall.

I’m fine.  

How fast do you think you are going?

I guess under 7:00-minute pace. But when I’m talking, I get amped up. I’ve dropped it down to 6:30 and 6:20.

I’ve watched Reckless Running. At the time, I think Coach Jack Daniels was watching you or helping you. What did he think about your tire flipping at the MMA gym? What did he think of your altitude tent and facemask-on-the-bike stuff?

The way it works is that Jack and I are friends. Initially, we had really different opinions on running. The first time I met him, I was in a running camp, in upstate New York when I was a junior in high school. I went up to Jack. I was a little skinny, 98-pound skater dude and I was like, “I like skateboarding. I don’t want to waste my time as a runner. Do you think I’d be any good?”

He said, “What are your PRs?”  I told him, and he said, “I wouldn’t count on it.”

I said to myself that I would prove him wrong, but I’m glad he was honest. The fact that he was honest and laid out the idea that I would have to work, I thought was kind of cool. And if you look at my test scores, you wouldn’t say, “This guy is going to be good.” You would say that he is going to be all right. I don’t know how I pushed through, but I have these different philosophies about training and things and so when I see Jack, just because we differ on things doesn’t mean I didn’t see his brilliance.

Sometimes you need that point/counter-point. It sort of opens your eyes and makes you think about what you can do differently. There are a lot of things that Jack and I are totally in agreement on. When I was in Flagstaff, I used to go into his office and say, “Hey man, what do you think about this?”

Jack is an interesting, quirky guy. So are you. Did you form a bond with him?

Jack’s an amazing man. He’s got file cabinets on top of file cabinets. The thing is that elite athletes have this ego that they don’t want to be told. They know and don’t want to be told. But when I went to Jack’s office, I sort of listened. I was working my ass off running into the wind, and I’d tell him about my problems and he’d listen and go to his file cabinet and find a study from 1970 that talked about running into the wind. For me, Jack wasn’t writing workouts, he was more or less helping me restructure things—add more recovery, sometimes leave it as it is, sometimes seeing if I was capable of doing something. 

And in terms of you being capable of doing something, he let you shoot one of his AK-47s, right?

[He laughs.] No, that was Tony Gallo, a guy that Jack was coaching. He was working with Tony for the marathon. Jack said he was a gun enthusiast and so I was like “What you got?” One day I met Tony and we just drove out to the desert—that how you do it in Arizona. I love it. Jack showed us how he shot a pistol in the Modern Pentathlon in the Olympics. It was just cool stuff that you wouldn’t do if you didn’t just say, “Let’s go.”

I want to take the conversation away from talking about you now and ask what you think about the state of American distance running presently.

A lot of these guys, we’ll call the older crowd, they are in their late 20s, early 30s. I know and have spent some time with them. I spent a month with Ryan [Hall] before Boston where he ran 2:04. I didn’t get to see a whole lot of his training. I just got to see how he thought and acted most of the day—his life process before something like that. I was with him, because I wanted to see if this marathon thing was something I can do and can I get my mind around it. He sort of knew how far I was going into the well and so we didn’t get together for a lot of workouts. As far as these other guys, I think the state of American distance running is better than it’s ever been.

Let me give you perspective of me in the steeplechase in 2012. I ran in a way where I tried to be as open as I can with my training. I had my DVDs and didn’t try to hide it. I didn’t necessarily advertise where I was going to race, because guys would try to race me for qualifiers in the steeple. It’s hard to drag a guy in a race and so guys would get pissed at me, because I wouldn’t advertise where I was going to steeple. As far as the Trials: It was exciting. The next thing you know, I tried to pull it together with a few months of training with a foot injury. The last thing you want to do is run a steeplechase with a foot injury, because you are pounding a specific joint up and down in running spikes with no padding. I missed the qualifying mark by .48 seconds to get into the Trials. My wife was pregnant and due around the date of the Trials. I wasn’t traveling to races. Either way, I missed making the mark. There was a whole bunch of guys in front of me who would have easily qualified for the Trials in 2008 that didn’t even make it, because the standards have been that good. I don’t know if it became more appealing or if there is just more depth. It’s like that in the 5K. It’s like that in the 10K.

There is more depth. In the past, any of these guys would deviate from their schedule and be guaranteed to win in a road race. Now, there is so much depth on the roads. Guys will specifically train for road races. You are going neck and neck with guys that you’ve never seen before.

American distance running is fine.

Talking about competing on the world stage, it’s different because of the system. The results are going to be different as far as the level of depth. You got a bunch of guys under 27 [minutes for the 10K] is different than a bunch of guys shooting for 27:30. 

Fair enough. I agree with you there. What I’m wondering is what do you think about the gap between the U.S. and East Africa in the marathon. It seems to be opening up and there doesn’t seem to be much after the Ryan Halls and the Meb Keflezighis who are aging. Do you feel that way? The progress they [East Africans] continue to make in the marathon seems to far exceed American runners.

They don’t have a collegiate system. First of all, from the get-go, when they wake up in the morning and go outside, their level of expectation and what they are comparing themselves to on a daily basis is completely different from me waking up in Davidson, North Carolina. With the exception of guys like Ryan Hall, the expectation is who is the best guy in the U.S. You just don’t even consider aiming for winning the New York City Marathon.

Most of the guys that they [East Africans] see are shooting for that kind of thing. Those are their national legends. Those are their sports icons. Expectation is the first thing. Why could a bunch of guys not run under 13:00 for the 5K before 2009 and then suddenly were able to? Expectations changed. They had to make sub-13 happen in order to keep existing in the sport the way they were.

You talk about expectations in the sport. We in the U.S. put our expectations on sports icons like football and basketball players, whereas Kenya puts its expectations on running. If the U.S. changed its expectations, could it produce guys like Wilson Kipsang?

I can only talk about personal experience. When I was in high school, I ran a 4:50 mile as a sophomore. I said, “Coach, the New York Marathon is coming up this year, what do they run for a mile for 26.2?” And he told me. I just thought that I would never, ever be one of those guys. I can’t run it for one mile, how can I ever consider anything close to that? It’s a whole another universe let alone planet. Then you fast-forward 12 years and it’s a reality that can happen. But that expectation wasn’t there for those 12 years. I got offered a scholarship to Appalachian State.

I ran to be conference champion at that level. Once I got to the level to be the best athlete on the team, I had the presence of mind to say, I need to bump it up. I moved to the SEC and it was a whole new level of expectation there. You are talking about racing Arkansas and big schools in that conference that were dominating at the time. I went from workouts at Appalachian State that I thought were the boss, but I’d see Todd Williams do a workout and it blew my mind. I had never seen a professional runner do a workout before. It blew my freaking mind. I realized there was a whole new level of pain and endurance in me that I hadn’t even come near. It’s because of my expectation of myself, and what I had built up for. It’s like that regionally all through the U.S.

You mentioned Todd Williams. That’s a runner who put everything on the line. Do you feel like those Todd Williams types are rare in this country, because we have a cushioned life and so much given to us in terms of food and transportation? In East Africa suffering is everywhere and running is all about putting up with suffering, and there aren’t many Williamses or Fams here. I mean you are out on Halloween night running. You aren’t seeing many people, are you?

No. It’s the argument that’s been there for a while. If you look at top runners like Todd or me, we come from a difficult background. It has a lot to do with it. Look at Frank Shorter’s story—one example of many. There is plenty of that going on in the U.S. just like anywhere else. If those kids are given the outlet—and I’ve always wanted to help troubled kids find running—they are going to be the toughest S.O.Bs out there. Their expectation of pain and suffering is different and running is an escape for them. Like it’s been an escape for me. I have always found running to be this fun, fulfilling thing. Look at the Italian immigrants being great boxers, like Rocky Marciano, and then there are the Irish, and Mexican Americans dominating MMA and boxing. They are in that zone of struggle; it’s fuel for athletics. There is plenty of that going on the U.S. It’s a matter of directing athletes to the right sport and having the right guidance for them. I think the new thing is to be a high school phenom, and get a big fat scholarship, and try to go pro like your freshman or sophomore year.

That’s the new thing. I mean even the Kenyans take time to develop, man. And the Kenyans who did it, they fell off the face of the earth when they were 23. If you are going to work with that sort of ethic, you need years and years of giant aerobic and strength base to develop in a way that’s going to be really effective.

If you look at myself with that marathon example in high school, I didn’t think of being able to run 4:50s repeatedly, but it became a reality because of all that work. Who is willing to wait a decade or two? That is the key right there: patience. That was the number-one rule that I broke. My number-one rule as far as training is patience.

We’ve been talking for a bit about the state of the sport. So what do you think about the state of doping in the sport? Do you think the science and methods used to catch the dopers has caught up with the science and methods used by the dopers themselves?

When I told people my situation with dealing with Doctor Brown, and I didn’t want to give anyone specific publicity and generate a bad avenue for other people to try to get information in ways that may not benefit them. Some people can argue that he’s a great physician and I know people that some will argue that he’s pure quackery, man. Pure. When you look at the evidence. But who’s offering the evidence? At the end of the day, you are just scratching the surface with what some people call doping or gray-area doping.

In my case, I wouldn’t know either way. My point was I made that reference as far as athlete health. I said, “Look, man, if I took medicine when I didn’t need it, I’d be messed up right now, and I got messed up for two months taking medication that I did not need.” Here I am running at 9 o’clock at night on Halloween feeling like a champ. Kicking ass on the road with half-ass training. I haven’t taken medication in years. So obviously, that was not something I needed. You are talking about something so small—as far as a non-banned substance that could be detrimental to your health. And that’s my main concern with any kind of doping: health issues more important ethical issues. I didn’t make those comments to point the finger. I made them, because I was concerned about the health of the people I was hoping to compete against in the marathon and other ionger-distance races and I see a lot of names of people who are supposedly on this stuff. I didn’t even need it. There are all kinds of heart palpitations and side effects that will kill you for certain, let alone EPO. People look at it like it’s a level playing field and no big deal, it’s not harmful and that’s complete B.S. There’s no way you can say who’s doping and who’s not doping. It’s all speculation until someone gets caught.

But back to my question, Fam. Do you think there are people that can figure a way to mask the drugs? Is that science more advanced than what’s being used to police them?

It’s not even masking, dude. From what I understand, you just stop taking it at the right time. If you have money, you can get away with anything. I’ve seen and heard things where it’s pretty clear that someone is cheating. It’s not place to say anything, because I don’t have direct evidence. It’s circumstantial from what I’ve seen.

So you are saying the system can still be tricked?

I can’t say it, because obviously I don’t do that garbage. I have no desire to whatsoever. That’s why I’m running local 5Ks for fun. I could be the hero again. It could be so easy now. I’m not on USADA’s [U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] list. I could take anything I want now and they would have no idea. I could have taken anything I wanted to leading up to the Olympic Trials and got off it two to three weeks before to get my qualifier. Run an American record and been the hero. Everyone would pat me on the back and say Fam’s the man. I have no desire to do that. I could easily go do that right now. Who is to stop me?

The only guys that they put on the out-of-competition tests are the top five in any event in the U.S. from what I understand, so everyone else is free to dope. A lot of guys complain about specific runners who are doping. I can name names, but I’m not here to call anyone out. You can look how they race. They drop out of particular races to not get a ranking and they will only run races that only have in-competition testing. There’s no out-of-competition testing. You could just take their names, go to the USADA Web site and see how many times they have been tested. If it’s been under 10 times, then they more than likely haven’t been on the out-of-competition testing list. It’s just in-competition that they’ve been tested.

As far as the top, top guys: You are talking about drugs that were popular in like 1991. You are naming drugs that we know about, because they have been around for decades since they have been discovered. They are doing things far beyond what we will even know. Not only that: they can use stuff that is legal now and they have been so educated on it that it’s better than the stuff that’s illegal. So let’s talk about your thyroid. If you even out your thyroid levels and those endocrine hormones that regulate fatigue from overtraining, you will never crash. You will always continue to train, and you are talking about just one drug. If there’s a cocktail of things that do that that are legal and in combination, that work perfect in harmony to make you recover like there is no tomorrow, then what does that make you? You aren’t taking anything that’s banned. How would you ever protect against anything like that? The only thing that would be able to create something like that is money. You’d have lots of time and lots of money to be able to come up with that.

Do the math on it.

I can’t say what anyone else is doing. I have no idea. All is I can say with experience, is why would this person put me on the medication that I didn’t need unless he wanted to kill me or there is some advantage to being on it? It’s either one or the other. There is no other answer for it. He was going to kill me, he was a complete quack, or he knows something that everyone else doesn’t to benefit.

Who are you talking about?

I’m talking about Doctor Brown.

Did Doctor Brown want to put you on something that worried you?

I was having heart palpitations, man. I thought I was going to die. I was experiencing extreme negative side effects. And then when I spoke openly about it to say that I feared for my health. I had complete courage to speak against a physician who said they were expert. I’m being honest with you, because I have nothing to hide. I’m willing to be honest…and so I went and got second opinions and people told me that I shouldn’t be on anything. It was a red flag. I spoke up and said, “red flag.” I’m concerned about the people that I race against. If someone is going to cheat, that is their problem. I can’t do a damn thing about it. I get serious about it all I want, but all I can control is me. People that are young who want to compete now should look at it that way. If you are starting out, you shouldn’t be told you have to be a certain type of athlete. If you are told that then you should move on and find other people to be around.

Do you feel like the system is inherently corrupt? Is it shady? It sounds like there’s a group of people who are getting away with things.

If it was corrupt and shady, then no one would do it. Nobody would want to be a part of it. You’re looking at it from that pigeonhole perspective that I was for a long time. You’re racing against guys; you have expectations with your training and everything comes down to .48 seconds—Olympic Trials. You could get mad at people in front of me and say they were cheating. There were athletes who lost out to Regina Jacobs as far as making the Olympic team. And they can never have that Olympic moment back. They can get mad about it. It is what it is and there is corruption. But to know that those people missed out were 100%. And even though they lost out to Regina, they were better athletes for having run down someone who had to cheat to out run them. They ran to a higher level of fitness. I look at it that way. And if you look at it that way, you won’t get angry.

You just sort of say that they are going to take the money and the accolades. I could easy look like Mr. Comeback—someone who put my head down and trained really hard and really cheat. But you are talking about two different reasons to run: You run for money and ego or you are running for the self-satisfaction that comes with pursuing your real potential as a human being. Corruption or not, I’m running, baby. [He laughs.] I’m running. I don’t care what they do. All I can do is be the example. Here’s what it boils down to: No one is ever willing to say what needs saying, because you have to have this sponsor and if you potentially shut that door by being vocal, you will lose opportunities as USATF. You’ll lose opportunities with sponsors. You will make it more difficult for yourself. I’m saying things right now people can’t say, because I am sponsoring myself. We run a company called Reckless Running that affords me total freedom to race where I want to race and be the example that I want to be. I want to say that you can start your own company and be the runner you want to be and run with ethics in a righteous way. I don’t have to race at USATF meets anymore or any of their races. I’m completely relying on myself.

Does all this make you feel empowered to say what you want to say?

Yeah.

You’ve always seemed to be a rebel. You were a skateboarder. You are an artist. You had a Mohawk. You are you.

But I also attend weekly sermons at a Presbyterian church here—a very conservative church. Yes. I’m not one guy, though. People may think I’m a certain way. They just don’t know. The pastor of my church and I spend a lot of time together. I’ve been going to church for years. I don’t have to be as vocal about it. The bottom line is that even with this freedom, even when I did speak out on my personal blog to my fans to say this is where I was. This is why you didn’t hear from me and this is where I’m heading. I got 10,000 hits in a day on that blog and thousands of negative responses. But there are lots of positive responses. Because you get the instantaneous response now with the Internet and there’s a lot of negativity with these race sites and stuff. People are just so afraid to be honest. People reference Prefontaine all the time as the hero of this sport, but they don’t really want to put themselves out there, because you’re going to get criticized. I’m just being me. I’m not anything special.

The whole point of my career is that I’m this broken-down wimpy-like kid from Long Island who everyone said I didn’t have the ability—wouldn’t give me a scholarship; wouldn’t give me much as a pro. They say my VO2 max is nothing and turned their back. They didn’t open doors. I was able to change their opinion. I got some help. The people who did invest in me, I was so loyal to. I performed so, because I had this drive. That is anybody’s story.

Anybody.

Any one runner can do that. Everyone I talk to I tell them they have the potential to be an Olympian. They look at you cross-eyed. If you had told me that in the 1980s and 1990s, I’d have told you you were totally insane. That’s the whole point. Anyone can get there. I’m being honest about it. I’m not trying to say, “Don’t try to be me; I’m a baller.” That’s the new message out there “I’m the guy. I’m the man. I have all the money. I got the best contract. I run for the best brand. I have the best times.” No, man. I like the other people running well, too. We bust our ass here at Reckless Running. We make stuff in our garage—my wife and me. We do it right. It’s a sustainable brand. We keep it in the United States. A lot of the stuff we give for free. Our brand ambassadors are people that you would never call elite. They have something about them that’s unique. I care a lot about running and what other people do.

People ask me all the time if my son [15-month old Fam Rex] will be a runner. I think about what you said earlier. I think about the corruption thing and is this sport going to turn into cycling where everyone knows that these guys are cheating and they have that expectation when they start. He’s not going to do it. I’ll have him run, but he’s not going to compete against any of these guys. We will do solo time trials for the rest of his life and just see if he can beat his dad.

There are things that I say that help things move forward and progress and break the chains—the cycle of what’s been—and people ask me how I will solve these things in running. You got to have people that are living the way things have to change. It’s really hard to be an inspiration from rock bottom. It’s hard to build a brand from the ground up instead of just doping and throwing your brand in front of everyone’s face.

Doing things the right way is very challenging. It’s hard for me to accept any interviews, because it’s hard for me to understand what their specific agenda is.

You haven’t answered my question yet about your plans. Where are you in four years? Where are you in two years with the Olympic cycle? Are you going to focus on the steeple or the marathon?

It’s kind of like being asked before you race, “What do you think you’re going to run?” I’m not psychic. Even if I told you, then suddenly, I have to either run that fast or it’s a failure. So a guy like me, I just want to run fast and let things develop organically. I don’t want to put an agenda in front of myself. I have specific goals. My goals are I’d love to make another Olympic team. I really wanted to do it in the steeplechase one more time, but it really wasn’t meant to be. Things went down so negatively with that Trials situation, I just didn’t want to be part of it anymore—not that I didn’t want to be a part of racing or competing. People don’t know that I didn’t try to insert myself into that race, the steeplechase [2012 Olympic Trials].

When I found out that there were going to be guys in the race from my region, which [Zap Fitness coach] Pete Rea had a guy in front of me that was going to get bumped and not make the heats. I petitioned for them to add people to the heats. I was the returning champion. I said that these guys would have made it in the past with the times that they were running. There’s no reason you can’t have one or two extra guys in the steeplechase when you are running three heats. It makes no sense at all to bump them out. Pete found out about it and he was thankful. When he heard they [USATF] wouldn’t do it, he specifically told me to appeal. I really didn’t want to. Then Weldon Johnson called me, saying I should appeal. When he made the announcement, the people, the fans who supported me wanted me to appeal. I did the appeal. I had no idea that the appeal process was so corrupt and that there was so much corruption going on there as far as those people making those decisions.

You can’t speak out against the machine without the machine fighting back against you. Why would I want to be a part of that? The way it’s structured, it’s hard for me to invest four more years.

You mentioned the machine. In one of your videos you have Rage Against the Machine playing. Do you feel like there’s this big track machine and you’re against it?

There’s no rage, man. I’m just a guy who will speak out.

But was there a rage? You had this intense music playing.

I didn’t produce that video.  

So there’s no rage.

There’s no rage. I read the Bible. What you are talking about is intensity. You’re talking about working out and doing what we runners do. That’s self-abusive. You are putting your body through incredibly difficult forces and elements that are not necessarily healthy. The element is not anger; it’s intensity. You’re just comparing to the rhetoric that’s out there for that sort of thing. I like what Bruce Lee said, which is, “You don’t punch out of anger; you punch with anger, fear, or love.” If you stick with anger, you get your tail kicked.

You’ve been alluding to going to church and reading the Bible. Are you Christian? In Run Reckless, I thought you appeared to be a Buddhist.

Yeah, I’ve been going to church for a while now. I’ve been going to church every Sunday for a long time. I even spoke at my church after the Trials. I just don’t publicize it. I studied Buddhism in depth. I read the Bible every day. It’s just about living a compassionate life. I’m not here to say there’s a way to lead your life. I’m here to say to live with the tools that you are given: legs, a set of lungs, a body that works in a physical way and so my job is to find information and ideas that help me contribute to people’s lives. That’s a difficult thing when the world is very materialistic. The reward from running is very intangible. You find ways to emphasize that. I can’t just come to you and give you my running philosophy and have not done my homework.

As someone who’s read up on Christianity and Buddhism, do you find a common bond between the two religions in terms of embracing suffering?

There are so many intricacies. Buddhism is a philosophy; it’s not really a religion. There are people that argue it the other way, but if you read Buddhist literature, people will say it’s a way of life and not a religion. You’re talking about ideas of living and basically it comes down to altruism. In a day and age where it’s all about self-inflation—Facebook and imagery of one’s self. I was reading a passage in the Bible. I believe it was in John where Jesus was washing his disciples’ feet. You are talking about the Son of God washing the feet of filthy men. It’s about serving other people. As a runner, how am I serving you? By running fast and putting money in my bank account? I want you to worship me? Instead, I’m looking at it differently. I’m breaking it down and building it from the ground up—as a businessperson, as an entrepreneur, as an athlete, as a father, as a husband. I’m just a runner. I’m very privileged to do this—to have made a living doing this. How can I take my experiences and affect people? I think you get such a quality of life by simply putting one leg in front of the other.

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