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Updated September 25, 2018
I'm really curious about how the culture that we live in, the society that we live in, shapes and structures our notions of the world around us. It's a perspective that I bring to my participation in sport, I like to be introspective about the decisions I make and the activities that I do.
Many of our conversations center around actionable interventions for peak performance, but something we've been wanting to dive into is the more philosophical side of fitness and how it ties in with our society.
We question and explore running philosophy with Samuel Robinson, who holds a Ph.D. in history and is a centerpiece in the endurance here in the Bay Area. His writing, published on outlets such as Outside Magazine, focuses on the culture, experience, and inner lives of endurance athletes and uses sport as a lens that provides otherwise unseen perspectives around us.
Check out Sam's work, which includes a weekly newsletter detailing upcoming local Bay Area events & hot news in endurance sport.
We're always looking at and engaging with some sort of content throughout our lives, like cyborgs always stuck on our screens. When I'm running it's the one moment where usually I'm a little unplugged, and you can let your mind take the direction it wants to go.
Geoff: Hey Sam, thanks for coming on the program.
Sam: Geoff, thanks so much man, I appreciate it.
Geoff: So you have a kind of an interesting background and fill us in here.
Geoff: Where it sounds like you come at performance and physiology from a very philosophical and thoughtful framework, which resonates with me personally as someone who isn't an athlete or isn't a solider but comes from an engineering, physics sort of background, applying that lens towards human performance. Curious to hear your perspective and how you think about this space here.
Sam: So, I come from a background in the humanities. I just recently finished up my doctorate at U.C. Berkeley in the History department of all places.
Sam: Which is maybe a little bit different from some of the folks that you've chatted with. But I'm from books and words, and literature and philosophy and intellectual history and culture. I did my dissertation on materiality in early modern England, which is roughly England between the years of 1500 and 1800. From Columbus to the Revolutions, but I was really interested in the intersections of culture and science. My dissertation is on how there are all these messy intersections, particularly in the 17th century, the puritan we would call that. The early enlightenment when people began to think really hard about the human body. And the way-
Geoff: So is that like Newton, era.
Sam: Yeah, a little bit before Newton but guys who were preceding him. And I was always really interested in the real marginal figures, real kind of wacky guys, your fellows who are, your vegetarians, wondering why they were, decided to not eat meat, your disectarian thinkers who had some off the wall thinking.
Sam: But that's sort of the background that I come from, and as an undergrad I double majored in history and philosophy.
I'm really interested in ideas and why people think about their ideas, and what their motivations are for thinking about the thoughts that they have and what could be the historical influences upon them.
And that's the perspective that I bring to a lot of the writing that I do outside of academia. I'm really curious about how the culture that we live in, the society that we live in shapes and structures our notions of the world around us, and it's a perspective that I bring to my participation in sport, I like to be kind of introspective about why I make decisions and the activities that I do, that I make. So that's sort of a general sense of where I'm coming from in terms of intellectual trajectory and background, I don't know, does that help a little bit? In terms of, yeah.
Geoff: Yeah, no, I'm a big history reader. I think it's something that's underrated perhaps in modern discourse.
Geoff: Where, I think there's this depth to understanding how the discourse is set today by like just typical structures and dialogue that we just take for granted.
Geoff: And I think seeing how these structures came into place I think is important. Because what are the assumptions that's baked into, like what is post modernism mean?
Sam: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff: What are all these terms that are sort of bandied out in common discourse? And I think, if you don't have the history for it, you're just not equipped to engage in a thoughtful discussion. You're basically playing with legos when people are building structures with steel.
Sam: Yeah, you're way ahead of the curve when you're thinking of it like that, as these sort of conversations that are evolving and changing to reflect the world around us, right? And we are very much sort of thrown into conversations that are already happening.
Sam: And knowing what those narratives are and how they've changed gives you a real leg up in sort of how you can understand the world around you. History is not just like facts on the page, history is people debating about the meaning of the world around them by using the resources of the past.
Sam: And so you know, you see, that's why the conversations always shifting, people are looking at the same stuff that people have looked at before sometimes but then trying to say new things with it. And that's always a very exciting, that the same resources that people were looking at 200 years ago can mean different things given the problems that we're facing today.
Sam: And so that has always been something that I've found very invigorating and energizing that there's always new interpretations, new arguments that can be teased from the world behind us. And new things to be discovered as well. Sometimes it is terra incognita, sometimes it is new knowledge, new stuff that we've found and that's particularly exciting. But even when it isn't, those resources can help us maybe understand the world around us as its changing in real time.
Sam: So yeah, and so those are some of the motivations that got me into it. It's sort of the way I think, so when I write stuff about distance running or modern sport, it's kind of the frame work that I'm thinking about, or that I have looking ahead.
Geoff: No I mean a part of me just thinks if I didn't focus more on technical side I think studying philosophy would be a very fun activity, I mean that's kind of what I do as a hobby actually just like pull up Russell Bertrand's History of Western Philosophy, just like read through that.
Geoff: I just think it's important to understand what is Adam Smith capitalism, what is that actually. Again these are topics that everyone kind of assumes and no one actually really understands it.
Sam: Yeah, like the invisible hand is the most misinterpreted slogan in the history of the world. But yeah, you're right.
Geoff: But I'm just actually curious, I mean I think we could talk about philosophy, I think that could be kind of, a lot of time.
Geoff: I'm actually curious in terms of, perhaps for the sake of this conversation, focusing on human performance and sports. Eventually just expanding out to broader cultural discussion.
Geoff: I mean I think it's that's of interest to you.
Sam: Yeah, lets.
Geoff: So what was your partial interest in sport? I mean it sounds like your wife is a trainer in the sports world.
Geoff: How did your personal tract become an intersect from a history and philosophy angle into sport?
Sam: How did I get into, so I'm a distance runner, but I've done a lot of different things, I think I got into sport more generally in the way that a lot of middle class kids in the 90s did. You know, grew up in the suburbs of a medium sized town and as middle class parents often did in the 90s, I did like the four sports throughout the year, throughout the season right? So I did the swimming in the summer and then soccer in the fall and then basketball in the winter and then baseball in the spring, and it's like you're going to do these things so that your well rounded and have good character.
Geoff: Yeah, similar background for me.
Geoff: I stuck with tennis but I remember doing like little league, what, like tee ball? I don't think I, yeah, it was like tee ball, then you've got some soccer.
Geoff: You've got some basketball, it was, yeah.
Sam: Yeah, yeah. But you know, as like a 110 pound kid in high school there was going to eventually be a limit to my progress in some of these sports. Not going to be playing basketball. I really enjoyed soccer, I thought for a long time in middle school and high school, as it so happens my interest began to narrow a little bit and become a little bit more specialized and I joined club teams and was playing on some of these sports and got very interested in trying to see how far I could go in these things.
But with these team sports they're real limits to how far you gan go given the opportunities that are around you and the quality of your team. And there was going to be a point where I was going to either get more guidance or search out a stronger club or something. And I don't think I knew enough to even be able to get there. And I grew up in this kind of ex urban town near Charlotte, North Carolina. It wasn't like the bay area where there's such a strong, cutthroat competition in all of the different sports, right?
Geoff: Was like the military just more of like a route of competition then, because obviously there's quite a bit of that.
Sam: There is a lot of military in the south. I think what it was I mean my mom grew up as a distance runner and so she competed in high school on cross country and track and field teams and then competed in college. So there was sort of this, oh, well you're always a really good runner. And I played positions in soccer like midfield and things like that. So one spring, because there wasn't, I guess, there wasn't soccer in the season I wasn't playing soccer or something. I jumped on the track and field team. And actually didn't do that well in the big scheme of things. I was okay as a freshman, but it was not like brilliance.
But it wasn't until I think my sophomore year of high school a cross country coach went, we really need somebody for, it was a small school, it's kind of a rural area, distance running wasn't very big in the south in the 90s, and I just jumped into it and did pretty well and was rewarded. And that positive feedback in terms of finishing in the top of like a county meet, and towards the top of a conference meet and then a sectional meet and a regional meet, and then qualifying for the state championships.
That kind of positive reinforcement was really important in changing directions and getting into the sport, and it happened at a time, when you're a teenager you're a teenager you're looking for your identity and I began to see that as a path.
And so then the rest is sort of, it's sort of history, I jumped all in on doing distance running, so cross country in the fall and track and field and then my junior, senior year, started trying to, you know, I was like, I'm going to do this in college come hell or high water. I was really fascinated, so this is a very long winded way of saying how'd I go from the history thing to the running stuff and as I was doing that I was really interested in the ways in which the sport was what people in the middle ages would have called a habitus, a regime of practice. I was fascinated by training. I was fascinated by learning about the physiological changes that you could induce upon your body. I was fascinated by how the very act of running for miles and miles would physically and psychologically shape myself. I didn't have a vocabulary for that, in fact the only vocabulary I had for those kind of changes was like Darwinian, just because I'd read in a biology textbook.
Sam: So I remember my AOL, back when AOL instant messenger was a thing.
Sam: But way before Facebook. And my AOL handle, or AIM handle, instant messenger handle, was that?
Geoff: AIM, yeah.
Sam: Yeah AIM, evolving runner, because I wanted to evolve into the best distance runner-
Geoff: I mean it's more of a Lamarckian right? Because like-
Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Geoff: Because it would be technical right? Because Lamarck was like-
Geoff: Within an individual's lifespan you kind of shift your.
Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Geoff: It was kind of like, I think in modern context epigenetics vs. genetics, where Darwin is more of an intergenerational, so evolution. But you're talking about like altering yourself within one lifespan.
Sam: I would never had the ability to have made that distinction between Lamarck and Darwin at 17, but I was intuitively interested in it.
Sam: And interested in using myself and my body as the tableau in which that was going to happen. And as happens, right? This is fed into I think a lot of people who get into the sport, into these performance oriented sports are type A personalities, we're very goal oriented.
There are dangerous bits of that as well. I had a little bit of body dysmorphia and struggling a little bit at a period of time in terms of making sure I was eating well, and I became a little more fixated on weight.
Geoff: So you were trying to gain weight or lose weight?
Sam: Lose weight.
Sam: Yeah, stay thin. It never got to the-
Geoff: Which is kind of the opposite problem for men usually.
Sam: Yeah, yeah, although not uncommon.
Sam: Particularly in distance running.
Geoff: Makes sense, yeah.
Sam: Where there's a real emphasis on leanness and body fat ratios and oxygen output to muscle. So I don't want to suggest that I've had a long struggle with eating disorders or anything like that. People do.
And it's especially acute among female distance runners. But it affects men as well, and so there was a little bit of that, like at the edges of this.
Sam: Now I'm more aware of it and eventually I became cognizant of that, I was like okay, it's time to eat dinner, we need to address this and make sure that this doesn't become, it's becoming a performance detriment I think was what I began to realize.
Sam: And so got over it that way. But, so that's sort of the personal thinking that got into it and took me on the path of running in the NCAA in college and then running post collegiality and continuing the trajectory that I am now. I think this is my 20th year of running at a competitive level.
Geoff: What's the distance? What's your jam?
Sam: I'm kind of becoming an old cagey veteran now, and so marathon, half marathon.
Sam: I still do some of the shorter stuff.
Sam: I'm scared to step on the track now, to do 5K's and 10K's because there's always young kids who are showing up right out of college and they've got the fast twitch turnover and those things are harder to hold on to. But I'm a little bit stronger than I was.
Geoff: Yeah what are your times, to just give a sense of.
Sam: So I'm, I guess what you would call a respectable amateur.
Sam: So I ran a Calendar National Marathon last December with a small personal best of 2:28:20 I think.
Geoff: Which is averaging sub six minute miles.
Sam: Yeah I think it's around like 5:40 something.
Geoff: That's impressive. That's moving.
Sam: Yeah, I was on pace to run around like 2:25, 2:26, and the last four miles were a little tough. The night before I flew across the country, I had a death in the family and so I was like going, you got to get back for the home team regardless of whether you have a peak race, so I was coming back and I was really, really, tired in that race, and felt it in the last little bit. So pretty happy regardless. And in a half marathon I've run a 1:08:30 ish, 1:08:32 I think.
Sam: Which is probably a little bit faster relative to the marathon time.
Sam: But I was right out of college.
Geoff: So you're speedy, I mean you're very, very competent runner.
Geoff: This is not like amateur.
Sam: Right, yeah.
Geoff: How many miles a week are you running then?
Sam: It depends where in the training cycle. Nowadays I usually don't go over 100 miles a week very often. This week for example, I'm building up again for CIM for California International Marathon, which is about 14 weeks out this week. And so this week I'm going to be at about between 86 to 88 miles depending on how far I can go tomorrow, I got a plane flight to catch. And so it's like whether, you know. But it's a lot.
Geoff: Yeah, no, I mean you're definitely moving.
Geoff: And it's been fun because I've been kind of just getting into running where I'm doing maybe, you know.
Sam: What kind of events have you been running?
Geoff: I just did a half marathon about a month, I did the SF half marathon.
Sam: Oh did you do the first half or the second half?
Geoff: The second half.
Sam: The second half, I've done that, yeah. It's a screaming downhill after the park right?
Geoff: It was a nice afternoon out or a nice morning out, did under two hours so. I think I had to get under two hours.
Geoff: But you could almost lap me there, so.
Sam: But these, the time barriers are important, they count for a lot. So what do you think, would you, you want to keep staying with the sport in terms of developing your abilities in it?
Geoff: Well I think this is where the philosophical side kind of plays into it where again my background has always been in tennis.
Geoff: That's what I grew up playing, hated cross country.
Geoff: It's like one of those things were in high school you could either like, you got to play something on the off season, right?
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Geoff: I was maybe going to do cross country because it seemed like the reasonable thing to just boost an aerobic base, but then I just like waved out of it because you can, if you're like playing tennis at a high level, high enough level whatever.
Geoff: You could just like do your independent tennis practice.
Sam: I'm training, I'm training in tennis.
Geoff: So that's what I ended up doing. But I think in recent, probably the last year or so as we're engaging in the human H.V.M.N. community with runners, triathletes, soldiers, it became kind of a primal thing.
It seemed like I wasn't like a proper human being if I couldn't like run a few miles. I think the typical American or typical modern human doesn't really run at all.
If they do run it's like, I talk to my peers, you know, just like everyday office workers, they might run like a mile on the treadmill before lifting some weights.
Geoff: And that's like the status quo.
Geoff: And when you're talking to soldiers, they're doing like, their ten mile, 13 mile rucks every day.
Geoff: As part of like, this is like a baseline level of fitness.
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Geoff: And then you have to just think about us evolutionarily, like how can we be so weak where we can't even move for like 20 minutes.
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Geoff: So that just got me thinking like we should have some sort of standard for ourselves in terms of just like baseline aerobic capacity. And that just got me down the route of like okay, let's put in 15, 20 miles a week, let's put in, let's start running some timed events.
Sam: It's really important to build up too. Everything that's new, it's not a learning curve, it's an adaptation curve.
Sam: So if you throw way too much on to yourself, like if you were to jump up to 80 miles a week, I would, if I had, if I were a betting man Geoff, I would say you'd probably get hurt.
Geoff: I'd break my ankles, yeah.
Sam: But it is definitely something that folks can, like you can do more.
Sam: It's always, and obviously there's the balancing of life and work and things like that.
Sam: And running a business that you guys are doing that comes into factor. But one of the reasons I like the sport is because it's so democratic. There's really not that many barriers to jumping into it.
Sam: It's a pair of shoes. And those are, they're pricey, but you can get into those and then that's all. And it's easy to fit into a schedule, it's easy to do regardless of location.
Sam: And yeah, there are like places where you shouldn't, you can't go running. The bay is a great place for training, we've gotten a little bit of a preview of what it's like when there are environmental factors with all these wildfires, the air qualities been a little bit bad as of late, that's the case in other parts of the world. But we're very blessed generally to live in a country and place where there are opportunities for it, and I think it's just about, as you said, we're a very sedentary culture, it's about figuring out ways in which we can encourage that and make it more widespread so that the status quo isn't jogging uncomfortably on a treadmill for a mile before pumping some weight and then sitting in our cars and moving to our office where we sit for another eight hours, we get back in our car, sit for an hour to go back to eat our microwaved food.
Geoff: And I think as someone that's not like a professional athlete or was a serious athlete, like I was like considered great.
Geoff: Like you're at least going out there a few times a week to do something active, and I think, and I think that's something that I've realized in terms of culture.
Geoff: That's like not good enough, we should set higher standards of expectations for ourselves. We need a new perspective.
Sam: Yeah, do you think it's setting higher standards or do you think it is trying to figure out ways to make those activities easier to do. Because we're basically saying like, how to make people more healthy. Lives of movement, lives of physical worth.
Sam: Is it about creating standards or is it about, because I kind of think of it as about lowering the barriers of entry, is sort of the perspective that I see, like making it easier, to where it's, yeah.
Geoff: But I think your argument is saying, like it's freaking easy to just go outside and like run around the block seven times.
Geoff: I think that's one of the things I think running is so pure, it is so primal.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: You don't need a hundred dollar tennis racket, like that was, I was pretty blessed where my parents could afford to put me through tennis, get me on the court. I mean some of the best runners are East Africa, they're just out there running.
Sam: Correct, yeah. And so I think maybe some of it is becoming a bit evangelical about the sport itself, about the activity.
Sam: And not just pitching it to folks like you and I, but thinking, this is something that's accessible.
Geoff: Yeah, well I'm not talking about historical perspective, maybe you can add some color here.
Sam: Right yeah.
Geoff: This maybe you've read more about this, but it seems to me that in the last 20, 30 years with this sort of everybody's a winner culture, PC culture, you can't say, hey, you're slow Bobby or Jane, like you need to run faster. You might be a little bit overweight and that's not healthy for you, just run. And if you don't run a certain amount, maybe don't get like an A in physical education.
Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Geoff: Is that like, I sense that from a cultural perspective and just how we engage with people. I think the beauty of America is that there's like multicultural, there's multiple paths of life and I think that's the beauty of America but I'm just wondering, has it started to backfire in the sense where there's no longer some sense of direction? To me there is some truth that as a nation state, if you want to encourage a more healthful society, there is just some direction that we should be encouraging more than other directions.
Sam: Yeah, I think a lot of it would be about, I don't know if it's the participation culture, participation award culture problem as it is trying to create opportunities of, for these activities that are actually more inclusive as opposed to less inclusive. And I say that because I come from a place relative, of real privilege, particularly growing up in the south where you could see where, as we mentioned right, we both come from that, every sport a season family.
Sam: Where that was very much, find your passions, right?
Sam: And I don't think a lot of Americans to say specifically get those opportunities. And so figuring out ways to make those interests evident to others, to show, here are the places in which you can do it. And a good example of that, that's happening in real time now across the bay, is Running for a Better Oakland, which is this non profit that's oriented by the runners of Oakland, I mean their running clubs are literally volunteering to do this, to show students from underprivileged backgrounds, like this is how easy this is.
Sam: Here are the resources that can do it, here are the spaces, these public spaces that belong to you, where you can do this. And that is incredibly powerful.
Sam: And I think it will display to a wider demographic of people, some of the real not just advantages, but real benefits that these activities can do. And so I'm hopeful about that, and so figuring out ways to like, not just create more of these organizations, because there's always another non profit, but figuring out ways to like really enable their work and to maybe expand upon it. And whether that means, I think it's a combination of social conversations like we're having now or political changes. Part of the reason it works is because Lake Merritt is a lot nicer of a place to run around than it was 20 years ago.
Sam: It's safe, it's cleaner, it's nicer, that took a real effort on the part of the city government. And so stuff like a collaboration of public and private interest, I think. And so yeah, there's probably a notion of where we need to be, we need to maybe stern up what it means to be fit.
Sam: And think a little bit about this. But I also think that it's about real engagements in the community around us that will show the benefits of these activities.
Geoff: Yeah, no I think you bring up a good point, I think those are the types of initiatives that we should be encouraging, where the role models, or just that you can't like necessarily just look up to Lebron James. Like his life is just unrealistic. But if there's local, on the ground community members that are just saying hey, it's not that hard to run three miles.
Geoff: It's not that hard to run around the park. And this is like, kind of what we do for stretching and I think my personal journey through running was I just didn't know how you could, like it was just painful to run for like an hour.
Sam: Right. Yeah.
Geoff: And I remember the first few times I think in our current culture if you're just like addicted to your phone.
Geoff: I want to like, I feel like, I need to just get some information, like what do you think about-
Sam: I'm missing something, yeah.
Geoff: Right, and like I remember asking Michael Brandt, who's a serious runner, getting more and more serious into running, like what do you think about all the time?
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: And I think that's what people would ask me, when you're running a half marathon, what are you thinking about, you're out on the road for an hour and a half, two hours, what are you thinking about. And it's just like, now it's like very meditative, reflective, like it's nice, you almost, I kind of miss that mental state of being.
Geoff: But I think people when they don't run enough are just getting into that hump where that's even comfortable.
Geoff: They don't, they say it's hard, they find it too hard to not do anything digital for 20 minutes and give up.
Geoff: So I think it's like people on the ground telling them like no, I was there, I'm you literally six months ago and I just did it a few times and powered through it and punched through it.
Sam: Yeah, it's interesting you talk about sort of the meditativeness of running. I had a professor I was talking a seminar with who found out that I was a pretty competitive runner.
Sam: And he kind of, asked well how many miles do you run, and I told him. And he's like oh my gosh, well you must think about a lot when you're running. And I remember, I'm like, actually I don't think about much at all. Or if I do think it's very, it's almost very flowing form of thought.
Geoff: Right, it's transient.
Sam: Yeah, it's not intensive.
Sam: But I think, I mean, when I think now, we are so, we're always looking at, we're engaging with some sort of content throughout our lives, cyborgs always sort of stuck on our screens and thinking about stuff, it's sort of flitting through our eyeballs.
When I'm running it's the one moment where usually I'm a little unplugged, and you can let your mind take the direction it wants to go.
Geoff: You're not listening to music right?
Sam: Sometimes I will when I'm really tired.
Sam: I'll use it, Mondays is sometimes my music day or podcast day, where just getting out the door, like if I've done a long, long run the day before and I'll be a little bit tired, just listening to some music can be helpful. So I'm not technology agnostic.
Geoff: You're not phobic?
Sam: Well I guess I'm technology agnostic, I'm not technology phobic, yeah.
Geoff: I like, I tore out all the earbuds.
Sam: All of it, nothing.
Geoff: Because it got distracting to me.
Geoff: I enjoyed like being in my own head.
Sam: I put the do not disturb on. I don't want the outside world getting in me. Except for your voice.
Geoff: But even like lyrics, like I don't want to like-
Geoff: I don't know, you're listening to some pop song and they're talking about love or listen to like Hamilton, talking about making America.
Sam: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Geoff: I'm trying to run. Too much.
Sam: Too much, too much, I'm trying to run.
Geoff: Too much, yeah. I'm trying to just run.
Sam: Yeah I get that. I guess I just, there's sometimes where I'm so tired that I just, I need a little bit of a distraction when I'm doing it. And I think it's especially in the heavy training cycle when it's like, oh I gotta go out for another ten miles.
Sam: And anything, like I don't want to do this.
Sam: And at a certain point when you're doing this heavy training there are going to be days you don't want to do it. It's not meditative, it's my stomach hurts, my legs hurt. So I think how to get people to that, I mean you're right, because I started in the sport so early, that I don't really remember, and I was always very active, you know, like when you're playing soccer you're running, I don't know how many miles in a game or a practice. So the transition from that to running wasn't very much and just as I was growing up I was doing more and more and kind of acclimating to the effort. But after college I had a lot of injuries though, in college and eventually reached the point my senior year where I was like, struggling to get out of bed and put my pants on, I was always so hurt.
And I walked away from it and got into cycling and was racing my bike for seven or eight months or so, not that long. But then when I came back from that, I remember like I was doing a ride and I had like crashed in a previous race and I was really worried, I was like you know, eventually my numbers going to come up, I'm going to break my femur, I don't know if I'm ready for that. I don't really have health insurance. So I biked back in the middle of this training run and was like, I think I'm done. And took off my bib and put on some running shorts with my bad cycling tan lines. I went out to go run my staple three mile loop that I did in my hometown.
Sam: And it was awful. Like my stomach hurt, and like my head hurt. I'd never had my head hurt from running before. But it finally gave me a sense of insight. This is why people complain about running, this is uncomfortable.
Sam: It took a couple weeks to get back into the groove.
Geoff: Get fully adapted again.
Sam: Yeah, so I empathize. And so yeah, but there eventually though, if you have, yeah.
Geoff: I think it's like telling stories.
Geoff: Yeah, it sucks for everyone.
Geoff: I think you talk to Michael you talk to some of the elite runners and yeah, it still sucks every time they're out there.
Geoff: It's still cold, if you're running at 6 AM before work.
Sam: It is still dark and cold and awful. I was out this morning before the sun rose, I guess in the fog, the smoke fog that we had this morning and I saw, it was weird I was out running on these trails, light was just beginning to pick up, and I saw this coyote that had killed an animal, it was dragging this animal out into the woods in the Oakland hills, and he was running down the trail, and he was just far enough away, I couldn't see what he was eating but I thought, I feel like that dead animal right now. It's so early.
Geoff: That's a funny realization.
Sam: I empathize with it, so.
Sam: But it gets better, not every day is like that.
Geoff: Yeah, what motivates you?
Geoff: I mean I think what motivated me was just like seeing my colleagues.
Geoff: Like they, like Michael wasn't a professional athlete but now he's doing like pretty reasonable times.
Sam: Right, yeah.
Geoff: And I just saw like, he's not a magic being but he just worked hard, had discipline.
Geoff: And then you talk to some of our customers how are athletes or military and again, like you talk to them, they're like a real human being.
Geoff: You look at like, you're like wow, you clearly have done a lot more than me but I understand that you're not a different alien to me.
Geoff: Like I feel like if I put in some time I could come within your range.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: And I think just seeing and being exposed to people from a very higher level it made it real to me that, yes. I can at least get within a realm of being in the same universe as you.
Sam: Yeah. I think of those folks as accessible heroes.
Sam: You know, they're there, you can empathize with them, you can relate to their lives.
Sam: You see they're similar to yours and they're inspiring, that you can do that. Yeah. I think that explains a lot of why in some of these more niche sports there are people who are very popular on social media who aren't necessarily the fastest folks out there, they're just the ones that you can empathize with, and relate to and sympathize with when they have difficulties. My motivations have changed a lot over the years, I was very self focused for a long time, personal improvement, personal best, getting, trying to be, become all conference, trying to become all region, trying to qualify for me, it's trying to get faster and faster and faster.
Sam: Now as personal bests are fewer and farther between, they're longer stretches of time between them, still happening, but not with the consistency that they had when I was 18.
Motivations have to change and sometimes it's trying out a new event, a new distance, trying to accomplish, conquer that 50K or an ultra marathon or something like that.
But also for me right now in particular I'm very community focused. I'm training with a group of folks in the east bay, we're known with sort of the quirky name, That's Fine Track Club, because if anything goes south, it's like well you know, that's fine. That's okay. So they're sort of cavalier and ironic about their approach to things. But, however we've got a really good training group going with a bunch of guys, some post collegiate, some guys who didn't run in college, some ladies who ran in college, some ladies who didn't.
Sam: And we're doing a lot of work together, and I see my role more and more as being maybe sort of the moral and motivational center for a number of people as opposed to just myself.
Geoff: And that's encouragement.
Sam: It's a big motivation, when you're-
Geoff: That's responsibility.
Sam: It's responsibility.
Geoff: To like be a good leader. Yeah.
Sam: When you need to be somewhere at six in the morning for a workout and you know people are depending on you to be there or at least expecting you to be there.
Sam: It's a strong motivation to get up even when you're tired and so now it's not so much personal goals that are really getting me going and getting through some of these hard workouts, it's trying to be part of the rising tide that lifts all the boats. And to just be a part of that. And so even when I don't perform as well as I want to, it's nice, it's just really rewarding to see some of my friends who I've been training with, doing these workouts with, when they succeed, that also, you feel it and it reflects on you as well. We did a 5K on the fourth of July, and I had a terrible race. It was not good, hip was bothering me a little bit and I was a little over trained, I was ready for a break, had been doing some races over the summer. But one of my friends he just, he won the thing. And he won it, his first time ever winning a race. That's so exciting.
Geoff: So you're just as excited for him, yeah.
Sam: First time he'd ever broken the tape, right?
Sam: And you've been training with this guy for a year and you just know he's never gotten the win and John won, and it was really, it's vitalizing, right.
Sam: Like okay, that's great, we all gain from that, and so that sense of trying to build that community, trying to work off this group dynamic is I think, there's a performance boost to that, when you know people are depending on you. I was, yeah.
Geoff: Well I was going to say, I think that makes sense in terms of, I think we both very much agree that accessible heroes I think is a good term. And that local support, that group dynamic is really helpful.
Sam: Right, yeah.
Geoff: I'm just wondering if we just extend this out to more of a political.
Geoff: Or structural changes, I mean.
Geoff: Would it be too extreme to say, look healthcare is a six of the American economy, outcomes are getting worse, costs are going up.
Geoff: What if you did something like, if you can run eight minute miles for five miles, which is something that like ranger battalions are sort of positioned to be.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: And you can hit that, maybe you get a tax break, or some sort of incentive.
Geoff: Would that be overly handed from a government perspective? I think that's something I've just been pondering recently.
Geoff: Because I think if you just look at the current style of medicine, it's very much treat symptoms.
Geoff: You are broken, all right, here are some pharmaceuticals.
Geoff: I think a lot of people realize that and are trying to make it a lot more lifestyle driven pre intervention type of a lifestyle change in the culture. Is it the place of government to even push that further along? I think most people would agree that community, individual, the grassroots movement seems very reasonable.
Geoff: People should be more and more doing that and then attract people towards your cause.
Geoff: What do you think from a historical or just like a political perspective?
Sam: Those are great questions, and they are big questions right now, as our healthcare system is a mess. It's actually a tragedy.
Sam: It's not a tragedy, it's a travesty. Tragedy implies some sort of, something that's out of your control, whereas healthcare is a political mess of somewhat of our own making. One worry that I would have about being overly technocratic in terms of incentivizing say like, if you can run a mile at a certain, I've thought this way, I've had this idea before. If you can incentivize folks to be healthy, you might end up rewarding the very folks who are already healthy to begin with, giving a tax break to the folks who at the moment can run an eight minute mile.
Sam: Or nine minute mile, which tend to be to use the policy of our time.
Geoff: So your fear is that you're making the-
Sam: You're making the-
Geoff: -movement by vacating the.
Sam: Exactly, you're widening the gap anyway.
Geoff: Widening the gap.
Sam: You're making the quote unquote coastal elites are just going to, of course folks like me who live in Oakland, with a degree, who know and have had all these opportunities, yeah they're going to, they'll get their tax benefit and they'll take their two hundred dollars and they'll buy some running shoes with it. So my fear would be that you would just widen the gap. So I think the problem would be, my father's a family physician. One of the things he talks a lot about is that in the last 20 to 30 years the thing that has declined has been the stuff that the market hasn't incentivized, which is not just responding to trauma or illness as you mentioned, like treating the symptoms not the larger problem, which is why all these chronic diseases, problems that have come out of.
Sam: Diabetes, obesity.
Geoff: Neurological conditions.
Sam: Exactly. Pain. These are problems of the late capitalist society that we live in and so how do you go about doing it? One of the issues has been the decline of day to day primary care.
We don't have the country doctor anymore, who knows who you are, who knows your name, who knows your habits, who can give you the kind of guidance with which you're used to. So one thing might be investing in that day to day coverage and care that we've begun to retreat from as we've been thinking about outcomes as opposed to lifestyles.
And I'm not policy expert on this front, so I don't want to riff too, too much anecdotally, but it does seem like, I don't know who my doctor is. I have like some fellow at Kaiser.
Sam: Actually his name might be Geoffrey. I talked to him once on the phone, I didn't even see him in person, I talked to him on the phone, because I was having like a sinus infection and he prescribed some antibiotics, great.
Sam: Great right? But, that guy doesn't know me and so it might be that one of the ways to think about it would be, how do you take that energy at the grass roots and stay at the grass roots, which is the point of contact, which is the point of human contact. How do you make the national local and the local national. Because that's where, people still believe in politics at the local level. Very few people dislike their mayor. It's interesting you take, like we're such a polarized, well maybe, in San Francisco and Oakland it can be a little bit different. In most of America, right, there's not a lot of animus towards your city council or your board of education.
Sam: It's because these are the people you get groceries with, they're people you know, you see them face to face and they're dealing with the problems of everyday life. So my sense is that, we probably maybe need to prove that government is not a swear word, and starting small and working up from there is probably going to be the path forward in this particular environment where things are so hyper partisan. Where any sort of a suggestion of government interference in the market is seen as anti state or socialism.
Sam: I think those are the trajectories you want to move towards, but I think the process has to be one of proving to folks, these lifestyles, this form of engagement that we see happening in other sectors of our lives, can be ported over to the problems of larger political import.
Sam: Does that make sense?
Geoff: Yeah, I mean.
Sam: I'm kind of riffing a little bit, so.
Geoff: Yeah, I mean, I don't think this is going to be solvable in a single conversation, I think, I mean to my extreme right, if you extrapolate where I'm going with okay, yeah, you have some government given incentives, then does that look like an authoritarian state, right? It's like where's that balance where, again I think, I mean, almost every single country's kind of an experiment.
Geoff: And I think the American experiment is beautiful in the sense that there is I think this binding notion of freedom of exploration.
Geoff: Capitalism in markets.
Geoff: I think a lot of stuff, all this innovation.
Geoff: But having some sense of community and social safety net.
Geoff: To make sure people don't overly fall to the wayside, I think all the politics comes from where is exactly that line?
Sam: Yeah, I don't see, I don't think the issue is creating a safety net but creating, like re meshing people to the communities in which they live. I think there's a real sense in which the institutions that used to bind us together have eroded to a great extent.
Sam: Which is why I've noticed people are just so hungry to do things together. Right?
Geoff: To join like communities.
Sam: To join communities.
Geoff: Or like listen to the conversation like ours.
Sam: Exactly. Listen to conversations like ours. They're hungry for that.
Sam: You know, like the November project, like the fitness group that meets in San Francisco, it's free. And there's one in Oakland as well, it's this group of people they meet at 6 AM in the morning before work, I think on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. It is huge, they call them tribes of people who get together, just sort of work out together, do kind of like, not necessarily functional fitness, but run a little bit, do some stairs, do some pushups and stuff.
Sam: People just want to be together. It almost functions in the ways in which the church used to, where it was not just belief in metaphysical understanding of the world, but people being together, right, and thinking about the world around them together.
Sam: And I think, I just feel it, I feel like folks are thirsty for that.
Sam: And so I don't think I have the solutions to that, I can identify the problem. That we need to think about how are these ways in which we can reconnect folks together and I think some of it are activities like we've been talking about, and I think some of it is figuring out ways to move those into other institutions, whether it's just like book clubs or town halls and community meetings and things like that where we stop seeing each other as partisan opponents and more connected to one another in the world in which we're living.
That sounds a little new age-y, but in the real term, in the real world of like connections of people on the ground, folks are hungry for it.
Sam: That's my perspective at least.
Geoff: Yeah I agree, I think that's why I think we've seen the growth of our community, I'm sure-
Geoff: Like the communities you're involved with, is I think the void between someone that can sort of talk them through or coach them through things, and I think-
Geoff: I think people are looking at podcasts.
Geoff: Or, I don't know if they're like gurus or whatnot, but people that are a little bit further on the journey, sharing their experiences and people can adopt and take some of these suggestions or patterns and incorporate into their own lives.
Geoff: I think that's what you see like the popular people like Joe Rogan or John Peterson.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: These types of intellectual dark web members where they're I think exploring the universe in their perception and their place in society and sharing their real thoughts about it, and I think people are like, they want to have that communication.
Geoff: Where I think probably in like the late 2000s, early tens, there's just talking heads, everyone giving you propaganda.
Geoff: I think people are now really realizing that let's actually get real again.
Sam: Yeah, it's interesting, so there was an article in The New Yorker by I believe her name is Susan Worthen.
Sam: And she's an associate professor at UNC, she works on 19th century religion.
Sam: And interested in these notions of community that are created around 19th century evangelical Christian religion.
Sam: But she wrote a piece in The New Yorker about the podcast bros, about Rogan, about I guess like you and I, having these kinds of conversations, Peter Sin, and I thought it was going to be this scathing critique.
Sam: And she doesn't pull any punches, she's like there's a reason why this is appealing to people and there's a reason why its mostly men, there's a little bit of magical thinking that's happening around this, but she concludes with this sense of, but, these folks are offering something that even if I disagree with some of the content that's being said, they're not trying to divide anybody, they're actually trying to create and reimagine a world that can bring people together and connect people in these communities of interest and activities of interest.
Sam: The criticism actually ends on a positive note, these folks are filling a need and creating a kind of conversation that we would be wise to pay attention to and maybe try to emulate in other kinds of conversations.
Geoff: Well I think it's important.
Geoff: Because I think this community creation, that need can either be filled by tribalism.
Geoff: Whether it's a long ethnic lines.
Geoff: Or religious lines.
Geoff: You kind of devolve back into ethno-states.
Geoff: Or you can create them around what I would say hopefully more modern, postmodern groupings right? Like around similar interests or similar goals.
Geoff: And I think that might be where modern society sits, where I think there is a danger and I think you see that with groups around racial lines being drawn.
Sam: Right, yeah.
Geoff: And that would be a very bad place for America to go towards, because I think the demographics are going to change.
Geoff: There will be, it will be a non white majority in 30 years, ish.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: I don't know, I mean I don't even, if there even a historical pattern of how a country shifts when you have such big demographic changes?
Sam: Yeah, it's, yeah, yeah.
Geoff: Like I guess, yeah, what is an example of that?
Sam: America in the 19th century. One of the things that, so we have such, our racial history is one that is the struggle of slavery, that dominates the narrative of American history. One of the things that gets subsumed in that some times is the history of Irish people and people that were emigrating in the 19th century.
Geoff: Oh so you're saying the white, wasp, English, dominant.
Sam: Right, watch like, yeah.
Geoff: Or majority-
Geoff: Is now, like Italians.
Geoff: And other now considered white people.
Sam: Yeah, again, I'm talking a little bit, way outside my expertise here, but some stuff that I've had to read for qualifying exams and things like that, so to put in pop culture terms, if you watch Gangs of New York.
Sam: Boy does that resonate. The nativism of the 19th century and in the early 20th century is something that, it's endemic to the history of the United States, it just tends to be something we didn't pay attention to because we were focused on other divisions.
Sam: Focused on the Civil Rights struggle in the 20th century. So the anxieties about immigration, anxieties about demographic change, they've been here before.
Sam: And we've gotten through them, but boy were they painful. And I think you're right, like we, I don't know if we're at, I don't want to use the word inflection point, I'm not sure, we may be. But it does seem like we are at a reshuffling where the globalism of the 90s and early on have really created-
Geoff: It's a backlash.
Sam: Yeah, in a number of ways. Yeah.
Geoff: I think you're right, I think we see that resurgence of that nativism again.
Sam: Right. Most certainly, most certainly.
Sam: And so the big debate is how to respond to that.
Sam: And that's sort of going to be an ongoing debate, it's an economic anxiety, it's a demographic anxiety right? Or is it a combination of the two?
Geoff: Combination of both, right.
Sam: Yeah and feeding off one another. And so the ways in which we respond to that are going to need to play out. In my little corner of the universe, so that's why I'm very committed to these things, these sort of community groupings that are happening on the east bay because they cut across those tribal lines and other communities of interest. And it's why I tend to be on the side of being more inclusive as opposed to less inclusive, particularly now as I'm slowing down with running.
Geoff: It makes sense, I mean I think if, I think the default reptilian brains like all right, I'm going to just group tribe around people that look like me.
Sam: Right, yeah.
Geoff: I think that's dangerous if we continued on that path.
Sam: Right, right, yeah.
Geoff: So I think we do need to just restrengthen bonds across ethnic lines and that it's a shared culture, shared values.
Sam: Yeah. I agree, yeah most certainly. It's interesting, I grew up in a part of the country where these anxieties were felt, you know, a little bit earlier than I think the national conversation itself was happening. In my hometown, the local textile mill, actually the brand still exists, Cannon Mills, you can get their towels at Target. So they made sort of basic textile sheets and towels and things like that. And that shut down in I think 1996 when I moved to Concord, North Carolina where I grew up. When I was in college, the local cigarette factory at North Carolina big hub of tobacco, well that factory shut down when I finished up college, I think the year I finished up college.
There were real implications to the globalization of the economy that came home to roost, and they manifested in ways you might imagine where it was really easy for resentment to bring hold.
When I was growing up the culture war was over gay people, and being outside in short shorts made yourself a little big of a target, particularly if you're a young guy running around high schools and things like that.
Geoff: Yeah, especially runners who are relatively lean and yeah, yeah.
Sam: Yeah you're lean, you look vulnerable, you're out there by yourself, it's hot, you're not wearing your shirt, very little of your body is covered and that code says gay, or it did in the late 90s and early aughts. I go home now though I don't feel it as much. Things have change, in least in that sector of things.
Geoff: I believe it.
Sam: I don't get nearly, I don't get heckled as much, nearly as much as as I used to.
Sam: So I do think that people change. Humanity is defined by change, as a historian, right, history is the study of change over time.
Sam: And so things will, that is the one constant. So things will continue to change, it's just a matter I think of doing the work to move the needle in the direction we want and it takes real engagement, so yeah, that's why I like conversations like this, which I think help.
Sam: I hope they help.
Geoff: Well I think part of it is reflecting truth. I think people know when people are bullshitting or just overly PC, I think that's started to boil over where people are starting to react negatively against that and I think hopefully my sense is that if people just see more clearly, and talk to the facts more clearly, rational people can come together and say okay, here are the set of facts and here's what we should do about them. Maybe the method to solve or resolve these facts can be different given where people come from, but I think the facts should be the same.
Sam: Yeah, yeah.
Geoff: And then hopefully when people just talk about how people perceive back, and like the discrepancies in how people see things will hopefully disappear right?
Sam: Yeah, the thing about facts is they're always put in narratives.
Geoff: Right, that's what I'm saying, like can you-
Sam: Yeah, how do we-
Geoff: Can we have a conversation where you just talk about numbers.
Geoff: Or things that are like quantifiable.
Sam: This is the computer scientist in you coming out right now.
Geoff: Well yeah maybe that's overly naïve but then can we just bifurcating it that little bit where instead of interpretation in fact and narrative all in one.
Geoff: Can we at least agree a set of numbers and trendlines.
Geoff: And then from there can we apply different lenses of analysis.
Sam: I would hope so, I mean objectivity is a staple in western civilization for a long period of time.
Geoff: Yeah, now it's kind of getting dealt with like alternate facts, but I would like to think that at some level there has to be some agreement.
Geoff: In terms of how we communicate.
Geoff: If we don't say that this is one cup than I can't say anything to you.
Sam: Correct, yeah.
Geoff: Because there's nothing to talk about if we just cannot agree on some, if there's no objective reality.
Sam: Right. Then where are we?
Geoff: Then how do we communicate.
Sam: Yeah it's sort of the George Orwell worry of like, if you can convince someone that two plus two is five then all bets are off.
Geoff: I can't talk to you. Yeah, I can't talk to you.
Sam: Yeah, I agree, I agree.
And I wonder, maybe of one of the issues is finding the baseline that cuts across some of these disagreements, what's the thing we can agree on and then working up from there.
What are the values that we have and then working from there. And trying to dig down deep to where even there are things closer to the top that divide us, there's probably something at the core where we can dig down to. You can't argue with crazy, right, so there's going to be a few folks who might just have got off, you're not going to convince them. But I think there's probably a core set of values, a core set of truths that I would hope we can get down to and work from. Maybe it's numbers, maybe its quantifiable data, Americans are very-
Geoff: Americans are fat.
Sam: Americans are oriented around fat, oriented around science, we're oriented around numbers and business. And so the business of America's business, someone said that once, right? I don't remember who it was. So there's probably some places with which we can work from. It may not even be a matter of bifurcating it might be a matter of digging down to find the core and then working up from there.
Geoff: I think so, I mean I think just in my personal relationships and business career that seems to be the only real way to resolve conflict. Okay, like what base thing can we actually agree upon.
Geoff: And why are we diverging? At a certain point there's got to be something that we agree upon. If there's nothing to agree upon then we can't do anything together.
Geoff: But can you retract and reverse the thinking to some commonality and then understand, okay, why have you chosen to go left when I chose to go right? And then compare the methodology of why that decision happened.
Sam: You guys are in a business where it feels like there's that level of, like supplements and diet, people can tend to be pretty tribal about that.
Geoff: Oh man it's super dogmatic.
Sam: Isn't it crazy?
Geoff: It is religious.
Sam: The dogma, yeah dogmatism is actually a good way of putting it right?
Sam: Yeah. How do you approach it then when you come across someones ingrained notion about the way the human body works and you're trying to change someones mind. What are the tactics you use? How do you begin to have that conversation? You guys are a little iconoclastic I would, maybe not iconoclastic but, yeah.
Geoff: We're almost classic in the sense where we're just reverting to being scientists and engineers.
Sam: Uh-huh (affirmative). Okay.
Geoff: And science is a pursuit and truth and they're not untouchable idol in our realm of understanding human performance.
Geoff: And I think we are attracted to and attract people that think in the same way of actually measuring and testing these things in practice. So I think, I know on thing that's really, really dogmatic in the nutrition space is, low carb, high fat, keto, with like carbohydrate. I mean, I'm sure that especially as a runner that's something that you think about too.
Sam: The classic battle.
Geoff: It's a religious holy war.
Geoff: I mean I don't know if you follow Tim Noakes and the whole ketogenic athlete, the evil side of things and then you have all these folks that look at gold standard carbohydrate as the one true path. And maybe this where the clash can resolve is that there's truth to both, like I don't think these people are dumb.
What Tim Noakes is seeing, whatever the low carb people are seeing, there is some truth there, and what the carb people are seeing there's some truth there, and I think what people are realizing is that: You prioritize, you cycle these things and there are different goals for different people, and for different parts of their lives.
Like if you are trying to be a maximal athlete and trying to win the Olympics, you're going to have a very, very, different protocol than someone who's 45 and trying to stay and be competitive. I think people like structure and authority which is why it attracts me to say that hey, maybe we should just set a simple standard for people to aspire to.
Geoff: Maybe that just like pushes the social community in a direction that you seem, that you think is reasonable, because I think humans for better or for worse are seeking authority and seeking structure.
Geoff: And I get why because it sucks being in a certain world but I think it's embracing uncertainly and having a challenging discussion per case.
Sam: I would imagine part of the reason why folks are searching for, they're searching for an authority because you want to rely on somebody else's expertise because you don't want to have to be the expert, right. So there's that seems like that's the case, it's convincing someone to take, maybe not chances right, but sort of experiment a little bit with their own lives, with their own diet with their own supplement, right? I think about myself and now I think I'm a little bit more receptive to that when I was when I was 20.
Sam: When I was like no, no, no, this is what my diet needs to be. If it's not this, but then again I was also like wearing the same underwear the day before races and the same socks out of superstition right. You get your routines and your patterns, you think it works for you. Actually a better example of this and how that can begin to blind you, is the running shoes I wore. Back in the 90s there was a paradigm of you need stability, you need arch support in your shoes, and there was a spectrum of arch support that you had to get under your feet. And at one point, I don't know why or why the person fitted me like this, oh you need a strong stability shoe. They put me in this shoe, basically had a wedge of hard foam underneath the arch of my foot.
Sam: For eight years, I ran with this wedge of hard foam underneath the inside of my feet, and what happened, I had like lateral pain on the outside of my leg for eight years. Like my IT band-
Geoff: The shoe salesman just messed you up.
Sam: Sort of. But why didn't I ever question it? Right, why did I defer to the expertise of the shoe expert and eventually and it took me like working, thank god for the recession, the only job I could get after college was working in a shoe store, working in specialty running shoe store. I sort of learned about it, looked at my own feet, like, can you look at my feet? Had somebody else look at my feet, like you know what, I don't think I need this arch support here. Since then that paradigms began to break down a little bit, now we sort of realize, well okay, maybe it's not just support, maybe it's in the activities we're doing, maybe the foot functions a different way, maybe we shouldn't be so worried about support, maybe we should be worried about other things, right. And you know it's a business, so the marketing will reflect some of that as well.
Sam: But that is a great example where I wish I had been more willing to, not just question authority but take some chances in terms of being in my own performance perspective, and so and I got out of those shoes and I haven't had that lateral side pain anymore, that's why I was on the bike at one point was all of this. It helped a lot. And so I think it's hard that we get set in our ways, we know what we know.
Geoff: Right. So that's what I'm saying, maybe there's a meta community around, I think what binds people that are interested in what we do is that i think we all are sort of experimentalist or hackers in that way.
Geoff: And maybe we can build a tribe around people that are open minded to experiment. Obviously you follow what has the most robust data, like I don't think we're saying hey, just try everything. Not all routes are equally valid in terms of science and data.
Geoff: But we are on the edge of exploring and pushing what is possible, and I think that's kind of how we approach it, and I think that's to me at least it's like the most scientific way to engage performance. Like science is always at the cutting edge, like if we know it's then, that's like history, that's just a fact, but in terms of pushing possibility then yeah, we need to explore some will be false paths some will be valuable paths.
Sam: Yeah, and the science never stops, the studies don't stop, the direction of the studies might change a little bit to reflect the interests that are happening within them. And so yeah, I think so. Maybe it is about creating a culture of-
Geoff: I guess robustness around like not being like oh crap, our thing didn't work.
Geoff: We go home.
Geoff: It's like no it's fine, that's part of science.
Geoff: Like if we just knew every single result before we tried stuff then like, yeah I'm God, right? I know the future.
Geoff: No one is that. I think it's part of just embracing the experimentalists and purists that drive science. One thing that you noted which I thought was interesting, especially in your writing, that there's a growing interest around elite performance that has popped up in the last few years. Can you dive more into that and get a sense of why do you think there's more and more-
Geoff: More of that interest.
Sam: I mean it's in, there's a lot if interest, there's an incredible amount of discourse around performance. And it's, I don't think its-
Geoff: Is that true? Or has it always been, the demi gods are always cool, like the gladiators were like the heroes of their era.
Sam: Yeah, yeah, so I mean not always true. I think it tends to come in waves.
Sam: There was another wave of discourse and study, scientific study on performance and it happened at the beginning of the 20th century, and I don't know these studies particularly well but I know them second hand through folks like Alex Hutchinson has looked at this stuff in his new book Endurance.
Geoff: Yeah we chatted with him last week.
Sam: Yeah, guy's so smart. He's smart and he's such a great communicator. I really appreciate somebody who can combine scientific know how, yeah.
Geoff: Yeah, no, I mean his background makes sense, he's a physics guy by training.
Geoff: And I think that blending of rigor with performance I think is very complimentary.
Sam: One of the things he points out is that a lot of these early studies were on factory workers, miners, laborers. How to eek out a little bit more productivity from them, how to keep them from overheating in the mines. How to keep them from breaking down, literally. And so if you want to interpret that like materially, economically, there might be an economic argument, that we're living in a moment where productivity is very important again.
Sam: No one, I don't know many folks who don't spend some time as a freelancer now, it seems like it's, we're in the gig economy, where personal productivity is very important to our everyday lives.
Sam: I wonder if that's bleeding a little bit into the activities that we do beyond it. You don't see your running as isolated from the rest of your life, I certainly don't see.
Geoff: Right, I don't.
Sam: You don't see your activities, the sports, the things you do. So even our leisure time sort of interpenetrated through some of the larger, not necessarily anxieties but motivations that we have. So I wonder if some of it is, again as we mentioned we're living in this sort of reshuffling of a global economy, where my dad worked for two people, or two companies I think his entire life. Three, he was in the army for a little bit and then worked for one hospital and worked for another hospital.
I think I've worked for like 18 different people since graduating high school right? So there's a level in fluidity, there's a level in which as we shift more towards maybe more precarious labor of contract work as that becomes the way in which folks are making a living, it becomes very important to think about your personal productivity and stay focused, to be able to be mindful, to be able to churn out more code, to write more copy, to whatever it happens to be. It wouldn't surprise me if some of that is bleeding into the activities that we are doing for leisure, that those values would begin to reflect in our every day lives.
Geoff: I mean I think it's an interesting analysis because I've talked to reporters who've covered the rise of companies like ours, around human performance, they ask me, why do you think this is happening?
And I make a similar argument that the global economy's getting more and more competitive, peoples brain power is getting more and more valuable, and the credo of distribution of economic value means that it's just like any incremental improvement in productivity it's worth a lot.
For number one, your Facebook, your number two, your Myspace, like gone.
Geoff: So I think its interesting to have you kind of reflect that thinking from what you're seeing and also expand that out into your leisure activities. And I think you're right, I didn't really think about it, but I think-
Sam: Do you know anybody who just does recreational bowling for fun?
Geoff: My friend Will says he bowls but that's more just like, because like in chat, it's like golf, like it's like, anyways.
Sam: It's changing.
Geoff: Yeah but it's changing, I agree.
Sam: Its changing.
Geoff: I think, I agree, I think it's, that was just like a random case.
Sam: Strange that one would drag oneself across 26.2 miles for fun.
Sam: Right. So that intrigues me. I don't think I have an answer to it but its an interesting question to ask why these admittedly esoteric activities, trying to become as fast as one can in a foot race and get from point A to point B, why that has become, had more allure, why has it grown? Why has it happened now as opposed to some other point in life? Why are obstacle course races, why are those becoming more interesting? Why is functional fitness becoming more interesting? And I don't think these things, they don't exist separate from other spheres of life. And so I'm really interested in like how, thinking about the connections might be. I don't have the answers yet, just beginning to ask the question. I really want an opportunity to start to like dig deep and think about these things. Well any, but you're, yeah.
Geoff: Do you have any initial insights? I mean I think that part of it can be driven by the notion that I think especially in America there is more leisure time perhaps.
Sam: That's a good point.
Geoff: So I think people have to have a channel of competitiveness. I think humans are innately competitive, and I think, and I think both, I think this is important, it's interesting, I think that competitiveness has been driven towards, for a lot of history just like war. Like our country's going to kill your country. I think that might be has gravitated towards sports teams. Like our team beat your team.
Geoff: Like they get the competitiveness out. But I do agree with you, there seems to be a trend where more and more people want to be the direct, they don't want to be a watcher or observer of the competition they want to be part of it themselves.
Sam: Right, again, gets back to why these accessible heroes are so popular, because you can see an example of yourself happening.
Sam: Yeah the evolutionary psychology example, this is the innate drive, that's one thought, this is we're getting back to our roots. There's, Christopher McDougall the guy who wrote the Born to Run novel also makes a similar sort of naturalistic, like we're, humans are born to run, right?
Sam: And so that's this, there's this sort of notion of nature vs. nurture thing.
Sam: Like oh this is a nature thing. I guess it's interesting why, if we are, if it's a war thing. I have never played a pickup game of football where we actually played football the way they play it in the NFL. I don't think anybody does that because it is not fun.
Geoff: Injuries, it's crazy.
Sam: To get beat like that you'd get destroyed right?
Sam: So why then things like triathlon, why then things like distance running or cycling? I think they fit well, and I mean you could look at it from a tech angle. They fit well in the forms of quantification that we see in other products of life.
Sam: Things like Strava, these mesh incredibly well with these activities. Very difficult to Strava your bowling score.
Sam: Right? Very easy to Strava your ultra marathon through the Rockies. And playing in, the interconnections of social media there as well, but there's also a lot of folks who are just alert to the data. So, we're an increasingly data driven culture. One of the websites that I go to look at political analysis is 538 which is quote data driven political journalism, or just general, athlete, any journalism is data driven. And so we're fixated on data, we're looking for data. As you get, as you suggested right, we're looking for the hard truths of objective numbers, the one cup, right, we want to see the one cup and if we can figure that out we can work from there. And so those sports fit well into that paradigm.
Sam: Whereas others, maybe not so much. So that's not the entire answer of course, right? But it could be an answer. And then yeah, so that's one thought, I don't know if that resonates, but it could just be a little bit of bias living here, where we are, this is the most tech, we are the center of the tech culture and so it's maybe more apparent.
Geoff: But I would say that having the chance to pop out of the bay area more frequently these days, that people care about sport a lot.
Geoff: So I think maybe it's not necessarily as focused around the technology, paraphernalia around, but like this core drive around being competitive in like a sport like a football.
Geoff: Or being a peak performer, I think resonates like beyond just the bay area for sure, so.
Geoff: I think like a very intense microcosm of that, but I would say it is a global, like a macro phenomenon.
Geoff: Maybe because it is like global culture is homogenizing.
Sam: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Geoff: And I think that kind of reflects onto your previous point, like do you, you're spotting the trend of where people's careers have now shifted towards more of contract, gig economy. And I think that seems to be the main line of thinking, but just seeing the pendulums of history, like every time everyone's like assuming that, just project out that Japan's going to be a dominate economy.
Geoff: That has pivoted back. I mean I think there's just been so many cases in history where you can extrapolate out another 50 years and like, the whole world would change. I'm just wondering, could we see an eco boom back where people don't like the gig economy, going back to the communities.
Geoff: The stuff that we were talking about initially, where people aspire to be part of a tribe or an entity and sovereign individual model of just like I'm myself and I'm interfacing with contracts with all the other collaborators.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: Is that the future? I think in Silicon Valley you might say yeah, of course that's the future. And I'm almost coming full circle back to now, people want a long term vision that they feel worth about. That feels worthy of their limited time on this planet.
Geoff: They want to, the long term working relationships with people with similar missions.
Geoff: Can't we see more of a reversion there then?
Sam: I think so. People want that.
Sam: Right. It's why you're saying as we talked earlier, why people are seeking that out outside of work because they're not finding it necessarily in their own everyday lives. So for example, here's a good example of how, there are costs to things like a gig economy.
Sam: One of those costs are, is the precariousness of that existence.
Sam: When the gigs dry up, you are in trouble.
Sam: You don't have that security that you might have had with the stability of a factory job.
Sam: So for example, one of my guilty pleasures is McDonald's from Uber. And so Uber Eats started doing Mick delivery.
Geoff: I haven't done that yet.
Sam: And it's not a good deal. You'll spend the entire meal on your delivery fee, it will be twice what you would have paid in person. But I did it twice to get my Egg McMuffin and my coffee.
Sam: I like McDonald's coffee. So I ordered it and then lone behold, magically, 15 minutes from now, a woman just showed up around like 11:30 or so. I walk out and I get my Uber Eats, and I know, this is a human being, like hey thank you so much, how are you doing today? She's like oh you know, I'm on my lunch break actually, doing a little bit of side hustle. And I went, oh how productive of you, how productive of you. Just trying to give a compliment, and I turned around and walked around and was like, that's actually kind of disgusting that this woman can't even take a lunch break where she can just sit and consume food and not have to work through it.
Geoff: Yeah she's jamming.
Sam: Yeah, she's jamming. And I don't know, she could be very entrepreneurial or she's paying rent, right? And I imagine it's probably-
Geoff: The latter.
Sam: The latter.
Sam: And so yeah, I think so. I mean it won't surprise me if we see the rise of a new form of organized labor oriented around this sort of contract labor. It would actually, I would be, I would appreciate that. I would recognize it and I would think it would be probably laudable so that people have a little bit more buying power or influence in power against these platforms that are so very profitable and that you and I take advantage of in our every day lives. But at the expense of real human cost.
So yeah, I think people, I think you and I would agree that having a more mission centered sense of purpose, in our work lives, in our productive lives, would definitely be better. People like working towards something, they like being part of something that's larger than themselves. The thing is, if people can't find that in their working lives they're going to find it someplace else which is where, and that can go in many different directions, and as we've seen, sometimes terrifying directions. And so I think it's laudable to think about ways in which we could recreate those institutional senses of mission that we had at one point.
Geoff: Yeah that's where I think the discussion around the universal basic income or UBI I think is discounting. I think they have an overly simplistic story where like, people just want money.
Geoff: And I think that money is just a small portion of what people need as a resource.
Geoff: I think one of the most important assets for humans is a sense of importance or the spiritual notion of like a meaningful life.
Geoff: That I think is not captured in like a UBI system.
Geoff: Which is like another concept that I think some folks in Silicon Valley or intellectual circles will be like, once robots take over the jobs, which will have people on UBI and people will be fine. It's like, that's not going to be enough. If people don't, if you shove people with money a lot of time and no direction.
Sam: That's a really good point.
Geoff: That's a recipe for kind of disaster.
Sam: Yeah, it discounts the sense of social value that people get or were getting from the economy they would never get from a check or a direct deposit in their income. Sure, right, like it's every little bit of money helps but people, Aristotle said that humans are social by nature, right? And the UBI doesn't tick that box. It is an economic salve to something that might be a little more systemic of a problem.
Sam: It's interesting that cuts that has people cheering for it on the right, your sort of Silicon Valley libertarians, and then people on the left, some labor unions, like look, some of these jobs aren't coming back, we need, is this the quick fix?
Sam: But it's often seen as the quick fix, it seems like there's an ease to it, that both sides like, it cuts through the bureaucracy that the people on the right hate, it provides a direct aid that the people on the left like, and it seems like there's a way in which you can find the consensus where you could move that forward. It's also something that's easy to study, so your technocratic wonky folks who'd be like, oh we'll see how this works out, we'll give a UBI to folks in Oakland and see how they spend it and then we can tweak it. It's very like, centrist in that sense. You can find adherence everywhere but I would share your suspicion that there's something about that still missing.
Geoff: Like I said, I think one of the most interesting I guess tweaks of something like a UBI that might fall in line with more marketplace type, more capitalist type thinkers would say that okay, you just take away all entitlements, like you don't give education.
Sam: Yeah exactly. Exactly.
Geoff: Health insurance.
Geoff: You give UBI. And then let the individual decide how to allocate, like what was just going to be given to you, and you can actually spend it and now you can maybe, that could be kind of be interesting where you get like-
Sam: The hyper rational approach to things where you presume.
Geoff: Instead of offering services just give them the money.
Sam: Yeah, you give them the money and let them make their own decisions.
Sam: Yeah. And then you make everything a marketplace. The problem with that is that human beings-
Geoff: Make bad decisions.
Sam: The problem with markets, is that not all things work well in markets. Sometimes they can create toxic outcomes, I think healthcare is an example of that, where we've had a market based system for a long time.
Geoff: Well certain market bases, I think that's actually an interesting topic right?
Geoff: It is a weird market.
Sam: It's a weird market. It's a market-
Geoff: Well it's like-
Geoff: Someone on the right could say, like it's overly regulated market.
Geoff: Or like, you can't sell insurance out of the state line.
Sam: Right. Yeah.
Geoff: They have these like weird monopoly systems.
Geoff: Or education.
Sam: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff: So yeah, I mean I think it's a pretty nuanced, yeah.
Sam: It's a nuanced discussion, it's a nuanced discussion, and it's outside of my wheelhouse to get into all those debates. But I think, but I would wonder, like if you're sure if you commoditized everything and then gave like a basic, like here's your allocations of things and you created a market of such, it seems like there would probably be some unexpected costs that we wouldn't have envisioned, in terms of where would the middle men arise? Because there would be the middle men.
Geoff: I would say yeah, I think these, like running a nation today, it's a very, very, complicated system.
Geoff: Like I don't think anyone's smart enough to take all that state in.
Geoff: But I would say just there are unintended consequences where our current system, that will probably be just as, maybe less maybe more, just some range of unintended consequences of any other government system.
Sam: Yeah and I appreciate the thought experiments. I tend to be one of the fellows who sort of falls in the line of, what are the moral outcomes that we're trying to gain, like what are the moral values that we have? And one of them should be like, all people should get a basic education.
Sam: So my general thought would be like well, we could game that out in any number of ways of like how you could rationalize, like okay, distribute, certain level of income, people could pick their own choices. Or you could just provide the education in the ways that we have defunded in a lot of ways, and so this is sort of where I fall on a lot of these questions is sort of, which makes me fall more on the left of the center, right? In terms of thinking in that way, in terms of more of the social democracy ways. But yeah, these questions are fraught because they're hard. And yeah, man we got to UBI.
Sam: What a fascinating conversation we've had.
Geoff: Yeah I mean maybe drawing this back more towards a performance perspective, you mentioned that, maybe this goes back into like the participation culture.
Geoff: This recent notion around positivity in running, this positive mindset thing, where it sounds like you've traced back in history, a lot of it's very stoic.
Geoff: And maybe just adding some color there, I think there is some recent literature suggesting that this positive self talk is actually improving on performance. So maybe, I'm actually curious, to get your thoughts on why you think there's a structural change in how people, the attitude towards a performance has seemed to evolved.
Sam: It does, it does seem like positivity is important and become important and become increasingly important. Yeah, I remember reading, there was even some wild article, there might be some study that shows that if you smile during a hard effort, it tends to make the effort feel easier.
Sam: Yeah, and yeah, that seems to make sense to me that positivity, that there are real, that there might be performance outcomes that happen with it.
I've just noticed though, that in a lot of ways, not just in terms of performance but again it sort of bleeds, it never stays in the same zone where it's supposed to be.
Social media's a very positive place in a lot of ways, I mean it can be very toxic.
Geoff: Yeah, this is interesting.
Sam: If you watch Instagram, like I notice, if I scroll through my Instagram feed-
Geoff: Everyone's highlight clips right?
Sam: Everybody's got that like, there's that Instagram style that I think of it, where people are, it's like they just got presented with a birthday cake, it's that, you know, it's that combination of insane smile, like I'm really happy, I'm really happy and I think part of that is because you respond. We like seeing people happy, and the engagements to happiness are higher on social media. Well think about it, right, you're more likely to get the likes and the clicks and it's sort of self reinforcing behavior. Negativity doesn't do well on the algorithms of social media.
Sam: So I think a lot about how this become more common, I have a good friend named, he's a very good trail runner named David Roach, he was here in the bay area, his wife was in medical school at Stanford and he was an environmental lawyer and now they started a coaching business and they're in the front range, Colorado front range. He's writing a book called The Happy Runner, it's probably going to come out sometime in the next year. And it is, his whole business model is one based on positive thinking. And positivity. To the point where I sometimes am like, dude just frown. At some point he's like oh I had this horrific race, it went terribly bad, I blew up, I threw up, but you know what? It was great.
I was like no, you need to, it's a marked departure from the way even in the 90s when I was growing up where there was a real culture of suffering that was ingrained in distance running that I think came out of, maybe it's working class roots in the beginning of the 20th century where not entirely working class roots, but a lot of English clubs based on neighbor hoods around working communities where you do cross country meets in fields through the mud and slop and show people a clean pair of heels. We fetishized in the 90s things like Alberto Salazar, the American, the guy, the coach of Galen Rupp having a duel in the sun with Dick Beardsley where they like-
Geoff: Right, like these are grinders.
Sam: These grinding guys who just, they kick it out and they spit blood at the end. The head coach of the Colorado, University of Colorado cross country team, Mark Wetmore, had this sign on his desk at one point, it was like, res severa verum gaudium, I'm missing the Latin, but it's something like, it is a joy to be serious. Right? Like tuck it in, get the work done and move on. That's changed. And I suspect because these activities are way more visual and they're incentivized differently. The only thing I can think of is social media that has changed a lot of this where particularly now, given as we were talking about, everybody is a little bit of a personal brand.
I try very hard not to think of myself as a personal brand, but if there are potential ambassadorships or sponsorships on the line, you need to think that way. There are products, if there's shoes that you can gain, you're incentivized to think that way. If you're in sort of this messy mill eau of semi competitive, semi professional running, you have to think this way. Where social media matters, where people are looking for those accessible heroes. You need to smile, and you need to be, and so I think, I think that's the causal chain, that's the one that I'm pulling at. I don't know, what do you think? Does it?
Geoff: There's definitely directional truth there.
Geoff: I mean obviously I think people do build a brand around being real, right?
Geoff: Showing them being like, when they're not winning. But I think directionally, that's because they're counter opposing the trend of everyone being positive.
Sam: Yeah the counter point of that is like, well, no actually authenticity is what people are really driving for and want to see which is maybe a good counter point. There are some narratives now.
Geoff: But I would say directionally I think you're right, everyone, you always want to have like that positive spin at the end.
Geoff: Right, like I think it's very common to be like yeah, I had a really brutal race, I bonked, the last four miles were brutal, but it was a great-
Sam: Yeah, but it was a great time.
Geoff: It was great right?
Geoff: And I think, like there has to like a positive moral to the story.
Sam: Yeah, so even when you get the athlete who's struggling with depression, you'll get, there's a beautiful video about the ultra marathoner Rob Krar, who has struggled, not struggled, I don't want to use the word struggle, I don't like the notion of like a battle with depression. He lives with depression in the way a lot of us do. And there's a great, candid interview of him talking about mental health alongside physical health as being part of the spectrum of that. And I actually now got to think about whether it ends with answer upswing. Because these things, these issues don't end always positively, right?
Sam: Sometimes they just are.
I guess there is a contrarian in me that's a little bit bothered by the positivity direction that we're in because some things just are, and it doesn't always work out for the best, but part of the thing that's beautiful is that we can empathize, like we know these things, and we can struggle together with them.
And if we just think they're going to work out fine, we might be less likely to struggle together with them or to empathize with somebody. Be like you know, it will be fine. Maybe it won't be fine. It's not always fine. But that's okay as long as we can figure out ways to be there for each other. Yeah, so I guess that's why I kind of grind my teeth sometimes because maybe, maybe it's not just about being positive and happy, maybe sometimes it's about being sad, but recognizing that to not win, to not beat it, to not be happy, but to be better.
Geoff: Yeah I mean I think for me I think I like the stoic philosophy, I think it's interesting like read something like Marcus Aurelius and get into his mindset of being in Roman Empire, kind of being seized by barbarians and what it's like to control all these things outside of his direct control.
Sam: Have you ever thought of ways to apply that say if you're in an uncomfortable, say when you were running the half marathon, have you ever? Yeah.
Geoff: Yeah well, I mean I think I've been experimenting with the positive mindset attitude based on data showing that if you smile or see smiling faces you go, you perform better.
Geoff: Right vs. like seeing sad faces or being like frowning. So I think I've been applying some of the positivity mindset towards some of the physical aspects but I think the stoic mindset for business is really applicable, in the sense that, I think for, at least for me I'm not trying to win a competition for running, but I think for business that's like kind of like you're competing, you're competing.
Sam: You've got so much swirling around you.
Geoff: Right, so I think the stoic or like not blinded by optimism or swayed by optimism view, is just like seeing reality clearer than others. And I think that with a world where everyone's spinning, positivity or negativity or everyone's like running their own agenda, if you can just see the world clearly, you can react more optimally to the changing environment that we're operating in or we're living in.
Geoff: So I think in that sense, not bullshitting yourself kind of thing with like, oh we're going to make it always positive, I think is important, because you need to respond to facts properly. Like if a bullet is coming at you, you can't smile it away, the bullets coming to you.
Geoff: And obviously, yeah-
Sam: So it's a good point, it's a good point there's not a binary between positivity and negativity, right?
Sam: Not in, at least not in human experience.
Sam: There tend to be a variety of places and ways that you can look at things. And of course is the objectivity of the real world and dealing with it. Yeah, I sometimes think that, you mentioning stoicism, one of the things with, you're in your own head when, I've written some stuff about how painful distance running can be, when you're in sort of the phrase is the pain cave, right? You are really dwelling on the discomfort in ways that are bizarre. And one of the ways that, you always try to like, can I disconnect myself a little bit from this suffering experience, it's something you think about, I've thought about, is there a way in which, because you are almost sort of, at a certain point you sort of reassess, you go like, man-
Geoff: Don't want to do this.
Sam: How have I found myself in these terrible circumstances and how can I get out of them and how much time do I have left. But sometimes you can be even more circumspect, be like, man I'm really, this, your sort of looking down on yourself kind of. Like you're in a part of your brain, it's like man.
Sam: This is like, really, he's really suffering.
Sam: I wonder how hard he can keep grinding.
Sam: And you can almost be intellectually curious about your own performance as its happening.
Sam: But you do usually need to get back in because that's not, I find that you can't disconnect yourself and run well. You need to be in it. From the moment you leave-
Geoff: Dissociate totally.
Sam: And dissociate, you slow down.
Sam: And you can't hold your hand down on the pedal.
Sam: In the midst of it. And that's what makes it so hard is because you have to just feel it. And not be, and again you're right, like if you're thinking to yourself, I can do it, I can do it, we can get through this. The performance outcomes are much better than like, there's no way.
Sam: You'll stop, you'll quit, you'll slow down. If you know suddenly, once you give up, it's over.
So yeah, there's a baseline in which you need to believe in yourself, and that belief in yourself is the way. And whatever those, those motivations to believe in yourself can be any number of things, your reasoning for doing it.
Some people it's just a payday, but that can be enough to motivate you. I got kicked down once by a 40 year old Russian in a race and I was like man, this guy was, he was flying, he was flying, and then I found out that he was a master's runner right? And it was a different payday for those guys and for me it was like, I was just getting-
Geoff: He was just getting PO, who knows.
Sam: Yeah, but I just wondered, I was like wow I finished 18th, what was the big deal to finish 17th? It was a big deal, there was real incentive. So incentivizing things can help and so, but yeah, so it's an interesting tension. Anyway, you just said that, you're speaking of Aurelius made me think about that a little bit. And being unbothered by the world being in it is a tension, a difficult-
Geoff: I mean I think one common thread that I've seen across athletes and folks that we work with is that because you just have to have done this so much, you're at that constant level of pain. Like I don't think there's that much mind gaming or like to reprogram your brain. I think it's like okay at a certain point-
Sam: That is right.
Geoff: I program yourself to understand this level of pain threshold and just eat it.
Geoff: Just enjoy and know it sucks but you're used to it, you've been there 15,000 times, it's nothing new.
Sam: Right. Yeah.
Geoff: I think it's like okay, and I think that's the difference between someone like me and someone like you, like you know how to put yourself in that pain threshold and hold it there.
Geoff: Or someone less experienced there is going to be like ah, I don't even know if I can hold this for that long.
Sam: Yeah. And the thing is, you gotta, is there's a process to get there.
Sam: There's definitely a process to get there and everybody says this, like I'm not talented I just work hard, like that's not true. I know there's a certain baseline which I've been very blessed and lucky to get that certain abilities to do this. But it is possible. I don't think my running abilities are beyond the pail for a lot of people, but it's a long process. There aren't many shortcuts. It's a lot of time and you got to play the long game to become good at anything right? You can't think in terms of the short term, you have to think in the long term.
And that's true for anything, you can't think in terms of weeks, you certainly can't think in terms of weeks, you certainly can't think in terms of months, you probably shouldn't even think in terms of years. You should think like, you know, five, six years. you got to put in the time to if you really want to get good at something, if you really want to have expertise or ability, it's just hours, it's just.
Geoff: Yeah, no, I mean just knowing a little bit about running, I mean getting up to 80, 90, 100 miles a week is not easy.
Sam: It's not easy and it's not something one should try to do in a year. It's one of these things, it's where-
Geoff: It might be a year if you're aggressive like Michael Brandt, but like yeah, I mean, so it's-
Sam: But that's aggressive.
Geoff: Yeah it's aggressive.
Sam: And you're risking injury.
Geoff: Yeah, that's like one thing that I've realized a lot, I think more and more it's about injury prevention than, like obviously you push yourself but if you can just not stay injury free, you will just out compete your competition.
Geoff: Because anytime you have answer injury you like, you're out for a long, yeah.
Sam: It's weeks and weeks and it disrupts things and its less time on your feet, then you have to build back up again. If you look at the people who have long term success in distance running, they're talented, they're good at the activity in of itself, but one constant is they rarely get hurt. My good friend Magda Boulet, she went to the Olympics in the marathon 2008, she gets hurt. Like she's had injuries, but not very many. And when she was competing on the road she didn't get hurt very much at all. And since I've known her I think she's had one injury maybe? And I think it might have been a trauma based injury. Like she's gotten lucky in a trail race.
Geoff: Makes sense, I mean basically she can put in high quality, well much more high quality hours than anyone else.
Geoff: And its like okay if you believe in the notion that input in is somewhat linear correlated with output then, yeah, she's just putting better quality hours in than anyone else.
Sam: Yeah, and some of this is practice. The lady goes to bed a nine o'clock. That's hard.
Sam: She's disciplined. And so it's not just genes, some of it is as you said the discipline and the mindfulness to being aware of that.
Geoff: Yeah let's move to some audience questions.
Geoff: And have a little bit of a popcorn here.
Sam: Sure, sure.
Geoff: So Matt Duffy asked, what's the worst running advice you've gotten and taken seriously?
Sam: Oh, the worst running advice. I think I got to it a little bit, focus on the short term. It wasn't any single bit of advice, but I think we're highly incentivized to look for the short deadline, for the upcoming race, the upcoming season. And if I wish I could go back, take Sam Robinson from when he was 16, and you're so motivated. Everyone wants to work hard, there are very few people who don't want to work hard. The real struggle is to play the long game.
I wish I could go back, take him aside, shake him and be like, it's not this season, don't think about this season, don't think about the next season. Don't think about high school, worry about college, you don't even think about college, wait, you're going to develop. Don't throw the huge, heavy miles in this summer. Wait, have some patience, build slow. Develop. You're 16.
And I think that's true not just for adolescent young athletes, I think it's true for a lot of folks in a new activity. Play the long game, if you're really interested in it, if you love it, stay with it but take it slow.
Geoff: Yeah and that reflects some of the conferences and summits that I've been involved with where one of the mantras is that, like everyone always take the easy days too hard and the hard days not hard enough and you're just always like kind of, like you're working hard but you're like, you're not pacing yourself right, because you're always pseudo going hard. So you can't go really, really hard when you need to, and you're not resting and recovering when you actually need to.
Sam: Which is a long process.
Geoff: Cool. Yusef via our email@example.com writes in and asks, what do you think draws different personalities to different types of exercises? You know, I think you spoke a little bit about just your baseline body size, but like weightlifting vs. running.
Geoff: But I think that's kind of more obvious but the personality question is interesting.
Sam: Yeah the personality question is kind of interesting and I think there are a lot, so like in my own little world of distance running there are a lot of commonalities. A lot of type A personalities, people are very goal driven, it's very easy to quantify distance running, so people who are very interested in personal improvement can find a place where you can begin to see real micro gains are easy to see.
Sam: You can see, oh I was faster on intervals like, I-
Geoff: But what about weightlifting?
Geoff: I lift like two more pounds on my bench?
Sam: Yeah. I don't know why that doesn't appeal to me.
Sam: Yeah it doesn't. But I can see, for me, I wonder what the differences are. I mean, gosh. I would think some of it Yusef might be if you're good at something you tend to get rewarded at it. And at a certain level we're all kind of rats pressing the buzzer for the cheese. So people who are good at weightlifting tend to like it. I guess I think about, like what would be some other activities I'd like to try out. They actually don't tend to be the more endurance ones. Like I'm interested in, I'd love to get more into climbing, I'd love to get into some martial arts.
Geoff: But climbing is endurance based.
Sam: Yeah, climbing is endurance based.
Sam: But a very different kind of, like you're not moving much.
Sam: And people who are climbers, sport climbers probably say like, oh it's there is some quantification that can happen in this. There is training involved and part of it might just be my outsider knowledge of it.
Sam: But it seems like it's a level of body awareness that's different.
Sam: In those activities, certainly in martial arts there's a level of body awareness, it must be different. And I think that's fascinating is an appeal there that I'd love to learn more about. So I can see how you could get, in a couple different ways.
Geoff: I think for me just to riff on that question, I think endurance athletes can take pain more, in the sense that, it's very painful to lift like super heavy, but you're done in like, 30 seconds.
Sam: Yeah, and for sprinting-
Geoff: So maybe at maximal pain for 30 seconds, like a sprinter, vs. like I mean running a marathon you're doing two hours, that's like, you can't hide.
Sam: No, no.
Geoff: In like a two hour run.
Sam: Yeah. And if you're a sprinter you need to be very interested in the types of real technical drill work to get that short explosive burst, and it's all about perfect form and, so there might be a level of, interest falling there. What draws someone from one set of activity to the other? Man, there's got to be a number of different factors involved, but maybe it's an intuitive sense of-
Geoff: Maybe it's just luck too.
Sam: Or just luck.
Geoff: Just like you're born and people around you thought it was cool to be a basketball player.
Sam: Yeah, I'm sure there's a lot of soccer players who are soccer players because that's what people-
Geoff: Ronaldo was their hero.
Sam: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff: Brian Gillis asks, you've competed at a high level at both trail running and road. What do you prefer, why, contract, compare.
Sam: In terms of racing, it depends. I tend, after, like I've been going through like two year cycles between racing, doing trail racing and moving back onto the roads and then right now I'm on kind of a road cycle. There are some specificities between the two events and so if you're going to do trail and ultra marathon stuff you need to work on running uphill and downhill and sort of the technical footing, getting your body able to do that. That's not a challenge in road running, it's a much more homogenous, not homogenous, but it's the same motion that you're doing over and over again. It's much more about eking out those efficiencies over whatever the distance is that you're running. So I tend to bounce between those and I think mixing it up a little bit it's probably good for long term.
Geoff: Cross training.
Sam: Cross training a bit yeah. But the trails are great, especially, we're blessed here to be surrounded by so much open space.
Geoff: Yeah it's fun to just go on. You get to be yeah.
Sam: It's fun to go out on trails and get away from it. But then also, it's so hilly too. I wish there were a few flatter trail in the east, there's one, there's some stuff on the bay but you have to run alongside the freeway and it's like oh man.
Sam: It needs to be like one flat trail in the woods but that doesn't exist. So that's kind of trade off, sometimes you want to take it a little bit easy, sometimes you just, you don't want to run through the evening commute and you want to go out in the woods and you can do that. So it depends on where my head is.
Geoff: Yeah, yeah, no I agree. I mean again as a much less experienced runner but like a road is nice, you know the route, you know exactly how to benchmark yourself.
Sam: Right, right.
Geoff: But it's like fun to run in like a beautiful hiking trail.
Geoff: Instead of hike it, just run it, it's like whoa.
Geoff: It's like fun, yeah your kind of massaging your feet because the road you're just like slam, slam, slam, slam, slam.
Geoff: But like rolling the ankle a little bit in different ways, kind of feels nice. It's kind of a ankle massage.
Sam: And if you need that more meditative experience and say, like after a hard day of work, you'll get more of that if you're running in the woods. It's just quieter so your mind gets quieter. So I appreciate both, but you know, trails are nice to have.
Geoff: And I think we'll end with a fun question.
Geoff: What is a beer mile and why is it a thing?
Sam: What is a beer mile and why is it a thing. So a beer mile is a, god, who thought of this? It must have just been collegiate runners. It is where you drink four beers over the four laps of a mile.
Geoff: Oh, okay.
Sam: So you drink a 12 ounce beer, so there are different rules.
Sam: But the Kingston rules which are the North American standard is you have to drink a 4% beverage, which, use Budweiser as your standard.
Geoff: It's kind of a light beer.
Sam: Yeah, you can use a bottle or a can, it's a lighter beer, it's not too, too, too heavy, but it can't be below that. So it can't be a really, like a Session Ale or anything like that. You have to drink the beer, run a lap, drink a beer, run a lap, do it two more times. So four laps and you have to drink a beer before each lap. If you throw up, you have to run an extra lap.
Sam: Which basically disqualifies you in the competitive race. And it has become incredibly competitive. There are now world championship races that bring out guys who can run this thing in under-
Geoff: What's the world record?
Sam: Well the world record I think is still like 4:20 something?
Sam: Somebody just set it again in Canada, a guy named Corey Bellmore, and oh man, I'll send you the link, you can put it in the show notes, it is a work of sheer grace to watch this guy run so fast, consume these beers in six or seven seconds.
Geoff: So are you, do you have to be stable to keep, are they chugging while they're running?
Sam: So good question, great question. There is a chug zone, an exchange zone where you can pick up the beer and walk while you're drinking it so you can continue to move but it's not very, it's like 15 or 20 meters at the most, so you can-
Geoff: Right and it's not easy to pound liquid when you're running.
Sam: I think the beer mile is the most uncomfortable experience.
Geoff: Yeah I was just thinking that.
Sam: I'm so bad at it, I'm so bad at it. It's so awful.
Geoff: It's a lot of liquid.
Sam: It's one of, every time I do it, I get into the middle of the second lap and I think, I regret doing this again. It's so uncomfortable.
Geoff: You're adding three pounds of water.
Sam: Yeah, yeah it's so, so much fluid. You turn into a volcano at the end.
Geoff: Does everyone just boot at the end?
Sam: Some don't. To finish, Corey Bellmore ended up, so now to keep things to standard, they will do measurements of your beer.
So you might drink your beer and finish and go, and how do you know if you didn't pour it out or something right? So they'll measure what's left in the bottle and they'll have judges make sure you're not spitting it up or emptying it.
He had too much beer. I think four, you can't have more than four millimeters left in all of the beer bottles, so he was disqualified but goodness it has gotten fast. I mean these guys are running sub 60 second laps, plus the beer.
Geoff: Oh man that's wild.
Sam: It's wild. It's wild, it's wild. It's a little bit of a kind of a fraternity ish kind of looking thing, seems to come out of like American binge drinking culture but well, not necessarily American binge drinking culture, but.
Geoff: Global binge drinking culture?
Sam: Yeah, I was in London for last summers world championship and saw this guys, and you could say that they are drinkers with a running problem, that might be a charitable, it was, it was a lot of drinking, even not involving the beer miles, there was just, a lot of beer.
Sam: More beer than I could handle that's for sure.
Geoff: Maybe we'll do that at some point.
Sam: It's, I think-
Geoff: That would be fun.
Sam: I think everyone should try one once. Yeah. It might be all you need, as I said they're hard.
Sam: And it's not the alcohol. It is the quantity, it's the fluid, that's the challenge, that is the challenge.
Geoff: I mean yeah, you're not going to be drunk, I mean it's too quick to actually get drunk.
Sam: Far too quick, far too quick.
Geoff: You're just like, got to pound bubbly liquid and beverage.
Sam: Malt beverage.
Geoff: And holding it down and you're basically sprinting and pounding as how fast as you can.
Sam: The third, taking down the third laps always hard and then that drinking that fourth beer, really difficult. And if you can get into that fourth lap, usually because it's the final lap, you can hold it down just get to the finish line, but there's like a minute there, 60 or two minutes or so where you're drinking and thinking, I got to do one more after this? And you, again, you turn into that baking soda and vinegar experiment, it's all shuffled up under, yeah.
Geoff: That's also because like you're running around, it's jostling the CO2.
Sam: You're running around with this stuff in it, yeah.
Sam: They can be, like if you, usually these things are so informal that you bring, BYOB.
Geoff: I'll make it as flat as possible so there's less CO2 in there.
Sam: That's probably true, I had a friend, I had a friend a physicist, he had his doctorate in physics at Berkeley, he thought, he was thinking this, he was gaming this out, and he was like well look, carbonation may not be the best option here, I'm going to use a nitrogen based beer that is effervescent through, so he did Guinness, thinking it would be easier.
Sam: It was not. It was Guinness.
Geoff: So it was even more foamy.
Sam: It was yeah, more foamy and heavy, malt based beer, less sugar but more whatever's in Guinness, it didn't work well, it was a train wreck.
Geoff: Because also the Guinness bottles have the thing that makes them more foamy too, right so I can just imagine just a super foamy beer to put down.
Sam: Oh yeah, yeah it would be awful. Yeah, that's the beer mile.
Geoff: Yeah, no awesome. I mean let's wrap up here, I mean where do people find your work? I mean obviously an interesting conversation.
Geoff: But what's next for you this up, the rest of the year?
Geoff: Where do people find you?
Sam: So I have, my portfolio writing is on robinsonsamuel.com. I'm on Strava, you can find my running on Strava, I'm pretty, you know, it's a fun network. And I put out a newsletter every week, it drops usually on Tuesday nights, it's called The Breakfast Club, it's oriented around a morning run that I do every Thursday in Oakland, people are welcome to join. Run about, it's a little fast, you run about 7:30 pace for about eight miles, but gets together a lot of different folks, girls and gals.
Sam: Nice hour out before work, 6:30, 7:30 or so. And I'm on Twitter as well @SamSonOfRobin, if folks want to hit me up on Twitter. But Strava, Twitter and then my website and my newsletter. Places where I'm pretty active and engaged on the socials as the kids say.
Geoff: All right. Awesome. Thanks so much for coming by.
Sam: Thanks so much Geoff.
Geoff: I appreciate it.
Sam: I appreciate it man.
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