We sat down with California’s famous “Marathon Matt” to gather some of his coaching insights and to find out what makes him tick.
What is Your Background?
I have been a passionate runner since I was 15. I ran competitively in high school. But, I morphed into more of a recreational runner in college. When I graduated college, the idea of tackling a marathon took hold. The idea had been planted years previous.
In high school, I was fortunate to briefly work with an Olympic development coach. He once told me he thought I could be a great marathoner someday. I was dumbfounded. At the time, I couldn’t fathom running 26.2 miles, let alone being great at it.
But years later, the words of my coach resonated. I wanted to find out if there was any substance to what he’d told me all those years ago. The marathon beckoned to me.
I survived my first crack at 26.2. Then, I qualified for Boston. Then, I broke 3 hours. I was onto something. This running renaissance ultimately lead me to a 2:43 marathon personal best.
Right around the time I was falling in love with the marathon, I had some friends who launched their own outdoor training business. I wasn’t thrilled with my day job and the idea of creating a business that revolved around running struck a chord. Seeing my friends do something similar inspired me to strike out on my own. “Marathon Matt — Personal Coaching For Runners” was born.
Originally, my focus was on working with individuals who had aggressive goals that couldn’t necessarily be achieved via a conventional training program or club. After less than a year, I saw that targeting just this segment wasn’t going to keep me afloat.
Fortunately, a friend of mine who was doing some marketing for Fleet Feet Sports reached out with an opportunity to coach a half marathon training program for them. This was 2007-2008 when Team in Training, the National Aids Marathon Training Program, and similar programs were HUGE.
I was a bit wary of the idea of rolling out yet another training program. The market seemed saturated. But, we saw 35-40 people show up for our first season, which I thought was a success. So, we just ran with it. The next season saw 75 people, and then 110. Our largest season attracted nearly 200 people.
Ultimately, this program evolved into Run Club (www.runclubsf.com), which is a big part of my business today. Run Club has 110+ five star reviews on Yelp, which is pretty amazing to me.
Tell Us About Your Business
Independent of Run Club, I work with corporate clients and I also work with a small number of individual clients. I also produce 4-5 trail races a year via my production company Sasquatch Racing.
The idea for Sasquatch Racing came to me while I was training for a 50K and a 50 miler in 2012. I loved the time I was spending out on the trails in the Marin Headlands. I wanted to find a way to get my runners from Run Club (who are largely casual/recreational) to give trail running a shot. But, I knew most of them would never consider tackling an ultra.
I wanted my races to resonate for people who might balk at the idea of trail running because of the uneven terrain, the hills, or the possibility of getting lost. I wanted to create trail races that reduced the intimidation factor the trails can pose to the uninitiated. So, I focused on the 5k, 10k, and half marathon.
I also branded the events in a fun, non-threatening way. Our first race was The Sasquatch Scramble. People smiled and laughed whenever I mentioned the name of the event, which is exactly the response I wanted.
So, I ran with the concept and added The Honey Badger Half/10K/5K (Sun, 10/27), The Rattlesnake Ramble 5K/10K/Half, and the funny off-beat Krampus Cross Country 5K/10K (Sun, 12/8). Each race sees 200-250 people. I have provided links below for those who might be interested.
What Questions Do You Regularly Hear?
There isn’t one singular question I hear more than any other. I usually see a number of people for each season of Run Club who have never run more than a mile or two. The question I hear most frequently from this audience is, “how can you get me from the couch to 13.1 in just 10-12 weeks?” I tell them it is ‘magic’, in jest.
What I actually tell them is consistency. I have ten commandments of running and consistency is the number one commandment. Most of the success I’ve had as a runner has come in large part because I’m ruthlessly consistent when I train.
Independent of this question, I often find myself dealing with questions that are really about anxiety, doubt, and fear. I find myself spending as much (if not more) time helping my runners get in the right ‘headspace’ as I do providing actual direction around ‘training’. I took a lot of psychology courses in college and this background has proven to be useful in dealing with these kinds of issues.
What is Your Favorite or Most Memorable Race?
Wow…that is a great question. I could easily write a book about my favorite runs or races. One of the most ‘memorable’ races would have to be the California International Marathon in 2012. To set the stage, I was chasing a time that been rattling around in my head for seven years. Specifically, I was looking to run a 2:39:59 (or faster).
2012 was a huge running year for me. I notched a 50K, conquered a 50-miler, and I even ran a couple 100 mile weeks. All of this work was in the service of finally notching a marathon in the 2:30s at CIM in December.
I had a fantastic training cycle leading up to the race. There was no doubt in my mind that I had a great shot at finally cracking the 2:30s. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was not looking good.
I crossed my fingers. I said a few prayers to the weather gods. But, my prayers went unanswered. Race day was Stormageddon.
The weather gods unleashed a tempest. Torrential rain flooded the streets. Staggering headwinds accompanied the deluge.
Many dropped out before the gun even fired. I didn’t have this luxury. So, I toed the line.
It was a battle mentally and physically the entire way. I tried to stay positive, I did what I could to stay within striking distance of my goal. And I fought my way to the halfway mark. But, it felt like I’d logged 16-17 miles, not 13.1.
I had a tough decision to make. I could continue at the same pace. Or, I let go of the goal I’d been chasing for seven years and run the best race I could. My head told me the latter option was the way to go, but my heart thought otherwise.
Ultimately, I listened to my head. I ended up running a 2:46. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was the gutsiest race of my life. I’d endured the toughest conditions I’d ever encountered and STILL nearly pulled off a personal best.
It was a bittersweet victory. Had the weather gods smiled on me, who knows what could have happened that day?
What is Your Dream Race?
Running a marathon in 2:39:59. For so many years, 2:39:59 was my idea of ‘greatness’. I came close several times, but the fates conspired.
I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished as a runner. But, if I could have one more crack at 2:39:59 (preferably with favorable weather), this would be a dream race.
What Was Your Worst Race Experience?
It’s hard for me to identify my ‘worst race’. So, let’s talk about my ‘worst moment’. It went down during the Lake Sonoma 50 (miler) in 2012.
I had heard people talking about the ‘pain cave’ and I had experienced a little of it during training. But, I found myself deep in the dark recesses of the pain cave right around mile 35.
My peripheral vision started to fade. I had a hard time getting my feet to land where I needed them to land. My quads were shot. My body was shutting down.
I started to think about the Lord of the Rings and Frodo’s perilous quest to Mordor. I asked myself, “How did Frodo get to Mordor despite the countless obstacles he encountered? How did he overcome the fear, the fatigue, and the despair?”
The answer that crystallized was ‘He had to. There was no other choice.’ If Frodo could somehow get to Mordor, I could find a way to get to the finish line.
I walked, stumbled, limped, and occasionally ran those last 15 miles to the finish line. It was my worst experience as a runner, but it was also an oddly inspiring experience. When I find myself in tough spots today, I often reflect back on my time in the pain cave.
I survived those dark, painful, challenging 15 miles on the trail. I somehow managed to cover 50 miles. Never doubt that you can always run a bit farther and faster than you think you can.
What One Piece of Advice Would You Like to Share With Runners?
Be ruthlessly consistent. If you really want to run farther, faster, or both, consistency is a huge part of getting there. I’m not saying you should run when you’re injured. But, if you’re healthy, get the work done. Find a way.
There are millions of different ways to train. Some are better than others. But, the one thing that works universally is consistency over time.
Stay healthy and stay consistent. This approach will take you far.
If You Weren’t a Runner, What Sport Would you Take up?
Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating towards free diving. World-class free divers can hold their breath for minutes at a time at unfathomable depths. Free diving is all about challenging limits. For me, this is what running is about as well.
I don’t know if I would ever actually free dive, but the idea of it has captured my imagination!
Is There Anything Else You Would Like Runners to Know?
We weren’t born with the gift of flight. But, we were born with the gift to run. Every once in awhile the stars align and running feels like flight. If there’s any reason to run; it’s to seek one of those rare moments.
What are Your Upcoming Events and How Can People Register?
Legacy & Super Ambassador
I am a lifelong runner, as well as a writer, a wife and the mother of six. Throughout the many challenges I have faced, the one thing I could always turn to was running, which is where I find solace and healing. Ironically, it is when I run until I can’t run anymore and feel empty, that I find peace. I became a writer more than a decade ago when I wrote an ongoing blog for my first husband, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I realized that I loved writing as much as I do running, and it became my life.