“I’m so comfortable; I’m miserable.”
In “Ultra Marathon Man” you describe speaking to your wife on your 30th birthday about fearing a mid-life crisis. That night after some drinks at a bar you struck out on your first run in 15 years, a 30-miler through San Francisco. Had you been thinking consciously about this at all or did it just happen?
It happened in a subconscious way. It was this feeling of dissatisfaction I had in my life. There was no intensity. Everything was safe. I recall feeling, “I’m so comfortable; I’m miserable. I want to be in pain. I want to hurt.” I wanted all the things you go through when you run.
Do you think this is part of why your book was so popular in the mainstream? That it was this point you connected with people on?
I think that’s the case for a lot people in their 30s and 40s. It seems like the message also resonates with kids of the MBA student variety. As Thoreau said: “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” Many people are unhappy with what they’re doing and in the book they could see that’s what I was like.
A lot of ultramarathoners are soloists. They’re single and live lives off the grid. I was a guy that went to college, had a family and a career in the corporate world. But I said, “Screw it. I love to run.” Running was a part of my hardwiring, and that’s what I wanted to do. So this is what I tell people who talk about wanting to follow their passion. It doesn’t have to be running. It can be basket weaving. Be the best basket weaver in the world. Throw your heart and soul into it.
Did this have something to do with the impetus to write your first book?
It was on my proverbial life list to write a book. It was a challenge. I didn’t want a ghostwriter. I just wanted to see if I had the discipline to do it. If I got published and five of my friends had read it, the book would have been a success. But a friend passed it on to a book agent and she sent out some proposals. Penguin contacted me and wanted to buy the rights to the book. I asked, “What does that mean?” Next thing I know it was a New York Times Bestseller. It was a complete surprise to me.
The book obviously struck some sort of sweet spot. The next thing you know you’re on shows like “Regis and Kelly” and “60 Minutes.” What was that like?
It was a head trip. I’m just in a room doing an interview with Leslie Stahl, and then 25 million people see the show. The weirdest interview was when I was on The Howard Stern Show. He’s actually a pretty fit guy and he was captivated about the subject. Mostly he asked about running. Then I found out 38 million people heard that interview. I recall thinking how easy it would be to ruin your life being interviewed on that show. But after the show he kept asking me questions about how I trained and what I ate. He was really into it.