STEVEN: [00:00:00] I’ve just been really lucky that, for pretty much my entire life, I’ve been able to just do the things that I found interesting and find a way to make a living doing them. And it never occurred to me to that — I’ve never thought about getting a job or applying, I think I’m going to apply for a job just to see what it’s like, because I’ve never done that. And then of course, I’m going to try and mess with the guy who’s interviewing me because I don’t need the job.
So, yeah, I’ve just been, for whatever reason — I mean, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad was a dentist, his father, actually, I don’t even know what his dad did. But my mom was a consultant and started businesses, her dad owned a jewelry shop, her grandfather did something. So, it was kind of in the DNA in a way, but it literally was never a conversation, never occurred to me, but my father always wanted me to get a job.
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JESSE: [00:01:32] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is going to be a doozy, and I think he knows that. He’s done a lot of things so there’s a lot of ground to cover. He’s a Master’s All-American sprinter, internationally known internet marketer, former co-host of the nationally syndicated TV show disc doctors, we’re definitely going to get into that here. So, stick stick for that part, because that’s going to be a highlight. And then also, nowadays, he makes shoes, founder of the company Xero Shoes. Welcome to the show Steven Sashen.
STEVEN: [00:02:06] Thank you. I am already a little anxious because clearly you’ve been stalking me.
JESSE: [00:02:11] Well, I mean, that’s my job, right? [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:02:12] I don’t care if it’s your job, it’s freaking me out, man.
JESSE: [00:02:15] Well, I guess I should say, it’s just me doing it manually. I’m not setting any kind of AI to track all of your movements or anything like that. So, the worry level could probably go down just a little bit.
STEVEN: [00:02:30] Okay. All right. If I hear someone riding close behind me on my drive home, though, I’ll know it’s you.
JESSE: [00:02:38] Well, I will say — Well, I don’t know where you live, particularly. But — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:02:41] That’s what you say.
JESSE: [00:02:43] Well, that’s what I say now. Yeah, until I’m like, “Hi, Steven. How are you doing? So, we can go out for a ride sometime.”
STEVEN: [00:02:54] “I’m your new best friend.”
JESSE: [00:02:57] “Tell me all about shoes.” No, I was watching the clip from you guys on Shark Tank, and in the intro, they do the personal profile whatever.
STEVEN: [00:03:08] Yeah, they call that the home package where they come to where you live and film things. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:03:13] Yeah. I was like, I think I saw you running down the trail at Chautauqua State Park in the shoes there at the beginning.
STEVEN: [00:03:18] Yes. That is exactly where I was.
JESSE: [00:03:21] Yes. And I’ll say the reason I know that is in April of this year, my now wife and I came out to Boulder and got married. So, we were out there and that’s why I’m familiar with the State Park.
STEVEN: [00:03:33] You didn’t call me, you didn’t invite me. I love cake.
JESSE: [00:03:36] Yeah. Well, to be fair, you would have been the second celebrity that was there. So, you would have crashed the show.
STEVEN: [00:03:45] Who was the first?
JESSE: [00:03:46] The first was, former Disney star, Johnny Tsunami, or his character’s name Johnny tsunami. He lives in Boulder and does elopements now so yeah, that was a surprise to me as well. I didn’t know him but my wife did. So, she was excited. And we didn’t know he was going to be the officiant until the day of and then he showed up and — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:04:10] So, Colorado is a state where anybody can marry you. So, the officiant for my wife’s and my wedding was the woman who was the — she was part of a marimba band that I played in. And I said you’d be the perfect person for this. And she said sure, and she was the perfect person. We had a lot of fun.
JESSE: [00:04:29] Did the rest of the band show up and play?
STEVEN: [00:04:35] Yes. So, we did have a marimba band for our wedding. And most people had never seen or heard a marimba band. And marimba, African marimba music is like the most danceable thing in the world, so nobody was in their chair for hours. We had a super fun time. We also, we gave out little mini boxes of Lucky Charms that had your name on it for what your food was, not where you’re going to sit. We had board games on the tables instead of flowers in the middle. So, you picked where you wanted to sit based on the board game you wanted to play. And at some point someone cracked open those boxes of Lucky Charms and we had a food fight.
It didn’t come out of nowhere. One of our guests was snuck in a thing of silly string, and he would very surreptitiously squirt people from across the room. And once they figured out it was him, the food fight began. And at the end, Lena and I stayed to help clean up with the staff. And we said, we’re so embarrassed. And they said, “Are you kidding? This was so much fun. We’re happy to do this.”
JESSE: [00:05:27] It sounds like a great time. We had a good time ourselves. Unfortunately, COVID kind of made things difficult on the getting married front. So, we decided to basically invite nobody, so sorry, that’s why your invitation was not in the mail. Even family wasn’t invited. So, yeah, it’s been an interesting time. But — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:05:49] Well, I’m glad people are here for the how to plan a wedding podcast.
JESSE: [00:05:52] Yes. Forget about everything else. This is what we’re doing now. I’m 120 episodes in and I’m done with athletes. [crosstalk] Steven and I are now going to start a company and we’re going to help everybody play in weddings, the perfect wedding. We’ll get our wives on board. It’ll just be a whole thing. You can just sell the shoe company, forget about shoes. This is the new direction.
STEVEN: [00:06:17] All makes sense to me.
JESSE: [00:06:18] I mean, it’s like you said before we got going, you invented the letter E. So, everything’s a footnote after that.
STEVEN: [00:06:25] You know, don’t tell people I invented the letter E. Someone’s going to sue me for cultural appropriation.
JESSE: [00:06:30] You don’t have the patent on letter E?
STEVEN: [00:06:33] Yeah. They didn’t have patents when I did that. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:06:36] Because I was just thinking you’d be getting lots and lots of royalties for everytime the word — anything with E is in it.
STEVEN: [00:06:42] Yeah, it was just a flat payment of $4.28.
JESSE: [00:06:46] That’s very Colorado I suppose.
STEVEN: [00:06:49] It wasn’t — not 4.20, 4.28. I don’t know why I even came up with that number. I started with $4, and I realized I needed to add something to it. And I waited until my brain came up with some words and then I said 28.
JESSE: [00:07:00] Okay, okay, I missed it. So, I guess I have to ask, why is it you seem to skip all over the place and do really well in all of the things that you do. I’m sure it started before Disk Doctors, but if you’re on YouTube, go check it out. Even if you don’t care anything about, I’ll say 90s era computers, you’ll still completely enjoy yourself.
STEVEN: [00:07:29] There’s a fun time. So, Disk offers for people who aren’t going to watch and God knows there’s no reason. It’s sort of like car talk, but it goes on computers, and it’s on TV. So, as I was the PC guy, my partner, Todd, was the Mac guy. We had a lot of fun, and won a regional Emmy. We are famous in other countries where they have only had two television stations, and one was ours. And so I don’t have an answer to your question.
Because I’ve just been really lucky that, for pretty much my entire life, I’ve been able to just do the things that I found interesting and find a way to make a living doing them. And it never occurred to me to that — I’ve never thought about getting a job or applying, I think I’m going to apply for a job just to see what it’s like, because I’ve never done that.
And then of course, I’m going to try and mess with the guy who’s interviewing me because I don’t need the job. So, yeah, I’ve just been, for whatever reason — I mean, I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad was a dentist, his father, actually, I don’t even know what his dad did. But my mom was a consultant and started businesses, her dad owned a jewelry shop, her grandfather did something. So, it was kind of in the DNA in a way, but it literally was never a conversation, never occurred to me, but my father always wanted me to get a job. He thought that would be a good thing. I just didn’t think that was worth my time.
JESSE: [00:08:43] Well, it’s just the whole development — I mean, this is where I go and talking about stalking people.
STEVEN: [00:08:51] Now the truth comes out.
JESSE: [00:08:53] The truth. No, I mean, the podcast itself gives me a view into people’s lives, right. And I get the ability to like, poke at you and ask questions I wouldn’t have to get to otherwise. I have an undergrad degree, one of them in psychology. [crosstalk] The other one’s in math which is why I don’t — But I’m interested in people, like people are weird and we take different paths and you know, it’s a good thing.
STEVEN: [00:09:19] I resent the implication but all right. I’ll let it slide.
JESSE: [00:09:23] You’re the self-described agent hippy that lives in Boulder.
STEVEN: [00:09:27] Yeah, I said that as a joke. So, I’m like so not hippyish other than the long hair, and the fact that I was living in Boulder. So, people always assume that, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
JESSE: [00:09:40] At least when I was in Boulder and I was only there for a week, so that’s the smallest glance you can probably get. I don’t know that I would take Boulder in particular as a bunch of hippies. I would take it as like, more affluent, well-to-do health-conscious than hippies.
STEVEN: [00:09:58] There’s both. Suffice it to say I have brunch with friends in this park in Boulder every Sunday morning, and that we moved to a different area of the park. And in this area of the park, there’ll be our group having brunch anywhere between six and 10 people. And then next to us is someone doing intuitive medical healing. And next to us is someone doing yoga. And next to us is someone doing Tai Chi. And next to us was this woman just doing some weird dancy thing that looked like she was high on something. And next to that was a white guy dressed — he’s like a Sikh who had a big Gong behind him and six very attractive women who are his acolytes. And then next — I mean, I can keep going literally.
Oh, I forgot the guy on the — the white guy again, because Boulder is very diverse, every different kind of white person. Really, really rich, white people, semi rich white people, medium rich white people, and then more actual Africans than African Americans. Because of the music scene, ironically. So, yeah, Boulder has its — it’s crazy. It’s got its serious new age hippy side, and then more engineering and math PhDs per capita than anywhere else. And aerospace engineers as well. I mean, it’s a really interesting dichotomy between the left and the I don’t know what you would call the science world.
JESSE: [00:11:14] So, were you there prior to the shoes or the shoes — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:11:19] Yeah. No, I moved to Boulder 28 years ago, in 93. And that’s when I had a software company. And then from like, when was it, from roughly 2000 to 2009. My wife and I were effectively retired. And then we started Xero Shoes in 2009, sort of by accident, frankly.
JESSE: [00:11:37] Yeah. Well, that’s what I was kind of reading on the, like the origin story about being like, oh, yeah, I don’t know about this. And I do want to give you a little bit of a hard time, considering your technology background, that your website crashed when you had the traffic from Shark Tank.
STEVEN: [00:11:54] Only because no one gave us the idea. Well, there was two things. One, no one gave us the hint that we would see 270,000 concurrent visitors. But more importantly, there was one plugin in the e-commerce software we’re using, that was the thing that crashed it, because they’ve never seen that kind of volume before. So, we had to rewrite the thing, because even after we showed them what happened, they were clueless. So, we’re one of the power users for WooCommerce, and we’ve figured out things that no one else had to figure out because of things like a sudden influx of over 200,000 visitors.
JESSE: [00:12:28] I use Woo on the Solpri website. And I was like, were you using Woo at the time, or?
STEVEN: [00:12:35] We had just switched a couple months before we aired on Shark Tank. And yet no one had beaten it up like that before.
JESSE: [00:12:42] Now we’re going down a tangent, but this is like a personal interest, I guess. So, sorry, to the listener. Was it like an additional plugin you had or was it like Woo itself?
STEVEN: [00:12:53] No, no. It was a plugin, it was the bundled product plug in. Because at the time we were on Shark Tank, we were just selling a — sandal making kit, which we still sell and sell quite a bit of them. They’re great fun, and really, really cool to develop the superpower of knowing how to make your own footwear. And so the bundled product kit plugin was the thing that crashed. It just couldn’t handle that kind of volume.
JESSE: [00:13:13] Okay. But I mean, on the upside, you’re the guy or if you aren’t the guy, you definitely know the guy that can figure out how to fix it, right?
STEVEN: [00:13:23] Oh, I’m the guy who knows how to find the guy. I can’t write a line of code to save my life, but I understand code. I’ve been accused of being one of the best object-oriented programmers who can’t write a line of code. So, I understand architecture, but I can’t get in there and do the heavy lifting.
JESSE: [00:13:38] Gotcha, gotcha. It seems like a kind of good place to be though, where it’s like you know enough to know what you don’t know, and who does know what it is that you need.
STEVEN: [00:13:50] I know enough to work well with the people that are doing the heavy lifting. And I know enough to come up with ideas and suggestions that they may not have thought of because they’re in the weeds, and I’m taking a bigger view of things. So, I’m very useful in that regard, more often than not.
JESSE: [00:14:06] well, I think that lends you to being a good entrepreneur, right? You know how to with the people, they can — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:14:14] It helps with stuff? Well, it helps for me, but there are other people who don’t know any of this stuff. And that works for them, because then they don’t have to spend brain CPU cycles trying to figure out things the technical people are working on. So, I called a dear friend of mine A while ago, who’s been a serial CEO, S-E-R-I-A-L. And I said, I don’t feel like a CEO. And he goes, yeah, you don’t understand. There’s different kinds of CEOs. There’s operational CEOs, there’s finance CEOs, there’s legal CEOs, and there’s product marketing CEOs. And that’s what you are.
And frankly, there are way fewer of them. And so once I realized that, then it’s cool, and my wife is frankly, the operational finance person. So, that’s why we’re a good team and why we were able to build Xero Shoes the way we were. We had swim lanes that we were in, and we really understood you know, the others and what they were doing and why that was important. So, my job was basically to think of all the cool things to do. And for years Lena’s job was to tell me that we didn’t have the money to do them.
JESSE: [00:15:14] So, you could do the fun stuff, and then she gets to come in and tell you can’t do that.
STEVEN: [00:15:19] She likes to say that I have the fun job of thinking of all the cool things that could happen. And her job is to think of everything that could go wrong.
JESSE: [00:15:27] Okay. And then the marriage together helps drive you forward.
STEVEN: [00:15:32] Yeah, perfect. Now ironically, it’s not totally true. When it comes to marketing, my job is to think of all the things that could go wrong. So, when people are approaching me from a marketing perspective, to say, hey we’re going to do this thing, and it’s going to make you a million dollars. I go, yeah, you’re probably wrong. I need to look at the risk. I need to think of everything that could happen, that — In fact, the thing that I say to people multiple times a day is how quickly and cheaply can I find out if you have your head up your butt? And they’re like, what? I go, because you don’t bat 1000, right? They go no. And I go, Well, I have to assume that I’m going to be one of those cases where it’s not going to work.
And I have to decide if I’m willing to A, spend the money if it’s a total bust. And B, figure out the probability math, to understand the possibility of it breaking, even, frankly. I don’t even care about the profit part. And that’s how I have to figure out who I might engage with or not. And more than nine times out of 10, once we start doing the math at all, if they can give me any numbers, because they often can’t. But if they can give me any numbers, nine times out of 10, it’s nothing that’s going to work. And I can show it to them in seconds.
JESSE: [00:16:34] Is this people like pitching you products for their company?
STEVEN: [00:16:38] No. Well, here’s a perfect example, a company that does affiliate-based influencer marketing, they find influencers are only going to get paid based on performance. But then they take a fee for managing this. And I said based on your fee and the affiliate commissions, I need to make X amount of dollars to break even at X amount of dollars. I know my math, means I need X times two and a half times the number of good visitors. So, can you tell me how you’re going to get that number of visitors? How many influencers are you going to find? What kind of traffic they can generate on? You know, from your experience, what are you going to be able to deliver this?
Well, we can’t make any promises, but we’re going to be transparent. I go no, I don’t care about transparent, you need to give me some idea of why you think this makes sense. Well, you know, we feel really confident. Yeah, I don’t care how you feel, I need to know the numbers. I just told you how much traffic I need. So, you’re going to have to tell me how you’re going to generate that kind of traffic. And they never could. So, we said see ya.
JESSE: [00:17:41] Yeah, I’m with you now. I get some of those pitches slightly differently in that, like, some of my company’s products are on Amazon. So, I’ll get people saying, oh, we can manage your Amazon account, do all this. I’m just like, why would I do that?
STEVEN: [00:17:55] Well it’s an interesting thing, just for the fun of sharing, that our business has grown to the point that I’m starting to do things that I find morally repugnant. And that is, I have to spend money on things as a marketer, that will never make me money. So, for example, there are people who, we’ve gotten popular enough that people are using our brand, our copyrights, our trademarks, our content, to build phishing sites, and steal credit card data from people. I have to spend 10s of 1000s of dollars now to monitor them, shut them down, etc. And it has nothing to do with making a living, it has to do with protecting people. And there’s other things like that, that are crazy.
I mean, actually, here’s a funny one. We have a private equity partner, and they insist that we get cyber insurance. And I argued with them about it. I said why? They said well, what if you get hit with a ransomware attack? I said, we’re not susceptible to a ransomware attack, everything we do is in the cloud. Well, what if someone tries to take down your network? We don’t have a network. That’s not the way our system is set up. Well, what if someone tries to take down your website?
We keep real time backups, we do back up in 15 minutes. We’ll, I don’t really know about this stuff. I said well I do. That’s why I’m telling you we don’t really need it. And besides the things that that insurance covers, I mean, we’re definitely not susceptible to. And finally they said look, if anyone ever decides to buy your company, they’re going to want to check off you have cyber insurance. Why didn’t you tell me that I’m willing to spend the money for something where they can check the box and feel better about us. But the rest of it is, again, intellectually vacuous.
And so things like that as a marketer, if I’m spending money, and it doesn’t make me money, it makes me very upset. So, it’s sort of like when people talk about branding, we just want to give you some brand awareness like, yeah, branding is marketing for people who don’t have the balls for tracking. If I can’t see the results, I can’t do it. Because we need the money, we need to make the money so we can afford the growth that we’re experiencing. We’ve never had enough money to buy enough inventory for the following year. So, we need to make sure things work. And most people don’t think that way and most people don’t know their numbers well enough to assess whether they’re making reasonably intelligent decisions. I would never say that I’m right 100% of the time. I’ve been right and wrong in both directions; wrong and made money right and lost money.
JESSE: [00:20:15] [inaudible] quote.
STEVEN: [00:20:17] Oh crap, I have a quote.
JESSE: [00:20:20] It’s something like branding is marketing for people who don’t have the balls for tracking.
STEVEN: [00:20:23] You know that’s exactly it. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:20:27] Well, because, and sorry for the listener. I guess we’ve gotten down a weird marketing rabbit hole. But you know, like, that’s how you make decisions, right? You’re like, I spent this many dollars and this many dollars came back out and you can look at all the metrics from there in, like click-through rate impressions, all the steps of where people are, are and all that kind of stuff. But just if you don’t look at it, you don’t know what the problem is.
STEVEN: [00:20:55] You just did. My favorite thing is like click-through rate and impressions, those are two things that I could care less about. Because those are the two easiest things to fake. I can literally go buy a million impressions for $100. I can buy a million clicks for $100. So, the only thing that matters is really what comes out the other side, which is can I see that we made sales based on this? And even crazier, can I see that the sales came from that marketing initiative, not from some other thing related to it. So, when people, anyway, we could go down that it’s suffice to say the math, it gets very complicated. If you understand it well. And if you’re a salesperson, you can hyper simplify it. And for people — better you know, you can keep your job. But you’re not really providing a benefit to the universe.
JESSE: [00:21:45] Well as somebody who is way more versed in internet marketing than I am, I want to pick your brain just briefly on that point. So, when I mentioned click-through rate, I would use that personally if I’m like, as trying to figure out what kind of like, say, images or ad creatives grabs people’s attention.
STEVEN: [00:22:07] This is my pause finger. Yes, you’re right, you’re right-ish. So, click-through rate is an interesting number. It can be valuable, but it’s not always valuable. So, sometimes you can get a really high click-through rate with really crap traffic, and what good is it? Sometimes you can get a lower click-through rate, but it’s better traffic. So, the click-through rate is just one thing you need to look at as part of a panoply of word that I don’t think I’ve ever used in a sentence, a panoply of data that you need to look at with a more holistic perspective, to get a sense of what’s going on.
I mean, perfect example, a very big deal Youtuber contacted me, love your shoes. I want you to come out and do this conference that I’m putting on, and I’m going to have six sponsors. I want you to be one of the sponsors. I said cool, it’s going to cost you X number of dollars, went not so cool. I need to know if I can make money with you before I can spend a bunch of money to come to your conference. So, he sent out a bunch of emails, amazing click-through rate of 26,000 unique visitors to our website in a very short period of time. We made a whopping and that’s air quotes around the word whopping 20 sales.
And I said to him, dude, if I’d gotten 26,000 unique visitors through what we’re already doing, we would have gotten about 1000 sales. So, clearly, your audience is nothing but I don’t know, 13-year-old boys from Bangladesh or something, right? And he had no idea and it took me a — I kept showing him the numbers. And no one had ever done that to them before. No one had ever tracked the results and showed them the numbers. So, they were able to garner these very, very high fees for doing things that were completely ineffectual.
JESSE: [00:23:36] Well, I’m glad you shared that. Because if I get approached for stuff like that, and they say, hey whatever, spend money with us and we’ll bring you — And I say, well, like the people you’ve worked with previously, like, what kind of results did they get? And they say, well, they don’t share that with us. And I’m like, well, then how am I supposed to know?
STEVEN: [00:23:56] Right. Here’s the flipside, when they say we’ll send you a case study, I go, don’t bother. They go, what? I go, well, the only one I care about is the crappy ones. I want to see who lost and figure out why. Because you’re not going to send anything that’s related to my business. I don’t know what their goals are, you’re always going to send me the best looking whatever. You’re going to send me things that are averages. And if you’re going to give me an average or a math person, if you’re going to give me an average, give me the maximum, the minimum and the standard deviation because that’s the only way I can determine what’s useful. And I’ve literally never talked to anyone who was able to — who even knew what I meant when I said that.
JESSE: [00:24:29] Yeah. well, it’s like I’d rather in a similar vein, and you’re probably even more of a math person than I am despite my degree. But I’m like, I’m more just like what’s the distribution like. Okay, they have a case study of somebody that does well. It’s like, okay, was that one out of 100 clients that did that well or is it 50% of clients do well or — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:24:49] I’m an influencer, and on average, my videos get a million views. No, you had one view that got 100 million views and you have 100 videos that got one view. So, yeah,
JESSE: [00:24:59] Yeah. All right. Well, part of my shtick was going to be to ask you how do I get you on my marketing team. So, I’ve roundabout poked your brain enough about marketing. So, we’ll try to divest ourselves from that a little bit, and give the listener a little bit more, maybe athletic meat to come back to. So, you came back to sprinting of all things, which people don’t typically do, at least that I know, you know, 30 years on from the last time you did it. Why did you come back to sprinting? I mean, you’re in Boulder. There’s all the trails, why don’t you go, oh, I’m going to do an ultra like everybody else?
STEVEN: [00:25:40] Because I’m a sprinter. So, people don’t come — I mean, I’m going to reframe what you said. It’s not come back to sprinting. It’s that people don’t become sprinters. Sprinters come back to sprinting. Non-sprinters are not sprinters. And I had this argument with Daniel Lieberman at Harvard, where he said we’re all persistence endurance athletes. We evolve to slowly track down our prey. And I said not my people. And he’s like, what? I said no, I’m a sprinter, I’m not a distance runner. I can’t do distance. It doesn’t work. He goes, well, you just didn’t train that way. I said, yeah, that’s what all you slow guys say.
Now we’re a different breed. What I can tell you is my friends and I, we deadlift three times our body weight. Your friends can barely do a couple of push ups. So, your friends would go slowly hunt down the antelope, my friends would come pick it up, throw it over their shoulders and carry it home. So, different energy system, different way of using your body, actually, that’s not true. The form is not radically different, frankly, it’s just different energy system. Like when people talk about high intensity interval training, they say things like sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds and repeat that eight times. And I say if you can do that, more than one and a half times, you’re not actually sprinting. You may be running as fast as you can, but you’re not sprinting.
And finally I said to one guy how far do you run in 30 seconds? And he very proudly said something like, I don’t know 180 meters. I said dude, I’m 30 years older than you. And when I go all out for 30 seconds, I go 250 meters. And he’s like, oh, oh, yeah, that’s different. I went, yeah. So anyway, so I got back into sprinting. I took a break because everyone got taller than I was in high school. And our track coach was not a sprinting coach, didn’t understand sprinters. So, I became a pole vaulter and long jumper then. I was an All-American gymnast at that same time. And then occasionally, people tried to get me to run, which I do a half a mile and like I’m done. And then one day, a friend of mine came into brunch, and said, he just won his first 5K. He was really proud. And I said yeah, I love the idea of running. But I was always a sprinter. He goes, you know there’s a whole masters track and field circuit that has all the events. And I went, what? And so that’s how it all began.
JESSE: [00:27:55] That’s kind of what I’m waiting for at this point. So, I’m 32 now and I’m like I’m not anywhere fast enough to be like, professional runner. And I’m a distance runner. So, that’s what I did in college. So, I’m like, I just need to wait a couple decades. [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:28:12] This is always the plan. [crosstalk] No, here’s the problem. There’s a lot of guys who are having that same thought. There’s also a lot of guys who’ve continued through the age that you are and are going to continue. So, the guys who were faster than me, most of them are former nationally ranked professional athletes and things, and it’s a whole different game. I will confess, when I first got back into sprinting, I did have the fantasy of winning races. And I do win most of the races that I’m in, in my age group, and often an age group or two below mine as well. But when it gets to like nationals and international meets, my only goal there is to like make it to a quarterfinal or be in a relay at the end of the thing.
At regional meets, or even some national meets my goal is to show up at the starting line, and as the five foot four inch white Jew, have people look at me and go, What the hell’s he doing here, and then beat most of the guys that I’m racing, because I’m not going to beat all of them at a national meet, and have them go what just happened? and happily, that’s kind of the effect that I generate is it’s a little surprising, apparently. But there are guys — I mean, I used to claim that I was potentially the fastest Jew over 55 in the world. And then I met a guy who’s three years older than me who’s actually just one of the fastest guys in the world.
So, I like to say now, I think I’m the second fastest, which actually makes me seem a little more humble. But this guy’s a freak. I mean, he got back into sprinting at 39. And I think his second or his third time running, not his third race, I think his third time running he set a national record. I mean, sprinting is 99% genetics and 1% maximizing your genetics.
JESSE: [00:29:50] Yeah, that’s when I was getting to triathlon, post college, I was speaking with the collegiate swim coach at the college I went to. And he was like I love training the endurance swimmers because he was like the sprinters, like you either have it or you don’t. He said there’s much more I can do as a coach with the endurance athletes and building them up than I can with the sprinters where they can get better but if you’re not built to do it, you’re not built to do it.
STEVEN: [00:30:21] There are very — The only instance I can think of, of a internationally ranked sprinter who was not the fastest kid that people knew growing up is Ben Johnson. At 15, he was not a great sprinter. He’s okay apparently. Charlie Francis’s coach thought there was something there. And between training and performance enhancing drugs that everybody was taking then he became an internationally ranked sprinter. But literally, I can’t think of another story. When someone asked on a panel discussion, a High School track coach, they said how do you identify the people you want to bring into your spring program when they’re in high school. He said I don’t. I look at them in fifth grade and I find the fastest kid in school.
JESSE: [00:31:06] Makes it simple?
STEVEN: [00:31:08] Well, it’s just that’s the way it is. I mean, the only — Even in high school the only guys who beat me in high school were my closest friends who were the fastest guy from a different Elementary School.
JESSE: [00:31:18] Gotcha. So, you said you did pole vault and [crosstalk] long jump. Did you actually enjoy those or were you forced to do it?
STEVEN: [00:31:34] I loved them. So, long jump because it’s basically sprinting and then you just jump and then pole vault it’s basically sprinting and then you do gymnastics So, no, I was still doing both as a Masters athlete but I also have a broken spine and so when I discovered that my doctors went can you please stop pole vaulting and lawn jumping and we’re not even sure about the sprinting. I said I will give you pole vaulting and long jumping. In fact I didn’t even say that. I got out of the pit ever landing in a long jump and my legs were vibrating and I realized that was because I just jammed my sciatic nerve by compressing my spine. So I went, all right, I’ll stop that one. Pole vaulting, it made sense to stop and sprinting, they can’t convince me to stop.
JESSE: [00:32:14] Well, the pole vaulting, there is obviously some inherent risk in launching yourself high into the air.
STEVEN: [00:32:22] Yes, only of death. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:32:25] Well, I mean, I guess you’d come down and you die, you’re not going to know any different.
STEVEN: [00:32:31] Here’s what pole vaulting is like, pole vaulting is like running as fast as you can into a wall. That’s the mentality you have to have. Because I’m willing to run as fast as I can and then hit a wall, and then be nimble enough to not slam into it. But basically, that’s the gist. Like, there’s a guy here in town named Pat Manson. And Pat was an Olympic pole vaulter. I think he jumped over 17, maybe even over 18, I can’t remember. I think over 18 feet like every year from the time he was, I’m making this up, 18 to 35 or something. I mean crazy long career. And watching Pat approach the box — his last — he accelerates in the last four steps before he plants. And when you watch that, it feels like it’s insane. It feels like this guy is accelerating as he’s about to hit the wall. What’s he doing?
And then standing under the bar, when he’s jumping 17 6 18 feet, your brain just goes that is not possible. And then of course you watch guys who are 18-20 feet, and it seems even less can — I mean, you can’t even conceive it. The only thing that made less sense to me that I saw it in real-time, I was in Berlin when Usain Bolt set the world record. I was like five rows off the track at the 70 meter mark and watching someone run by you at just shy of 30 miles an hour fast enough to get a speeding ticket in my neighborhood, your brain just goes what, it just doesn’t seem real.
JESSE: [00:33:58] Yeah. I think that the — so if you the listener have never seen pole vault in person — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:34:06] You must.
JESSE: [00:34:07] Right. You have to because the trick is like you can watch it on TV at the Olympics but it’s not the same as I’m going to sit next to the mats or right next to where the bar is, and watching them go up, seeing the pole band like seeing the whole thing in real time. It’s not the same thing.
STEVEN: [00:34:27] No, track doesn’t translate to TV very well. And most sports don’t. You know one of the most exciting sports I’ve ever seen in my life in real-time, that it couldn’t be more boring on TV, is Olympic lifting. In real-time, the adrenaline is so high. It’s contagious. It is so exciting. And just so terrifying. Especially in the lower weight classes where you’re watching guys lift three times their body weight. I mean just like some crazy numbers. And it was — I mean, I get chills thinking about it. One of the most exciting things I ever saw live, but you can’t go to like the Olympics and see it, or even some national meets because you’re too far away. You got to go to a regional meet where you’re like right up against the stage. And it is, oh, man. It’s the best.
JESSE: [00:35:16] I don’t know that I’ve seen any of that [crosstalk] in person. I don’t know that I have. I can imagine it.
STEVEN: [00:35:26] I lucked out. When they had the Atlanta Olympics., we’re in Colorado, of course, the Olympic Training Centers in Colorado Springs, so they had most of the qualifying meats around Colorado. So, I just went to everything I could think of that I had never seen before. I went to Taekwondo and Greco Roman wrestling. And wrestling is super fun to go to because the people in the stands, they’re either all wrestlers, ex-wrestlers, or family of wrestlers, or ex-wrestlers. There’s like no one there who’s just casually interested, and they all know each other, they all grew up together. So, it’s this big familial thing. If they could have a barbecue, they would have a barbecue right there in the stadium.
And when I watched wrestling at the Olympics, there was this one Polish wrestler who was just doing really well. And everyone knew him. They didn’t expect him to do that well. And when they saw how well he was doing, everybody became his biggest fan. Everyone’s just screaming Polska Polska. I mean, people who would otherwise be against him, they were just so happy for him. I mean, oh, man, it was awesome.
JESSE: [00:36:28] There’s got to be, I don’t know. I don’t know, like, distance running is kind of like that. But I think there’s like probably proportionally way more people that do it. So, you probably lose some of that. I think you probably still get a little bit of that when you start going trail and ultra where it’s like, various people showing up.
STEVEN: [00:36:51] But it’s not the same as a sport that’s as self-contained as something like wrestling. And here’s another one that people have probably never been to that is I went to because it happened to be in Boulder. And I thought I got to go check this out. I went to the northern Colorado amateur bodybuilding competition. Now, some of these amateurs were really good. But the reason for being there, the thing that shocked me about it was, it was the most supportive loving environment I’ve ever been in my life. Because there was a bunch of people on that stage who clearly weren’t ready to be there. Either they hadn’t gotten to the point where they should have been there, or they didn’t lean down enough, whatever it was. But the important part was that everybody in that audience, at some point, had been that person. And so they were so supportive. They were so kind. It was, I mean, it’s just wonderful.
And then at the end, they bring out a guy who’s a professional bodybuilder, who’s three times the size of the guys that you just saw. And he’ll come out and do some guest posing, like get a run out in the audience. And everyone is keeping a respectful distance as they’re taking photos. And I am not that guy. I’m like an inch away going what the hell, it looks like someone took a cow apart and put it back together inside your skin. I mean, to stand next to someone who was, this is a guy named Jay Cutler. He’s like 5”8-5”9, in the offseason, he weighed about almost 300 pounds, guy’s barely taller than I am, twice my weight. And to see someone to see, I mean, whether you like it or not, it’s not the important part. It’s just literally amazing to see. It’s something that it’s so rare, that it was just fascinating, totally fascinating, but the supportive part was just utterly delightful. Gotta go, gotta go.
JESSE: [00:38:40] I’m not sure what to follow that up with.
STEVEN: [00:38:43] Well, it was nice talking to you. So, anyway. I guess what I’m making a play for is whenever you get a chance, find a sport where they’re having some kind of decently competitive event, not just like a high school thing, necessarily, where you’re going to see people who are really good, that you’ve never gone to before. And just go see it live and try to get the best seat you can. Because you will be shocked, I would argue, at finding things that you never imagined in a million years will be super, super exciting, super interesting. You may never follow them again, you’re not going to attract the athletes. But when the event comes, you’ll go because you know, there’s something very special going on.
And when we’re in our own little private Idaho about the thing that we do, I think you miss out on some of those things. And track meets are funny that way. Because I call track beats attention deficit disorder theater, because there’s so many things going on at one time. And you’re usually watching the thing that you know and you like, but it’s going to be the other thing that’s really cool. Like, at the world masters track and field championships, I competed there in Finland about 13 years ago.
The most exciting thing was a guy who threw the shot put, it’s not technically throwing but anyway, put the shot about 10 feet. Why is that exciting? Because he was 101. And everybody was glued to this guy because everyone in that audience is thinking I want to be that guy. I want to be 101, I want to be out here doing this. I don’t care how good it is, I just want to be out here. And it was the best.
JESSE: [00:40:13] That’s funny. The thing I was going to say is like, obviously I can watch the distance events and see what’s going on, the little things and the moves and all that kind of stuff. But when I would be done with my event, I would go hang out with the throwers. [crosstalk] I like disc. Hammer is always interesting to me.
STEVEN: [00:40:34] Hammer’s insane. I mean, I remember watching a hammer thrower when I was a kid, and just thinking that was crazy. But then you know, we have one of the top hammer throwers in the world here in Colorado. Watching that, I mean, it is flat out nuts. You know what, it looks like someone just got electrocuted, and then they throw a 16 pound ball 200 feet. I mean, just, it is crazy.
JESSE: [00:40:59] Yeah. Well, it’s again another thing where you can watch it on TV, but the perspective is like if you don’t have a bearing in having watched it live, you don’t really get how freakin far that thing’s flying.
STEVEN: [00:41:15] There’s another part, though. When you’re watching it live, there’s always this thing in the back of your head, like, that thing is going to hit me. This could go off the rails at any moment.
JESSE: [00:41:25] Yes. Well, that’s exactly what my wife said when we were watching it. We were watching hammer, and you know, there’s people out measuring and they’re standing in the field as it’s coming up. And she’s like, aren’t they afraid it’s going to hit them. I’m like maybe. I think there’s probably some cognitive dissonance where it’s like it’s not going to hit me.
STEVEN: [00:41:42] No, but I mean, hammer even more than any of the others, you watch that and literally you think this could get very bad very fast. And that’s part of the excitement of it.
JESSE: [00:41:53] I think about that probably more with javelin because they’re like — You can look up YouTube examples of notable Javelin situations that have gone wrong, and because it is basically a weapon. Well, I mean, they’re all weapons but because I think that the sharp pointy part makes it a little more like, imaginatively visceral.
STEVEN: [00:42:15] Yeah, the heavy bally part can do more damage, but the sharp pointy point part makes more sense.
JESSE: [00:42:21] I don’t know if it’s a matter of just like, most of us have never been bludgeoned with something. But we’ve cut ourselves, right? So, I don’t know if that’s it. Like, if that’s like, well, it’s sharp. So, I know, sharp is bad. But I’ve never been like hit up by — [crosstalk]
STEVEN: [00:42:36] Let’s say during the Civil War people were more uptight about hammer throw than they were about Javelin. Yeah. More and more flying balls of steel then.
JESSE: [00:42:45] But we’re so divorced from that. Now it’s just this entertainment. It’s, oh, look at them throwing the ball. Okay, great.
STEVEN: [00:42:53] Yeah, it’s actually an interesting point. A lot of these things did evolve out of stuff that we used to do to survive.
JESSE: [00:42:59] Right, or kill each other, [crosstalk] which is the — sometimes. Yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, it’s like I had briefly entertained — because I was not good enough to be a professional runner, and I was like, I want to continue on with athletics after college. I ended up going with triathlon, trying to be a pro in that, but I briefly entertained the idea of trying to get into modern pentathlon. And I told my wife about this, I don’t know, during the Olympics, because she didn’t know.
And she was like, what is that? And I told her, and for those that don’t know, modern pentathlon, there’s horseback riding, pistol shooting, fencing, running and swimming. And she’s like, how do you get this amalgamation of events? Well, like it’s where as decathlon is supposed to be like a Grecian soldier, the skills of a Grecian soldier, then modern pentathlon is supposed to be like a 19th century horseback kind of soldiery-person. So, it’s all warfare-related adaptations of skills.
STEVEN: [00:44:04] Here’s a sport that is also or the two sports that are also really exciting to watch in a way that makes no sense whatsoever and that’s archery and target shooting. And they’re excited to watch because you’re just waiting to see you know, are they going to do it? I mean, it’s like we know what has to happen, is it going to happen or not? And I have a weird fantasy. So, my mind is not, how do I put it? Focus is not my thing, per se. I mean, going broad and seeing lots of possibilities is my thing.
But physically, I’m into the precision things. Sprinting is a precision sport. I was into target shooting as a kid, archery and riflery, bowling, golf, I mean any of those things that are precision is what I really like. I can go to sniper school. I have no interest in being a sniper. But what you have to do to be able to reliably hit a target a mile and a half away is utterly fascinating. And I want to try that.
JESSE: [00:45:04] Well, maybe we’ll have to have you back on after you’ve gone and tell us about the experience and everything that happened.
STEVEN: [00:45:10] I think some of this came from living in a house that was on open space, and there was a trail about a half a mile out. And I just kept thinking I could pick those people off. I could get them. I could get them with a paintball. Nobody would know.
JESSE: [00:45:23] Maybe that’s a good note to end on. No. We are running short on time. So, I have a question I asked everybody, or at least I have a new question every season. So, this season’s question is, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?
STEVEN: [00:45:39] Isn’t that enough motivation?Seriously, like, if I — It’s an interesting question. I don’t set goals to begin with, per se. That’s just not — doesn’t make sense to me in most contexts. But if I’m trying to do something, and it doesn’t work, that’s usually motivation enough. Sprinting is an interesting one, for example, because you can’t do it perfectly. So, at the end of a race, someone says, How did you do? And my answer is, do you just want a number? Am I supposed to give me the excuse? Because there’s always something wrong that happened, you can’t do it, right. And the intermittent reinforcement-ness of it is self motivating. It’s what makes it actually fun and addicting to do. It’s why I can’t do it just without competition. I need to have the competition, because otherwise, what’s the point?
And the competition is, it’s not a goal, it’s just something to work towards, if you will, and then it’ll do what it does, and where you go. And if it doesn’t go well, there’s literally the intrinsic effect of intermittent reinforcement, like, oh, dammit, if I could only have done that thing, right. And so literally, you don’t have to do anything to motivate yourself other than be willing to try and you know, get a little better next time. It’s ironically, I did stand up comedy for a living, and it’s in a weird way, not too dissimilar from that, because in the early stages, you have good sets and bad sets, and then eventually it evens out and you get better. And then there are these anomalous moments that are really good or really bad.
And once you’re basically competent, which means you don’t blame the audience, when a joke doesn’t work, you can tell the difference between something funny and something not. Then, for me, at least, is intrinsically motivating. It’s not — I don’t need to do a thing. I would argue that if you need to do a thing, then you’re not doing the right thing. Your attention is in the wrong place. If it doesn’t just make us get out of bed going, I gotta — Oh, Jesus then something is awry. If you feel like, you need to psych yourself up for something — I mean, there’s times you need to psych yourself up for the thing you’re going to do. But if you need to psych yourself up, even for the training of it, for example, find another hobby.
Actually, here’s a weird one. For sprinting, one thing that’s been — in almost anything I’ve done, one of the things that’s really helpful, I can’t say that it’s something that I use as a motivating technique, but as part of the process is my partners, my training partners. I mean, we love each other dearly. We’ve been doing this now for 13-14 years. And even when it was less we loved each other dearly. We support each other. Sometimes one will call the other and say which track are we going to use today.
And when we get there, the other one says, I’m so glad you called because I was ready to sleep in. And it’s not because we’re not motivated. It’s just because sometimes you feel the urge to sleep in. Sometimes it takes 20 minutes of warming up till you realize, ph, actually, I did want to do this this morning. I just needed to get over a little hump. But so the social thing is part of what makes it work, if you will.
And I remember when I was a kid, when I was a gymnast, I wrote a — I started writing a book with a friend of mine, that was about how to get in shape, basically how to lift weights, how to get stronger. And the first chapter was find a partner. Because it’s just, there’s some days you just don’t want to do it. And there’s some times where that’s good to listen to and take time off. And there’s some times where you just need a reason to just get rolling. This is going to sound really weird, somewhat tangential.
So, we’ve just moved into this new house and I’ve got a home gym that I put together in the basement, is where we also have a little media room. I would never have made a media room, it came with the house. I’m embarrassed by that.
But that’s where the TV is. And so the point of that is, it’s also the way to get out of the house to get to the hot tub that’s outside. So, I have to walk through my home gym multiple times per day. Every time I walk through, I do something. So, I don’t necessarily do a concerted workout or concentrated workout, but every day I do some things. And that works for me better than I’m going to set aside 40 minutes three times a week or whatever it is, the organic thing is really helpful.
So, I guess that’s another answer to your question is, whenever possible, just put the thing that you need to do in the way so you can’t ignore it. That doesn’t mean you’re going to do it right away. You might look at it and go oh, crap and walk by. But eventually you’re going to go, yeah, shit may as well just do it.
JESSE: [00:50:22] It’s a very complex, yet well-thought-out answers, I really appreciate that.
STEVEN: [00:50:27] Most people say things like do affirmations and do blah, blah, blah.
JESSE: [00:50:30] I actually don’t get that very often, surprisingly.
STEVEN: [00:50:32] Oh, good. What do most people say?
JESSE: [00:50:35] some people, it kind of common this year has been like, I just set another goal, or like, it doesn’t matter. I try again. Most of the people that I have on the show don’t view failure as like, this life ending, oh, it’s such a thing, because they’ve gone through so many times that it’s like, it’s just another step in the process to get where I want to go.
STEVEN: [00:51:02] I’ll sort of leave this topic on this thought. I’ve talked to a number of Olympians about this. And usually because it comes up in a conversation where someone asked them, how do you get in the zone or something like that. Or they asked something about what do you do for your mental preparation, or your psychological, whatever. And they’ll go on for 20 minutes. And then I say, did you ever have a personal best when you felt like shit? They said yeah.
Did you ever set a world record when you felt like you couldn’t even get out of bed? They go, yeah. I go, well, there goes that sports psychology bullshit. So, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And clearly what you’re thinking has nothing to do with it.
Humans love to try to reverse engineer what we call success, getting to a goal. But you can’t, some days you know, the stars line up, and you happen to be the one. The analogy I like is you happen to be the guy standing under the building, when someone yelled, baby, and you just put out your arms and the baby landed in your arms. And sometimes you could do everything you can to try to catch that baby, and it’s going to splat. And we love to try to figure out how to be the guy who catches the baby more often. You just can’t do it.
I mean, there’s a reason they talk about football, say any given Sunday. It’s true for everything. There’s some times where the odds are stacked in your — Like, I said to some of these Olympians after they went through the whole thing about how they mentally prepared and got in the zone. I went, yeah, here’s a crazy one for you. You were the best in the world at that time. And they’re like oh. I said, when I was an All-American gymnast, I didn’t have to do anything to get psyched up. I just happened to be the best in that area that I was competing in at that time, for innumerable factors that were out of my control.
My grandfather was a gymnast, which I didn’t know till I was in my 40s. My junior high school gym teacher was a three time — five time national three time world tumbling champion and one of the greatest teachers of all sorts, who just happened to be able to teach to what you did. I mean, there was just so many factors that had nothing to do with me. Plus the factors that had to do with me had nothing to do with me; genetics and you know, crazy whatever. Like the 10,000 — sorry, last thought.
Like people get into this whole 10,000 hour rule thing. And I say first of all, that’s nonsense, because no gymnast or sprinter has ever been able to put in 10,000 hours. But more importantly, what makes you the kind of person who wants to put in 10,000 hours. You can’t fake that you can’t do that artificially that’s either there or not. And if it’s there, you’re probably one of those people who if you put in 10,000 hours if that’s an activity that allows it, where you’re going to end up pretty damn good.
JESSE: [00:53:33] Yeah. Before we sign off, where can people get the shoes? Maybe see your stand up comedy, is that recorded anywhere?
STEVEN: [00:53:41] No. No, no. So, I’m at Xero Shoes, X-E-R-O Shoes.com or @XeroShoes or /Xero Shoes on social media wherever you happen to at or slash.
JESSE: [00:53:54] Awesome. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Steven.
STEVEN: [00:53:56] Pleasure, man.