[00:00:00] I am definitely finding a balance. And I think what I found is like creative work has to — excuse me for the yawn — speaking of tired during the day from work and constantly sleepy you know. But I have to get my creative work done in the morning or it will not get done or it won’t get done at least effectively. Like some people are like, “Yeah, I need to run to get my creative juices going” and I’m just the opposite. Like, I cannot be creative if I’ve already run. It’s like expelled all my creative energy. So, yeah, so interesting. And it’s been a balance that I have not mastered. I’m definitely. You know, I’d like to think that I have a long way to go in my pro career.
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Jesse: [00:01:40] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host Jesse Funk. My guest today is interestingly a former kindergarten teacher. We’re going to ask her about that. Currently a pro ultra runner. She has numerous wins over the years, including the Western States 100 in 2018. She was the first American at UTMB as well as qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon that year. You can find her on Instagram @catberad. Welcome to the show, Cat Bradley.
Cat: [00:02:13] Hello. Thanks for having me.
Jesse: [00:02:14] Yeah, thanks for joining me. If you’re just listening to the audio version, you’re missing out. And Cat’s cool background, which is actually her van because she’s on the road getting ready to head out and race kind of on the trail, so to speak. No pun intended, trying to train and travel and do all the things that a pro runner is obligated to do it sometimes. So. If you have the opportunity, check out on Instagram, say thank you for being able to be here for this episode because making accommodations on the road is not always the easiest thing.
Cat: [00:02:52] Thanks. Van makes it way easier. I’ll tell you, pre I built out minivan before this big one. It was way more difficult.
Jesse: [00:03:04] So before we get going, you had mentioned something about being on the road, trying to hit all your sponsor obligations before you’re getting to races. I guess one of the things I want to ask you about is, generally speaking, life as a pro, but then also what that looks like in meeting the sponsor’s obligations. Because I think.
From the outside looking in, many people will look at the life of a pro and go. Isn’t that awesome that you just get to run a lot? You could just focus on training and I don’t know as much of the intricacies as a pro runner. I know a little bit more about pro athletes, but I know many of them do their best to work at other job and train. And sometimes it can be a difficult to be a pro endurance athlete.
Cat: [00:03:57] Yeah, totally. And you know, I did it as a full-time pro right after Western States. I was a kindergarten teacher and I had this opportunity and I was like, I’m going to take it. And then just a financial burden. I had a retainer from my sponsors and I had and I have other financial support from other sponsors. But it still is just, you know, the sport’s small and still in trail running. It’s not enough. Even winning the biggest race in the world, Western states, you know, it’s still small.
[00:04:30] So I did I have been working quite a bit, still doing a bunch of 1099 stuff, contract work for other brands and sometimes for the brands that I’m affiliated with as an athlete. And then, you know, doing other stuff too, you know, I’m doing the super cool film project Brooks this year that doesn’t – we’re not getting paid for that. It’s a cool opportunity to tell my story, tell about my life, and then also talk about and then it’s also more eyes on stuff that I’m doing and will open doors elsewhere if I ever decide that, you know, professional running is too taxing on the body and mind. So, you know, got to got a lot of fires going, so to speak.
Jesse: [00:05:21] I definitely understand that mentality is like, I don’t know, I’m in the middle of like maybe six different product launches and this brand and another brand and it’s basically just me with a little bit of assistance and just running all of the different threads at the same time can be taxing mentally to try to keep track of it. And then —
Cat: [00:05:49] Totally.
Jesse: [00:05:49] You know, like my mileage is nothing compared to what you’re doing now. Like I’m doing like 25, 30 miles a week nowadays versus like when I was doing triathlon more seriously, trying to become a pro, putting in 15, 20 hour weeks, which was good for me. That’s about as far as I got. But just I have some inclination about the fatigue level, just your brain goes through after all of it and you’re like, I can’t. At least I couldn’t, I guess think straight enough to, like, do creative work or do any of that like —
Cat: [00:06:24] Yeah — you know, I’m definitely finding a balance. And, you know, I think what I found is like creative work has to — excuse me for the yawn — speaking of, you know, tired during the day from work and constantly sleepy, you know. But I have to get my creative work done in the morning or it will not get done or it won’t get done at least effectively. Like some people are like, “Yeah, I need to run to get my creative juices going” and I’m just the opposite. Like, I cannot be creative if I’ve already run. It’s like expelled all my creative energy.
[00:07:04] So, yeah, so interesting. And it’s been a balance that I have not mastered. I’m definitely. You know, I’d like to think that I have a long way to go in my pro career. And, you know, I’m learning how to balance that. And I kind of, you know, after being as a teacher, I wasn’t making that much money. And then as my first few years as pro athlete, you know, just living well below the poverty line, you know, trying to make ends meet, you know, I just got so tired of that that I took on a ton of work. You know, you kind of get fame and mentality about work and and stuff, you know?
[00:07:48] And now, you know, I’m just trying to balance that and also realize like, okay, where do my priorities lay? And I think, you know, I’m kind of deciding is I stabilized, like, okay, I still care a lot about running. I need to let some things go, but I can’t go all in on just running again unless I have a fat contract. But that’s just not where the sport is yet.
Jesse: [00:08:13] Yeah. Do you find yourself — so I know, I’ll guess I’ll say. Early. I did not have the talent. I guess you have obviously you put in the work, so I’m not trying to downplay that, but there is some potential that can’t be overcome in terms of genetics. I think so. I never I knew for myself I wasn’t going to be a top pro in triathlon. It was just something I wanted to do as a challenge. But I knew you need to put in the hours I took like a low-paying retail job to have the flexibility in time to train and then kind of was like doing like I refer to it as the Craigslist hustle, but like buying used electronics and refurbishing them.
[00:09:01] And during that time making a poverty line issue type pay, maybe $15,000 a year or something like that. And I remember struggling with the mentality, I think you maybe mentioned like the fame and mentality, like where is where is the money going to come from? Like what? Like am I going to find enough? Am I going to be able to make money, bills, all that kind of stuff? Do you struggle with that or have you come to a place where you’re like. I guess. I don’t know. For me, if it was a matter of just like cognitive dissonance where I just decided this, but I eventually got to a place of, like. Just trusting life and just being like, “Oh,” like, “I’ll figure it out”. But is that something you go through?
Cat: [00:09:53] You know, I’m not, like, constantly stressed about it anymore, you know. But I will say that it’s something that, you know, I’m very recently recognizing that I have to in order to be successful athlete, that I cannot I have to just let go of that mentality and I can’t say yes to every single work that comes.
[00:10:18] There’s a lot of paid opportunities that aren’t necessarily running focus, that are brand focus, you know, brand building because of, you know, I have been in the industry for a long time. My name is well known. And, you know enough in the sport. And I. You know, have a lot of connections and I just know trail running so well.
[00:10:44] And it’s just so funny. I, I, you know, I have to just learn to let these opportunities roll off me if I really want to keep running professionally. That’s and that’s something I’ve learned in the last two years is it’s just like, as you said, I can’t do both, you know.
Jesse: [00:11:04] I think sometimes it’s like. Especially as more opportunities come your way. And I think as you kind of build your notoriety or build your following or however you want to phrase it, like more and more things can come your way, I find. I found, I guess, going from that place of like. Like. “Oh, God, where’s that? Where’s the next opportunity coming from to?” as things transition to like things are going well. Now, there’s more and more. Now people are reaching out for different reasons between me and you, clearly.
[00:11:36] But just like I found, there was a period of time where it was hard to say no, where it was like, it’s like a new learned skill where you had to be able to go like I think, as you mentioned, like, no, like this isn’t quite aligned with like where I want to go.
Cat: [00:11:53] Totally and I’m learning that lesson. And because of that, like some of the opportunities that I said yes to, like I’m one to stick to my guns and like I’m going to see it out. But you know, it’s having to see it out has made me recognize that I just have to be a lot more careful with my time, you know, especially again, I’ll say it again because it’s so important.
[00:12:17] Training and racing at a high level is so energy intensive, both mentally and physically. It’s just like, you know, and when I was a little younger, I didn’t recognize that. It’s just like I look back at when I was teaching. And getting my master’s and training for Western States. It was just like, you know, I did that and it was so amazing. But after Western states, I was so burnout and I think it took me a lot of time to come back mentally from that. I didn’t have a race that I was like that fired up again about for a long time. So yeah, just like choosing where that energy goes is important.
Jesse: [00:12:58] So I think about like energy. I mean, you’re on the road now again, kind of relate to like my own struggles. But I know I find it more difficult if I’m traveling to race, let alone being in a van with my significant other and a dog on the way to a race. I find it harder to get in good food like quality nutrition and do all that planning. How do you tackle that challenge?
Cat: [00:13:26] So luckily, my partner, who’s also an athlete. He is very — he’s an excellent cook. We have a full kitchen in the van and we’ll make sure that we get the food in so that actually, for the first time ever, like when I was teaching, that was a huge problem because I didn’t cook, you know? And now, you know, it’s just so awesome to have a partner that, you know, is really stepped up and recognize, like, right now, he’s like a brilliant guy who could be doing anything in the world right now. He’s like, doing all our band laundry, you know?
[00:14:08] So because, you know, and he’s, he’s really taken on a lot of that load and that’s really that’s really important to all this. And that’s, you know, and, you know, he’s chasing his own dreams, too. It works out. He’s a professional photographer. So like, you know, which is a hard industry to crack. And he’s doing it. But we’re both like step up when we need to. But, you know, nutrition, luckily, he’s a great cook, so and I’m a terrible cook. So it works out.
Jesse: [00:14:38] I mean, I feel like the best partnerships, regardless of whether they’re romantic or business-wise, is you find somebody who is strong and the things you’re weak at, and then you don’t step on each other’s toes and you help fill in the gaps where the other person’s not so great.
Cat: [00:14:58] Yeah, exactly. Yeah, it is. And that has really showed here in this partnership.
Jesse: [00:15:06] Yeah. I want to jump back a little bit in your running career. I want to ask you a little bit about burnout, because I think it’s something that most people who run for a period of time will deal with, especially if they’re competition focused, whether it be, as you mentioned, kind of like a little bit of burnout after like the Western States where you didn’t really feel motivated by any race.
You didn’t have that fire weather. We go back to like track time where you were kind of burnout from collegiate post-collegiate environment. Can you talk me through how you maybe what you went through and then like how you approach avoiding that burnout nowadays?
Cat: [00:15:54] Yeah, I’ve been a burnout like so many times where I’ve taken most recently, like after 2020, I took nine weeks off running completely uninjured, just like I want nothing to do with it. And you know, in that, you know, I don’t recommend getting to that point and then taking that amount of time off like that. You know, you have to.
[00:16:22] But I do also recommend if you have to get to that point, do it like if you are at that point where you’re like, I don’t want to get out the door. Not just today, but like every day this month. I haven’t wanted to get out the door. Like, that’s a sign, you know, you should at least want to you should at least be excited for your run sometimes.
[00:16:44] And my recommendation is like, first, like evaluate all the stress in your life. You know, our bodies, our cortisol levels, like recognize. All stress, you know. So if you’re like, say, your kid is sick, you’re fighting with your husband like, you know, something and something went terrible at work. You know, that’s all stress that’s going to have a physiological impact on your body and your mind. Like if you’re that day, you know, if you’re wanting to get out on that day. Great. But if you are not, listen to that. If you’re like, I don’t want to run today. So important to listen to that.
[00:17:32] You know, it’s just it can be a slippery slope because it turns every day. But if it turns into every day, then maybe find something else that you like to then maybe running is not the sport for you. I think that’s so important to listen to that and listen to that gut, because then you won’t enjoy what you’re doing. And like I’ve gone through such long periods of time. Where I’ve hated running. And yet running has been the thing that I’ve loved the most my whole life.
[00:18:04] And to, like, dread every single run for big periods of time, you know, that is just like the biggest form of, you know, torture I can think of. And I and there’s way clear things that I could have done to mitigate that like. You know, trying to come back from races too quickly. You know, that is a sign that that will contribute to burnout, to not managing stress outside of running properly or trying or not recognizing it as a stress will affect your run stress like.
[00:18:41] That’s all really. You know, it’s you know, you’re not just a runner when you’re running like you’re a whole person all the time. And it all one affects the other. And, you know, if you’re burnout in life, it will step over to running. You know, you should be at least looking forward to most of your runs.
Jesse: [00:19:04] One of the things I think is maybe difficult to learn or I think a lot of us learn the hard way, is paying attention to the right kind of signals that like our brain and body are sending us like this morning. Or I guess if you’re listening and it’s this last week’s episode, but as I as I’m recording here this morning, talking to Kate Galliett, we were talking about like signals and feedback, like how we’re we’re constantly feeding our body signals.
[00:19:36] If we’re running it’s the signals of the resistance against the road or the trail and all these different things. And our body gives us feedback about “OK, that’s too hard, or maybe it’s not hard enough or whatever.” And then we get these, that mental feedback of like, “Oh, like, I don’t want to, I don’t want to do it.” Like, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to go out.”
[00:20:01] But I think because many people, I think, especially ultra runners, not to pick on you too much Cat and your kin, but got to have a little bit of a type-A personality, right, where you’re like, got to get it done. Got to put in the time. It doesn’t matter that I’m tired. And because you’re so strong in that mentality, that it’s easy to blow past that signaling of like, maybe I need a little bit more rest. So I think–
Cat: [00:20:37] Yeah and it’s also. Yeah. And even if you’re listening to that signaling and you recognize it, there’s just like super toxic guilt around sport that if you’re not following the training plan to the tee, then you were failing. Yeah, and you’re actually failing if you don’t listen to yourself and to your body. Like if you just take a deep breath. Like your gut knows what is right. I’m a firm believer in that. If you just take a few deep breaths and sit with it and think about it, like, what should I actually do right now? Is this run going to set me over? Or is this run? Am I just, like, kind of pushing back and finding excuses not to start?
[00:21:20] Because there is that, too. Like, sometimes I like find every excuse in the world not to run in my partner. So I get out the door, you know, and I’m grateful for it. But there’s a difference in if we reflect well, we’ll know that. We’ll feel that. And it just, you know, it just takes that self-reflection and that self-reflection takes practice because it’s uncomfortable.
Jesse: [00:21:44] The part of the situation which you’re kind of talking about is like like you said, it’s kind of like sussing out the difference between that — I don’t want to go, but I’m fine. And I don’t want to go because I’m really not fine because they’re both like that internal monologue going, “Yeah, don’t do it.” And it’s hard, like I don’t know that our partners, our family or friends, I don’t know that it’s always easy to see. It’s not like there’s a big, bright red button on our forehead going overworked. You know, it’s so much more subtle than that, which I think makes it that much more dangerous.
Cat: [00:22:27] Yeah, it really does. It really does. And it also is dangerous because, like, you know, you can make that decision and, you know, even if it was the right decision, immediately spiral, you know, and then that spiral of like, “Oh my God, I didn’t follow my training plan. What will my coach say?” Or “What’s going to happen at this race? It’s only eight weeks away,” like, you know, that mentality.
[00:22:56] And I think that’s just very that’s like a Western mentality. You know, there’s just like movement going on in the rest of the, you know, of people like, “Hey!” like, “it’s okay to take your day off.” Like, you don’t have to feel guilty about taking a day off. If you need to sit on the couch and read all day, you know, that is fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
[00:23:18] And like, I think hopefully that mentality will start to bleed into running. Because like, you know, it’s, you know, you’re not a failure if you need the rest like that, you’re that’s out of your control, you know? And again, I’ll say it, you know, your failure if you don’t listen to that and like, you know. And even if you’re not a failure, that’s too harsh. But you know you will. That’s where you’ll suffer consequences, both long-term and short-term.
Jesse: [00:23:57] I want to see if you relate to this. I felt like you talked about guilt for not getting a run in or what will my coach say? I definitely had for the longest time a big appreciation for my coaches, but also like almost like a need to please them. And this is like much more younger me say like high school, college, maybe early post-college nowadays is much more of a conversation with my coach. Do you feel like you’ve ever been in that mentality or do you see that with anybody you’ve maybe worked with?
Cat: [00:24:34] 100 percent. I think, you know, yeah. You know, I’d like to think that the athletes that I coach, you know. I really tell them like, hey, you know, I’m just a human too. I’m just an athlete. I have the same shit. That’s how I know how to deal with it and that’s how it where I can help you. So I hope and I like to think that my athletes feel like they can come to me with everything.
[00:25:01] But, you know, I have been in that trap where you want to please your coach and it is totally intoxicating, you know, and that I’ve been in that, especially, as you said, younger me and my high school and collegiate career and even my early trail running career of just having to please my coach and needing that praise. And, you know, that is something that I think is, you know, we need to unteach that in young athletes, especially because that severely damaged my early career, especially, you know, that’s a whole another we can have like a whole another podcast on this.
[00:25:41] But, you know, that’s how you know. Dopers are created, you know, and like the Nike project or whatever is, they just want to please their coach and their coach comes to them, you know, and it’s already a power dynamic. And, you know, sorry if I’m going off this tangent, but like, you know, I’ve seen it and I’ve been around it and I’ve also, you know, as a collegiate athlete, you know, my collegiate coach was like, you got to lose some weight, you know, and it ruined my collegiate career, you know, and that was all to please that coach.
[00:26:18] I totally felt that and that goes into the guilt. But it also is this whole other issue about how to tackle that because it’s, you know, it’s one thing to look up to your coach and it’s one thing to like. You know go by your coach’s law. It’s okay to ask questions to your coach. And in fact, I think most coaches will like that because it means you’re taking ownership of your training. You know, it means that you’re interested in your power.
[00:26:51] But, you know, that’s a whole another topic and a can of worms that I honestly don’t really want to get into because it’s super charged, obviously. But I do think that, yes, I can relate to that. And I think that every young athlete can and I think every young female athletes especially has some crazy story about some crazy coach situation where they and I’m sure a lot of male athletes do, too. But —
Jesse: [00:27:15] Well, you know, what I was going to say is, like, I’ve had this conversation, I mean, recently with several I don’t know, like several times over the several years I’ve been doing this show, I don’t know that I’ve yet had this conversation with a male athlete, their coach being like, “You need to lose some weight.”
[00:27:33] And often, not often. But the cover, the time I have this conversation with female athletes, it’s often ends up to like some kind of eating disorder, and then that leads to injury and overtraining and burnout and then like this whole, like mental health spiral, not everybody ends up down the whole trail of tears kind of situation, but just like it was a bad reference, but. I just — it seems like from my very small sample size that I would give some very serious weight to it being much more a coach and female athlete problem than a male athlete problem.
Cat: [00:28:23] Yeah. And I don’t think that’s totally I think there are a lot of male athletes who have suffered in similar ways, whether it be weight or drugs. You know, that’s again, how a lot of dopers are born is, you know, and I just have such sympathy for them knowing myself as a younger athlete, you know, I was on the track to train Chase Pro Track Dreams when I was recruited. And I, I can see my younger self if a coach that I really looked up to was like, this is the way, this is the way you win, this is and endorsed it.
[00:29:07] You know, I can see myself falling in that trap only out of wanting to please as coach and perform well. So and I know that’s the case for a lot of male athletes. And I don’t you know, it’s not excusable for dopers. You know, it’s just like it’s such a sad trap. Like, I just feel feel bad for young athletes, like in the Nike project and whatever else, you know, you’re not necessarily the ones who found it and later in their career. But for the 18 or 21 year olds who are starting a pro career and are told this is the only way to go, you know, that’s that’s sad because in their careers ruined, they have to live with that for the rest of their life. And that is sad. But again off-topic.
Jesse: [00:29:55] That’s kind of the show is off-topic that’s kind of I, I should probably change the name of the show to off-topic because that’s exactly what I do all the time. Speaking of off-topic now, I’ve lost my train of thought to go off of this topic. We’re talking about. Who knows? I don’t know.
[00:30:17] Well, another thing I wanted to ask you about that I do remember that I actually have down, I wanted to ask you about, because over the years you’ve had a number of notable wins, FKTs, losing FKTs, trying to regain FKTs. That how do you stay focused on the interior race? What I mean is like just racing yourself instead of racing the clock or racing the opponent. Or do you. Is it more important as a pro to focus on the clock and the opponents?
Cat: [00:30:55] Yeah. That’s such a good question. And. And you mean by that? Just getting the best out of yourself, every race.
Jesse: [00:31:05] Right. Right. So, like. I had one of my college coaches would say to me, like. Run your race and the clock will take care of itself. So he didn’t want to focus. Obviously, splits are important and racing is important, all those things. But the main focus is what he wanted was for us to focus inwards and make sure that we were giving the best that we could give on any given day. So that’s kind of my inquiry is like, is that how you focus or is it more external now kind of on the pro side?
Cat: [00:31:40] You know, I will say that when I’m in competition. Late in competition. I can’t help but to raise my competitors or the clock like I’m just such a competitor that I especially in the end, like I’m very good at pacing myself in the beginning for Ultras and but it’s very difficult for me not to. I say go hunting at the end. You know, pick off people in ultrarunning like, you know, I — it’s a lot of men that I’m picking off.
Jesse: [00:32:23] Right.
Cat: [00:32:25] And that I find that that is very motivating but in training, I’m only motivated and thinking about the race. I definitely focus on running my own race and my own training. And, you know, I, that helps me. But I will also say that I will try and make the goal, you know, especially now that I have had the opportunity to mature a little bit as a pro runner.
[00:33:03] Like, I get the best of myself out of every workout or every race. You know, I tell myself that’s a goal. And even if that means jockeying back and forth with someone else and like making it a goal, like, okay, I’m going to pass them back or I’m going to hang on to this person that still can be getting the best of yourself, and that’s just using tools to get the best out of yourself.
[00:33:25] So but I think the key is instead to be happy. Like you won’t have a bad day if you did, if you gave 100% of what you had. So yeah, I still approach races that way and I mostly approach reflecting on races like that.
Jesse: [00:33:46] So I know you’ve got a busy schedule, so I don’t want to keep you too long, but as frequent listeners of the show will know, I have a question for each season that I ask every single guest. So I’ll ask you just as I have every other guest this season, and you’ve got plenty of them. So I’m hoping you’ve got a good answer for this one. My question this season is how do you celebrate your wins?
Cat: [00:34:13] Oh, man, it really depends. I went through a phase where every time I want to race, I’ve celiac disease and I love sugar and sweets, so I’d buy myself a giant cake. But now —
Jesse: [00:34:28] We’re talking not gluten-free cake.
Cat: [00:34:31] No, I’m talking about a real gluten-free cake.
Jesse: [00:34:33] Okay. Like a really nice —
Cat: [00:34:35] Yeah. If I eat gluten,
Jesse: [00:34:36] I thought you were,
Cat: [00:34:36] Like, dead, but I, no, if I eat gluten, I, like, react really poorly.
Jesse: [00:34:42] I was like, I thought you were like —
Cat: [00:34:43] The point is.
Jesse: [00:34:43] I just, like, go off the rails and go, Oh, no, forget about it.
Cat: [00:34:47] No, I wish, though, like, that my point gluten-free cakes are, like, to get a whole nice one. It’s expensive. Yeah, yeah. Drop like 50 bucks on a cake. But now I think I celebrate with just like time off, like a week after where I just, like, don’t work and don’t train, you know, like that reset week, you know, that is just. I like. So if I’m like. Thinking about dropping. I’m like that week after we’ll feel so terrible if I drop, you know? So that that’s a huge way I celebrate.
Jesse: [00:35:30] Solid answer. Cat, if people want to follow you, get in touch with you, see what you’re up to, any of that kind of stuff. Where can they do that?
Cat: [00:35:39] They can follow me on Instagram @catberad is my Instagram handle. I’m pretty active on Strava these days, although I go in waves and that’s Cat Bradley and I also am the brand manager at Method Seven, which basically Method Seven Ultra Trail, which is like new sunglasses and I basically just do creative for them. So I write my own personal blogs and it’s posted on their website. So and that’s been a really fun creative outlet for me. So check those out to methodseven.com.
Jesse: [00:36:16] Awesome. Cat, I wish you luck on the rest of the season. It sounds like you’ve got things at least hopefully under control as you’re spending time resting after wins, which is always nice, but thank you for joining me and for being here.
Cat: [00:36:32] Yeah. Thank you so much. This is great. Yeah. Thanks for joining me in my van.