Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 22 - Matt Fitzgerald - LIFE IS A MARATHON - Part 1 of 3

That's exactly the theme of the book I'm working on right now. It's called the Comeback Quotient. And it's all about the importance of that orientation toward reality, which I think is actually the essence of mental fitness. I defined mental fitness as the ability to make the best of a bad situation.


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“That's exactly the theme of the book I'm working on right now. It's called the Comeback Quotient. And it's all about the importance of that orientation toward reality, which I think is actually the essence of mental fitness. I defined mental fitness as the ability to make the best of a bad situation. What does it take to do that? It takes the ability to accept, embrace, and address reality just as it is. That is the gift. The people with, sort of the yodo’s of mental fitness, endurance fitness, that is what they have, that's it, that's all you need. But it's a lot because we do try to deny and flee reality in all kinds and just Bs ourselves in all kinds of insidious ways. You know, it's easy to say, it's harder to get there.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road, or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to

JESSE: Today on this episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast, my guest is a prolific writer and author. If you know anything about running, you've probably seen his stuff before, you may have even read one of his books. He is the author of Racing Weight, which I've had for years kind of here on my desk. He's also the author of 80/20 Running in Triathlon as well his newest book, Life is a Marathon, and a ton of other books. It would take a long time to get through quite all of the titles that he's done. He is a coach, you can find him with at 8020 Endurance and he's also I'm a certified sports nutritionist. Welcome to the show, Matt Fitzgerald.

MATT: Great to be with you.

JESSE: Man, we're talking about your walls here. For the viewers on YouTube, can you justify the orange here? I mean, that's a pretty bold-- it's a bold wall choice. So, talk me through it.

MATT: Yeah, well before my wife and I bought this home, we toured like a zillion. We're in Central Valley in California. We bought this home sort of at the height of the bubble. And we toured a lot of model homes in the area before buying ours just to see what we liked and didn't like. And in one, there was an office would like dark wood furniture and orange walls and I was like, I want that. So, basically, I just recreated it. That was many years ago now and I don't know, it's like a - way thing. I spent a lot of time in here trying to be creative, tried to write things that don't suck and just having an environment that is pleasing to be. I think it makes a difference.

JESSE: Yeah. So, I spent a fair amount of time in the art room in high school, and a little bit in college as well. But at the time I studied a little bit more into color theory. And there's this whole idea about different colors affect our moods and all those kinds of thing. And orange is definitely on the vibrant spectrum. As I was telling you before we got going I actually had an orange bedroom and that was what I read at the time was, that's a big no, no, because orange is supposed to be so energizing and vibrant and like awake. It's a terrible environment for sleeping. So, there may be something to having those orange walls to get like the creative juices flowing.

MATT: Yeah, I don't sleep in here, that's for sure.

JESSE: No like mid-afternoon naps, your brain is tired of working on new articles, you don't take a nap, none of that?

MATT: No, I'm not a napper. I had to do a little bit. Two years ago, I trained with a team of professional runners in Flagstaff, and they all napped, all these pro runners. And I'm like, I just don't have time. And by the end, I was there for 13 weeks, by the end I was napping. But I've got to be pretty desperate to go down for a 20-minute catnap.

JESSE: Yeah, I feel like I can't help myself some days, but it has to do with the training load and which, maybe that's what you experienced training with the pro runners, they're definitely making you get after it.

MATT: That's what it was. So, I heard you say in one of your other interviews, I listened to that, at the time, I think you may have been referring to Life is a Marathon. You were saying you're trying to sell a book that nobody wants. And that kind of resonated with me as an entrepreneur thinking about people either creating something and then trying to sell it or trying to find something people want and creating it. Obviously, Racing Weight is one of your best selling books. Do you find yourself often writing about things that you just care about? Or do you try to find things that people want to read and then write that?

MATT: I love that question because it is something I think about a lot myself. I grew up writing poetry, actually. I mean, that was my natural way of expressing myself through writing. But I knew that's a tough way to make a living. So, this is something I've been thinking about for a long time because you want to write-- For me, writing really is first and foremost, self-expression. And I would write even if I couldn't make money doing it.

If I had to get some other type of job, I would not stop writing because I can't, and then it would be pure self-expression, right? So, I have to scratch that itch. But at the same time, I just sort of fell into a career where mostly what I write about is what's classified as service journalism.

So, I'm trying to-- people don't pick up one of my books generally, just hoping that it transports them to a different place where they can just enjoy nine hours of escape from reality. They're picking it up saying what's in it for me, right? Don't entertain me, make me a better runner. So, there's a balance there. So, fortunately, I do.

I am kind of an Idea Factory, so I'm always coming up with ideas, but really, there are two sources for that. As an athlete myself, as a coach, as just a curious person who's very passionate about these sports, I just come up with ideas that I think are cool, but at the same time, I look for needs. And if I have maybe three or four things I would love to write about, well, the one I write about next probably will be the most marketable one, you know what I mean?

Unless it's just something I feel like I've just absolutely, I have to write and I don't care if it sells. But Racing Weight is a good example of that, where as an athlete I just saw like, man, all these skinny people are sitting around complaining about how fat they are. Like there's a need--

JESSE: I do that, I do that, yeah.

MATT: So, that was a case where-- I also saw people pursuing weight management as athletes in kind of dumb ways just the way non-athletes were doing it because there was no legitimate resource for them to turn to. So, I felt like okay, this could make some money but also like there's a legitimate need, and I feel like I will offer something that I actually believe in myself as an alternative to the South Beach diet or whatever was big at the time.

JESSE: Yeah. I guess to me, so as an entrepreneur, I think about my [??? 8:08] the reason I do things is basically to provide value, and that's to solve people's problems. Or in some ways because it could be providing entertainment. But to me, I gain satisfaction from providing something that somebody else needs or wants, and kind of giving myself to a cause greater than my own selfishness.

MATT: Yes. Which is different from an artistic a pure artistic mindset, it really is just you feel like, and this is something because I've been writing since I was a child and there was a purity to creativity at that age. You're not thinking-- [crosstalk]

JESSE: Yeah, you're not marketing anything. You're just--

MATT: No. That's still in me and sometimes I'll just-- my newest book is a good example of that, Life is a Marathon, where I felt it just the feeling is it's a little absurd phrased this way but that's how you perceive it. Like I have to get this written before I die. I must, you know what I mean? It's just like you have to, it won't let you go. You've got to give birth to this thing then you can move on with your life.

JESSE: Yeah. Well, you're talking about having passion for writing but you're a working writer, you make a living from doing it, which I find often people talk about if you follow your passion, and you do it as a job, and you can be successful doing it, barring all the obstacles to get there, that often it will kill your passion. So, how do you maintain that love for it when you are in effect, trading it for income?

MATT: Yeah I guess I'm fortunate in that regard as well. And maybe it just ties into the other way I mentioned earlier that I consider myself fortunate is that I have a lot of ideas. I just have this kind of fire in me that I'm 48 now and it's just not showing no signs of burning itself out. I mean truly. So, I wake up each day just-- I wake up the same way my dog does, just like, let's go. It's a new day. It's gonna be great. And it's not always a great day, but there's always something like, I can't wait to get my hands into.

And that's not a really helpful answer because if I struggle with it more maybe I could give people tools to overcome that flagging motivation or when the fire does sort of turn the embers like how do you stoke it again? I don't know. It's just always just this raging conflagration for me.

JESSE: I almost wonder if it's something, I'll say genetic, but something inherent in you because I think in another interview, you're talking about just your kind of passion for running and how that's not really abating either. At the time you're talking about recovering after a marathon and being ready to go even the next day when the wounds are still fresh.

And that's not-- I won't say it's abnormal, but it's definitely different than I'll say, a mainstream perspective about life where it's like, all right, I did the hard work. Now I need to like take time, take time off. I mean, we have a weekend every week so that you can take time off from doing your regular thing. So, I wonder if maybe it's just in your genetic code to kind of keep pushing those things forward.

MATT: I think it has to be, honestly. I don't see any other explanation. And it's just one of those things where I know other writers who are, they love writing. It's something they could never let go long term, but they can go three or four months without writing and some of them need to, you know what I mean? They spend a year 15 months or more working on a book and when it's done, they're like, I'm good. I'm good for a few months. For me, if I go three days without writing at any point it's like three days without running I need psychiatric help at that point.

JESSE: So, is it almost like a catharsis to get up get that out to like what it's like-- because you have so many ideas and in obviously, you're very prolific. How many books are you up to at this point?

MATT: If you count everything's I mean, because a couple are co-authored. One is just like a glorified training diary. It's I think 26 published.

JESSE: I wanted to say it was over 20, and you have to-- I mean you're like almost like Stephen King, you're just churning out books. But it almost seems like because of that nature of thinking of so many ideas that you have to get them out otherwise, do they escape you if you don't get them down?

MATT: No, I mean, one thing I've learned is that if it's meant to be, it'll come back. And a lot of things that end up becoming books, I allow to gestate in another quarter of my brain for a long time, sort of just let the muse work on it. Like, I'll have the idea but it's in - and I just don't know if it has legs. So, diet cult is a great example of that, where the seed was planted when I just started to wonder as someone who was telling people how to eat like, why are people still irrational about food?

Like, this really isn't that hard. But yeah, I felt like I was getting so much pushback from the inability of people to think straight about food. And I allowed that idea to develop for a long time before I felt like I had like a clear message, that concept of a diet cult became conscious for me, would just kind of pass through that curtain from the muse to consciousness and then like, hey, I've got a book here, but that took a long time.

JESSE: And that method you were talking about in diet culture, you referred to is agnostic, was it agnostic diet or agnostic--

MATT: Agnostic healthy eating, yeah.

JESSE: Okay. Yeah. Because I was learning about that and in an interview about that you mentioned being wary of choosing the experts that you want to follow since we have a likelihood of wanting to follow the people we already want to follow. Like effectively an echo chamber, which is a big issue socially right now where we have the ability to kind of isolate ourselves into this camp or that camp and not listen to any outside ideas. This is maybe a personal question. You mentioned Siddhartha Gautama in another interview. I kind of wonder if you studied Buddhism at all because that quote about being wary of choosing your leaders and being critical reminded me of the teaching to the Palamas where the Buddha mentions don't even listen to the things that I'm telling you, verify the claims for yourself.

MATT: Yes, [??? 15:45] has a very similar quote. He said basically, I wish everyone would follow my own example and think for themselves. I want you to follow me by not following me. But actually, my older brother is a Buddhist. So, I've been exposed to it, both meditation and Buddhist teachings through him. So, I've just sort of flirted with the path a bit myself, but it just didn't ever speak to me quite the same way. I mean, my brother lived at the San Francisco Zen center for a long time actually became a Buddhist priest, sits every single day. So, yeah. But it's been cool just to have a sibling who was able to feed a lot of the goodies to me, but I don't have to meditate every day. Running is my-- [crosstalk].

JESSE: Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of quotes running around in my head, the quote about, you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So, it's like, some of those things are going to rub off on you whether you want them to or not, especially if they're often repeated say family dinners or at holidays or anything like that.

MATT: Yeah, it's funny. I'll just toss this in. So, the same brother, Josh, I should give him a name, he's a runner too and he's three years older. He's 51 years old. He's kind of making a middle age comeback trying to get to Boston. He ran out a 259 marathon at 19 off of like, mostly beer as his [??? 17:23] he's perfectly talented enough, but he kind of went far off and it's been a tough road for him, and he was really in the zone. He was in a purple patch, like running better than he had in years.

And he just got injured yesterday. We're just over three weeks out from a marathon and he just sends me a text saying it's been sort of this recurring performance thing and he had this like, big setback with it. And I'm devastated. I read the-- I'm just coach. I'm his brother. I care a lot. I'm invested in this thing. But his level of equanimity about the whole thing is just incredible. I mean, it's real when you walk a spiritual path like this and really do the walking, it changes you and it's really cool to see. So, I hope some of that is rubbing off on me as well. Because the injury, it is frustrating, but he is dealing with it psychologically, as well as any human being possibly could. And that's got to [??? 18:27] down to his ultimate benefit.

JESSE: Right. Yeah, I think we can all kind of, well, maybe not everybody, but I definitely would aspire to that kind of even handed approach to both the highs and the lows of life, where it's like even if you are World Champion, it's like, that's awesome, that's what you've been striving to achieve, but it is not everything. And at the same time, like I actually went through this last year. I was at a half Iron Man race trying to qualify for my professional license and was forced into a crash and shattered my collarbone in the middle of my best performance ever.

And it was definitely shattering, but at the same time it was like, you just have to deal with it as it comes like there's nothing you can do. It is what it is. I say that often that people around me will tell you that. And I think that's kind of the essence of it is like, well, I can't get back on the bike and continue riding. I have to take care of this now. That's simply what's put in front of me. And I think it's maybe trying to get to a place where you accept reality for what it is, rather than stressing about what you expect or hope it to be.

MATT: Yes. By the way, that is exactly the theme of the book I'm working on right now. It's called the Comeback Quotient. And it's all about the importance of that orientation toward reality, which I think is actually the essence of mental fitness. I defined mental fitness as the ability to make the best of a bad situation. What does it take to do that? It takes the ability to accept, embrace, and address reality just as it is. That is the gift. The people with, sort of the yodo's of mental fitness, endurance fitness, that is what they have, that's it, that's all you need. But it's a lot because we do try to deny and flee reality in all kinds and just Bs ourselves in all kinds of insidious ways. You know, it's easy to say, it's harder to get there.

JESSE: I think, at least for me experience and just the repetition, I mean, I've been an endurance athlete, we're going on this will be year 19, season 19 we're starting here. So, it's like almost just doing it over and over and over and over again like you start to see the cycles of training, the cycles of your life realizing things that are important. Like the podcast has helped me a lot talking to different high level athletes and kind of their perspectives and the things they've gone through. Where like for me, the last two seasons have been-- it could be really incredibly frustrating.

So, I've been chasing trying to be a professional triathlete for eight years. I'm not quite good enough to do it, but it was a personal goal that I was after. And I was getting close. So, I had that injury. I had a surgery, was out for three months, getting back into training, and then coming into this year, not great weather first race, bike mechanical cost me a couple places. Next race, tire pops four minutes into the bike, just on and on and on and on. And it's just a matter of the phrase or quote I like to tell people is all you have to do, there's a brick wall in front of you and all you guys do is keep smashing your head against a brick wall, eventually, it will break. It's going to hurt, it's not fun, but it will break. So, in lieu of finesse, all you have to do is just keep after it and something will break for you eventually.

MATT: Yes. Like Desi London's quote after she finally won the Boston Marathon, Keep showing up.

JESSE: Okay. I mean, that's something that comes up in entrepreneur circles too, is like, all you have to do to be successful is show up because so many people don't show up. So, it's like, if you commit to that consistency, whatever it is, whether it's running or like you churning out books, you're going to be successful to a greater or lesser degree because you keep showing up.

MATT: Yeah, I mean, I couldn't agree more. It's amazing. You can just stay in the game without any real goal in mind, and yet a transformation will occur. When I was a high school runner, I would get so nervous before races that I was sick. This would be like, not the morning of the race, like three days before the race-- [crosstalk]

JESSE: It's almost worse then because you can't alleviate it. There's no [??? 23:30] race. It's just like weighing on you.

MATT: You can't flip the switch and turn it into something kinetic. But now I don't get nervous at all before races. I mean, at all. I get excited. When I'm on that start line, I want to be there more than anyone else on that start line. I promise you. I'm amped. I'm in a performance mindset. It's not that I don't care but nervous, no. And how did that happen? I just kept racing. The pain is so familiar, the pressure is so familiar that I didn't have a strategy to have to experience that sort of transformation. It just was a natural evolution.

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