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

That kind of leads me into the new book, Life is a Marathon. In a sit down interview or podcast you did about the book, you mentioned something along the lines of like sharing these really hard struggles. I think you mentioned suicide in the quote this isn't necessarily something people want to read.

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JESSE: That kind of leads me into the new book, Life is a Marathon. In a sit down interview or podcast you did about the book, you mentioned something along the lines of like sharing these really hard struggles. I think you mentioned suicide in the quote this isn't necessarily something people want to read. Although I would actually disagree with you. Because I think these struggles that people have, be it mental illness or just everyday life that you can't classify in some kind of medical term, I think we all go through those things. And it's not always right in kind of polite society to talk about those things. But it's super important to talk about them because that's, I guess, in my opinion, the part of the deeper essence of humanity is dealing with those struggles. So far, the books bit the book came out, was it March, April?

MATT: Yep.

JESSE: Yeah. So, far what kind of feedback have you gotten? What have you experienced from actually having people read it and letting you know what they think?

MATT: Yeah. So, I mean, I can encapsulate it in an email I received maybe three days ago from-- well, I'll just keep him completely anonymous. I won't give any identifying characteristics. It's somebody who I have known and who read the book, probably wouldn't have read it if we didn't have a connection. And then he emailed me just to share his story. And he was abused as a child, he became addicted to drugs, MET, I think there might have been something else in there, was in this really bad cycle for a long period of time. Running ended up being kind of his way out, that's how we ended up connecting. He's younger, and he didn't really quite understand like why do I feel this way about running? And he's in a much better place, he's sober. The running is it's totally a positive thing in his life, not like a bad substitute addiction. But he's still at the point where he's trying to make sense of it all. And he said that my book was very clarifying for him.

I'm sharing a different kind of story, but it's about deep personal struggles and run, the marathon is kind of a metaphor for that, but also running literally as a way of training yourself for a hard life. And so it was just a very moving email because he wouldn't have shared any of this stuff with me if I hadn't written this book.

But he said he feels like it was transformative for him that he really is sort of able to turn a page now in his own life just by having sat down with those 270 pages I wrote. So, you know, trust me, I've never gotten that type of response from any other book I've written before, and I've gotten a lot of those. But it's not selling particularly well compared to a lot of my other books.

So, it's interesting. I've almost felt a little bit blacklisted by kind of the running establishment. There was almost like a deafening silence from certain quarters, but then I've had this intensely positive reaction from the people who actually do pick it up and read it. So, I kind of feel two ways about it in that regard.

JESSE: That's a little surprising to me, I guess just because I feel like it's a really common story that running is both a coping mechanism and an outlet and an escape for a lot of people in bad places, be it from broken homes or abuse or mental illness or-- There's a lot of kind of bad places that exist in the human condition, and it seems like that story is not uncommon at all. Actually, it's not entirely founded, but I mean, it's what stands out to me. I had a kind of theory for a while that often those people that have been through those kinds of things end up being better runners because they're so used to the suffering. It doesn't apply to the masses, but I still think there's some truth to that. So, I don't know, it just seems kind of surprising to me that you would receive that response, I guess from whoever it is that is giving that to you.

MATT: Yeah. I mean who knows because, I mean, it's tough to interpret silence. I mean, the book just could simply be flawed in ways that I'm not hearing about from the people who don't like it, or I don't know. So, yeah.

JESSE: Maybe it's a genre change. Maybe it could be something as simple as like, your typically are writing, I'll say how-to books versus what's essentially a memoir, as far as I understand it. I kind of mix those with This show here with the podcast and I like to just because that human element transcends just us as athletes, it can apply to anybody. And I think that's important, so it's my focus which is why I was like I saw your other books and as we are emailing saw the new book and I was like that's awesome because I love talking about that stuff. So, I don't, I'll sense of positive thoughts out there, hopefully, sales pick up because to me, it's such an important topic to discuss.

I have a couple other quotes I heard you say as you're talking about it, and you're talking about, I think you said to love is to sacrifice. You may have been speaking about your wife at the time. I think about love as a verb, instead of just kind of a-- I'll say the Disney understanding of love where it's like, you're in love and it's just this emotion you feel versus kind of my prescription of love is like, you love somebody, it's something you're doing. You know, and I kind of want to get your opinion on that, I guess since you said-- I think you said to love is to sacrifice.

MATT: Yeah love is sacrifice is the title of one of the chapter in the book. And what I mean by that is like suppose, this is just going to take all the poetry out of it, but suppose you were not going to try to measure love, you're going to try and find some objective way of measuring how much a person really loves another person.

My vote would be you measure it through what and how much they sacrifice for that person like that is proof of love. I mean, that is the nature of the doing for me. I mean, because you're sort of putting them before you. If you're Robinson Crusoe alone on an island, well it makes perfect sense to only care about yourself, only the right after yourself.

But if you are living in a community and you profess to love other people in it, exactly what do you do differently from Robinson Crusoe, you start putting other people's needs above yours and so that's the theme I get into in the book and of course, running is tied in there. For me, I am just by wiring a very internal person. I'm very self-focused.

My older brother the often mentioned in this interview, Josh, when I was in high school, he nicknamed me project Matt because that just hits the nail on the head. Like I'm always, I'm treating myself like this project, I'm just trying to be on the ascend, which is fine. But it doesn't necessarily make you the best brother or son or husband or what have you.

And I was very much this way as a runner too. I would never run for others in any way. I'm the sort of maniac who if I'm running in a race and the person next to me, like grabs his chest and falls to the ground, I would be really torn about it... I'm just being honest.

But as I've gotten older and just experiencing, we haven't really touched on it explicitly, but the book gets into my relationship with my wife who has bipolar disorder and her diagnosis kind of through both of our lives sideways. My running played into that because it became a source of the strength I needed, but I also just learned to experience running in different ways.

And in this particular chapter of the book I talked about sort of some experiences I have with actually beginning to run for people other than myself and it's been really cool. I get it now because so many other people do that very naturally from day one. And there are a lot of different ways you can, quote-unquote, run for others. But yeah, so that's the whole theme of that chapter.

JESSE: Okay. Have you read, Antifragile by Nassim Taleb?


JESSE: Okay. So, kind of along the lines, you're talking about running as like, almost mental exercise and learning to kind of endure and deal with suffering. I think about running is like a very intensely personal journey inward. I think maybe somewhere else you said, or I read you said, running is a meditation that doesn't suck or something along those lines. I definitely think about running as meditation.

But in Antifragile, Nassim Taleb talks about how you have to have resistance to become stronger. It's kind of like if you grow a tree in a vacuum, and then it gets hit by a wind, it's going to get just destroyed. Because it needs that wind as it's growing to become stronger, and you know, to become something that can stand up to the challenges of its life. So, I'm kind of wondering if you think is suffering necessary to achieve self-actualization? I'm saying in the terms of like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs self-actualization?

MATT: Yes. I mean, that's what the parable of Siddhartha Gautama his upbringing is all about. He was born a prince, with well intentioned parents who tried to protect him from all suffering. And of course, that's impossible. Even if you're a prince, it can only work for so long but if perfect today just wait a day [??? 12:14] it's coming.

So, all you achieve by pampering and coddling and spoiling a child in that way is same thing with the tree raised in a vacuum. You raise a human being who's not prepared to to handle suffering. So, it's a weird dynamic because you can't really wish suffering upon yourself like you can in the abstract, oh, I need suffering to grow stronger.

But then your wife gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, well, if I could have that one back. You get me, because that's a life sentence. And we've both grown through having to deal with that adversity. And I wouldn't want to wish that way either. I mean, that's life, it's messy, it's contradictory a lot of ways. But yeah, the short answer your question is, I mean, I'm not the expert on this, but any true expert -, any spiritual leader worth his or herself will say yes, suffering is essential.

JESSE: Yeah, it makes me think about it-- So, I grew up in a Christian tradition. And there's a saying about it's not your cross to bear. And people bear different crosses in the analogy being of different sizes and different weights and people have a capacity, varying capacity to deal with kind of suffering. Since we can't and really shouldn't want to impose that suffering, especially with mental illness on anybody. I mean, is that the purpose of sport or we can impose suffering on ourselves?

MATT: Yeah, yeah.I mean, so many people especially-- I mean, I had a pretty charmed childhood on the spectrum of all possible childhoods. Mine was pretty darn good. But if you talk to people, like this guy I mentioned, who was abused as a kid, became a drug addict work through it all, he said, and I hear this over and over again especially for folks who had really rough starts, I like running because it's suffering that I can control, because it's foolish to try to annihilate suffering, that's why you take drugs. You know what I mean? And it's not a solution. I mean, it's like this repeated short term solution that it only makes things worse.

JESSE: yeah, it inflicts its own suffering.

MATT: Right. So, escape is not a possibility. So, the only other option is to be become a person who can handle suffering. And that's what endurance sports does. It's just like it's this like tiny little microcosm of life where suffering is guaranteed, but you're in control. I hear this again and again, I interviewed for this Comeback Quotient book I'm working on now.

Rob Krar, ultra marathon champion who suffers from major depression, he said exactly the same thing about just the places where his mind and body go in the 100 mile foot race. He feels at home at the absolute worst moments, he feels like this-- He articulates it very well, but part of the way he articulates it is to say words can't even express it but he just feels this deep connection between the depths of his worst depressions and those moments of maximum suffering in races.

But they're the same but they're crucially different where one is he's choosing and in a sense controlling, and he's able to take some of that back to face life in all its harshness.

JESSE: So, Matt, we're running a little short on time, I want to be mindful of your time, I could probably talk to you all day. So, there's a question I like to ask everybody because this is again, another thing that kind of spans humanity and has to do with food. I like to ask, if you can only choose one food for recovery for the rest of your life, what do you choose?

MATT: Oh, I'm just gonna blow this one. Tell me yours, I need to buy a little time here.

JESSE: I know mine. It depends on whether you want the PC answer or whether you want the real answer, and I find there is a difference. I was gonna ask you about about this as well. So, I have a like a recovery drink that I use that I think it's great. But my go-to comfort food is probably going to be like either ice cream or some kind of pastry, most likely ice cream.

This is what I wanted especially ask you because I you mentioned eating Cap'N Crunch, I think after your Iron Man and saying well, obviously, that's not the best food for recovery but it's almost like there's-- And this is a common thing, I get people say pizza, they say tacos, they say beer. Unless it's like I've talked to like a couple of registered dietitians and they're like, no I'm eating a salad or something.

But for the vast majority of people, it seems like that recovery food is almost mental recovery rather than physical recovery. So, I'm just curious because you ate the Cap'N Crunch, you talked about eating the Cap'N Crunch whether you experienced that as well. It's like, you're not so concerned about the physical aspect as you are like, getting your brain back.

MATT: Yeah. I mean I do so many. I wasn't sure what you meant by recovering because I do so many sort of epic workouts, but it's not a race it's just you're out on a bike--

JESSE: A hard workout and you-- [crosstalk]

MATT: ...five hours but I mean that's every weekend. So, if I junked out after every single one of those, that adds up, you know what I mean?

JESSE: Yeah.

MATT: But after a race, it's anything goes and I get annoyed when-- I like to keep it real. And there are some you know, dietitians out there who will talk about oh, you absolutely shouldn't have beer after a race because you're dehydrated and blah, blah, blah. And my attitude is like, come on, folks. You're not gonna do the walk down stairs unassisted for the next two days, who gives a shit? [??? 19:18] hydrate yourself a little more?

You need a break, you know what I mean? And we are not just, an athlete is not an exercise machine. We're human beings and you absolutely have to, this is a point I make explicitly in Diet Cults. Sometimes something that is on paper, good for the mind and bad for the body is actually also good for the body. You know what I mean? So, you have to pay attention to both and just be a human being.

JESSE: Perfect answer. So, I think you did well, you didn't blow that one.

MATT: I actually didn't name a food.

JESSE: No, but that's okay. That's okay. I mean, I'm after the essence rather than the food, at least from you I was after the essence, so we got that.

MATT: Fair enough.

JESSE: So, if you're on YouTube, I'll have links in the description where you can hop over to Amazon and buy various different kinds of Matt's books. Definitely the ones we talked about in this conversation. Absolutely pick up Life is a Marathon. Matt, if people want to follow you, get in touch with you, here can they find you?

MATT: My website is, .com is someone else. Twitter, @MattFitwriter, Instagram Fitzgerald.Matt, and I am on Facebook too. I'm all maxed out for friends. You'll have to get on the list.

JESSE: Well, plenty of other places to follow you. So, thanks for coming on the show today, Matt.

MATT: Yeah, I really enjoyed it.

JESSE: Take care.

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