Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 51 - Bobby O'Donnell - RUNNING WILD - Part 3 of 3

And I think that is an incredibly common trend in the United States as well. We just don’t travel as well as– And part of that’s proximity. It’s really like living in Europe is just so good because everything’s so close and flights [??? 00:14]. 


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BOBBY: And I think that is an incredibly common trend in the United States as well. We just don’t travel as well as– And part of that’s proximity. It’s really like living in Europe is just so good because everything’s so close and flights [??? 00:14]. We flew to– We spent two weeks in Iceland in February and it costs us like 55 pounds roundtrip to fly from Edinburgh. And it’s just very different, I think culturally very different as well.

JESSE: Yeah. So, was there a terminal point for the journey or did it– Were you just like, okay, I’ve done seven continents, so it’s over or is that itch still there?

BOBBY: Yeah. No, it’s still there. It’s always you know, planning the next thing. So, it was like, I always had the next thing relatively planned until I finished the [??? 00:50]. I finished the continents in December 2017 and I had already planned to thru-hike the AT in 2018. And then it was like after the AT I wasn’t quite sure what was next and that was why I decided to go to Scotland. It was Fiona and Tom came and hiked a week with me on the AT. And he was like, “Oh, well, if you don’t know, kind of what’s next for you, why don’t you come to Scotland for a little bit?”

And I was gonna go for two, three weeks, I was doing two races there. I was doing a race and a marathon in Scotland and a marathon in Ireland. And then I ended up staying for like, three months. And that’s part of the best thing about being really flexible with plants and stuff like that. But it’ll always be there. I think it’s like racing. It’s like, once you have a taste for it, you’re just not gonna stop until you physically can’t do it anymore.

And there’s always something bigger, something further out there. And yeah, I’ve got a list a mile long on my phone of stuff that I want to do and stuff that I need to get out and do. But that’s why I think it is so important about just taking the time to do what you can. Because especially I’ve been lucky in a sense to get this perspective from working in emergency medicine for the last six years. People that I see coming to the hospital are people that call 911.

You never expect that, you don’t wake up in the morning and say that these things are gonna happen to you. While your body is physically able to do it, you just gotta do it. You gotta figure out, you know, you can always make an excuse not to do something because you don’t want to spend the money or you don’t have the time for it. But you know, one day you’re not going to be able to and that’s what scares me.

JESSE: Yeah. Yeah. No. It seems like it’s kind of died down a little bit, but it definitely… So, I graduated college in 2011, and then a little bit before I graduated college, so probably when I enter 2007, 2005, I’m trying to think when the four-hour workweek came out. But for I would say at least a good decade like it is still alive, but the whole like lifestyle, being like a digital nomad and like, trying to be more flexible with life so you can travel more like really blossomed. Like, kind of you’re younger than me, but we’re not that disparate in ages.


JESSE: Like, as we’re coming of age, like that whole idea really bloomed up with us growing up basically. And kind of, I felt like, in some ways that was like our generation’s rebellion against materialistic desires and be like, no, I want to go out and travel and see the world and meet people and do these things like you said, while I have the opportunity. I think a lot of us stare at the possibility of, I’ll say the traditional path where it’s like, “Okay, good job, you work for 30, 40 years, and then you’re 65 and you retire.

And it’s like, okay, I’m 65 I’m 300 pounds because I sat at a desk and ate cookies all that. Now I can’t actually go do those things anymore. So, I’m being ridiculous a little bit, but there’s so much that happens. Like you said, you see first hand between 20 and 65 is like, take the opportunity while you have it. Because you don’t know what’s happening tomorrow.

BOBBY: Yeah, and I think that that’s where our generation changed a lot from our parents. I know my mom and dad, it was when they were 18, they got a job and that was their job until they retired. But for me, and I inadvertently discovered this travel because of the events that happened in my life. I’m really glad it did because I definitely would have, I think stayed on that traditional path of getting into a career, taking the two-week vacation once a year, maybe and then getting to be 65.

And that’s the thing. It’s like, I knew that when I retired, I couldn’t go to some really remote placement world and run 100K, it’s just not doable. I needed to do that when I’m in my 20s or my 30s. It’s just not, you know, I wanted to do it when my body was able to function and see these places and experience them how I wanted to.

JESSE: Yeah. Well and for you listening it’s not to disparage a traditional path because I’m even probably more so on that now running a couple businesses. Well, I’m pretty tied down but I don’t want to speak for you, Bobby. But I guess the point I’m trying to get across is like, forcibly disrupting your own routine to have an adventure at some point in time, helps make you a more interesting person which in turn, I think helps make you happier.

BOBBY: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And it’s a thing too where the grass is always greener. Some of my friends who have you know, really stable lives and pretty solid bank accounts and like that would be pretty nice to have some normalcy [??? 05:54] and then they look at some of the stuff that I’ve done, and they wish that they could get away and it’s a matter of finding balance, I think at the end of the day.

JESSE: Yeah. Well, that’s funny. So, I mentioned Mike earlier, Mike Hagadone, and the big message, like he talked about we talked about is basically just like, gratitude and being grateful for, like the things you have or the people that are in your life or whatever it is that is present with you now. And I can’t remember who it is, I think it’s Ezra Firestone, who’s like a business guy, an entrepreneur. He was talking about, he’s big on gratitude. And his point was basically, if you can’t be grateful for what you have now, no matter how much you have, you won’t be satisfied.

BOBBY: Right. Yeah. No, it’s very true.

JESSE: Yeah, so just like trying to figure out what’s important to you versus saying I wish I’d lived Bobby’s life or you’re saying, oh, maybe I should have done something more normal. It’s like, we all have different opportunities, and different experiences, which we can share with each other. But as long as we can be grateful for where we are, and then also continue to set our sights ahead, I think that’s the best that we can do.

BOBBY: Yeah, absolutely. And I think if I can change one thing about society as a whole, it’s just especially social media amplifies this to an extreme, but we just live in such a comparative and competitive society. And I think that not to be cliche about it, but you have to have your own journey and you have to be ultimately satisfied with that.

And we look at comparing ourselves to [??? 07:47] that in a really negative sense as well where I tried to talk about this when I’m speaking to people about mental health, and it’s the biggest thing I try to get across my book is I want to help people with mental health, and that’s kind of the hot topic at the moment. After the Boston Marathon happened, I didn’t feel like I had the right or I deserved to be depressed because I had, compared to other people had gotten away pretty clean with it.

No one in my family had died and I had on my limbs. So, I was ashamed and embarrassed to even talk about the things that I was feeling because I was comparing to someone else. And if anyone’s listening or anyone that reads the book, just because you think that someone has gone through something worse or more traumatic than you doesn’t devalue what you’ve gone through. And I think that’s such an important message to get across. Because the worst thing that’s happened to you is the worst thing and that’s it. You don’t need to compare it to anyone else. And you deserve to feel and experience everything that you have that comes with that.

JESSE: Right. There’s kind of like almost a culture of it, and he talks about two different sets, I think in one, maybe not the best example. But Dave Chappelle has a bit where he’s talking– This isn’t even the comedy part, but he starts talking about essentially, if I remember right, invalid comparative suffering is. Where it’s like I suffer, you suffer, you don’t need to compare them. We’re both suffering. You know, it’s not a contest of who’s suffered more, you’re both suffering, you both need to be healed and go on your own journey to become better. You don’t have to be like, why suffer more so I need the attention. It’s not a matter of triage in everyday life.

BOBBY: Yeah, yeah.

JESSE: So, I do want to know a little bit about logistics. And I’m trying to dance around the book a little bit. Obviously, I haven’t read it yet. Or at least it looks like it’s still pre-order as we’re doing this. So, I don’t have a copy of it.

BOBBY: Yeah, it should be out now. I know you can get it on Amazon at the moment.

JESSE: Okay. Okay. I meant to ask you that before we got going, and then we got going. Because when I went to the sales page it still said like pre-order now. So, I was like, okay. So, I don’t want to like, have you be like, this is what happens in this chapter, that kind of thing. But I do want a little bit of logistics. I’m logistically curious about Antarctica and how that worked.

BOBBY: Yeah, Antarctica was cool. For sure. I did it with a company called Marathon Adventures. I think they’re based out of Minnesota. But a guy named Steve Hibbs, he’s awesome. I highly recommend them if you want to go do [??? 10:34] in Antarctica. Especially it was different for me because I wasn’t massively keen on doing like the marathon tourism. For me, it was mostly I was going and doing my own thing and figuring out how to get to these races.

Obviously, Antarctica isn’t one that you can do that for. You need a company because you need a way to get there really. So, Antarctica was my– it’s funny because it was my most expensive, but also my shortest trip or doing any of these. Like all the other races I was gone for three to four months. I think I was gone for two weeks for this and it was actually just after my winter break during my senior year of college.

So, basically you go with this company, you go to Chile, you go to Punta Arenas so Southern [??? 11:22] Chile and then you wait there for however long it takes to get a weather window for you to be able to fly to Antarctica. So, the first one, King George Island, so just Northwest off the coast Antarctica there. And we’re relatively lucky we got a window kind of in the first, I think it was like the second or third day that we were kind of aiming for. And you basically just need enough visibility and low winds and a clear enough runway which is you know, gravel, sand, ice, it’s not– and airport by any means.

And it was really loops but the best part about it was the penguins. Like it was one of the coolest things to be running around. And it’s exciting at first seeing or seeing a wild penguin for the first time. And then it gets frustrating because they’re so curious because they don’t have tons and tons of human interaction.

So, [??? 12:15] about growing up in New England, and every animal is so skittish; deer, squirrels, chipmunks, they’ll always run away, but penguins will run towards you. So, it’s really fun at first, you’re getting this really close interaction with these really amazing animals.

And then after an hour or two hours of running, and you’re trying to maneuver through the snow and you’re breaking trail in some places, and then you’re trying to have to get around the penguins and it becomes kind of this [??? 12:40]. So, it is interesting from that aspect as well. And yeah, it’s just nice to see some places that are still relatively untouched by people. I think that I’m constantly trying to find places that are like that.

JESSE: Yeah. Well, I can’t remember but this is some dumb TV show, I’m sure. But it’s like the sentiment that basically we are born too late to live in the age of adventure, as in the planet’s basically populated by people, but too early to live in the age of space exploration. So, we’re like in this middle zone, where there’s not really uncharted territories, for the most part for us to go unless we’re going to start specializing in like, super deep-sea diving or something.

So, yeah, I was curious about the penguins just because I was like, if they’re hanging out, and I didn’t know that about them running towards you, but I’m like, I can just imagine they’re animals. Like, they’re not gonna be like, “Hey, there is a path here so I should stay off of it.” They may just sit there if they want to sit there. So, it’s like are you trying to like hurdle penguins while you’re trying to run a marathon?

BOBBY: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, it was cool. And you know, those are the things that I look back on. And I’ve been incredibly lucky to go to and have run in some of the places I have. And it’s those kinds of funny moments like that, that you really cherish.

JESSE: I feel like you could be playing like going to a party and starting with like icebreaker two truths and a lie. And you can just add things like, I once ran with a penguin and like just some like nonsensical things and people would be like, it was definitely the penguin one, he wasn’t running with penguins. No, that was the true one.

BOBBY: Yeah. Yeah, no I definitely had some good experiences. And I always credit my parents for it as well. Because it was, I grew up always what my parents said, that was it. And I respect my parents enough that if when I started doing this, if they said that’s crazy, you shouldn’t be traveling there. You should be spending the money on this or you shouldn’t be running in that place.

I just wouldn’t have done it. It’s another thing that would have changed everything but the whole time it’s crazy and outlandish some of the things that I’ve done where they, or even if they didn’t agree with it, they supported my decision making.

JESSE: Have you seen your relationship change with them because of the journey?

BOBBY: Yeah, I think so. I think especially with my mom who was just– we always kind of say that she is the most overprotective mom in the world. And I think she has definitely learned to compromise on certain things and realize that in her own way that the world isn’t– is big, a bad scary place because of some of the things that I’ve done or some of the things that I’ve related back to her.

JESSE: Yeah, yeah. So, you mentioned earlier the admonition a lot of parents give to kids about don’t talk to strangers. Or you’re like I grew up in martial arts and they’re a stranger danger. But it’s almost like okay, you need to be able to be street smart and know about a dangerous situation. But otherwise, it’s almost like we [??? 16:06] talk to strangers.

So, trying to take that advice and changing it into something more reasonable, do you– Like how would you change that phrase? Or like how would you change that lesson if you had kids and you’re trying to teach them about your new approach, how would you change that sentiment?

BOBBY: Yeah, I think, I mean, it’s important to be cautious and especially too, you know, this isn’t applicable to seven, eight, nine-year-old kids where it’s like, yeah, go talk to strangers, go out and find a van and you know, it doesn’t work like that.

JESSE: Right.

BOBBY: If I were to change it, it would be, be cautious, but don’t be so cautious that you shut yourself off from opportunities. Because the thing that made my journey happen was being open opportunities. Because when I look back at everything, it was because I said yes to certain things. And I’ve never regretted saying yes to someone inviting me on a trip or to do something within a trip. But I can think of 10 things off the top of my head right now that I’ve regretted saying no to. So, it’s being able to have the common sense to see when you should do things.

JESSE: Yeah, that’s kind of a sentiment I’ve tried to use when I travel is just like, say, yes. That’s the simplest thing, at least I’ve found, that’s the simplest thing you can do to get outside of your comfort zone without effort. You know, and just like see something just say yes. You’ll find yourself outside of your comfort zone navigating new situations, and having experiences you wouldn’t have otherwise because maybe you’re afraid or you think you don’t like it or you don’t normally like it or whatever. It’s like maybe that new situation will bring new insight that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

BOBBY: Absolutely. And I think that’s so applicable to the racing community as well. Whether it’s like doing– making the jump from marathon to 50K [??? 18:15] you’re very reluctant to do it. And then you don’t regret saying yes, once you’ve done it. Especially like an ultra is maybe that’s that type two fun a bit of it. But I remember in South America, going back and forth arguing with my friend, Joe, that I was with who I was gonna run the race with whether it was we’re gonna run the 80K or the 50K.

And we had done you know, 60, 70 miles of tracking just before that in Patagonia. It’s like, “Really don’t know if I want to run 80K.” He’s like, “No, no, no. We gotta do it. We gotta do it. We gotta do it.” I’m like, “All right. Fine. We’ll do it.” And I’m so glad we did. And it’s just those things because a lot of the things that I have the best memories with or the most memorable experiences were things that I was reluctant to do, but I decided to do it.

JESSE: I think this is a good note to start wrapping up on. So, this year, I’m asking everybody the same question because this is kind of universal, but always ends up being a little bit different. And it’s particularly poignant with you given the book. So, I’m asking everybody, what do you think the purpose of sport is?

BOBBY: The purpose of sport, yeah, I think this is kind of an interesting time to ask that as well. Because we’re seeing kind of how the world is without sports. And I think it’s making us realize the importance of sport beyond competition because it really is we seek sport for inspiration, we seek it for human interaction, for relatability. And it’s so much more than a time or a point total at the end of the day. And I think that sport in its own right is one of the most important parts of community. And I think a lot of us are anxiously awaiting for it to be back.

JESSE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, we definitely have our own rituals around sport and getting together for games and that whole thing here. So, I know we’ll be ready for at least soccer season to start again. And doing everything around soccer season. So, Bobby, if people want to get the book if people want to see what you’re up to, where can they get the book? Where can they keep up with you?

BOBBY: Yeah, so on Amazon. It’s Running Wild Book. You might have seen my name, Running Wild, Bobby O’Donnell. It’s also on my publisher’s website, Mascot Books. So, it’ll be on those two places. I have a website,, and it’s @RunningWild on Instagram.

JESSE: Sounds good. Thanks for spending some time with me today, Bobby. I really appreciate it.

BOBBY: Thanks for having me, Jesse. It was great.

JESSE: Take care.

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