Knox Robinson is the Founder of First Run. Knox has spent time training alongside Mo Farah in Ethiopia, Eliud Kipchoge in Kenya and attended the Breaking2 Nike Project in May 2017. We dive into all of these topics with Knox in this podcast espisode.

Don’t forget to check out our new book: Eliud Kipchoge – History’s fastest marathoner: An insight into the Kenyan life that shapes legends

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Podast Transcription

(Matt) Thanks very much, Knox Robinson, for joining me today no this Sweat Elite podcast. Knox has a fascinating story, he’s spent some time training with Mo Farah and the Mudane – I think it’s pronounced – group in Ethiopia.

(Knox) Mudane, Mudane.

(Matt) Mudane?

(Knox) Yeah, the president Mudane, yeah.

(Matt) Mudane, yeah, got to get that right… Before the London marathon last year, and he spent some time with  Eliud Kipchoge in Kenya, as well, as attended the Monza sub-2 Nike event last year in Italy. So, thanks very much for joining me today, Knox.

(Knox) I’m excited to be rapping with you, for sure.

(Matt) Cool. I guess we can get started by talking a little bit more about yourself and your background. You were a runner in high school and in college, you attended Wake Forest University and got yourself to, I guess, a decent standard before taking some time away from the sport, but then, you were drawn back, I guess, some ten years later, or thereabouts. I guess it would be good to talk a little bit more about, I guess, what took you away, and then what drew you back, and where you’re at now.

(Knox) You know, I think, you know, really, what happened was… It’s tough. I mean, like, legions of runners will tell you how hard it is to make that leap from a, you know, passionate high school runner to walking on a top level program. I mean, Wake Forest University, in the mid to late 90s, when I walked on, was – for a very small school – had an incredibly credential distance program for this moment in time. I mean, when I walked into the locker room my first year, half of the United States junior cross country team was there, in the locker room. So, you know… Like, we had guys in there, you know, beyond all Americans – we had, just, a bunch of dudes who loved getting it cracking, and on the women’s side, there was also great athletes as well. So, it was amazing, and it was a tight knit group. I kind of, on a good day, I was scratching at that 10th man position, but it was also really challenging to kind of keep going and stay inspired when, you know, you’re… You’re just, kind of, like, 18, 19 years old, figuring it out, you’re not there on an athletic scholarship, and, you know, there’s a bunch of other interests exploding around you, and so… It got to the point where it was kind of make or break, and I kind of had a… A couple of, sort of, like, disappointing, kind of, moments on my own accord. And so, I just, you know, stopped running. Now, I’m so deep in it, all this time later, that it’s weird to think that I just made the decision to stop. But that’s what I love about what I’m doing now, is, like, I want to kind of share back with, like, young people, that your own passion for running and your own pursuit – whether the competitive or non-competitive, or performance-based, or just, you know, feeling good about yourself and your body… It doesn’t really have to be dependant on university scholarship and being part of a team. You can do it on a team, you can do it on your own, you can form your own team, you can form your own crew, and I hope to share with the folks that you can, kind of, do it for the course of your life. It’s not just something you’re going to do in your school age years.

(Matt) Absolutely. And I think… I don’t want to… I guess, before I go into the quote that I read from you, I did, I guess, discover your content, for the most part I’ve heard the name before, but… On the Rich Roll podcast. And on the Rich Roll podcast, you had a great quote that said ‘Running is act of religion…’ – sorry – ‘…of rebellion.’ And you go on to, sort of, talk about how, you know, nobody wants you to run, you’re supposed to just be a digit, a one of… A one or a zero in the code, and you’re not supposed to get out and think for yourself. And I think that that’s… It’s very, very true. And you can, sort of, go and do this on your own. And, as you just sort of pointed it out, you don’t have to have university scholarship to, sort of, prove that.

(Knox) Yeah. I mean, to put it in a… To put it in a better way, less, like, strident way, like a friend of mine once told me: ‘You’re only one… You’re only young once, but you can be immature for the rest of your life.’ So… Definitely… You’re definitely only young once, but you can definitely run wild for a really long time.

(Matt) Absolutely. And you, yourself, have ran quite a fast half marathon yourself.

(Knox) I just ran 70 minutes. I just ran 70 minutes in a half, and…

(Matt) That’s quick.

(Knox) At Valencia, earlier this year.

(Matt) Alright! Oh, I was there.

(Knox) Oh. It was incredible.

(Matt) It was very windy that day.

(Knox) It was windy! That’s what I’m saying. Everybody can talk junk, you know, talk trash, like, ‘Oh, it was windy…’ It rained tw… It’s only a half, rained twice…

(Matt) And… Yes.

(Knox) And it was windy cross and in your face, and, you know, I don’t know if you’ve ever raced in Europe, but, like, European dudes don’t play. They’re mean.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) They’re out for blood.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) You know, it’s not like cross country jabbing you in the ribs – these guys are, like… These guys have, like, triangle formations, they’re talking in front of you as they’re running, like, 70 minutes for the half… They’re surgning… It’s definitely very, very competitive in the way that, like, that sort of sports culture in Europe is. And so it’s awesome to just, kind of, like, catch a plane from New York and pop into the race, and, yeah, I popped a big one. I was… That was wild.

(Matt) Yeah, and I think…

(Knox) So… That was a high watermark for me, for sure.

(Matt) Oh, yeah. That’s awesome. And you ran 70 minutes, but I actually didn’t realize it was Valencia, and being there that day, I think most people ran at least 30 seconds to a minute slower than their potential, or their personal best, most people. So…

(Knox) I was 70 low, I was 70 low. I would have…

(Matt) You’ve got a… Yeah, you’ve got… People want to go here.

(Knox) I was thinking… I would have leaned in for 69, but I was finishing up with two younger guys, and they were really struggling, so, like, I didn’t want them to ruin my finish line photo, I didn’t want them to, like, head to the side, so I was, like, ‘You go on ahead, let me just… I’ll give you a little room so I look cute on the finish line.’

(Matt) I’m impressed you were thinking this credibly at the end of a half marathon, well done.

(Knox) Look, times are going to come and go, but, like, a good photo… You need to, like, make sure it’s crispy.

(Matt) Yeah. It was super windy between, I think, what – 10 and 16 kilometer mark, but… Yeah. That’s awesome.

(Knox) Yeah.

(Matt) So, I guess, I think what most people listening to this podcast would be super interested in would be about your time spent in Ethiopia, with Mo Farah’s training group, before the London marathon last yeah. And, although I sort of know the backstory about how that came about, and how you were asked to go, and, sort of, what happened there, I think it would be really cool to talk about all of this over the next, sort of, 10 to 15 minutes, because it is quite fascinating how you ended up there. And, sort of, some of the stories, kind of, about that. For example, you know, the story about the… About the coffee, how they went to get some coffee one day and the coffee machine wasn’t working, and just the general culture around there and how… I guess what you went in expecting it would be like, and then what it was actually like. So, it would be really cool for us to chat a little bit about that.

(Knox) Yeah. I mean, it was… It was… I don’t want to call it a fluke, but it was just kind of like a hilarious chain of events before the New York City marathon, I was kind of lucky to kind of be one of the last guys accepted into the Sub-Elite field, so I rode out on the Sub-Elite bus to the start line of the New York City marathon, and was in the holding area with the Elite guys, so everybody is in this sort of indoor track area on Staten Island before the race, a couple of hours before the race. Super chill environment, everybody’s running around on the track, men and women, elites and sub-elites, and I was… I had kind of been on a several months’ meditation wave, so I go off to the side, I meditate, I come back, and then, when I come back to the track, I’m not really friends with any, like, the elite runners on the New York City scene, you know? They’re in, like, the rich guy clubs, and they work on Wall Street and all that kind of stuff, and I’m sort of, like… You know, an older black dude with, like, a chipped tooth and, you know, kind hangs out in Brooklyn, so… I was, like, ‘I’m just going to go hang out with, like, the African dudes.

(Matt) Which is a good move, which is a great move…

(Knox) Like, I’m black, so, I’ll just hang out, and the black guy is, like, ‘Hey, is this, like…This is the black section, let me hang out with the brothers.’ So, I go over there, and I knew Abdi, so at least go over and sit by Abdi, I’m stretching… Meb’s over there, Meb, kind of, like, says ‘What’s up?’ And then, Kamworor’s there, I think Stanley Biwott was there, I knew Wilson Kipsang…

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) From meeting him in Berlin a few weeks… A few months before, when he dropped out. So… I knew some of the guys. I just, like, dropped myself down and hung out, and then Abdi sort of – to, like, make conversation – was, like, ‘Hey, man…’ And I’m thinking about New York, I’m thinking about, like, what I’m going to execute on First Avenue, I’m, like, in my zone, I’m trying to be cool. Not trying to, like, fan out, and, like, take selfies with these guys. And Abdi’s like, ‘Hey, man, why don’t you come out to Ethiopia? I’m going to be there training with Mo again, Mo ready for London.’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah. Cool.’ And I just left it at that. I was, like, ‘Yeah. Cool. I will.’ I said ‘Yeah. Cool.’ So… So, then, I mean, fast forward, I just booked a flight and, like, went out to the camp, which is probably north of  Addis Ababa, in this small little hamlet, this little town called Sululta, where Haile Gebrselassie’s complex is, and then, across the street, of course, is Kenenisa Bekele’s complex, or his old place that some Chinese guys bought. So, yeah, showed up in the middle of the night, they didn’t have a room for me as planned. I went across the street and stayed at Kenny B’s place… Kenny’s old place. That was one of the worst places I’ve ever slept at in my life, and I’ve slept at a lot of tough places…

(Matt) This is Kenny Bekele’s accommodation?

(Knox) Yeah, but it hadn’t been, like, kept up in a couple of years, because he sold it to, like, some chinese investors, and didn’t maintain it. And now he’s building a new place across the street, and that’s where Mo trains.

(Matt) OK.

(Knox) So, Mo trains at Kenenisa’s track, which is next door to Haile Gebrselassie’s hotel and track.

(Matt) Right. OK.

(Knox) So, Mo is staying at Haile’s pace, and training at Kenenisa’s place.

(Matt) Big names there.

(Knox) It was crazy, no, it was crazy. And then, like, you know… Met… Guys were just driving up… It was just… It was just… It’s a wild town, it’s a wild town, to think that much elite, sort of, talent is, like, in and out as much as… Goat herders are there, and, like, a church is, like, doing ceremonies in the middle of the night, all  night… It was just really a wild scene. Very, very different from the peaceful, sort of, environment that Eliud Kipchoge trains in. But I think Mo Farah really thrives on energy and excitement, for sure.

(Matt) Yeah. OK. So that’s how it came about, and I guess you’ve introduced us to, like, how… What it was like coming in to Sululta…

(Knox) Yeah. It’s Abdi’s fault.

(Matt) Which I’d like to talk a little bit more about…

(Knox) We can blame it on Abdi. Abdi’s fault.

(Matt) Yeah, OK, so you were staying in this little shack.

(Knox) Yeah.

(Matt) Across the road from Bekele’s track.

(Knox) Yeah.

(Matt) I guess, what was the deal then, like…?

(Knox) And then I couldn’t do that, so…

(Matt) Alright, you changed…

(Knox) The next day, then, I moved in… The next day I moved into Haile Gebrselassie’s, sort of, hotel spot. And that was cool. So, I stayed next door to Mo, Abdi, Bashir Abdi, who just got second in the 10,000 for Belgium at the European championships, and then, like, a bunch of young Somali guys, as well, in the camp.

(Matt) Awesome. OK, and, I guess, what was it… Yeah, what was it like next to these guys and being able to… I’m assuming, you’ve mentioned in podcasts and to me before we started recording this that you attended some training runs and some training sessions, so it would be really cool to learn a little bit more about what that experience was like.

(Knox) Yeah, I mean, I lived… I mean, I lived… Yeah, I don’t want to say I lived with them, because we were in the same room, but I lived next door, you know? Like… And I ran with these guys two or three times a day. I will say that I was in pretty good shape, obviously. A month after that I ran 70 minutes and a half, but… And I had spent some time at altitude… The same altitude, what, 8,000 feet or something like that, 8,000 – 9,000 feet in Mexico the month before, so the altitude wasn’t a big shock, but I will say that these guys, on the easy runs, definitely… It was definitely a bit rough.

(Matt) You said it was also dead silent, too, in the…

(Knox) Pardon?

(Matt) You also said that it was very quiet in the easy runs, in the Rich Roll podcast?

(Knox) That’s the thing, yeah, like… You know, you’d expect… And again, when you’re in school, or your hanging out in your little running crew, or even… Honestly, you know, when you go on on your long run, on the weekends, and you’re running, whatever, 20, 22, 23 miles… You’re catching up on the night before, you’re talking about this and that, you’re unloading on the week, all that kind of stuff… Then, on the easy runs, with these guys? They didn’t talk at all. Like, these runs, at a casual pace for these guys, the runs were in complete silence. And that was, like, really unnerving, that the easy runs are quiet. On other hand, the most intense track workouts that I witnessed – and It’s not like I was stepping on the track and running with these guys – but they had such a good vibe… Like, you would have thought these guys were just, like, messing around and, like, in the off season, the way the vibe was, and then, they’re stepping on the track and they’re running, like, 4 minute miles at altitude, like, on the track… And, like, dudes are falling down, you know, Mo is just, like, chewing through his pacers and, you know, the coach is on the bicycle trying to keep up, and… Meanwhile, while this is happening, they’re playing, like, Drake on their Beats Pill, or, you know, Mo is asking people to take pictures of, like, his abs and video on the iPhones, so he can post it later on his Instagram…

(Matt) Yeah, he got you his phone and just said…

(Knox) And he’s still ripping through reps, like, wildly. Honestly, it’s just crazy.

(Matt) That’s awesome. There’s so many things I wanted to dive into there…

(Knox) Yeah, yeah…

(Matt) I guess, firstly, I’d like to know – before we talk about the track styles – when you were talking about the easy runs and there were, sort of, quiet. They were quiet, but you also said before that they were rough. I mean, what sort of pace are they guys punching up there? And, mind you, before we get into that, I guess the altitude is… What, it’s 2,700 meters, which… Or thereabouts, which is some… What’s that in feet?

(Knox) Close to 8,000. So, yeah. Addis Ababa is, you said, 2,700 meters.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Yeah, so, I mean, that’s… That’s just casual running for them, at, like, 2,700 – 2,800 meters. And then, you know, sometimes on the long runs, they might do, like, an uphill long run, or you know, there’s a hill or a mountain right next to the training camp that these guys didn’t do, but a lot of athletes would run right up, and that’s, you know, close to 10,000 feet, so 3,200 meters or something like that.

(Matt) Oh.

(Knox) That’s… That’s pretty intense. I mean, if you look at… I don’t know what a lot of other places around the world are, but as far as in the United States, even a lot of these training locales in Colorado are much more casual altitude than that. Like, closer…

(Matt) Oh, yeah. They’re closer to 2,000 maybe…

(Knox) Closer to 64… 6,400 feet or something like that, not to diss any of my friends in Colorado, but… This was not that. This was, like, getting up and eating oatmeal at 8,000 feet, and then, you know, going out and… You know, like I said, I was in shape. I mean, I even went out and ran, like, my little 20-mile Boston marathon training run on my little Boston course before I went. And I was, like, ripping off pace, I was fit. And I went out to Ethiopia, and man… These guys were running, I don’t know… These guys were running quick on their easy runs, you know? Even their jog was just kind of, like… I was having to work. It was embarrassing, because I was in good shape, and they’re looking at me, like, ‘Ehh…’ You know? The only thing that saved me was, like, going out on a, you know, on a long run, and… Because I looked like I was dragging. I was tired, I didn’t look real, obviously I’m not stepping in their workout, so they didn’t know what it was. And when we went out on long runs, 20 milers, or 22 milers, the fact that I was able to do a 20 mile run in two hours, two hours and, you know, one minute with, like, no support, like, minimal fueling and hydration, at 8,000 feet or 9,000 feet, they’re like, ‘Ohh? OK, OK. Oh, OK. OK.’ Because, when it came to just the easy miles, the 7, 8, 9, 10 miles, man that… It was rough.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) But that’s the level… That’s the shape he’s in. I mean, Mo… Mo… Mo… Mo Farah is in shape this year, for sure, as you’ve seen by him… His run at London and then his run at the Great North Run, and then… I mean, I’m excited to see what he’s going to do in Chicago this weekend.

(Matt) Yeah, yeah. It will be interesting to see how he goes there and whether or not he takes some more time off his… Off his personal best. But…

(Knox) For sure.

(Matt) Yeah, now thanks for, sort of, painting that picture about how it… How… What it was like to do the, the… The more aerobic running with them, and I guess it would be cool to touch a little bit more on what the track sessions were like and what it felt like to be there, and… I love the story that you told on the Rich Roll podcast, about how Mo was just, like, ‘Hey, man, can you… Can you get my phone from my bag, and here’s my password, and… Just open it up, take photos…’

(Knox) Right! This is, you know, like… This is not even in the beginning of the workout, this is, like, halfway through the workout, during, like, a… During the recovery. He’s, like, ‘Hey, mate – can you go in my bag and get my phone, the red phone.’ He had, like… He had two iPhone Xs, like… I… I… I’m from New York, I’ve got cool luggage, you know, I work with Nike. I’ve got, like… I’ve got the prototype of the Peg Turbos, I’ve got a couple of pairs of 4%s in the bag… You know. I’m cool. But I didn’t get the iPhone X before it went out. I didn’t want to, like, drop it, I didn’t want to get robbed… Whatever. So, I go out to Ethiopia, Mo’s got two iPhone Xs! I was, like, ‘Oh, man. This guy is embarrassing me, like… ‘ He’s asking me to go in his bag, gives me the passcode, and then, like, wants me to take, like, photos and videos of him as he’s doing his workout, so he can post something to IG later. And then, after I did it, he didn’t even use them. Like, he didn’t even think the photos and the videos are that good. Like, he didn’t, like… I failed. That’s the worst part.

(Matt) Oh, no.

(Knox) I haven’t… I haven’t told anybody that, but he didn’t any use any of the stuff I took. I was, like… He’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, oh… OK. Yeah, cool. Not bad, yeah.’ I was, like, ‘Oh, come on!’ The angle, I’m laying down on the track trying to do artistic shots as he goes by, yeah… He didn’t really respect my… My… My social media. My social media… My social media technique. He didn’t really respect it, so… It’s OK.

(Matt) Awesome.

(Knox) But that was incredible, man. Like, just… It just made me think, like, you know, usually I think that an elite has got, like, to approach the most serious sessions with the most seriousness of purpose, or the most serious demeanor. But, you know, you’ve got to choose the demeanor that works for you. And I realised it’s about creating a good environment and creating a good vibe, and having good energy. And then, that’s going to push you to better performances, rather than some real intense situation where, you know, you’re kind of on the wrong side of pressure and… And… And… And, and, and… And Intensity. You know what I mean?

(Matt) Absolutely.

(Knox) It’s better to create a vibe and then just to, like, have Mo get stoked, and then tear up the track.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Rather than just kind of, like, ‘Can I do it? Oh, I’m going to run and get this impossible workout and then fail!’ Like… The other thing is this guy loves… And this is what I wanted to bring back and also share with people in my group, Black Roses, but also with other folks in the running world at large – like, this guy loves the challenge. Like, you know, you’re used to it. People dread the long run, like, ‘Oh, I’m worried about my long run this weekend. Oh, I can’t believe I have to do this long run this weekend.’ And we always speak about our biggest challenges, I mean, as regular people, like, in negative terms. You know? But Mo would be sitting around at lunch on Tuesday, already excited and chatting about the long run on Sunday.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Like, at one point, he was pitching the coach, he was, like, ‘Oh, Sunday we might go to this other place and run with the Ethiopian group.’ And the coach says, like, ‘No. No, no, no, no, no. No.’ Because, right? Mo’s excited to go to, like, another location for the long run, and do the long run with, like, the Ethiopian national team, and Ethiopian elites.

(Matt) Right. That’s really interesting.

(Knox) Rather than my ‘hiding at a camp’, or my ‘training is secret’, or whatever. He wanted to go and have the Sunday long run with other guys and the best in the world, like, away from cameras, away from whatever – just for the battle. Like, the light in his eyes that went up, when he was, like, trying to get his coach to let him go run with these guys, and the coach is, like, ‘No. You’re not going to do that. Because, as soon as you guys get out there, you’re going to start going, and then you’re going to start going crazy…’ And Mo’s like, ‘No, no! It’s going to be chill!’ He was actually asking the coach, he was telling him, like, ‘No, it’s going to be fine. It’s just friendly, we’re just going to go and have a good time.’ And the coach is, like, ‘No way.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, this dude not only is, like, it’s Tuesday, and he’s already chomping at the bit for the long run…’

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) ‘… but also he wants to go and race these other dudes that he’ll outrun, with these other dudes that he races at the olympics and championships, and the marathon.’

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) He was, like, wanting to do that. For fun.

(Matt) Just for fun. That’s awesome.

(Knox) Just for the battle. Just for the war.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Like, that was inspiring. So, I’m trying to, like, really come back and, like, change the own culture around my own group that everyone, like, gets excited for the long run on the weekends, and people get excited, you hit them with a workout and then they’re, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do… Yeah! Alright! Yeah!’ You know? I want that excitement.

(Matt) It’s…

(Knox) Because that’s going to change the vibe and that’s going to change the results.

(Matt) Absolutely. It’s a really interesting topic, this, actually. Because  I just spent, I guess, the better part of the decade living in Europe. And, other than Finland, for the most part, and in that country – I know it’s quite similar in other countries in Europe – it was very common for the… For it, sort of, essentially, to be the exact opposite of you just said, in a way that people would train on their own, they wouldn’t want to train with other people because they had a set, programmed, that they wanted to follow, from their coach. And it was almost, like… I was in Helsinki, it was almost like there was quite a lot of good runners around the town, but they were also training on their own. And the idea of getting together and doing something like you’ve just described, like, a whole bunch of guys that are all competing against each other just to, like, punch at a hard tempo around… That was, like, no way would anyone ever come up with that or do that. And it’s just… It’s not even a thought. Like… So it was really quite interesting that that’s how Mo was, sort of… That’s how Mo is. And that’s how he sees it, that’s what he wants to do. And it’s… Yeah. It’s really quite interesting. It’s… And I guess more people could do that.

(Knox) I mean, it’s understandable. I mean, I come out of that, and, like, keeping workouts a secret, and training on your own… But it’s, like… And it…(audio skips, 37:29) Plan, and it doesn’t mean that, like, Mo doesn’t follow a schedule. But as, you know, as an elite, there’s only a certain number of workouts left to do. There’s only… I mean, there’s only a certain kind of workout to do. There’s only a certain handful of approaches, you know?

(Matt) Absolutely.

(Knox) So, what are you really going to do to get that little edge? Especially when we know that edge is .5 seconds or .2 seconds… You know?

(Matt) Yeah. Exactly. Right.

(Knox) What is that edge? It’s mentality and experience, and, like… I don’t know. Of course, we love that cliche of, like, the loneliness of the long distance runner. We love that. But I love seeing Mo, you know, having a whole training group of friends, and when they weren’t training, they sat around and listened to music, and laughed about a bunch of stuff, and talked about soccer and… you know? Or football, rather. Or whatever. And just, like, had a good time. And then, when it came to really go to that… To the highest heights, it was…

(Matt) Game on.

(Knox) It was game on.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) It was, you know… It was fascinating.

(Matt) Yeah. I really found it interesting, too, that on the Rich Roll podcast, that you spoke about how they didn’t ever know what the training session was ahead of them until they were, like, warmed up in track.

(Knox) Right.

(Matt) Yeah. And how, you sort of said yourself, all these, you know… Nothing against all the people that have these, sort of, training programs scheduled out for months on end, and so on. But these guys, like, I think you said it well, like, Mo is thinking in his head, it could be one of many things before the training session, and that’s… You were talking about how that could be used as an advantage.

(Knox) Yeah, had to step back and think about it, because it’s, like… Like I said, I wasn’t stepping on the track and, like, jumping in his workouts, you know? A couple of times, the guys are like, ‘Are you jumping in on this?’ When I was, like, ‘Come on, man.’ So, guys were cool. Wasn’t like I just, like, you know… But I was on the sidelines, and I was just watching, because it was better to… It was an education. When are you going to get to see one of the best guys in the world at the office, you know?

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Day in and day out. So, it was just fascinating to watch that… That… That particular approach, you know what I mean?

(Matt) Absolutely. You also said that you had a lot of people after the trip not so much ask about the workouts, but they were asking about, like, the diet. And the… I think you said it was, like, a peanut butter, like a recipe or something… Something like that.

(Knox) Yeah, I mean, it was cool because… Well, yeah. I just think that, like, in these days, we love… I mean, Eliud Kipchoge is so inspiring. His words are so inspiring, his life, his… His… His, just, entire aura is… Is super inspirational and aspirational. And then, Mo’s personality is infectious and what he’s done for the culture, you know… What Abdi’s done, like, all these guys are great personalities, and I like… I like… I like learning about that. I like studying… Studying that. And so, you know, a lot of times, Mo’s coach was really afraid that I was going to, like, leak this or that workout… You know, I Was taking notes or whatever, writing down the workouts… Was worried that I was going to, like, leak a certain kind of workout, and I understand that. It’s intellectual property, and Mo is heading up for London marathon, and Bekele and Kipchoge were entered in the race. So, I understand. It was in… The pressure was on. But, on the other hand, you don’t… No one ever asked me about a workout. People wanted to know what the diet was, people wanted to know about Mo drinking coffee, Ethiopian coffee, which is, of course, like, an incredible coffee experience… People wanted to know about the strength that they have in the camps out there, peanut butter tea and the recipe for peanut butter tea… So, you know, it’s really an interesting moment right now that we’re in, that people want to know not, like, what it is, but how it is.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) You know?

(Matt) Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thanks, thanks so much for sharing a good 20 minutes there of, you know, your experiences i Ethiopia. I think it’s a perfect time to sort of transition to your time spent with Eliud Kipchoge in Kenya.

(Knox) Yeah.

(Matt) So, I’m actually not that… So much familiar with this experience that you had, but you did go to Kenya once, so…

(Knox) Mhm.

(Matt) And then, you did spend some time in Kaptagat, as did we, around  a year ago now, training alongside him before Berlin. I mean, it was really cool to learn a bit more about how you… About your experience in Kaptagat and training alongside that global NN Running Team.

(Knox) Well, yeah. And I, you know… Much respect to the global NN Running Team, and  I definitely wasn’t’, like, training alongside of them, and did… It was much different from the Mo Farah experience. I was there, sort of, independently, and then with… In Kaptagat, I was there as part of a Nike team, you know, working on a project just to, kind of, like, connect with Eliud around that Flyprint innovation, 3D printed shoe that came out earlier in the year for a few elites to race in… So, it was more of just a chance to kind of connect with Eliud off the radar, Geoffrey, Abel… And then, also, like, I had connected with Patrick Sang, who’s a master coach, and just a master human being. And so, having spent time with coach Patrick Sang the year before in Berlin, and then being able to connect with him back in Kaptagat was an experience that brought all his training and coaching philosophies and arguments to life. So, it was more just a sort of an overall, cohesive experience, and a chance to witness that rarified element, and environment of Kenyan distance training, like, first person.

(Matt) Yeah. For sure. I guess you’re such a… You’re very good at describing and, I guess, painting a picture, and I think it would be really cool to spend maybe a minute now describing what it’s like in Kaptagat. And coming Eldoret and then what… I guess what the little village is like.

(Knox) Yeah, I mean, you’ve seen the visuals, you know it’s just, like, one highway coming into a town, it’s like that through much of East Africa, as so much Chinese investment is helping build roads and like, just, to really kind of ease with the export of natural resources… So there’s, like, a… You know, a main two-lane highway, blacked up highway, but Eliud’s camp, the NN Running camp, or the Global Sports… global Sports Communication, right? GSC camp, where Eliud’s lived for… Since his late teens, or for the past 14 or 15 years, if not more… Was really incredible. People know it’s super simple and austere, cinder block construction. But, at the same time, they also do have solar panels and solar energy that was installed last year, so really kind of looking at a well thought out training environment for the express purpose of, like, pursuing excellence in long distance running. Athletes would go out and, of course, you’ve seen the photos of them tearing up these tracks and these amazing chain groups, star-studded training groups on the track, and then you’ve seen, you know, or heard stories of the long runs where 200 people, 250 people show up for the long run. But back in the camp, it’s really amazing, it’s just the best athletes in the world sitting around on plastic lawn chairs, kind of checking their phones, playing, like, the latest music from, you know, their scene, like, on their phones, doing some dances, and then, you know, sipping tea and just kind of joking and giving each other a tough time. A lot of jokes and revelry, and then, obviously, because it’s a self-sustaining operation, all the athletes in the camp are assigned different duties and… And details. So, on one day, Eliud Kipchoge and Geoffrey Kamworor might be tasked to clean all the trains.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Even if they’re, you know, the best runners in the world, world champions in the half-marathon and, you know, world record holders in the marathon and all that, so… Dudes still have to clean the toilets. It’s super humbling experience. And the other thing is, even though Eliud’s the… An elder in the camp, he doesn’t always, like, set the schedule or set the responsabilites. Sometimes it’s the younger athletes who do the assignment. That’s how, you know, horisontal the structure is. That, like, everybody has a part in everything. So, even the younger athletes have to have not just labour, but also the responsibility when it comes to assigning duties and stuff in the camp.

(Matt) That’s really interesting. So, how long did you spend at… There?

(Knox) I was there a week. A little over a week.

(Matt) And did you manage to get to Iten?

(Knox) No, I was just in Eldoret. I was supposed to go and have dinner with Allie Kieffer. Do you know about Allie Kieffer? She is a super exciting runner on the US scene who surprised a bunch of people with a big finish at New York City marathon last year, after kind of working her way into elite status later on, and now she’s really been tearing up the roads over the past year. So, she shoutout Allie Kieffer, and she’s poised for, like, a big New York City marathon coming up in a few weeks. But, anyways, Allie was over there, training at Iten, and I don’t know if she was living with Betsy Saina, but yeah, she was, like, ‘Ah come over for dinner…’ But I really underestimated how hard it is to get from Eldoret to Iten. They’re not that far apart as the crow flies on Google, but… Or even in an Uber. But, the reality of transport between the two places is a little tough, so… I didn’t make it out there.

(Matt) OK. Good, well, yeah. Thank you once again for sharing that, stories about that experience. And, I guess, a couple more things would be good to talk about. First one is, you attended the Monza Nike Sub 2… I guess, what was the official name of the race? So, I’m mind blanking, but it was the…

(Knox) Well, officially, it wasn’t a race.

(Matt) Yeah, the challenge, I guess. Event.

(Knox) What was it? It was an experience.

(Matt) Experience, yeah.

(Knox) It was more, like…

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) Woodstock wasn’t a concert, you know what I mean? Jimi Hendrix said ‘Have you ever been experienced?’ Monza was an experience.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) So, Monza was an attempt to see if… An attempt to break two hours in over 26,2 miles, I suppose. That’s how you would put it cleanly.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) But yeah, it was incredible. I mean, obviously, you know, it was on a Formula 1, a very famous Formula 1 track in Monza, Italy, and along with Eliud Kipchoge, who else did we have there? It was…

(Matt) Tadese?

(Knox) Zersenay Tadese and…

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) The young Ethiopian guy…

(Matt) I don’t remember his name, but he was the one that… Did he drop out or did he run? He was a little bit far back…

(Knox) No, everybody finished.

(Matt) They all finished.

(Knox) Those 3 guys finished, and then they had a team of all star pacers, so even though the pacers were incredible – Bernard Lagat, Chris Derrick, Lopez Lomong… So it was really… Again, to use the word, the phrase ‘star-studded’, it was a super kind of crazy experience to watch this level of execution, just in the pursuit of an ideal.

(Matt) Absolutely. And you mentioned how, I guess, how motivating and inspiring the event was, especially towards the end, and you mentioned that you shed a tear towards the end of that race, and I guess I would have been absolutely fascinated…

(Knox) Yeah; I mean, at this point, I have to admit, I did get misty eyed. ..

(Matt) It was raining, so, you could have caught a hardest…

(Knox) Perhaps it was the high dew point, it may have been the dew point from the morning… But there was noticeable fogging in my sunglasses, and there was no reason for me to be wearing sunglasses, because it was cloudy and raining. No, but just to watch Eliud Kipchoge really commit – and I mean that in, like, a bunch of senses of the word, to commit his spirit and his body, and his mind, to this unprecedented task was beautiful to watch for most of it. But then, in the end, it was so excruciating as he was, like, straining, you know? And it’s tough to related this to other people who don’t have kids, but, you know, when you’re watching your kids figure out life, when you’re watching your kids, you know… You and I, we have success and failure perhaps an equal measure. And we’re figuring out for our own, and we don’t ask anybody to feel sorry for us. But to watch your kids try and fail, whether that’s try to ride a bicycle and fall, or, you know, make a team, or, you know, run for student government president, or in the spelling bee, or even just, you know, falling down at the playground and skinning their knee – it’s tough to watch another human being attempt something that they’ve never done before, and to be fearless, and doing that pursued. And that’s what it was like watching Eliud Kipchoge come so close to breaking two hours for 26,2 miles. It was in the heart. And to watch him finish, I… I cried. And then, immediately after he finished, I thought ‘Man, this guy did it because he thought he could do it.

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) And he didn’t believe in any barriers. I mean, Nike marketing aside and, you know, the shoe and the preparation, the science behind it, and then the empirical conditions and the marginal gains… Man, I just missed… I’m finished, and I thought ‘This guy doesn’t believe in limits. This guy doesn’t believe… This guy thought he could do it. And then, in the next instance, I was, like, ‘What’s holding me back from my potential? What’s holding me back from my goals?

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) And yeah, I don’t even mean, like, my running goals. Sure, my running goals are, you know, I could train that much harder, you know… I can go on the wagon that much sooner… You know what I mean?

(Matt) Yeah.

(Knox) I could kind of, like, scuttle various aspects of my life and commit to something in running. But also, on a life level, what’s keeping me from being a better father and a better partner? And a better friend? And a better son? And a better brother? You know? Like, what’s keeping me from being a better citizen of the United States of America? Like, what’s keeping me from being, like, a writer that I’ve always dreamed of being, you know? Watching Eliud Kipchoge at Monza made me reflect on all the other aspects of my life outside of running. I think that’s part of the power that this man holds for us at this time in our culture.

(Matt) That’s perfectly said. Yeah, awesome. Thank you, yeah. I’ll let you go soon. Thank you very much for everything today…

(Knox) No, thank you.

(Matt) I guess, very quickly, I’d like to just… Maybe we could talk about, just quickly, where people can learn a bit more about Black Roses first run? You have a very… A very cool Instagram account, and the handle is @firstrun.

(Knox) @firstrun yeah. @firstrun – that’s, for better or for worse, the only place to find me, unless you want to, like, come to New York and, like, hang out. And then, you know, I’m spinning records with friends at a reggae club, or hanging out in the park. So, come to New York and hang out, but if you can’t do that yet, check me out on Instagram at @firstrun. I’ve never been on Facebook, I don’t have a Facebook account.

(Matt) OK.

(Knox) And Twitter didn’t work for me, as you can tell from the wordiness and the verbosity of this conversation. Twitter… I never figured out Twitter. So, Instagram is where I’m at.

(Matt) Awesome. Thank you very much, once again, Knox.

(Knox) Thank you, Matthew and Sweat Elite. I’m super excited to participate in the conversation. I love what you’re doing, shoutout to everybody who’s a part of Sweat Elite, and is a fan of your stuff, because I’m a fan, too, man. For sure.

(Matt) Awesome. Thanks so much.

(Knox) Thank you.


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