Steve Runner Interview

Steve Runner, who’s real name is, ironically, Steve Walker, is the man behind the world’s most popular podcast on the subject of running, Phedippidations. For the past two and a half years, Steve has published a new hour-long episode every Sunday morning, just in time for most people’s long runs. His topics cover seemingly everything that has to do with running, from history to personal stories to injury prevention. Steve is not an elite runner, but just like you and I. Consequentially, a lot of people can relate to his endeavors, which, I believe, is an important part of his success.

Personally, I have come to enjoy Steve’s podcast on all of my long runs. They keep my mind off the fact that I’m running for 2.5-4.5 straight hours at a time or that I’m in the middle of nowhere and haven’t seen a soul in several hours. As you all know, you can really get to know people very well if you regularly run with them. Steve is one of my best running buddies and I feel that I know him very well already. Nevertheless, I caught up with him recently (virtually, of course) to ask him a few questions.

For those readers who do not know Phedippidations, please tell us about your podcast.
I guess if I had to use one word to describe it, that word would be “goofy”. It’s generally an “internet radio show” about living your life with passion, but more specifically it’s a podcast for runners. Phedippidations is the digital audio equivalent of going out for a long run, each weekend, with a friend. I’m an average middle of the pack, middle aged guy who runs by himself in the back country roads of a small town in New England. My podcast is a way to feel connected to fellow runners around the world. I like to think of Phedippidations as a “Running Club”, and I’m just the guy who happens to have the microphone.
What gave you the initial idea of producing Fdip?
I always wanted to be a writer. It was my dream to one day publish something that would encourage and inspire someone to rise up off the “couch of doom” and live their lives to the fullest. This isn’t necessarily some noble thing on my part, but I was once a very sedentary obese and unhealthy person who somehow was saved through the sport of running. My ability to articulate the “miracle” of our sport was pale at best; and my efforts on the website I created (SteveRunner.com) were hardly interesting, inspirational or even legible.
Having worked through college as a radio “Dee-Jay” and production director; and starting my engineering career in commercial radio; I learned some of the skills of audio presentation…and began to record (in audio) some of the rambling diatribes that I liked to think of as “essays” from my website.
I first heard about podcasting and RSS feeds back in October of 2004, and had the idea to distribute my audio essays through an aggregator, but it wasn’t until eight months later that I began to put a show format together.
So, the initial idea wasn’t to produce an audio show, it was to record myself reading my written essays…the rest sorta “just happened”.
Did you ever think the show would become so popular?

This is a tough question to answer (and I’m asked it all the time) because the act of actually answering the question is based on the assumption that I think Phedippidations is “popular”. I don’t really know what “popular” means, with respect to a podcast. I like to think that I’ve made a lot of friends who run with me each week, so if I’ve made a lot of friends and that proves my podcast’s popularity…then I’d have to say “No, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think more than ten fellow runners would ever want to listen to anything I had to say”. It’s not that I harbor self loathing for myself, I’ve just always produced the show thinking that only a handful of fellow runners might listen to a few episodes; that’s why it’s so easy for me to be open and honest about myself: I have no illusions of fame…I’m just a goofball who loves to run.

How do you pick your weekly topics?

I have four kinds of episodes: regular topics (such as how to train, how to deal with injury, or how good nutrition can help with performance), biographical episodes about the legends of our sport, audio race reports recorded as I run races and marathons, and short format shows called “Intervals” that don’t always have a lot to do with the subject of running.
I usually pick the topics about a year in advance (for example, at the time of this interview I have episodes already planned through September of 2008). Every so often something will come up that I’ll push to the head of the schedule, but for the most part I plan episodes around the races that I’m running or on some topic that I’m interested in learning more about. I’m not an expert on any of this stuff, but hopefully I can explain what I’ve learned in a way that makes sense, and is at least slightly entertaining.

(Steve with running legend Billy Mills)
Which was your favorite episode?

Yikes, that’s a tough one! Instead of giving you a single favorite episode I’ll give you one for each of the four categories of shows that I’ve produced so far:

My favorite “regular topic” had nothing much to do with running…it was the audio story of a canoe trip I took down the Allagash River with my family in the summer of 2006, episode 55 “The Maine Woods of Thoreau”. I’ve always admired Henry David Thoreau, and I really wanted to give others a better appreciation for the man.
My favorite “Running Legend” episode was show 46 all about Terry Fox. I spent several months reading about Terry and learning about his “Marathon of Hope” to run across Canada. His story really moved me.
My favorite “race report” that I’ve produced has to be episode 41, my running of the 111th Boston Marathon….it wasn’t fun to run the race, but it was fun to tell the story.
My favorite “Intervals” episode was 80B, which is a recording of a friend and I, running around my neighborhood…seen through his eyes. It was cool to have someone else describe what I see every time I’m out recording my podcast…so fellow runners could get a better sense of where I live and run.
Have you ever regretted sharing your personal life or anecdotes on the show?

Not really. To me recording the show is really like going out for a run with a friend. I hope that anyone who listens to me feels the same way. If you came over to my house to go for a run with me, I wouldn’t hold back if I was telling you about my life. Running has a way of “opening up” the mind, giving us a freedom to be honest with ourselves and each other. I’m not afraid of being honest about who I am; and while I have been warned by some to try to protect my identity; it’s not a closely guarded secret that Steve Walker is Steve “Runner”.

How does your family feel about your hobby?

They mock me and make fun of me. They throw little rocks at my head every morning. When I sit down to dinner they ask for my autograph (well, actually my son John is the one who asks for me to sign his report cards!). Let’s just say that they put up with me, that’s really all I could ever ask.

You obviously are also an avid distance runner. Tell us about your evolution of becoming a runner.

I first tried to take to the road back in the spring of 1996. Back then I weighed 232 pounds for my five foot ten inch frame, and my body mass index was an obese 32.4. I lasted about a week that first time, and with aching shins vowed never to try to run again. But my lack of health was disturbing, and my doctor began to warn me that I was on the road to heart disease and diabetes. A year later and I was holding my then 4 year old son and I knew that if I didn’t do something about my weight I might not be able to take him on camping trips, or even play ball with him in the back yard. So, I tried to run again…and this time I got to the point where I could run two miles in just under thirty minutes. I lasted for about a month on the road this time, but eventually gave up due to shin pain and weariness.
In the Fall of 1998, I started (once again) to go for a lunchtime run with friends at work, and for some reason the running bug hit. I began to look forward to my daily runs, and the weight started dropping off as well. I found myself enjoying the competition each day with my friends. I stuck with the running, and a year later on April 10th, 1999 I ran my first road race: a 5K that I finished in 22:22. From that point on, I was very much a runner.

Which is your favorite race?
Although I’m very fortunate to be able to run the amazing event that is the Boston Marathon each year, I’d have to say that my favorite race is the Falmouth Road Race, on Cape Cod, which is run each August. While I do love to run longer distances, and the siren call of the marathon summons me with every Spring and Autumn, the seven mile race held in Falmouth Massachusetts is something that I look forward to every year. A good friend and I travel to Cape Cod, enjoy a Cape Cod baseball league game, sit on the beach, enjoy a few beers at one of the local pubs, watch the annual “Falmouth Invitational Mile” race, and run the seven miles from one pub in Woods Hole to another in Falmouth Heights. The winner buys the beer!
Tell us about your training. Do you follow specific plans?

I follow a fairly customized version of the Hanson Brothers “Moderate Consistent” training plan to prepare for my marathons. I’m a runner who started training under Jeff Galloway’s excellent training schedules (from his book “On Running”), moved onto a self modified version of Hal Higdons intermediate plan, and has found running happiness with this “Moderate Consistent” plan which has me running six days a week, roughly 40 to 50 miles each week, with long runs no greater than 16 miles. Every run is just as important as any other (which is very different from the Galloway and Higdon plans, which mark the weekend “Long Slow Run” as the most critical).

Do you have a dream race?

Right now my dream race is, very simply, any official marathon where I break four hours. I came very close in the 2007 Philadelphia Marathon with my PR of 4:01:31.

Tell us about your biggest goal in running.

My only goal is to break four hours in a marathon. To me, running four hours is proof that I can achieve anything; it’s a goal that will justify all the miles, hours, pain and exhaustion that I’ve put myself through over the past nine years. I’m certain to have loftier goals beyond that, but for now, my biggest goal is to break the big four. I’m very close; I know I can do it.

Which runner(s) inspire(s) you the most?

Bill Rogers, Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuleson; in no particular order.

Bill Rogers is someone who inspired me to run both Track and Cross Country when I was in high school I watched Billy fly past me as I watch the Boston Marathon from the sidelines in Newton and witnessed poetry in motion.
Frank Shorters Olympic gold in the 1972 games was just impressive beyond words. When Neil and Buzz walked upon the moon in 1969 I wanted to be an astronaut…and then I watched Frank Shorter win the marathon in Munich and I had the crazy dream that I might actually be able to run a marathon myself!
Joan Benoit is many things to our sport; and I admire her for all of her qualities…but it is her athleticism that always struck me as incredible. Her 1984 Olympic Marathon win in Los Angeles was remarkable, but the way she ran the 1979 Boston Marathon (finishing in her Red Sox cap) was something I will never forget.
(Steve enjoying one of his other passions…actually two of his other passions)

Many runners listen to your show during their long runs or even during races. What do you listen to while running (when you’re not recording your next episode)?

First off, I never listen to music when I’m running a race. I do wear an MP3 recorder with a microphone clipped to my shirt, but I’d rather hear the roar of the crowds and the shouts of encouragement from others as I run races.

Secondly, I never listen to Phedippidations when I’m running. To be honest (and not self derogatory) I can’t bear the sound of my own voice. (I won’t even let my family listen to an episode in the car when I’m driving, I annoy myself!).
But when I’m out on my daily runs, I mostly listen to podcasts. My favorites include “The Extra Mile PodCast”, “The Final Sprint”, Fitness Rocks, The Zen Runner, the #1 music podcast in the “pod-o-sphere”: The Jog Tunes Indie PodCast, several podcasts from the SQPN network and a bunch of science topic podcasts (a list so long you’d need another webpage to list them!).
Have you ever considered venturing past the 26.2 mile mark and take a shot at ultrarunning?

Yes, I can definitely see myself training for and running an ultra one day. It’s tough for me to think past my current goal of breaking 4 hours, but my wife asks me the question all the time “What will you do next?”, and I suspect that I’ll set a new goal for myself once I get there. To set a BQ I’ll need to run a 3:30, which I can’t even image ever doing…but I ran my first marathon in 4:41:53, and in November of this year I ran a 4:01:31 in Philadelphia. I think anything is possible with dedication, hard work and having an indomitable spirit. I’m not the fastest runner, but I might be one of the most stubborn. I can see myself running an ultra one day, but for now I have to focus on my current goal.

Thank you for your time, Steve!

(To enjoy Steve’s podcasts, please visit his website or search “Phedippidations” on iTunes.)

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