Jake Tuber

At a recent Endeavorun retreat in San Diego, Jake Tuber and I made a list of key traits of effective coaches. This was not an arbitrary exercise. Jake and I are in the early stages of collaborating on a book about coaching, and we’re trying to nail down our shared beliefs and convictions about the craft. The effort spilled over from one day to the next, and it was on day two, in the middle of a conversation about empathy, that I blurted out, “Curiosity!”

The notion that curiosity is a key trait of effective coaches is hardly original. In his book Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes, Jeffrey Huber writes, “Great coaches are curious seekers of information and are resourceful at discovering answers to questions, finding solutions to problems, and creating novel responses to puzzling situations. . . Curiosity motivates coaches to ask the question Why? And look for ways to improve their coaching effectiveness.”

Curiosity is also infectious, according to executive coach Natalie Jobity, benefiting not only the curious coach but also the curious coach’s athletes. “With curiosity,” she explains in a post written for on the International Coaching Federation blog. “there is exploring, uncovering, exposing, digging, considering, or reflecting. These lead to shifted mindsets, creative perspectives, new understanding and learning, which is at the heart of effective coaching. . . With a culture of curiosity comes a culture of trust, openness, and collaboration. These are the foundations of creativity, and why many savvy leaders today try to adopt a coach approach in their conversations and interactions with their teams and colleagues.”

These statements make me feel good about myself because I am intellectually curious, and always have been. But the point of this article is not to convince you that I am a great coach because I’m curious. Instead I would like to show you the value of a curious mindset for athletes with a couple of recent personal examples.

The first involves Paula, a runner I coach. There are lots of fear-driven people in the world, and for a long time Paula was one of them, to the detriment of her training and racing. Fear of failure all but guarantees failure. Fear of uncertainty breeds uncertainty. And fear in general is just plain unpleasant, ruining the athletic experience. Unnecessarily, I might add, as there are plenty of examples of athletes who experience no more fear than is useful, and who benefit thereby.

I’m no psychologist, but I genuinely believe everything I wrote in the preceding paragraph, and as Paula’s coach I was willing to work as hard as I could for as long as necessary to help her overcome her fearfulness—and more importantly, so was she. Recently, that work has begun to pay off. When fear recedes, something has to take its place, and for Paula that something has been curiosity.

Paula had a rough 2022, delaying her preparations for an important half marathon this spring. Lately, her training has been going well, but she’s uncertain whether she has enough time to get as fit as she needs to be to perform as well as she wants to perform. In the past, this situation would have pressed all of Paula’s buttons, filling her with fear and apprehension. Now she’s simply curious, eager to discover how much progress she can make between now and race day. Whereas in the past Paula believed that she had no choice but to be afraid in such circumstances, she’s come to recognize that another way is possible, and although I share her uncertainty concerning what is possible in her upcoming half marathon, I am certain she will perform better and enjoy the journey more than she would have done had she not discovered the power of a curious mindset.

The reason I push athletes like Paula toward a curious mindset is that I myself have benefited greatly from having one. In the depths of my struggle with long covid, curiosity saved me from despair. One night early in the ordeal I sent my brother Josh a text message that read, “I feel so bad it’s interesting.” That about sums it up. I liken the experience to traveling to an exotic foreign country that you don’t like and will never willingly return to but that nevertheless holds your attention and that you probably won’t regret having gone to. Being fascinated by what was happening to my body didn’t make me feel any less miserable, but it alloyed my misery with a sustaining desire to keep going and see what happened next.

The same mindset is now helping me navigate my way through what I hesitate to call a comeback to running. Having more or less given up hope of ever returning to the sport when I couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs without resting halfway up, I feel immense gratitude for the little bit of every-other-day hobbling I’ve managed to survive thus far, yet I have no clue where the process will lead. If I lacked a curious mindset, such uncertainty might provoke anxiety, but I feel none—not because I don’t care where it leads but because my curiosity gives me a different perspective on the uncertain future, which, although it might not be good, is certain to be interesting.

I’ve always thought of curiosity as one of those things that you either have or don’t. It’s related to the Big Five personality trait of openness, after all, which like other personality traits is largely fixed after youth. But Paula is living proof that an athlete who struggles to access her curiosity for a time can change. In the aforementioned blog post, Natalie Jobity shares tips on nurturing curiosity in coaching clients that I plan to use with future Paula’s. If you could stand to be a bit more curious, check them out and apply them to yourself.

I’m not one for hot takes. It’s not that I don’t pay attention to ,or have opinions on, current events. It’s just I prefer to keep silent except when I have something to say that hasn’t already been said. So, I wait until others have shared their takes, and when I find that my own opinion differs from those in circulation, and I feel others might benefit from it, I speak (or, more often, I write).

People who don’t know me very well often expect me to have a hot take on whichever current event has everyone’s hair on fire, and invariably I leave them disappointed. When American distance runner Shelby Houlihan was suspended for a doping violation, some random dude reached out to me on Facebook to ask what my take was. I replied that I had no take beyond the obvious, “I hope she’s innocent and I’m disappointed if she’s not.” Never heard from him again. Around the same time, another stranger messaged me to ask for my take on super shoes. I told this person I was neither for them nor against them but confident that democratic processes would sooner or later regulate them in the way that, on balance, was best for the sport. Crickets.

Now along comes ChatGPT, the new natural language artificial intelligence technology that, with minimal direction, can write a reasonably competent essay on just about any subject in a matter of seconds and can also bang out a pretty good endurance training plan in as little time and with as little direction. The other day my friend Jake Tuber shared with me one example of each—an essay and a training plan—in the form of a screen video he’d captured on his computer while monkeying around with the tool. Jake likes to needle me, and I think he was hoping these videos would give me a heart attack by triggering visions of robots stealing my jobs as a writer and an endurance coach. Nice try, Jake!

In all honesty, I confess that my heart did flutter as I watched the videos. But the feeling passed, giving way to deep reflection on the personal implications of this technological leap. Here is one current event that, for me, hits close enough to home to inspire a hot take! So, here goes. . .

As the title of this post indicates, my general take on ChatGPT is that, despite the uncanny potency of the technology, I am not afraid that it will replace me as a writer or as a coach. Judging by the chatter I’ve seen on social media, this perspective is rather common. What’s less common about my perspective, I think, is why I’m not afraid.

It’s been widely noted that there’s nothing particularly creative about ChatGPT’s creations. At its current state of development, the tool can only say things that have already been said before, in different words. It cannot actually say anything novel. But as others have noted, it’s only a matter of time before ChatGPT can do pretty much anything a human writer can do. If you take comfort in saying, “ChatGPT writes well, but I write better,” you’re setting yourself up for ultimate disappointment. Heck, AI has already written a fake Nirvana song that, if it was real, wouldn’t be the worst Nirvana song.

Here’s how I look at it: No matter how sophisticated these tools become, they will never be able to write exactly what I want to write before I get a chance to write it. They may write like me, but they can’t write me. Take my book Life Is a Marathon. In what possible universe could a robot have written that book for me? True, a more sophisticated future version of ChatGPT might be able to take that book and make it slightly better, but it sure as heck won’t be able to replace the experience I had in writing it—the deep concentration, the testing of intellectual limits, the flow states, the breakthroughs and crises of confidence, the inner transformation (as French philosopher Michel Foucault opined, “When I write, I do it above all to change myself and not think the same way as before”)—and this is the other reason I don’t feel threatened by robots that can write.

In short, I write because I love to write and because I have things to say. Nothing that happens in the world around me will ever change that. The world is full of human writers who are superior to me in one way or another. If this alone were a reason for me not to write, I would have quit long ago.

Everything I just said about writing is also true of coaching. No robot can ever coach an athlete exactly as I would coach the same athlete. I will always have something unique to contribute, regardless of how advanced AI coaches become. Plus, I enjoy coaching, and there’s nothing technology can do to change that either. I’m certain that artificial intelligence will change how I coach in the future, but it will never drain the meaning or fun out of my coaching work. Whether readers and athletes still find value in my writing and coaching when robots are really good at both is another matter, but again, there are already plenty of humans who do both things better than I do, so I’m optimistic on this point.

Like Sigmund Freud, I believe that, on balance, technology neither enhances nor diminishes the quality of human life. “If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice,” Freud writes in Civilization and Its Discontents. I expect that natural language AI tools will prove to be no different. My brother Josh said something prophetic when I asked for his hot take on my hot take on ChatGPT. To paraphrase: Rarely in natural history does one thing replace another. Far more often, the old makes room for the new.

If you’d like to hear a more detailed presentation on this topic, check out tickets for The Endurance Event where Matt spoke about this topic (and hear from 9 other speakers like Ben Rosario and Keira D’Amato about topics their passionate about). Tickets are on sale until February 19th, 2023 and all sessions can be viewed on-demand until February 20th, 2023.

I’ve been learning about learning lately. My teacher is Jake Tuber, who, when he’s not organizing and hosting Endeavorun athlete camps, is studying toward a doctoral degree in adult learning and leadership at Columbia University. At the recent Endeavorun camp in Boulder, I was impressed by the way Jake incorporated his knowledge of adult learning and team building into the experience. It resulted in deeper levels of self-reflection than occur at most other camps, such that many of us came away with a better understanding of where we are in our athletic journey, where we want to go, and what’s holding us back.

Jake’s thinking in this area is heavily influenced by Jack Mezirow, a giant in his field who designed the doctoral program Jake’s undertaking and who developed a model of adult learning known as transformative learning theory. In one of the many papers Jake has shared with me since becoming my unofficial tutor, Mezirow defines transformative learning as a “critical dimension of learning in adulthood that enables us to recognize and reassess the structure of assumptions and expectations which frame our thinking, feeling and acting.” In plain language, if you’ve ever found yourself saying something along the lines of, “I used to believe X, but then I experienced Y, and now I believe Z,” then you’ve experienced transformative learning.

Jake believes that endurance coaches should operate as guides to transformative learning, and I’m persuaded he’s right. Another paper he shared with me is a PhD thesis written by Timothy Gillum of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who tracked the learning experiences of four runners as they trained for and completed a marathon. Gillum found that “the participants’ learning included more than accomplishing their pre-determined goals. The participants challenged at least one of their existing paradigms that included how they viewed themselves as runners, spouses, friends, and parents. This challenge was triggered with a disorienting event and subsequent self-reflection and conscious choice to accept the learning.”

Amby Burfoot said it well: “As we run, we become.” Or at least we have opportunities to become. The role of the coach is to help athletes recognize emerging opportunities to challenge and revise their assumptions about who they are and how things are. More broadly, the coach bears the responsibility of coaxing athletes toward seeing their athletic growth as intertwined with personal growth. Competitive athletes in particular may tend to think of the pursuit of personal growth through sport as an alternative to chasing competitive ambitions, but in fact they go hand in hand. Athletes develop most athletically when they consciously use sport to become better versions of themselves.

Admittedly, a person can have only so many epiphanies. Yet I believe that training as learning operates at a more quotidian level as well. There’s a sense in which every single workout an athlete does can be seen as a learning session. From this perspective, an athlete doesn’t train for a successful Ironman finish or a sub-three-hour marathon but rather learns how to finish an Ironman or run a sub-three-hour marathon. Simply stated, the process we normally describe as physiological adaptation can be recast as somatic learning. The changes the body undergoes in response to training are its way of learning how to do more effectively what you’re asking it to do.

More than a matter of semantics, this redefinition of training has important practical implications. First, it ties together everything an athletes does toward the end of achieving their competitive goals into a cohesive whole. Training is only one of several elements of race preparation. Others include diet, recovery, injury prevention, and mental training. From a training-as-learning perspective, all of these elements—including training itself—are paths of learning, similar to the different classes a student might take toward earning her medical degree. An athlete who embraces this perspective is likely to invest greater effort in each of them because they are all equally part of the same mission.

Another important difference between the traditional view of training and the training-as-learning perspective is that training is outcome-focused, learning process-focused. When training is merely training, then in a very real sense it has served no purpose if the athlete falls short of his goal on race day. But when training is learning, then mastery is the goal and the athlete is achieving his goal continuously as long as he is learning, hence moving toward mastery. It’s all about winning the process, an orientation that is proven to yield greater improvement and better outcomes.

I’m happy to have a whole new area of knowledge opening up to me at age fifty, and eager to see how it moves me closer to mastery in my coaching work. I hope you’re among the athletes who benefits from these intellectual adventures in the months and years to come.

In 1997, when I was a struggling young poet (don’t laugh) in San Francisco, I wrote a letter to Dave Eggers, who was then merely a local literary celebrity whose reputation rested on his work as founder and editor of MIGHT magazine and not yet the international literary star he became three years later with the publication of his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In the letter, I pitched Dave on the idea of including a poetry page in future issues of MIGHT and commissioning me to serve as the magazine’s poetry editor.

To my mild surprise, Dave wrote back and said he was open to the idea. This led to a phone call, during which we developed the idea further. MIGHT folded soon afterward, though, and that was the end of that.

Later, when Dave was an international literary star, I read an interview in which he explained that he had a policy of always trying to say “yes” when somebody asked something of him. It was part of his personal code of ethics to help out and lift up others when he could, a principle that was based on a karmic sort of belief that spreading the wealth did not diminish but rather increased his own (metaphorical) wealth. In other words, Dave has what’s known as an abundance mindset, and it explains why he said “yes” when I pitched my stupid poetry idea to him.

Dave’s words resonated with me because I, too, try to say “yes” to everything. For me, it seems only right, because (as the story I just shared demonstrates) I ask other people for things all the time. And so it was that, when a runner named Jake Tuber contacted me in the summer of 2017 to ask if I would be willing to coach him pro bono in support of a fundraising challenge, I said, “No.”

Just kidding. Actually, I said, “Not right now,” because at the time I had my hands full with my own project, which entailed living the life of a professional runner with the Northern Arizona Elite team in Flagstaff. I asked Jake to circle back with me in October, when I was home again in California, and he did so, and I coached him for the next several months.

During this period and beyond, Jake and I talked a lot about my “fake pro runner” experience, as I like to call it. He was enamored of the whole idea, and wondered if there might be a way to enable other amateur runners to experience something like it—some sort of next-level running camp. I told Jake I would gladly involve myself in anything he cooked up, and then he sort of disappeared for a while.

Turns out he did so for a very good reason: because he was busy cooking! The result of all that hard behind-the-scenes groundwork is Endeavorun, the world’s first start-to-finish, comprehensive running program that enables everyday runners to experience a professional-style training season like I did with NAZ Elite in 2017. Endeavorun 2020 kicks off next July with a five-day, four-night retreat in Eugene, Oregon (a.k.a. Tracktown USA). There you will meet, run with, and learn from me and other top experts, including current top professional runners and a sports dietitian.

But that’s just the beginning. During the camp you will sit down with me or another coach for a one-on-one consultation to review the custom training plan we’ve built for you. Tailored to your schedule, goals, and abilities and delivered through a free account on TrainingPeaks, this plan will culminate with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas event (with 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and marathon race options) in November, where Endeavorun athletes will reconvene for a VIP experience that includes race entry, hotel stay, sponsor perks, and an after-race party.

And that’s not all. Between the camp in Eugene and the race in Las Vegas, the Endeavorun experience will continue online through live virtual coaching, accountability partner check-ins, virtual team workouts, massive discounts from premiere partners (just like the pros get), and more. There’s nothing else like it out there, and I encourage every runner who has fantasized about what it would be like to go all the way with their running to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

I’m pleased to be able to offer a VIP early-bird discount to members of the 80/20 Endurance community. Just use this link to visit the Endeavorun website and learn more about the program, then enter coupon code 8020ENDURANCE to get 15% off the cost of registration and a free pair of running shoes of your choice, which will be waiting for you at our Kickoff Retreat. We’re capping registration at 120 runners, so act soon to avoid missing out on your chance to train like a pro in 2020!

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