Chris Mocko is an accomplished marathoner, and a veteran of payments startup Square who quit his job to pursue ultra-running. He won the 2015 San Francisco Marathon, the Marin Ultra Challenge, the Behind the Rocks Ultra 50 Miler, among various other races, and most recently placed third at the Lake Sonoma 50 Miler. He is slated to run Western States later this year. We caught up with Chris to talk food, routine, tech, and everyone’s favorite wholesale warehouse club. You can keep up with Chris on Strava, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Medium, and his site.
FC: You’re obviously a super-accomplished road runner and marathoner. What’s one surprising thing you found as you made the transition from road to trail?
CM: The biggest lesson so far is that being the best trail runner is not just about showing up to the start line as the fittest runner. Even on the most nicely groomed trails, technical skills are required to efficiently move yourself up, down, and around the trails and this requires a tremendous amount of practice. One thing I’ve struggled to do is run with other local runners who have been part of the trail scene for much longer — even just running behind them for an hour on trails can teach you a world of things about how to manage your body weight on tight turns and navigate a difficult technical descent. I’m most excited about my potential in trail running because I have a tremendous amount of room for improvement on this front, which doesn’t require lowering my half marathon PR or dramatically improving my lactic threshold.
FC: You worked at Square for a few years. Is there any kind of mindset or skillset you feel is transferrable from startups to running? (Endurance? Grit? A balance between work and rest?)
CM: I asked my CFO one time how she found time to exercise with her incredibly demanding job, family obligations, seats on several boards, etc. She told me that exercising every morning was essential for starting her day and gave her the focus and energy required to be the most effective version of herself (maybe she didn’t say it *quite* that elegantly as we dashed between meetings, but you get the point).
I’ve actually missed the structure of the standard workday and the discipline required to get in my run and do my job effectively. If I slept through that morning alarm and just headed straight to the office I knew that my running for the day was in jeopardy, and that fact alone generally willed me out of the bed to slog through my morning effort. Now that I have basically all-day to get in my run, it often takes the entire day to conquer my one key daily task — this is an area I’d like to improve by adding more scheduled activities to my day and ensuring I get out the door at a specific time each morning (this makes doubling back in the evening more feasible as well). I don’t think I did a great job of answering your question, but if anything I think the opposite is true — the discipline and consistency required to be an excellent runner is incredibly valuable and transferrable to a tech job.
FC: Any resources — books, movies, blogs, podcasts, etc. — you use as part of trail and ultra-running? Anything in particular you’d recommend?
CM: Nothing too unusual to report here. I try to keep on top of the ultrarunning podcasts in order to keep abreast on the happenings of the sport, but usually my runs are an opportunity for me to escape within my own thoughts. I often find that I’ve completely tuned out from the podcast or Spotify playlist that I have playing as I’m distracted by an idea for my own blog, a strategy/pacing plan for an upcoming race, or just focusing on the six feet of trail in front of me so I don’t wipe out!
FC: What’s one piece of gear you can’t live without?
CM: My handheld water bottle. When I was running in the city and training for distances <=26.2 miles, I was never running long enough or far enough from a park with an easily accessible water fountain where I could quickly stop and re-hydrate mid-run. Since moving to Marin (where the trail system is amazing but clean running water is hard to come by) and increasing the distance of my typical runs, I’ve found having a bottle on me is essential for survival. Even on an easy 8-mile shakeout I find that having the bottle keeps me hydrated and is great practice for the race — it would be ill-advised to never train with a bottle and then show up to the start line with a bottle in your hand. It feels ridiculous writing this, but by about mile 55 of Western States my shoulders were completely spent and aching from carrying two bottles for the previous ~9 hours — I had clearly not trained long enough with these bottles to build up the strength of these under-utilized (but important!) muscles.
FC: We’re huge fans of Costco. It seems like you are, too. You mentioned on Twitter that you have a penchant for Costco muffins. Do you have a favorite type? Or any other favorite Costco stuff?
CM: Haha. My Costco addiction is probably the thing that my parents are most proud of teaching me. We used to go to Costco as a family almost every weekend, ordering a full pizza (half combo, half cheese) or a hot dog (sometimes in addition to the pizza), throwing back one too many slices, refilling the 20-oz soda cup at least two times, and then rolling around the store to collect free samples (pro tip: always get the samples *before* you head to the food court). Despite being a single male and only having one mouth to feed, I’ve continued the tradition. Their prices are just too darn good and it gives me a challenge to eat the groceries I carefully select (generally portioned to feed an entire family) before they spoil. I generally have a rule to never get the muffins or any delicious baked good/snack unless I’m feeling particularly indulgent because I know I lack much in the self-control department — if I have 12 muffins sitting in my pantry, I will keep thinking about said muffins until they are all eaten! So, my “favorite” items are more essential products rather than cravings — one-pound bag of spinach, large bag of broccoli, 18 eggs, 3 pack of lactose-free milk, salmon or some red meat (if I can find a small enough package — I can’t eat 3-lbs of meat in a week!), and a rotisserie chicken (can’t beat $4.99 for an entire chicken!).
FC: What’s your coffee habit like? Any favorite beans/grind type/method?
CM: I thought that I would set aside the coffee mug once I left my office job — I now have all-day to prioritize sleep and sneaking in a nap or two, so why would I need caffeine? Well, it turns out the addiction has been a bit harder to break than I expected, but I also have not tried particularly hard — I enjoy my morning routine too darn much! Fortunately I’m not too particular about how I get my caffeine fix and I’ll take whatever is most easily available to me, which usually that means just brewing a pot with whatever beans we have lying around the house. While the coffee itself is not too specific or interesting, I have dialed in my morning routine:
– Wake up around sunrise
– Begin coffee + boil hot water for oatmeal
– Chug a large cup of water
– Jump in a cold shower (30 secs or less just to wake up the body)
– Finish up oatmeal and serve it up; begin consuming coffee
– Hop back into bed or on the couch (if I’m really indulgent, I’ll even throw on the NormaTec boots to get the blood flowing)
– Catch-up on email/morning reads and wait for coffee to “kick-in” (1–2 hours)
– 5 mins of core, 5 mins of stretching to get the body warmed up
– Start the run!
FC: Any particular athletes whom you admire?
CM: I had the opportunity to run with Ryan Hall for one year in college and watching him mature into the elite marathoner that he became was exciting to watch. There are very few other Americans who have so confidently toed the line of the biggest races in the world and not been afraid of the competition. His boldness to control races from the front provided some of the most thrilling and inspiring races to watch and it made waking up at the crack of dawn to view the live broadcasts of major marathons completely worthwhile. It’s a shame that his career ended as early as it did and without a major international marathon title to his name (although his win at the Olympic Trials in NYC and his American Record in Houston for the half marathon were some memorable victories!), but his aggressive training and racing strategy was admirable to say the least.
FC: If you had to run for 24 hours with one person — athlete or non-athlete, assuming their stamina was no issue — who would you choose?
CM: Disclaimer: I’ve attempted one 24-hour race in my life and it was a TERR-ible idea — I’m not sure I would want to feel that pain and misery again nor share it with another unwilling party for that matter! But if I had to do it, there’s one clear candidate for accompanying me — Neil deGrasse Tyson! I find him to be one of the most interesting people alive today so if anyone could carry a conversation (or just tell stories and share interesting facts about space!) for 24 straight hours, it would be him. Not to mention he has one of the most soothing, wonderful baritone voices to keep me engaged and focused throughout the night! Now, getting him in-shape to run for 24 hours and be comfortable sporting one of his fabulous galaxy vests — that’s a different challenge!