Chris Mocko took seventh at Western States 100 last year, and he’s back to race faster and, according to him, smarter. In this interview, Chris talks about how the 2016 race went for him, what he learned from it that he will apply to this year’s race, what he thinks his potential at this race is, and a lot of other assorted and comical topics.
Chris Mocko Pre-2017 Western States 100 Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and we’re here in Olympic Valley, California. It’s a couple days before the 2017 Western States 100. I’m with California’s Chris Mocko. We meet again.
Chris Mocko: I’m excited for this interview. We’re going to be completely serious this time. No jokes.
iRunFar: No, we’re not. I’ve been having nightmares since our last meeting at the finish line of Lake Sonoma a couple months ago, not sure about you.
Mocko: Well, I was prepared to get interviewed by Bryon, but I got an email late last night saying there was a switch. So all of my jokes, I had to completely rewrite them today. We’ll see if they land.
iRunFar: Here we are. You are not unfamiliar with Western States. You were here last year in your debut 100 mile, your debut Western States. You finished seventh in a little over 17 hours. Was that just a stroke of God’s good luck? Can you talk about what your Western States day was in a nutshell?
Mocko: Absolutely. I think the three words to summarize it were “under the radar.” Under the radar.
iRunFar: If it’s possible for someone as large in personality and physicality to stay under the radar, sure.
Mocko: Yeah, I had confidence in myself that I could do well. David Roche, my coach, had a ton of confidence as well. The goal going in was top 10, and maybe, if I had a really good day, fifth was a possibility. We were realistic that probably anything above that was a little too optimistic of a scenario. You know, I wasn’t getting any pre-race interviews. I probably shouldn’t have shown up today because it’s like, “Oh, now you want to talk to me.”
iRunFar: “Come on, iRunFar, can’t you be friends when I’m a little man?”
Mocko: I went into it with absolutely no pressure. That’s probably the best place you can be because you can only exceed expectations after that. I ran very conservatively from the start. I was in a little pack with Chris DeNucci and some of the other guys who ended up in the top 10. Right about mile five, I had to take a break.
iRunFar: What did you do on your break?
Mocko: Popped a quick squat at mile five.
iRunFar: That’s all the details you’re going to share? After your ornate details about urination in our last interview, I am waiting for the poop story.
Mocko: The lesson learned is do not eat carrots the night before. No more carrots.
iRunFar: Dear Western States runners, please avoid…
Mocko: That actually was the best possible thing for me because I detached myself from the pack. For the next 30 miles, I barely saw anyone. The only person I think I saw was Jeff Browning who passed me, passed me in a blaze of glory as he was going to pick off runners. It really just kind of put me in a nice mental state where I wasn’t worried about staying with a pack of runners, and I could completely run my own pace. I was through Robinson Flat all by myself. I think I saw somebody in the next 10 miles and tried to hunt them down and I did not make any progress. That was very frustrating, and I think I might have gassed it too much because going into Devil’s Thumb around mile 40, I was completely spent. The quads were already shot.
iRunFar: That’s less than half way through the race.
Mocko: That is very, very, very far from the half way point. That was very discouraging. Immediately I started running knees inside, knees outside trying to activate different parts of my quads like, Please, something change. Nothing changed. I actually think I might have run slower down from Devil’s Thumb than up it because my quads were destroyed. I got to the top of that in a bad state of mind. This is going to be a long day. Fortunately, it’s kind of the theme for the day, you come back to life.
iRunFar: Did your quads come back to life, or did you just survive them?
Mocko: I just survived them. I got to Michigan Bluff, and I actually think what helped was that I got to see my crew for the second time and I got a butt slap from Amelia Boone, so that helped even though I did not acknowledge it or know it happened, but subconsciously…
iRunFar: How did you not know that happened?
Mocko: When you’re that deep… I was already in a dark enough spot that I did not even notice it. I got out of Michigan Bluff and got into phase two of going into the dark place and was walking through Volcano thinking that it was the worst possible day. It’s hot. It’s totally exposed. This is going to be a very long day. It got very, very dark. I was shocked that no one was passing me.
iRunFar: You couldn’t have been going that slow.
Mocko: I was walking. I don’t know how much slower you can go. I have a good powerhike, but it was not fast at the time.
iRunFar: How did you put yourself back together because seventh place in a little over 17 hours is not a walk home?
Mocko: I wish I could remember what happened. It continued to get darker. I’m going to take a long time telling this story, but I need to make it clear that it…
iRunFar: “I’m still seeing my therapist about this.”
Mocko: It was very, very dark. Why am I here? It was very dark. But, getting out to Bath Road and Foresthill, I started seeing other humans. I passed David Laney and Chris DeNucci. First of all, David Laney—best legs in the business—I was like, Are you serious?
iRunFar: “Hey, Dave.”
Mocko: This is incredible. That gave me probably too much of an adrenaline boost there, too many endorphins. I really ran out Bath Road and got to Foresthill and there were all these people. It felt exactly like running through Wellesley in the Boston Marathon. The only lesson anyone tells you at the Boston Marathon is, “Don’t run too hard. Check your pace at Wellesley because you’re going to go too fast.” But I didn’t do that. I kept on running hard. I finally got back to Cal Street. First of all, this was my first time running Cal Street, so I assumed I had 20 miles of pavement because “Cal Street” sounds like it would be a street.
iRunFar: That’s amazing. You really thought you had 20 miles of pavement? Such a noob.
Mocko: I’d only run about 20 miles of the course, so… not good.
iRunFar: Amazing. That’s so amazing. Maybe, call a friend who’s done it?
Mocko: Yeah, that probably would have helped. But I’d heard, “All these people, they run so fast… the marathoners run so fast on this ‘Cal Street.’” I did not. Chris re-passed me. Two or three other guys passed me or we went back and forth. It was a struggle down to the river. It was awful. I think a lot of it had to do with heat, poor hydration, and quads continuing to hurt. It was boom, boom, boom, left punch, right punch. Paddy O’Leary was pacing me at the time. I think he left with the most confidence ever that he could run Western States because he was like, “This is so easy! Look how slow this guy is going!”
iRunFar: “He is crawling!”
Mocko: I promise there were points where I was actually running quickly, but it wasn’t there. I think what saved the day was the river.
iRunFar: Getting wet, getting in the river, cooling down?
Mocko: It made a huge difference. At the moment, I was like, I need to get to the river. Everything will change there. It didn’t because you have that two-mile climb back out to Green Gate. I was like, Oh, my gosh. But I got to Green Gate, and they said, “Hey, Sage [Canaday] is looking terrible. There are three other runners who aren’t looking that good.” In a couple more miles, I was going to find out some other news but did not find that out until mile 90. Once I got to 80, I knew 20 miles was a little bit more manageable. Let’s start racing. I’d been recovering for the last 20, so I had something in the legs. For the next 10 miles, it was DeNucci and Kyle Pietari and myself kind of yo-yoing back and forth. It really helped to kind of forget how much pain you were in because you were actual competing with people which I wasn’t doing for the first 80 miles of the race. I got to mile 90 and someone was like, “Hey, you’re about to catch him!” “Sage?” “No, Jim [Walmsley]!” I was like, “Are you sure? I thought he was done three hours ago.”
iRunFar: Did you get that right?
Mocko: We just went nuts after that. We just took off. The last 10 miles were very painful, but we ran what I thought was a pretty good clip all the way to the finish line. It was extremely motivating passing runners who didn’t look like they were going to pass you back. It really just helps continuing to moving up during the race. You might be asking, “What’s your plan for this year?” If anything, I hope that I…
iRunFar: Do you just want to interview yourself?
Mocko: Do you want to sit down, grab another beer, and I’ll just talk to the camera?
iRunFar: “And so, Mom…”
Mocko: I have a lot of alone time at my house, so I have a lot of…
iRunFar: “I still have all my words to use for today.”
Mocko: Yeah, you can’t undervalue the mental boost from passing a runner during the race, so if you’re a lead the whole time, it makes it pretty tough to do that. There’s only one place to go. Hopefully we have the opportunity to do that in the second half of the race.
iRunFar: Before we talk about this year’s race, I want to ask you a little bit about your last year of racing. We’re coming on the end of June. We just passed the solstice. We’re almost halfway through 2017. By my calculations you have more than 250 miles of racing on your legs with 100 more to come this weekend. How are your legs feeling? Let’s be honest.
Mocko: Great. I think I’ve run 20 miles this week. I’m feeling really fresh. I think people, when they see racing schedules say, “Oh, my gosh, how are you racing that much? That’s crazy.” But when you approach a lot of those basically as long runs with support—we talked a little at Sonoma about that—it makes it a little bit more manageable. The one in Marin, the low-key race in Marin and even Utah, it was more about having a decent training week and then going into having a better long run. I don’t think there’s that much difference between doing that where you’re actually getting support or during the Western States training camp, there are all these people who when we stopped at Foresthill were running all the way to the river. Are you serious? That’s a 50-mile effort as well. It gets me out the door in the morning. It helps me prep for my race protocol for the night before and the morning of. I don’t think it took that much of a toll. I will say going to Ireland to run a road marathon three weeks ago was probably not…
iRunFar: How did that actually come about because when we talked at the finish line of Lake Sonoma, you were like, “You know, I’m really going to cut back on this stuff,” and then all of a sudden, here’s a marathon added in across the pond.
Mocko: Yeah, so the mayor of San Francisco invited two members from my athletic club, the Olympic Club, they said, “Hey, if anyone wants to go to our sister city, Cork, Ireland, we’ll help sponsor your to run there.” I actually think I knew before Sonoma that I was doing that, but it was so low key that it wasn’t worth bringing up. I assumed nobody cared about road racing. I was like, Okay, it’s a good chance. It was right after I quit my job, so I was saying yes to everything. There isn’t a better time to do this. The winning time hadn’t been south of 2:30 for while, so I knew it would be a good effort but not out of my comfort zone. So, I was like, Let’s go for it and try to win this. I showed up on race day and some guy took it out at almost 2:20 pace which would have been a PR for me. I went with him like the idiot that I am even though I said, No faster than six-minute pace…
iRunFar: “Here we go. If you go, I’ll go.”
Mocko: If you’re feeling good, maybe 5:30 pace. Of course I took off because that’s what happens when you get the competitive juices flowing. He was a local, and everyone is cheering for him. “Go, Allen!” I was wearing a USA kit, so they were like, “BOO! We hate Trump. Get out of here!” They were very friendly, but I felt like the outsider ruining it for them. He took off and ended up getting a fairly large lead. It wasn’t until the last 10k when we went through some rollers that I was actually able to catch up and pass him. So, harder effort—I think I ended up running 2:26 which was faster than I thought I’d run. I haven’t touched that pace for basically a year or year and a half. It’s exciting that I can run that fast without much training in that direction, so my base is definitely there, but it ended up taking a bit of an emotional toll. The travel is always exhausting, the racing was harder than expected, and the post-race celebrations were maybe a little harder than anticipated because it had gone well.
iRunFar: People in Ireland, they like to celebrate, don’t they?
Mocko: But they’re also very friendly, so I don’t know if there’s a trail running scene yet, but if they have any races, I’m definitely willing to come back.
iRunFar: I’m in. Okay, here we are at the starting line of Western States. The race starts in less than two days now. I think you’re a different runner this year. I think your capabilities are at least an hour faster than you ran last year. What kind of runner do you think you are now?
Mocko: I feel like I’m completely different. I don’t think I was able to show it at Lake Sonoma. I felt good going into that race, I was tapered, and the first couple miles, Ooh, I’m not having a good day. I saw you—I was definitely not having a good day by the time I saw you. It didn’t help that we went out at some ridiculous pace as well, and I don’t think that course suited me that well. My confidence climbing but especially descending is just much different than it has been in the past. I need to remember that because right now, all I can think about is how I’ve had basically two weeks of pretty easy running. I haven’t done hard workouts. It’s easy to start playing mind games with yourself. I think I’ve done the math, and I’ve done 100,000 feet more of climbing in the three months leading up to the race, so that’s significant.
iRunFar: Than last year… yeah.
Mocko: I think all of that will make a difference, and just having experience knowing what anything past mile 26 feels like in a race is going to make a huge difference. I would be lying if I didn’t say I’d be disappointed if I didn’t break 16 hours.
iRunFar: You’re looking for sub-16.
Mocko: I think that’s a realistic target.
iRunFar: Even in the conditions you’re going to face in the first 10 to 12 miles of the course?
Mocko: That’s the asterisk or the caveat. Who knows what that’s going to be like? I’m not putting any time pressure on myself. I don’t think 17 hours would have been seventh place in any previous year. Last year’s race was very slow, so it’s hard to worry too much about time versus place, but you also don’t want put yourself too far back to have too much work at the end. I’m basically going to get to Foresthill ideally between 2:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. I always get the hours wrong. I told somebody, “I’ll be there at 1:30,” but that would be a half an hour ahead of course record pace. Not that fast. I think that’s a good zone. I think I was at almost 3:30p.m. last year, so I think that’s very doable considering the breaks and just how much harder it was for me last year. Running the training camp and running the same section on fresher legs, it was just so much easier. Please have my quads for that section, and I think it will go much better. First 30 miles, I can’t worry about it because who knows what that’s going to be like. I think the most interesting thing is going to be these snow bridges.
iRunFar: Oh, running over creeks…
Mocko: Apparently the creeks are melting the snow underneath, so you could be running on top of the snow, and it could just collapse. That could be interesting. I’m debating on whether it would be better to be out front or to be further back in the pack.
iRunFar: Have a few people test it?
Mocko: Have a few people test it.
iRunFar: Almost all of them will weigh less than you, I think… sorry.
Mocko: This is true. When Jim passed me at the training camp, well, every training0camp day, he was running on the snow like Legolas in Lord of the Rings where he’s… and I’m the fat dwarf just, “Oh, this is so hard,” and he’s up on top. “This is not fair!”
iRunFar: So good being 30 pounds lighter.
Mocko: But whatever, I feel that can be an advantage as well. On the car ride up, I was convincing myself that running 100 miler is not unlike running a beer mile.
iRunFar: In what way?
Mocko: Stay with me here. One of my best beer miles—I can talk about beer miles… I used to do them, but I haven’t done them for awhile because they’re not cool for 31 year olds to do—the best beer miles I’ve done have not been when I’m the fittest because when you’re the fittest, your stomach is actually smaller, and getting the beer to fit in the stomach is harder. One of my best ones was the morning of… or two nights before I’d bought one of those Costco-sized pumpkin pies. They’re literally $5.99 and they can serve a family of 30 for a week. They’re huge. I think I had friends over or maybe I told myself I had friends, but I had half left and I was stressed out about this beer mile—I don’t know why—and I ate the other half the morning before the race.
Mocko: I don’t know. It was probably 2,000 calories worth of pumpkin pie.
iRunFar: “That will top off the glycogen stores.”
Mocko: I’m convinced that it expanded my stomach in a way that I was able to handle the beer or the pure sugar kind of boosted me. So that’s how I’m approaching this race. I’ve trained my stomach to handle just about anything now.
iRunFar: Are you eating pumpkin pie on Saturday morning?
Mocko: I’m not eating pumpkin pie. I failed the Cool Whip test. On Sunday we had shortbread and Cool Whip and strawberries for a Father’s Day celebration at our house, and there was about a half of carton of Cool Whip left—Cool Whhhip as they say on the “Family Guy”—and it was sitting there staring at me all week. I said, “Chris, you’re stronger than this. You’re not going to eat it. You’re mentally strong.” This is like the Cool Whip test—if I can not eat this, then I know I’m mentally prepared. This morning I ate the whole thing.
iRunFar: Amazing. You did?
Mocko: I’m stressed. I can’t do this. I think it’s going to help. Deep down, it’s got to help.
iRunFar: That extra 1,500 calories, you’re going to be using them in the canyons. My last question for you—you talked last year about going too hard in different places, and I hear you in this interview talking about competitive juices and trying to ward those off. There’s a certain guy who has said that he has plans to race pretty fast and put himself at the front straight away. There are no doubt going to be other gentlemen who try to emulate that and at least try and stay in contact. How are you going to run your own race given that that’s happening and that you do have these competitive urges going on inside you? Knowing what you know, how are you going to run your own race?
Mocko: It’s going to be tough. I’m telling you now that I’m going to run my own race, and I’ve written about it, and I’ve talked about it, but I don’t think…
iRunFar: Are you going to do it?
Mocko: I don’t think there’s been a race where I’ve run my own race. I always do something wrong. I’m hoping this is the exception because I know how badly that second half…
iRunFar: So you say there’s a chance?
Mocko: A small chance. I have to keep myself in contention, but the way I see it is when you get to Foresthill, you still have 38 miles to go. I feel like I probably averaged 10-minute pace from there to the finish. If I have a good day and I can average nine minute pace or eight minute pace, then you’re talking an hour difference or an hour and a half. It’s either go out a little harder and hold on or save something and either the hot weather or the snowy, muddy stuff at the beginning might have an impact on runners, or… If I execute my plan and the best that equates to is eighth place, then that’s as good as I can do. Hopefully the training will get me to Foresthill feeling really fresh. I’ll get my pacers, and we’ll start really hammering, and I’ll just start picking off runners and feeling good and hitting splits. The juxtaposition between how I felt last year and this year—that’s a big word—will hopefully encourage me to keep going. The fact that I know what 20 miles of running left feels like, last year I don’t think I started running “all out now” until six miles to go. I feel like that’s going to start much sooner. There are two things I don’t want to have happen. One, I don’t want the clock to say :01. I need to get under the next hour mark. Two, I’d hate it if anyone finishes less than two minutes ahead of me. If they’re that close—even five minutes…
iRunFar: You want to have been able to hunt them down.
Mocko: I want to hunt them down.
iRunFar: You want them to be two minutes behind you.
Mocko: I gave Jim four hours at mile 93, and I was able to catch him, so anything can happen.
iRunFar: Anything can happen. That’s the beauty of 100 miles. Nothing is written in stone until the finish line.
Mocko: No, something is going to happen out there. There are too many elements—the snow, the heat, what he’s trying to do. Something big is going to happen. I would like to be part of it whether good or bad. I feel like good or bad being part of the story helps your brand. I’d like to be part of it. It’s going to be a good experience. I hope you guys don’t forget about everyone else in the field because we’ll be out there, too.
iRunFar: Don’t forget about the other ones.
Mocko: We’re trying hard, too, okay? There’s an amazing women’s race. What Jim is trying to do is going to be super exciting. If anything it’s going to bring more exposure to the sport which rises all boats. The tide rises all boats.
iRunFar: Yeah, you’re there. You’ve got it.
Mocko: I haven’t spent a lot of time at the ocean, so I don’t know all the sayings.
iRunFar: It’s always interesting to speak with you. I wish you the best of luck in running your own race on Saturday.
Mocko: Thank you. Now can I finish with my hat pitch now?
iRunFar; Yeah, quickly.
Mocko: Huge announcement—the “Mocko Show” hats. We have a new “Mocko Show” hat.
Mocko: We printed hats for last year.
iRunFar: Who’s “we?” We’re talking about the Mocko Show.
Mocko: When I talk about the “Mocko Show,” I have to talk… I don’t know what “we” is… what person is that?
iRunFar: That’s like you and your friends.
Mocko: Yeah, you and others. I feel uncomfortable saying “I” am doing this, so it’s “we.” It’s my crew; it’s my landlords.
iRunFar: Your landlords?
Mocko: Who are also my crew—Chris and Caroline, thanks for being out here again. We have new hats. They have these cool hashtags. Can you please read the hashtags on there?
iRunFar: #CostcoforMocko, #Basementlife, #Teamfattypancake.
Mocko: These will be on sale after the race, but there’s a little bit of a twist. Do you want to know what the twist is?
iRunFar: Chris, you’ve got to shorten your pitch, buddy.
Mocko: Elevator pitch—I have a very slow elevator in my gym, so I can speak for a long time on it.
iRunFar: People are trapped with you for hours.
Mocko: The price of these will go up based on my position. You should buy the stock low and hope that it increases because if I crack the top 10, the price immediately jumps up. So get your orders in early. Tomorrow we will also have a fairly big announcement concerning what I’ll be running in.
iRunFar: Oh, well you just announced it by wearing it.
Mocko: We can save that for tomorrow. Who knows what it’s going to be?
iRunFar: Wow, who is Chris Mocko running for? I just can’t tell.
Mocko: My only other question for you is is there going to be a post-race interview, and when do those happen?
iRunFar: Well, we generally interview the podium at the Sunday awards ceremony. Put that on your to-do list, but run on the podium first. There you go. There’s your challenge.
Mocko: Okay, that sounds great. The final thing I’ll close with… because I feel like we’re a little under time. We are 10 minutes under the record.
iRunFar: No, we’re about three times…
Mocko: We can split this up into four sections…
iRunFar: You realize that each extra minute you speak is extra minutes of work processing your interview. I’m just saying. Do you want me to sleep tonight? What do you have to say?
Mocko: Last year went fantastically well. I was on the podium in the top 10. I was the only unsponsored athlete in the top 10. This year, regardless of outcome, I’ve already had a much better campaign. So going into it, it’s important to have some perspective about where I’ve come from. You’ve alluded to it as well. I’m just super excited to be out there. If this year doesn’t go well, I’ll be back next year. I really hope there are some fireworks at Placer High and it goes well. If you’re on the track cheering, please stay out of lane one because I’m going to want to close. That’s where we’re ending.
iRunFar: There you go. Don’t get in his way on the Placer High track.
Mocko: Thank you.
iRunFar: Good luck, Chris.
Mocko: Thank you so much, Meghan.