Catching Up With Chris Mocko

Catching up with ultrarunner Chris Mocko.

By on August 10, 2020 | Comments

Chris Mocko knows his limitations. He speaks up, over the noise of a carpenter installing some garage shelving in his home. “To be determined, winter supplies, that third luggage that you need every 10 years,” Mocko answers of his plans for the storage. “I was not trusting my capabilities,” he says with a slight smirk. “It was about the cost versus the damage I could do.” Mocko’s getting set up in Silver Lake, California, somewhere north of downtown Los Angeles and south of Glendale, and so too is his girlfriend. He left Boulder, Colorado in September of 2019 and temporarily stationed in downtown Los Angeles just prior to this move, and his girlfriend just relocated from Colorado days before our call.

She moved out on a Boulder-to-Los Angeles road trip, and Mocko went along for the ride. I picture the couple in a giant U-Haul, but instead they were in her Subaru, and Mocko was in the passenger seat the entire way. “She drives stick,” he says matter of factly, and I don’t have to ask anything more. I share the same driving inferiority to my wife. “We went the Albuquerque way, over three days.” I think there must be some U.S. Southwest scenery or fun road-trip story to be shared, but he quickly shoots me down. “We stopped in this little town, Taos,” he says questioningly, as if checking his memory or the pronunciation. “It was the first large-enough dot on the map.” I’m audibly upset that he didn’t take in the town’s famed pueblo, but they got in after dark and left again before sunrise. “I ate a salad in a cup in my hotel room and she ate cherries. Nothing too eventful,” Mocko slammed the figurative door on the subject. “We didn’t see a lot, no ‘Breaking Bad’ tour either. It was disappointing all around.”

Chris Mocko after taking third at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Photo: iRunFar

He’s a technology guy and was earlier working for Twitter in Boulder, but he cuts me off again before I go too far. “Briefly,” Mocko said of his time there. “I didn’t enjoy it, and left in the winter of 2018.” Working in Boulder, he felt distant from the excitement of the company’s San Francisco Bay Area corporate office. “The opportunity to work on core features wasn’t quite there. I’m really interested in customer-facing tools, but the role was more back end. I like to build empathy with the customer, provide value,” he described his reasons for leaving.

He also struggled with the balance of heavy training and work while trying to excel at everything, something he admits is familiar to many runners. After leaving Twitter, he was a full-time runner for six months. “I was very content with running. I’d figured out the finances. I mean, I could pay my rent and go to Costco with my very meager YouTube ad revenue, Nike sponsorship, and race bonuses.” I ask about his popular YouTube channel, “The Mocko Show,” and he digs in. The channel has over 10,000 subscribers, but just one update in the last 11 months. “There’s a big gap you have when training full-time. You wake up, run, eat, recover, run, eat, sleep. It’s really about energy during the day, and it’s certainly not easy to have that energy at high training volumes.” Regardless of how he did physically, mentally it weighed on him. “At the end of the day, ‘What have I accomplished?’ I ran. It’s nice to check that box, but that’s not contributing to the world. YouTube was a creative outlet, to occupy some of that time, but I wasn’t faced with hard problems.”

And then, just days before the 2019 Western States 100 [where he finished 12th], he interviewed for the position that he now holds, part of a two-month interview cycle. He’s fully engrossed in the role, so much so that he’s working nights and weekends too. “We’re still in stealth mode,” Mocko explained. It’s just what it sounds like, but the Stanford University graduate expertly elaborates on a business in this position. “It’s a start-up in its early stages. There’s a rare opportunity to keep it under wraps, secretive, so that when you enter the market you can expand more quickly before there are copycats. There are always going to be copycats. If you have a great U.S. idea, it will be copied in Europe, in Asia. I mean, somebody’s going to want to open the Airbnb of France right away. The longer you can stay in stealth mode, it can be advantageous.” They’ve been in stealth mode since before COVID-19, and Mocko sees his work well positioned. “With tech in general, it’s really accelerating the future.”

Chris Mocko on his first visit to Cotsco after moving to the Los Angeles area of California in September of 2019. All photos courtesy of Chris Mocko unless otherwise noted.

Mocko brought up Airbnb as an example, and I’d already thought of Chris Lukezic. Tenth at the 2008 Olympic Trials 1,500 meters, Lukezic retired the very next year to become one of Airbnb’s earliest employees, and I wonder of Mocko’s on a similar path.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a pretty compelling opportunity in the years to come. I’m working on exciting, hard problems. It’s challenging, unique, it’s a fun ride.” I won’t find out the details of this mission, but Mocko’s clearly excited, and better describes his role. “I’ve been a product manager for most of my career and that can mean a lot of things. In tech, it usually means leading a dev[elopment] team, creating a road map for part of the company. My position is unique with a lot of different surface areas: hardware, machine learning, and software. I work on a ton of problems, and it keeps things fresh.”

Fully consumed in his work, Mocko’s stepped back from competitive running, and YouTube. His Nike sponsorship ended in December of 2019. “If I miss a day of running, it’s not the end of the world. That’s the biggest shift. There will be a time I get that itch again,” he cheers. “I’ll want to return to Western States again, UTMB, those European races are quite the handful though.” Mocko’s 34 years old and looks further out for inspiration. “The Jeff Brownings, the Ian Sharmans–well I guess Sharman’s not that old. The Michael Wardians.” And then with some finality, he pushes, “There will be a comeback.”

Call for Comments

Chris Mocko (and “The Mocko Show”) stories, leave ’em in the comments section!

Moving to Southern California meant getting a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

Justin Mock

Justin Mock is the This Week In Running columnist for iRunFar. He’s been writing about running for 10 years. Based in Europe, Justin has run as fast as 2:29 for a road marathon and finished as high as fourth in the Pikes Peak Marathon.