An interview with Matt McCue, the author of An Honorable Run.
tips4running.com welcomes a runner and author, Matt McCue. An Honorable Run, follows Matt’s running journey from the beginning of his high school career, to the end of his collegiate running career. The story focuses on the most influential forces on Matt’s running, two legendary coaches. First, Matt runs for Coach Bob Brown, his high school coach at Iowa City Regina, and then Coach Mark Wetmore at The University of Colorado.
Hit the play button to listen to the entire interview. You can listen or read the summarized questions and answers.
David Tiefenthaler - Hello Matt, I am excited to talk to you about your book. Before we get into that, are you still running?
Matt McCue - Yes, definitely. I graduated from college about 4 1/2 years ago, but ever since then I've kept up my running. I run about 10 miles a day, about an hour every morning. I haven't competed since college. Everyday, I get up, you stretch, you run, then you start your day. It's already been engrained in me.
DT - Do you live in New York City right now?
MM - Yeah. I graduated from the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2005 in May. At the end of that summer I packed everything I could fit into a duffle bag, I bought a one way ticket to New York. I had never been here, I didn't know anyone, I didn't have a job, but I moved here because I was inspired and passionate about doing something as a writer, in journalism, or as an author. I've made Manhattan my new home.
DT - Is it tough to finding running routes in such a huge metropolis?
MM - It doesn't compare to Boulder Colorado at all. I knew that going in. Fortunately here in New York City we have heaven which is called Central Park. They have a six mile loop. Surprisingly it doesn't get boring. You get a great hill workout every time you run the perimeter loop.
DT - It was real evident in the book that you loved running, but when did you first realize that this was going to be my thing?
MM - I've had the chance to travel the country this fall. I've spoken to almost 40 high school teams, and the first question I ask when I am speaking to a high school team I ask, "Who hear knew they were going to be a runner an early age?" Most of the time only one or two hands go up. That was me too. I did not know I was going to be a runner. I thought I was going to be a football player. I thought professional basketball was going to be my thing.
Back in 5th grade, I had a teacher named Jamie King. I really aspired to be like Jamie. We had an after school club. To finish we would get a freezy pop and play dodge ball. Before we could get either of those things, Jamie would have us run a giant loop around the back of school. They were about a mile a loop. We had to run two of these loops before we could do anything else. That's when I really started running. I hated it at the time, but that's I realized there was another sport out there. It hurts the whole time, but when your done there's a reward at the end of your run. Thankfully I kept up with it after that.
DT - You're from Regina. You didn't mention Coach Brown right away. Were you aware of Coach Brown before you joined high school, and was this an influence on your running before you even reached high school?
MM - Regina high school only has 250 students in the high school, and the junior high school was attached to the high school. I knew I was going to be a cross country runner by the eighth grade. Coach Brown has this sort of mythic aura. You say the name and everyone knows he is before you even meet the guy. Everyone tells you, "You gotta run for Coach Brown. He's the best." Very early on, I realized he was very different than any other coach I've met. He'd give you these crushing tight hugs and he wouldn't let go.
DT - In the book you always mention how he said your name, Matt McCue? I was saying this whenever it is mentioned in the book, but I want to hear it out loud. How did it really sound.
MM - He would really put that emphasis on the first syllable. Matt McCue. I can't do it really well because I have a cold. Like a little punch. He would always call everyone by your full name. He wouldn't give you a nickname.
DT - Now, I'm not going to try to give too much away from the story, so I'm going to try to keep my questions a little vague. When I read the book, it starts off kind of like a warm up. Then when you get into it, you can't put it down. It was like a gut wrenching race at the end. Did you structure your book, I guess, like a metaphor for a 10k race because that was the race you were focusing on in college?
MM - Definitely for a distance race. I wanted to ease the reader into it, suck them in. By the time they get to halfway, they're racing to finish that book. I wanted their curiosity to peak at the beginning. You start with a certain plan, once you get halfway; you're focused on that finish line. I wanted it to be fast paced. Maybe present a few twists and turns that they didn't see it coming.
DT - I think the title is fantastic. How did you come up with “An Honorable Run” for your title?
MM - I love that title. It was actually a friend of mine who edited the book. He said you're going to title it, "An Honorable Run." I said, "What?" Coach Wetmore wrote me a letter, and it was a time when I was having some major doubts. It was the only thing he ever wrote me. He said, "Know that you've had just as an honorable run as any CU runner." Really the book is about a journey. So what does an honorable run really mean, like an honorable journey.
DT - In high school, you paint yourself in a nice light, especially after you ran your race before the state championships your senior year of CC? And, you expressed no remorse for your behavior at the time. Did your feelings change after running in college and seeing running in a different perspective?
MM - When I was running the district race my Senior year of cross country, we finished second. I felt that second place was a huge disappointment. I threw our second place metal into a corn field out of one part disgust and out of one part thinking I could motivate my team. At the time I was thinking it was perfect. I was won of the best guys in Iowa, but when I go to Colorado, I'm not even good enough to get a scholarship. I was in the back of the pack then, barely clinging to the team. That whole learning lesson has given me more appreciation for defining success.
DT - You talked about the state track meet your senior year, but nothing about the two mile. Did you run the two mile at the state meet?
MM - I didn't want to tell you about all of my races in the book. I did run the two mile at the state meet. It was just a decision as an author. I took the lead after the third lap. I had a huge lead for most of the race. With about 200 meters to go the second place runner takes off to catch me and he just missed me at the finish.
DT - When I read the book, the focus is on three people. I think you do take yourself out of it a little bit to show the coach-runner relationship.
MM - You make a good point. It's basically focused on three people, Coach Wetmore, Coach Brown, and myself. Coach Wetmore and Coach Brown are passionate about coaching runners, but they're on different ends of the spectrum. They go about it different ways, and I was the guy that connected them, the young kid running down the fast line kind of colliding with each of them. I really focused as a writer so that every scene tied back to one of those two characters.
DT - You talked about this a bit already, how you were the top guy in high school team and in the state to being at the back of the pack or middle of the pack at Colorado. Did you ever consider just hanging it up and calling it a career in college?
MM - When I decided to go to Colorado, I picked it over Middlebury College. I could have been a top guy in Division III. When I made that decision to go to Colorado, there was no turning back. I never thought about quitting. I never thought about hanging it up. I was determined and committed to the sport of running. Whatever happened after that happened. I was going to give it everything I had. My confidence wavered throughout the four years there, but I never considered walking into Wetmore's office and saying, "Coach, I'm going to give it up."
DT - You ran with, and lived with some amazing runners from Colorado. Do you stay in touch with the Torres brothers or Dathan Ritzenhein?
MM - I do stay in touch with them. This past December, I got to spend a whole day with Dathan actually did a story on him. It was kind of like old times. We've stayed in touch. A few years ago I went to his wedding. The thing with Jorge and his twin brother Eduardo, whenever they are in Boulder and go back to their home in Colorado, they travel on I-80. The interstate goes right back my family's house. Sometimes I will get random phone calls, "Hey McCue. We're driving by your house. Are you there?" When I went out to give a book talk in Boulder in October, Jorge was there. He came to it which meant a lot to me. We went for a run together, just like old times. They're friends for life.
DT - You guys lived in the "Fight Club" house as you called it. Is it still there? Is it for Colorado runners still?
MM - The house is still there now except Jorge doesn't live there now. Actually, Jorge's parents live there now. It's definitely not the bachelor pad it used to be. Jorge's mom put a lot more elegant touches on the decorations. There is still a sign outside announcing it as "The Fight Club."
DT - Coach Brown and Coach Wetmore seem like total opposites. What were the best things you took away from each coach?
MM - Two guys who love coaching runners but couldn't have been more different in the way they went about it. From Coach Brown, I learned two important things. Coach Brown reminded me that it didn't matter as long as you gave your best effort. He treated everyone as an equal. Also the way Coach Brown defined success as giving nothing but your best. You can still find success even if you aren't at the top of the mountain. Coach Wetmore, very simple. When he said something, you knew he really meant it. Every Sunday morning we would do a long run. We'd drive up to the mountains. To do 20 miles in the mountains we'd run for over two hours. My Junior and Senior I was one of those guys. Everyone else would be gone. Coach Wetmore would be waiting there. He'd say, "How'd it go." I ran two hours on foot, and after I was done, he was still there.
DT - Some people might want to categorize this book as a sequel to Chris Lear’s Running With the Buffaloes. Do you think this is a valid comparison? I might have thought that at first, but it definitely changes as you get into the book.
MM - That's a natural first thought. It goes in a different direction. When I wrote, An Honorable Run, I wanted it to stand alone. While they are both about the University of Colorado, they are each their own story.
DT - I hope I didn’t give up too much with my questions. A few more before we go. How is living in New York going? Are you working on any other writing projects?
MM - It's been tough. I self published An Honorable Run. I feel there's a big audience for An Honorable Run. I work about half to three-fourths of my day trying to market it, trying to put it out there as a mainstream title.
The rest of my day I do my writing. It's very much like my running regimine. I write for two or three hours every morning. Actually, today I wrote a story on the New Yorker Magazine that was posted on the Huffington Post earlier today.
I also wrote a story for Runner's World. I don't know if they'll accept it. I have a younger brother Tim who was born with cerebal palsy. He can't walk without the assistance of a walker. The story is about two young men, two brothers, both who love track track. They come to it from very different paths, different backgrounds. Tim did wheelchair racing in high school and I came from it as an able bodied person. We shared our sport in our own way. It's about runners who have a passion for running, but come from different backgrounds and different abilities.
DT - Thank you for your time Matt McCue. Congrats on the book. I’m glad I’ll forever have a copy in my collection. You said you self-published it, but I found it on Amazon. Is it readily available if you want to get it.
MM - Yes it is. I think there is a stigma about self-publishing, but I am hoping it is going a way. It will continue to go away in the next couple of years. I found a company that's affiliated with Amazon. Once I signed out for the book to go to press it immediately went onto Amazon. I feel like that's a good place to get it out there. The book is also in about 30 running specialty shoe stores. You can't get a better supports system that that.
I also sell it on my website. I am willing to talk to any high school team. I have a 25 minute presentation I give. I go for a run with them. That is something that has been really popular. If it's meant to be, if it's good, word will get out. It's been really tough to get the word out. I am still going to do that for the next year. Coach Brown taught me an important lesson. I went on the one year plan my freshman year, but he put me on the four year plan. I believe in the story, and I love the story, but I was so happy when the first order came in when a woman that I didn't even know bought the book. It doesn't get any better than that.
DT - You look at running at a different perspective because of the coaching end of it, which every single runner has experienced. I think that runners will connect with readers because it's unique, but it's something that every runner has experienced.
MM - There are almost a million high school track and cross country athletes. What I tried to do is boil that large number down to a single story, that was my story. There are driven young athletes chasing their dream, and there are coaches guiding their way. I wanted to connect with runners and coaches. Even someone who has never been a runner before and never had a coach, but surely they had a mentor, a teacher, a parent, a boss who made a difference in their life. Eventually one day, people who never has run a step in their life will pick up this book because Coach Brown or Coach Wetmore reminded them of a mentor who molded their life as well.
DT - Thanks for your time Matt. I will tell everyone to pick up this book!
For more information on the book and his personal apperances, visit Matt McCue's site, anhonorablerun.com.