A podcast for every trail

Updated: Jun 10, 2018

An old friend sparked my raging podcast addiction, around the same time he planted the seed I could run an ultra in 2011. The trail running podcasts he passed on - Ultra Runner Podcast and Trail Runner Nation – kept me company on long, difficult training runs (there was a lot of adapting going on back then) and I was hooked. I am far from an early adopter of anything (I could care less about the latest iPhone) but was swiftly drawn into the world of audio.

How perfect are longform podcasts for long distance running? Compelling stories from real lives to steal your focus from the miles, the aches and - more often than not in Scotland - the shitty weather.

I listened to the back catalogue of Ultra Runner Podcast then Talk Ultra, Marathon Talk and a few triathlon shows that no longer exist. Today, very few of the shows I listen to regularly are purely running related. Maybe this should tell me something about my changing goals, or perhaps I just reached saturation point with the standard format of male hosts interviewing ultra runners about racing. In any case, I wanted to share my current favourites with you. You might love them too!

1) Modern Love: Real-life essays about modern love which I am in love with listening to. Essays published in The New York Times' Modern Love column way back to the early 2000's are read out by a collection of high-profile folks, from Colin Farrell to Cheryl Strayed, then the original writer is interviewed about where they are at now, often years after their experience. It's not just super-sickly stories of dating and falling in love but accounts of losing someone close, adopting a child and even one about a pet tortoise.

2) Rich Roll Podcast: Talking about this show makes me feel old as I started listening in 2012 and I have missed just a handful of episodes. His interview style is quite the art and I've listened to a lot of formulaic interview styles. In fact Rich says he doesn't interview guests as such, favouring natural longform conversations, and it’s clear he is not following a list of pre-conceived questions. He talks to a wide arc of people from across the health, sports, science, addiction, entrepreneurial realm, all who’ve been through a personal transformation of some kind. It’s refreshing how he manages to stay humble and honest with his own struggles and not bring ego or money-making into the conversations, as I’ve found other entrepreneurial podcasters tend to do (sorry Tim Ferris), and instead his core aim is service to make the world a more informed place. Each episode is 2-3 hours long which is PERFECT for the 7 hills of Edinburgh or the Pentland Skyline. The ads are a little grating but how hard is it to just fast forward? Some recent big hitters include Dan Buettner, Tim Ferris and Lance Armstrong. My personal fave is musician/author Mishka Shubaly. Divine.

3) Dear Sugar Radio: the podcast permutation of the Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus, with a myriad of heartwrenching letters answered by writers Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, who offer many a pearl of wisdom and bring in experts to offer counsel. If you only listen for Steve Almond's buttery voice and life affirming literary quotes, it's fully worth it.

4) Real Talk Radio with Nicole Antoinette: An all time favourite and like Rich Roll, these are long form and perfect for trail training. At the risk of sounding like a crazy single white female, I love Nicole. She has a talent for interviewing and speaks to high achievers in activism, writing, coaching and business as well as athletes. Most are women and conversations are deep and honest, touching on topics other media doesn’t dare to. Nicole herself like super open about her life and struggles, and how she designs her life and business is an inspiring break from convention.

5) Home Podcast: One I dipped into when I gave up drinking in 2017, after hearing Holly Whitaker on Real Talk Radio. Holly is a sober advocate with a lot to say on our booze-soaked western culture, the patriarchy, thriving. She hosts with Laura McKowen, also sober and a blogger. They interview heaps of experts from across the addiction field, from amazing writers like Augusten Burroughs and Glennon Melton-Doyle to investment traders recovering from sex addiction and truly fascinating life stories unravel. And the girls do regular check-in’s where they talk about every raw aspect of their lives in honest detail. A reality check on the normalisation of drinking in our world, don’t listen if you want to enjoy your Malbec.

6) Tough Girl Podcast: Sarah Williams impressively left her job in banking for a life of adventure and podcasting, and now features a different ‘tough girl’ every Tuesday. The formula is simple; an hour and a journey through each guest’s path to adventure. Favourites were the incredible Jen Bricker, born without legs and an internationally-renowned acrobat, or Juliana Buhring, who held the female record for cycling around the world.

7) Side Hustle School: Another of the good guys from Rich Roll’s show, Chris Guillebeau has been around. Literally, to every country in the world. He then wrote a book about it and I just read his latest book, The Happiness of Pursuit. He’s on a mission to help people turn their passion projects into a side hustle and live a more fulfilled life. He records these short pods every day of the year, each one featuring a successful side hustle case study. There are some great stories in there, all read by Chris. As introvert he reads the content rather than interviewing, which makes me love him a bit more.

8) Where Shall We Begin, with Esther Perel: I first heard Esther as a guest on another podcast, I think Dear Sugar, giving gold dust advice. She’s a relationship psychotherapist and author of the stunningly titled ‘Mating in Captivity’ and her podcast is a fly-on-the-wall insight into real-life couples' therapy sessions. If it sounds heavy and uncomfortable it kind of is, but stylishly edited and full of gems of advice. If you’ve ever wondered what counselling or therapy is like, this is a shining example.

9) Mind Body Green: The audio version of the most excellent lifestyle site of the same name. Hosted by the founder, Jason Wacob, it’s a stream of interviews with top bods in the health, wellbeing and fitness world. This one, with Norma Kamali, is incredible. This woman is 72!

10) Talking Tastebuds: A new kid on the block, I heard Venetia Falconer interview a few nutritionists and chefs on stage at the Edinburgh Wellbeing Festival in January, and she mentioned her podcast. She speaks with high profile folks in the foodie and fitness world; bloggers like Madeleine Shaw, nutritionists like Rhiannon Lambert and the Hello Fresh founder Patrick Drake. Admittedly I don’t agree with everything they say, and some of the nutrition advice is over-generalised, but that’s not a dealbreaker. Venetia is cheerful and likeable and manages to stay impressively neutral. A shining example of a vegan who is not judgemental of other people’s choices. And every interview closes with the death row meal question, worth a listen!

11) Mad World: Prince Harry, episode one, talking about mental health. The only reason I needed to pick up this relatively new series, hosted by Telegraph hack Bryony Gordon. She has some great guests talk about their mental health experience, from Stephen Fry to Mel C.

True crime shows like Someone Knows Something and Unsolved nearly made this list, until I started jumping out of my skin at TREES when training alone in the Alps in the weeks before UTMB. And I live alone. It just doesn’t work.

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