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The Future of Content episode 35: Couch-to-5K and Inclusion with Josh Clark

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The Future of Content Episode 35 with Josh Clark

Key ideas

  • Challenges, like successes, aren’t siloed — overcoming a challenge in one area of our life can give us confidence to tackle challenges in other areas.
  • Small things that we don’t think much about can turn out to make the biggest impact in the lives of those around us.

Josh Clark is the founder of Big Medium and the creator of the Couch-to-5K (C25K) running program. He helps organizations build products for what’s next for digital interfaces, and his motto is the same for fitness as it is for software user experience: No pain, no pain.

Couch-to-5K is a schedule to help would-be runners start running. Using the design vernacular, it’s an onboarding program for pure beginners, with no fitness experience or expectations, to be able to run a 5K in nine weeks. I started it by accident and without planning in my early 20s. I always hated running with a white-hot passion; it was boring, it hurt, and I felt terrible while doing it. My shins hurt, and I didn’t even know I had muscles in my shins.

Josh decided to create a website about running and share what he learned, read, experienced, and saw as he ran. He soon realized that he loved helping others find the same pleasure and satisfaction in running that he had, but without needing to go through the pain and effort. 

Around that same time, my mom, who was about the same age I am now, started thinking about her own middle-aged fitness. I decided to write a running schedule to get her moving and maybe even enjoy running. The Couch-to-5K actually started as a running schedule for my mother.

Part of the success of the Couch-to-5K running program lies in the simplicity of its approach. It was important to Josh to take a step back and put himself in the shoes (no pun intended) of someone starting with zero knowledge about fitness, exercise, or running, and talk them through the process in a way that wasn’t condescending. He likens it to reading PCs for Dummies — if we can learn how to use a PC, we can learn how to run.

The ‘For Dummies’ books were powerful. I didn’t realize at the time what a good name ‘Couch-to-5K’ was. I think it’s similar in that people recognize their levels in the name. It’s also this idea of honesty and setting clear expectations of what the bar is here, which is no bar. Getting off the couch is the aspirational part of the fitness routine.

As with anything in life, there is no such thing as an overnight success. We see the end result of others’ work, but not the process they had to go through to get there. One of the focuses of Couch-to-5K is incremental progress, and celebrating it. 

The secret was not thinking about the distance — just do what you’re capable of today. There’s a community that already knows how to do this thing, and there’s another community of people who are trying to figure out how to start. That community is often about some kind of self-hatred, disappointment, or has a history of defeat. They’re usually not starting from a place of happiness with themselves. So focus on what you can do — we can all walk a 5K, with some breaks. The trick is how to do it faster today than I did yesterday.

The principles of running and content aren’t as dissimilar as we might think. Josh believes in preparing people now for what’s next, in whatever area of their lives that might be.

Stream episode 35 now, or subscribe on your favorite podcast platform below.

Episode transcript

Note: This transcript may contain some minor wording and formatting errors. Apologies in advance!

Todd Nienkerk: Welcome to The Future of Content. I’m your host, Todd Nienkerk. Every episode we explore content—it’s creation, management, and distribution by talking with people who make content possible. Our goal is to learn from diverse perspectives and industries to become better creators. 

The Future of Content is brought to you by Four Kitchens. We build content-first websites for universities, nonprofits, and publishers. 

Today I’m joined by Josh Clark, founder of Big Medium, and the creator of the Couch-to-5K running program. We’re going to talk about how a specific piece of content changed the world. 

Welcome to The Future of Content, Josh.

Josh Clark: Well, thanks. And what an intro. It’s great to be here.

Todd Nienkerk: So we’ve known each other, uh, a very long time, and we know each other through a professional context. You are very well known in the web and design industries and communities for being a UX design leader. Your agency Big Medium is very well known, but what a lot of people don’t know, and what I didn’t know until somewhat recently is that you created the Couch-to-5K running program, which is exactly what got me into running years ago. So I am a devotee of this program, having no idea that you were at all affiliated with it. So I’d love to know just right off the bat, where did you come up with the idea for the Couch-to-5K  running program and what is it?

Josh Clark: Well, first of all, I’m so delighted that it helped you. I always love to hear those stories about how Couch-to-5K sort of made some change in anyone’s life. And it’s great to hear that it happened in yours. 

Couch-to-5K is basically a schedule to help skeptical, would-be runners start running. So pure beginners starting from, you know, sort of like no fitness program, no expectation, to be able over nine weeks to run a 5K distance. So it is sort of, to use the digital design vernacular, an onboarding program really. And there’s a lot of interesting elements to starting a fitness program. And what people’s mindsets are that we can get into that I sort of stumbled through.

So to get to your question of how this all started, it was really sort of by accident and without planning and maybe not how you would normally think of content design exactly. Nearly 30 years ago now, I was in my early 20s, and I had always hated running, like with a white-hot passion—just hated it. It was boring, it hurt, it was just, I felt terrible while doing it, after doing it, my shins hurt—you know, I didn’t even know I had muscles in my shins.

Todd Nienkerk: I know the shins, right? Whole thing. That’s the first thing. Ugh!

Josh Clark: Yeah. Right. And it usually is for new runners. It’s like, my shins are just like on fire. And so, you know, I always assumed it wasn’t for me. I’m not an athlete. I’m not prone to athletic things. Fitness itself is not something for me. In my early 20s, I went through a tough breakup and I, you know, I think I had all this sort of additional excess jittery energy and maybe even sort of a streak of self-punishment. And so I, for whatever reason I put on these banged up basketball shoes and just went out and started running. And I just did it for a few days. And as usual it was horrible. And for some reason I sort of just kept doing it until a few weeks into this I kind of rounded this corner where it wasn’t hard anymore.

It didn’t hurt anymore. It was actually, there was some pleasure. I was getting some mental health benefits from it. That sort of angst and anxiety that I was feeling from this breakup I mentioned starting to, I realized that this was helping to really relieve some of that stress. And you know, my fitness was getting better. And, suddenly over the following months, I started to run races and do all these things that I had never associated as something that was sort of at all part of my identity and frankly, something I didn’t think I could do at all. And I started to get sort of the zeal of the converted. I was really into running all of a sudden. This was in the mid-’90s. The web had just kind of started, and I was not in the industry—not in the technology-related industry at all.

I was working for public television, but I was a hobbyist. So I created a website about running and I was putting everything that I was learning onto this, that I was reading or experiencing or seeing, you know, just basically putting it all out there. And I realized, you know, one of the things that I would love to do is to help people find the pleasure and satisfaction of running that I had discovered without going through the awful part. And I was just thinking, “How do you do this?” Maybe more gently and in a way that isn’t quite so self-flagellating. Um, and at the same time, my mom, who is about my age right now, was starting to think about her own kind of middle-aged fitness. I was like, I’m gonna write a running schedule for my mom to get her, you know, sort of moving, and maybe even enjoy running. And so the Couch-to-5K schedule was this for my mother.

Todd Nienkerk: Fascinating, Was this the first time that anybody really thought about a running schedule per se?

Josh Clark: You know, I am sure there were some out there. There, there were books for beginning runners and for competitive runners of the era, and there were a ton of run schedules for things like “how to run a marathon.” There wasn’t a ton about “here’s how to get started at it.” And I think it’s worth mentioning. It’s just this idea of recreational running is pretty new. I mean, the term “jogging” was invented in the 1960s, and there had to be sort of like books and guidance around how to be a jogger, and sort of defining what this is and why on earth anyone would do it. And it, the boom sort of started in the ’70s. 

So this was still a pretty young sport by the mid-’90s in a way. There had become sort of some real fascination with marathoning that kind of continues to the day, but, still not a ton about how to get into it. You know, I think like a lot of the magazines of the era were for what people might consider competitive runners or people whose identity is really wrapped up in running. But not a whole lot of “here’s how you start introducing this,” you know, as just somebody who’s interested in having kind of a regular level of fitness, how do you incorporate that into your life? If you don’t consider yourself a quote-unquote athlete, which I think itself is sort of a damaging thing of, “Am I or am I not an athlete?” I think we all are.

Todd Nienkerk: It’s so interesting to think about how content or, or just sort of a knowledge base in general about a subject can be so rich for people who are already in that world. Where if you’re an athlete already, there’s—and I’m assuming this is the case 30, 40, 50 years ago—there are all these resources about how to be a better athlete. You are an athlete, how do you become better? You’re already enjoying running. How do you go to a half-marathon, to a full marathon, to an ultra, or whatever? All of those resources exist, but there’s not much, if anything, to get people from zero. Just to kind of start to toe into that world. Right. And I guess that could be said about all kinds of industries. But I can’t help, but notice that if I recall the ’90s were about the time that all of those “For Dummies” books started to be released.

And so I wonder if there was something in the air about, let’s take a step back from our expertise for a moment and put ourselves in the well— No pun intended—put ourselves in the shoes of somebody who really is starting it at zero. And let’s talk them through the process in a way that isn’t condescending; that isn’t setting unrealistic expectations or telling people how they should feel about something. Because after all, if you’re reading a book that says, you know, PCs for Dummies, you have a pretty good sense of humor about yourself. And, and also, you know, where the bar is, cuz I’m not a dummy. I’m better than a dummy, right? So I too could learn how to use a PC. I too can learn how to run. Do you think there was something kind of in the air at that time?

Josh Clark: That’s a great question. I think you might be onto something. I certainly think that that sort of title was important. You know, I think that the “For Dummies” thing was powerful there. I didn’t realize at the time what a good name I had given this schedule with the Couch-to-5K, which I think is a really similar thing and that people recognize their level in this. 

And it’s sort of this idea of honesty and sort of setting a really clear expectation of what the bar is here, which is no bar. If you don’t leave the couch as sort of part of your fitness routine, this is for you. As well as aspiration—you know, Couch-to-5K. It married both meet you where you are with this type of aspiration. And, you know, it’s interesting. I, you know, maybe there was something about that era, you know, I mean the ’90s were sort of a strange moment of in between that the decade, started with, you know, sort of a recession, this sort of sense of sluggishness in the nation. And certainly, in my generation of Generation X, at the start of that, we were known as a “slacker generation.” And by the end of it, we were known as a go-getter generation. So that was sort of creating this first wave of dot-com stuff, things were happening. So it was this kind of thing of low expectation moving to sort of high ambition and aspiration all in one decade. So there might be something to that.

Todd Nienkerk: I’m reminded of the first time my wife used the phrase “Couch-to-5K”  because, like so many things in my life, unless an external force acted upon me, I might not move. And I’m very lucky to be married to a wonderful person, Kristin, who pushes my boundaries all the time. And she was the one who decided we were going to get into running. And she did this by signing us both up for a running expedition to Morocco in the Atlas Mountains. And I had never run a day in my life. And she said, “In six months, you’re gonna be in Africa and you’re gonna be running on mountains.” And I said, “I don’t even know where—  Where do I start?” And she said, “Well, there’s this running group in town. And they do this thing called Couch-to-5K.” And the first time I heard that, I remember thinking, “Oh, somebody gets me, because it started with ‘couch.’” And that’s where I’m at. I’m literally sitting on the couch right now. And thinking about 5K, when you’re in the couch stage, 5K is a huge ambition. Running 5 kilometers, 3-point-whatever-that-is miles, is—I remember being in school and being forced to run a mile in PE, and I absolutely hated it and I’d get a cramp. And, you know, we’d all say nasty things about the coach as we were dragging our heels around in circles. 

It wasn’t very long after that that 5K was the minimum run I would do on a daily basis in order to train for eventually running a half-marathon. That seems absurd. But to go from couch, to-5K,  to half-marathon in the course of nine months, seems impossible. But there’s something about the idea of setting the bar, eliminating the bar, and telling people, “If you just get out there and you run for 60 seconds, and you walk for 90 seconds, or whatever the plan is, you can in, in a shorter amount of time than you think, get to the point where you can run for 3 miles straight without stopping.”

Josh Clark: And I mean, it is, it is amazing, I think. And you’re right. I think the secret was sort of, “Don’t think about the 3 miles; don’t freak out about the distance. We’re gonna do this thing today that you’re capable of.” I mean, I think one of the things that is just worth mentioning that I’ve really come to understand is so hard about this is that, you know, when you think of— We were talking about sort of a community and there’s sort of like community of people who already know how to do this thing, and you talk about a community of people who are trying to figure out how to start a personal fitness program. That is a community that is often about, you know, some kind of self-hatred, disappointment, a history of defeat. People are starting a fitness program not from a place of happiness with themselves usually.

It’s often with a thing of sort of like, “I think I’m fat, I’m worried about my health. I’m depressed.” You know, it’s sort of these things where— And often, you know, people who have a great history with fitness from childhood often maintain it, that they’re, that they have this sort of good association with it. That’s imbued with them. For adults who have no fitness program, it’s almost always because their experiences with it were negative. That was true for me. And, you know, and the reason I got into it were from, you know, some real, you know, sort of dark places of unhappiness with myself and my life. And I think that’s like, where things start. So if you’re sort of coming with this idea of people don’t do it or have avoided it because of this history, isn’t simply defeat, then it’s so important that you give people early wins.

I mean, in a way, you know, I’d mentioned that this is similar to what we in the sort of digital industry call onboarding, which is just getting somebody started in an application or in an environment that they’re not familiar with. In this case, that’s true, but it’s also that they sometimes feel a sense of shame or uncertainty or lack of confidence. And so when you’re thinking about this, it’s like, “Let’s start. We really need to meet you where you’re at and show you that you are capable of this thing.” 

Most of us are capable of covering those 3 mile/5K distances at some speed. We can walk it with some breaks, you know, I mean, probably are able to already cover that distance. The trick is how do we do it a little faster? And, you know, I think your experience of sort of like that elementary school mile, where we’re just like, our lungs are burning and it just seems terrible. It’s because we were running it as kids, right. It’s just like it says it right on the tin: Run. You know, go run it. 

And so I think that that’s often sort of the assumption that people make when they take up jogging or running as “I gotta go out there and we gotta go fast”—faster than our bodies are ready for. So how do we cover the distance from that? I can do this distance slowly to introducing a little bit of a notion of speed. And as you said, it’s just like the first day, you’re just gonna jog for a few seconds and then walk a little bit longer and then jog for a few seconds. You’re just getting your body used to it. And it’s people like the response for a lot of people is, “Well, that was challenging. I felt my heart going, but I did it. I did it. I did a workout and I feel like I’m not gonna die.” 

So it’s sort of, now they’re ready for the next one. And I think that there are these leaps in the schedule, where suddenly people will go from not running for more than like eight minutes at a time to suddenly doing it for like 20 minutes at a time, which seems like a huge leap, except they’ve actually just been doing it for eight minutes twice with just a short break. And so really we’re just eliminating the short break. And suddenly they’re like, “Whoa, I, I thought I could only run eight minutes at a time. And now I’m running 20 minutes at a time.” The feedback that I get from this is, sure I get some stuff like, “Hey, I ran my first 5K that was super satisfying.” Or like you said, it’s like, “I went from this to running half-marathons.” Which is so cool, which is sort of the fact of it—the fitness achievement of it. 

But the thing that I get even more often, and it just touches my heart ,is people say, “I did this, and now I have the confidence to apply for that job that I didn’t know what’s gonna do. I’ve asked my partner to marry me because I now have this.” That people’s sense of self changes. And that comes back to what I was talking about earlier, of how people, your new fitness program from a place of, you know, a lack of confidence or self-esteem or shame even. And the fact that you can suddenly be like, “Wait a second. I can do this thing that I thought was impossible. What else am I capable of, and in what else can I sort of introduce this? Well, if I just sort of am gentle to myself and meet myself where I am and focus on small incremental improvements, what else can I achieve?” And that has been— It is clearly the most impactful thing that I will ever do in my life. To see these kinds of changes—this schedule enabling those kinds of changes in millions of people.

Todd Nienkerk: Yeah. The scale of it is—and, and you’ve said in interviews—that there are millions, if not tens of millions, of people who have gone through the program, improved their lives, had that extend into other areas of their lives, like you said. And it all is the result of a schedule that was written down and published online. 

So I’m curious just from a content creation perspective, like in the most tactical, seemingly boring way possible— You wrote an article for a webpage, right? I’m gonna say “webpage,” because it seems like in the ’90s, that’s what you call it. Right? And it was, what was it? Did it feel like an article? Was it a spreadsheet? Like how— What form did this thing take in its first iteration?

Josh Clark: Back in 1995, 1996, there was this big innovation in web browsers called “tables.” And that we could actually introduce tables into our design.

Todd Nienkerk: And it quickly was used for evil, but that’s a different topic

Josh Clark: That’s right actually, for the design of the pages. But so that was how I thought of it as both a little web hobbyist and also the content creator. This is a table of, you know, three columns per week of “here’s what the workout is.”

And so it was really thinking about at a week-to-week level, where most of the time the workouts are the same within a week. That changes a little bit as the schedule sort of gets deeper into it, but really sort of thinking about what are you gonna be capable of this first week? Let’s repeat that three times, and then step it up a little bit the next week, and so on. And so it was just this idea of thinking of it in terms of units of days, three days a week, and of weeks of what are we gonna accomplish sort of stepping up to this 5K distance.

So yeah, so that was the way I was thinking about it, but you know, what’s interesting is it gets to be a lot to hold in your head, because after a while, it’s like, you’re gonna jog for a minute and then you’re gonna walk for 20 seconds, and then you’re gonna jog for two minutes, you know. It’s this thing that’s sort of like, “Wait, how many, how long am I going? For how long?” And so, you know, it turns out that the format that has been, I would say, most successful for this has turned into audio, where people have created podcasts around the schedule. People have created apps around it. But it’s all headphones while you’re running. 

Todd Nienkerk: Oh, and they’re literally narrating it.

Josh Clark: “Start running. Get ready. Okay. Take a break for 20 seconds and then skip running,” and then, you know, some appropriate sort of inspirational music. You know, you choose your thing. So there are a bunch of different apps and podcasts, like I said, who have different voices, too. So you can kind of choose what works for you. Do you want sort of the “drill sergeant” voice, or do you want the “soothing coaxing” voice. You know, there’s the whole thing, because we’re all inspired and motivated by different things. So there’s this recognition of that.

Todd Nienkerk: And so scaling this table-based HTML layout, that is the schedule of Couch-to-5K that you developed originally for your mom, and that scaling out to tens of millions of people, the steps along the way, what were some of the key moments in either the— Did the content itself ever evolve, or was it the way that it reached people that evolved to scale to tens of millions?

Josh Clark: Yeah, it’s definitely the latter. And you know, in a way I had very little to do with that scaling beyond creating this original piece of content and it began to take different forms and flow through different channels. 

When I created this website in the mid-’90ss, it was, again, just sort of a hobbyist website. And for the most part, that’s what running content was out there. It was just sort of enthusiasts, people who were enthusiasts for both running and making homespun web pages. And that was sort of the gist of it. So there weren’t a lot of them. And so this website actually became somewhat popular and I created some discussion forums that people could use. And there was sort of one forum that was around beginner running. And so the schedule that was on the site was something that got used a lot and a sort of shorthand evolved because it’s sort of in these units and there are not many units, right? It’s nine weeks, three workouts a week—there are 27 units. You know, and sort of this shorthand would come around it, you know, where it was week three, day two, you know. Or that was very portable and that people could reference and understand what was happening and community around, sort of like, “Oh, I remember, you know, day, week, five day three, is that hard leap that I was talking about.” Where all of a sudden you’re running for 20 minutes at a time and it’s this psychological leap more than physiological leap. And just so much encouragement for this. So in a way it’s sort of the vector of this was really around online discussion and the portability of this format. And that really took off when Facebook opened beyond college students, and I would say Facebook— So a good, when was that? That was like in the mid-2000s. So a good 10 years after this schedule happened, it had had some success and some modest growth. But it was really sort of with Facebook—especially started seeing groups and communities forming around it and sharing it and having this not only shared shorthand for how to refer to it, but this community of experience that formed around it. 

The thing that really, I would say,helped it take off was I got a call around 2010 or so—so a little over a decade ago—when the British Health Agency was like, “We would like to use this as our national fitness schedule.” So they adopted it and created some apps and podcasts in association with the BBC around it. And so in the U.K., in particular, it became really popular because it had both the sort of government and media force around it. And in the pandemic just recently, there was just this huge spike around it. And I had the somewhat surreal experience of being invited on the U.K.’s biggest morning show, you know? So it’s like to talk about how to start running. You know, it was like the first week of January and as we rounded out our first year of the pandemic, that was what was on people’s minds.

Todd Nienkerk: Yeah. Well, let’s take a short break. And when we return, let’s talk about fitness content in general—what it’s getting right, what it’s getting wrong, and where it might be headed,


Todd Nienkerk: Hey, everyone, we’ll get back to the episode in just a moment. I wanted to quickly tell you about Four Kitchens. You probably know that Four Kitchens creates websites, but we do so much more than that. We help nonprofits increase donations. We help universities enroll more students, and we help media companies streamline their streaming platforms. Our team of Web Chefs can help you make better use of your content, scale your web team, and create world-class digital experiences. To find out more about how Four Kitchens can help, visit us at Now back to the episode.

Todd Nienkerk: Welcome Back to The Future of Content. Our guest today is Josh Clark, inventor of the Couch-to-5K program. So I’m curious, since you have been maybe unexpectedly, unwittingly thrust into the world of fitness and sports content, what have you seen in the years since trends in fitness writing or health writing that you feel are good trends? Or maybe some trends that are worrisome? And where do you see all of that headed?

Josh Clark: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think broadly what I’ve seen—and I think it’s a good, a really great thing—is a general sense of inclusiveness in fitness. And this idea that it’s not for some really singular and specific notion of what an athlete is that I think that we’ve seen this idea of “no matter what body type you have, you can participate in this activity.” This idea that “no matter what color your skin is, you can participate in this activity.” And I should note that running, like a whole host of outdoor sports, is still just overwhelmingly white. And I think, you know, as in all things, it’s just, you know, if you don’t see yourself represented in this activity, you’re not gonna participate in it. And look, I am, you know, a middle-aged, middle-class, white guy. I am right down the middle of what running has long been understood to be and who it’s for.

But what I’m seeing around a lot of content is, you know, effort within communities of color, within communities of people who have all kinds of different body shapes, ages, backgrounds. That, you know, this kind of motion is for all of us. I think that there’s still some real associations around the community that are, you know, are gonna take a long time to change. But that’s sort of starting to see this idea of like, “Yes, you too are an athlete.” We all can be athletes. You don’t have to look a certain way or live a certain way to be that way. You also don’t have to, you don’t have to necessarily have your identity changed to, “I am an athlete to participate in this.” It’s also okay to be, “I just want to move my body three times a week for 30 minutes and feel good about it and leave it.” You don’t have to be, “I am a runner.” I’m one of those weirdos who has brought it into my identity. But you know, my wife Liza, who we both know or, you know—

Todd Nienkerk: And who’s been on this podcast as well. For full disclosure.

Josh Clark: Liza Kindred, a remarkable human being, and in all the ways. You know, she’s not wrapped up in the idea of running as an identity, but she loves to run. She runs like three times a week for sort of regular fitness. That’s one of her big sort of fitness activities. But it’s also like no big deal. She doesn’t kind of go out and be like, “I am a runner.” And, and, you know, I think maybe she rolls her eyes a little bit, sometimes that the degree to which I identify with that. But it’s not required, you know. And I think that’s still sort of something that is a little bit, I think in terms of any kind of coverage of any activity, when you get into that community, when you look at a runner’s world. It is around, it’s like literally what it says there—Runner’s World—like this is your identity.

And I think that that’s probably something that still needs to change a little bit. How do you have a healthy life without having to sort of take that on as an identity? You see that sort of tension, I think in a lot of wellness things right now. You know, of sort of, if you’re a meditator, you have to be a full-on, you know, sort of super-crunchy hippie, new-age person and sort of the stereotype around it. And you know, how do we loosen up these stereotypes to be sort of like, you can be whoever you wanna be and participate in this really, you know, good, productive, healthy activity.

Todd Nienkerk: It’s interesting and also obvious and kind of like, depressingly unsurprising, how much identity plays into everything, but also something that seems as basic as running. It sounds like you— Based on interviews that you’ve done in the past about this and, an assumption I’m making, but, I assume that you feel that we are running species and this is kind of built into who we are and, and why we are designed the way that we are. And I agree, having gone from one end of the spectrum where, “I hate running, I don’t understand. And it, these people are weirdos. Why would you do that to yourself?” To, “Oh, I get it. Yes. This is actually— I can see why this is why the human body is the way it is.” And yet even in, for something as basic as running, you know, it’s just, you’re just moving your legs. That’s it. You’re just moving your legs at a distance over time. I had to look it up while we were talking, because there’s the story of the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. For those who aren’t familiar, the Boston Marathon is considered— It’s kind of the most famous, I guess, of the marathons. It’s difficult, but it has kind of a mystique to it. And it wasn’t until 1966 that Roberta Gibb ran the Boston Marathon. And even while she was doing it, she was physically harassed on the course during the race and still placed 126 out of about 500 people. 

Josh Clark: It’s worth noting, by the way, that a lot of women are still harassed every day when they’re just out running on the street.

Todd Nienkerk: They just can’t be left alone for, for doing something just entirely for themselves

Josh Clark: Just trying to get a workout in here and treat it as, anyway, objects of harassment, for sure. Anyway, sorry.

Todd Nienkerk: No, it’s an important point.

Josh Clark: Things unfortunately haven’t changed.

Todd Nienkerk: I don’t know what else can be said about how much identity and the idea of what belongs and what doesn’t, who belongs and who doesn’t is just so ingrained in our nature. It seems interesting that running, which is just so basic, you know, it’s as, almost as basic as breathing and eating and sleeping and all of this other stuff. Even that would require outreach to get people interested in it and to try to break down barriers. 

Josh Clark: Well, but I mean, we’re talking about women being harassed, but it’s like running is a fundamental activity, as you say, but it also comes with really unfortunate cultural signifiers, you know? The whole tragedy around Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, a young black man who was running and then was chased down by three racist white men with guns. And I’ll go ahead and say, unequivocally, that they were racist, as we have federal courts who have found them guilty of hate crimes. They killed him because he was running through the neighborhood. So this idea that is sort of, when a black man is running, that is totally different from the privilege and unalloyed pleasure, lack of fear, that I have running that many people of color and women do not enjoy. So, I mean, I think that that’s something that does shape the identity thing of who feels safe and welcome doing it. And I, you know, I think that that’s a really challenging topic to fix and address in a lot of ways.

Todd Nienkerk: How do you see the world of fitness or health content responding to that? We got on this topic because we were talking about the more inclusive nature of this content. How is that presenting itself? How are you seeing that actually play out?

Josh Clark: You know, I mean, I think that there is, you know, when we look at a lot of the conversations and, and reflection that a lot of communities have had in the wake of George Floyd’s death, that people moved from, that I think really trying to take on an anti-racist posture. And I don’t mean posture as a position— I mean a position of activism, of being like, “Let’s actually sort of try to change this.” And so some of these things are symbolic, you know. Runner’s World, which is sort of the most popular running magazine, in the U.S. at least, you know, it has had on the cover nearly all people of color across the board. They’ve had a cover recently that was on the— I believe it was titled “The Dangerous Idea of the Ideal Running Weight.”

And it had a picture of a man, I forget his name, but he goes under the Instagram handle, I think, of 300poundsandrunning, of exactly what it sounds like. You know, 300-pound runner. He runs multiple marathons every year. Does not look like this stereotype of what a quote-unquote runner is. And yet he runs more than nearly everybody out there. Yeah. Aand just this idea of, I think, just representation that we’re starting to see, I know that a lot of running clubs are also trying to think about how we can be more open and reflective to the people in our community. And meanwhile, you know, you’re also seeing  groups, like Black Girls Run, and and others sort of being like, “we don’t necessarily have to join others’ community.” Let’s explore this within our own where we feel safe and seen.

Todd Nienkerk: Well, thank you, Josh, so, so much for your time. And thank you for all of your contributions to the running community. And thank you for getting me into running. That’s just— At the very least there’s that. It’s something that has certainly improved my life, has allowed me to explore the places where I live, the places where I visit, the places I travel, in ways that I didn’t think I would ever. So thank you for providing a roadmap for those of us who might not otherwise have had any exposure to any of that.

Josh Clark: Oh, well, Todd, thank you. And thank you in return, because that trip that you mentioned when you went to Morocco, I believe you had told me about the company that puts those things on: Rogue Expeditions. And just last year, I went on one of their trips—last month, rather—I went on one of their trips to Patagonia. So that’s its own kind of content design, that sort of travel design. You should have those folks on.

Todd Nienkerk: That’s a good idea. Thank you. I’m gonna write that one down. I absolutely should. Well, Josh, how, how can listeners learn more about you or reach out to you if they have any questions or just want to know more?

Josh Clark: Sure. I infrequently share things on Twitter @bigmediumjosh and also at And I’m over on Instagram @joshclark. So I would be happy to see anybody there, or on the roads. If you see me there, give me a wave, and we’ll keep on trucking.

Todd Nienkerk: Well, thank you so much, Josh. And I’d love to hear from you. Yes, you, dear listener. What do you want to learn about the future of content? Feel free to send show ideas, suggestions, or examples of the content you create. You can email me at We’re also on Twitter @FoCpodcast.

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