Where Music and Running Collide
It’s not often you see podium-placing runners who don’t have some sort of background or upbringing in running. Usually they ran cross country or track in school or played a team sport of some kind like soccer or basketball.
Not so with Spring Ambassador Mack Robertson. His start was with guitar playing. Running didn’t become any significant part of his life until just 7 years ago. But, unsurprisingly, many of the same methodologies used in practicing guitar have translated over to his running and training.
Mack’s interest in guitar started at age eight, “I had always liked music, and thinking about being able to play guitar was kind of cool.” By age twelve, he was a dedicated student eventually working up to practicing a minimum of two hours a day.
“In music, I’ve found joy in the monotony. Like one thing I love is just doing a scales workout for 30-minutes in the morning. Just enjoying the tone of each note and thinking about it. Slowing it down with a metronome even. It’s meditative.”
It was never Mack’s intention to pursue guitar professionally. He had been in a few bands, but it felt too much like work to him. Going into college, Mack had planned to pursue a degree in Political Science, but he was quickly recruited by the Guitar Department and never looked back.
Now, back in Portland with his wife Theresa Silveyra (who is a piano instructor and badass mountaineer), Mack has found himself full circle, working for his old guitar teachers and teaching as many as 60 students per week at a variety of ages and skill levels.
“For a lot of these people, guitar is not their end goal in life. They’re not trying to become professional musicians. So I try to keep it fun while inserting some important foundational stuff like good technique and scales. I try to meet the students where they’re at. Some are super driven and dedicated and I’m more strict with them. For other students this is purely a hobby, so I don’t try to overdo it on them. I want to foster their appreciation of art and music rather than force it on them in a negative way.”
The student he’s taught for the longest period straight, eight years, started at age six. Now that student just entered high school and Mack is still teaching him!
So when did running come into the picture? In 2016, Theresa signed herself and Mack up for a 15K road race. She put together a training plan for them and Mack just went along for the ride. After completing the 15K fairly unscathed, Mack kept pursuing running.
“When I first started running I went to Forest Park (a 70-mile trail system in Portland) and I thought 10 miles was the barrier. I couldn’t wrap my head around going beyond it. ‘People don’t run more than 10 miles. You’d have to be insane. You’re going to kill yourself!’ And once I did 10 miles I thought, ‘I can do more than that.’ I had a guitar teacher who had run a marathon and who was a mentor and friend of mine, and he was like, ‘If you can run 10 miles you can run a marathon.’”
A running addiction caught on. The following year Mack signed up for and ran a 50K, which he says he was totally unprepared for, suffered greatly, but got it done. “I wasn’t good at music at the start… and I wasn’t good at running either. I’ve found, if you tackle an objective piece by piece rather than looking at how far you have to go, it’s a lot easier to do it.”
As Mack continued to train and gain experience, he also began placing consistently in the top 10 of local races. His training and determination were paying off.
“Improvement happens incrementally. You’re not going to get better overnight. And you’re not necessarily going to see your improvement because it moves so slowly. It’s easy to get lost in the big picture and forget that the picture is made up of all of these little pixels day by day. That’s the thing I’ve always thought about: I know if I set my mind to it I can get better at it. I just have to put my head down and do the little things.”
One of those little things, Mack discovered, was figuring out running nutrition.
“Running Nutrition is really important. It’s kind of make or break. You definitely get to a point where if you’ve neglected it, it catches up to you. Most of my bad stomach issues at races have been me eating weird stuff I shouldn’t eat before or during a race.”
It was in 2018 that Mack first heard about Spring Energy, “I did a small local race and I heard two people talking about Spring. I didn’t know much about nutrition for running. I think I was eating peanuts on my runs… and other weird stuff that’s probably not the best thing to be eating for quick energy. They were talking about Spring so I ordered some. I also ordered from a bunch of other brands of stuff in the same vein. In the end I ended up really liking Spring's Canaberry so I just kept using it. At that point there weren’t as many Spring flavors as there are now.”
As Mack has progressed, he’s balanced his run nutrition with a number of other foods during races as well, but says, “Spring is the bread and butter for me. I find a lot of Spring flavors are things I can eat even when I don’t want to eat. Especially the longer stuff: I find at mile 70 when I don’t want to eat anything, Canaberry goes down pretty dang easy. Electroride goes down easy too…with the ginger in it, it’s great on the stomach.”
Mack’s a big fan of just drinking down the Electoride concentrate straight from the packet. While we usually recommend adding it to water, this method works too.
While he says he’s always working on his nutrition, his tips for getting it dialed in are:
- Try every product you’re planning to use on a training run before using it in an actual race.
- Nail down the frequency (how much, how often).
- Like what you eat. It should be something that tastes good and that you want to eat.
With all of the training and build-up that goes into a race, as well as the costs of entry and transportation, it seems like a no-brainer to prioritize having the highest quality nutrition to perform your best in that race.
Mack’s overall approach to running can be summed up in one simple statement: “‘If you put in the work you can get better.”
He is certainly a prime example of this: a guitar playing non-runner who started running just 7 years ago, now he’s competing at the front of races and racking up the mileage and elevation gain. For the majority of us, winning a race is not our end goal. Usually, personal improvement is how we measure the success of our training, preparation, and follow-through.
As Mack says in comparison to guitar, “The difference with running is you can see times and measure yourself. It’s objective.”
Hopefully this insight into Mack’s story can be some inspiration. Running is both an individual and community sport. We have to set our minds to do the work, but we can support each other and build up one another as well.
Thanks Mack for taking the time to be interviewed for this. You can follow Mack’s adventures on instagram: @mackrobertson
BONUS: Mack's 10-Track List (seriously fun stuff in here!):
Jealous Guy - Donny Hathaway
I Shall Not Be Moved - Mississippi John Hurt
Spanish Joint - D’Angelo
Without a Song - Sonny Rollins
Animal Spirits - Vulfpeck
You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure - Funkadelic
Angel From Montgomery - John Prine
Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall - Simon & Garfunkel
Life - Dr. John
Hots On For Nowhere - Led Zeppelin
Interview and Photos by Steven Mortinson
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