Some podcasts you just know will be good. Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History is outstanding. I've listened to at least two hundred of Chris Hardwick's Nerdist podcast; his ability to consistently pull A-list guests is remarkable.
Yet my favorite new podcast comes from what you may consider an unlikely source: Lance Armstrong's The Forward.
Lance's guest list is surprisingly eclectic: musicians like Seal, Ben Harper, Tim Commerford and Ryan Bingham; boxing promoter Bob Arum; tennis legend Chris Evert; Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff... and just this week, former Green Beret Nate Boyer, who last week stood beside Colin Kaepernick as Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem prior to a preseason game against the Chargers.
But what might be most surprising is how Lance, unlike way too many podcast hosts, doesn't try to force a theme or follow a script. He's smart enough to get out of the way and let his guests take over, like when Seal unexpectedly described his horrific upbringing in heartbreaking yet oddly heartwarming detail. (Heartbreaking because of what he suffered, heartwarming because of how Seal has chosen to deal with it. Check it out; I promise it's worth your time.)
I talked to Lance about his podcast, about WEDU Sport, about the power of suffering, philanthropy, doing good... and about why he isn't willing to be "that guy."
With all the things you could do, why a podcast?
Good question. My long-time manager has been on me for probably three years, and finally I caved and said, "Why not. Let's give it a shot."
The hesitation came from a couple of things. One, I knew that a key to having a successful podcast is to be consistent. You have to come through. Listeners expect consistency and I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to do a podcast every week. There's lining up guests, taking care of logistics, doing the research so I can at least ask some decent questions... Hopefully at some point along the way I'll ask a decent question. (Laughs.)
Plus, I just didn't know if I would be any good at it.
But what I did know was that I could get a lot of very interesting and diverse people on the podcast. I've been lucky to meet some really kick-ass, cool people that have interesting stuff to say. For years many of them have said, "Hey, let's do something together."
So now I just say, "All right, let's sit down and do the podcast."
Seal wasn't someone you already knew, yet he turned out to be an amazing guest. How did you get him?
I was out riding with a friend and this guy goes running by and I thought, "Oh crap, that's Seal." I mean, you don't expect to randomly run into him on a running trail.
So I thought about going after him and asking if he would be on the podcast, but I didn't. I thought about it but I didn't want to be "that guy."
I don't know... I would think you could pull off being "that guy." It's not like it was me riding after him to stop him and ask for an interview.
Later he said it would have been great if I had, but I couldn't do it. I don't have it in me.
The same thing just happened. Anna and I were flying back to Austin because the kids were about to start school. We're on a moving sidewalk and this guy standing in front of us has all these old school tattoos, back pack, boots... he was a hardcore looking dude.
All of a sudden I thought, "I know this guy..." and then I realized it was James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica. I wanted to say, "James, I think you're amazing, and if you would ever be willing to come on my podcast I would love it..." but I didn't.
I just don't have it in me to be like that. Even if people wouldn't mind, I just can't. I'm more comfortable doing a little networking and reaching out to people that way.
So why not a cycling podcast?
If I had told a room of 100 people I was going to start a podcast, at least 90 would have assumed it would be a cycling podcast. That's why I've tried so hard to not talk about cycling.
I touch on it briefly in some of the intros but I'm not going to go back and get into that.
The goal is for listeners to think, "I have no idea who this guy will have on next." And we definitely have some cool ones coming up.
I appreciate that you don't try to shoehorn a theme into your podcasts. You just have a conversation with smart people.
I don't have an agenda. I tell people I'm not out embarrass anyone, to be a jerk, to play "gotcha..." I've lived a public life for 25 years. I get it.
I also tell them that if there's something they don't want to talk about, just tell me. And even if they don't say anything is off limits, for me some stuff is because I'm just not interested. With Seal, he said we could talk about anything. But at the beginning of the podcast I say, "If you came here to hear about Heidi Klum, stop listening."
I'm not going to get into anybody's kitchen. Plus I'd just rather the conversation goes to a place the guest wants to go. People are always more interesting when they talk about the things they're really into.
So do you get nervous before you release each episode? I would.
I'm more nervous before we record them. I get super nervous. I'm not projectile sweating or anything, but I'm definitely nervous. But I'm glad I get nervous: if you're excited about something and you want it to be a good product, you should be nervous because that means you care.
As for the response, I went into it thinking that if we put something out and two people listened to it... well, that would suck. But after eight weeks the numbers are way better than I thought they would be.
As long as I continue to get good guests and engage with them, hopefully it will continue to grow.
When you open each podcast you mention WEDU. Tell me about that.
I'm building a new endurance platform called WEDUSport. That will be the over-arching brand.
"WEDU" is actually the answer to a question. Say there's a marathon in 95-degree weather... tons of people are going to look at that and say, "Who would want to do that?"
Go to the start line and there are thousands of people who would answer, "We do."
That's the idea behind the name. To many people, endurance events have this element of crazy to them. Who would want to do that?
Well, "we do." So, WEDU.
Few successful people are patient, but you're clearly taking this slowly.
I'm kicking around a lot of things. I've just had to wait. I'm not patient... but I'm not dumb.
But yeah, it's no secret the podcast the first step in moving forward.
You don't get to the level you achieved without enjoying suffering. Tell me what you get from that.
The WEDU deck runs through the entire brand, the attitude, the heartbeat... and the most important word in all those pages is "suffer." There's no word that's even a close second to "suffer." That's it.
Athletically, I crave that suffering. And sure, I've suffered in many other ways, and not anything I ever wanted or craved, but it happened.
Suffering is a common theme for everyone. Even on the podcast it comes up. Seal clearly suffered. Ryan Bingham was homeless; he didn't want to be there. But he was. It's a hard story but he worked his way through it.
There's power in suffering. What you learn about yourself not only carries you through tough times but also gives you the confidence to know you can do more than you imagine.
Endurance is what gets you through. Endurance is how you last. Endurance is how you keep from breaking down --- not in a marathon, but in life.
I'm definitely not looking for sympathy, but living the last four years of my life and not being curled up in the fetal position...
I wanted to be a big boy about it. I thought, "This is coming, this is coming hard, and I deserve it... so I'm going to stand here and take it and take it and take it until it stops."
And when it stops I'll find something else to do. I'll move forward.
What do you miss most about professional cycling?
What I loved the most about being a pro cyclist was the process. Standing on the podium was great, but what I really loved was the process of getting to the point where you could stand on that top step. It's the hours you were alone and suffering and working it out.
That's what is behind our slogan, "Solidarity for the solitary." It's for people that do this stuff because they love the process.
People who enjoy endurance events are really into the process. They're thinking, they're talking, they're training, they're working all that stuff out so they can perform the way they want to perform, whatever that means to them.
You're no longer involved with Livestrong but you still are active in cancer philanthropy. Tell me about you and Anna's work for Wapiyapi.
For me, it's kind of the opposite end of the spectrum from Livestrong.
Wapiyapi is a small, Colorado-based summer camp for kids with cancer and their siblings. The staff is one full-time person; everyone else is a volunteer. For three weeks they rent a church retreat and hundreds of campers come for free.
Anna was originally a camp counselor and served on their board. It's near and dear to her heart. Every year we do a ride in the morning and a blowout dinner at night. We generate a decent percentage of their annual budget because the people that attend are crazy generous and donate cool auction items.
On the charitable side, that's really all I do other than personal outreach. In Livestrong's eyes I don't think I will ever be welcomed back, and I don't think I would want to go back. I think the way it was all handled was a mistake. I think they do great work, but we're probably not right together and I'm fine with that. I raised half a billion dollars at one time... but it's every bit as gratifying to help out on a much smaller scale.
That's the cool thing about this new project. It's a place where people will be able to improve and be better and stronger and more effective, and the effect of that spills over from endurance sports to impact other aspects of people's lives... so in many ways it also feels like a mission of doing good.
Whether you're raising money or calling people to offer support or helping out whatever cause you feel strongly about, helping people is helping people... and that always feels good.