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The Ultimate Mark Sisson Interview

By Brad Kearns

Get to know Mark, his background, and his entrepreneurial spirit like never before! Mark Sisson has been a great friend and mentor of mine for 30 years. As one of the founding fathers of the primal/paleo/keto/ancestral health movement, Mark has probably been on a couple hundred podcasts, including perhaps a dozen of our own for Primal Blueprint and Primal Endurance shows (listen to the very first Primal Blueprint podcast, published December 30, 2013, where he talks about the dangers of chronic cardio.) Since you can grab a lotta content on healthy eating and primal living from Mark with a push of button, we aspired to do something special with this conversation. Enjoy this lengthy and intimate conversation where Mark covers seldom heard life journey material starting from childhood and continuing to his present day role as a prominent health expert and entrepreneur. We rolled for a couple hours, and the end product is now destined to be archived for eternity in the Library of Congress as The Ultimate Mark Sisson Interview.   If you know all about Mark as a longtime follower, this interview will give you a more complete picture than what’s offered by his public image. Even I was surprised to hear some of the details about his early years! If you’ve never heard of this blond guy, you will enjoy a fascinating account of the wild and wacky journey of a born entrepreneur and intense competitor. You will reflect on the importance of trusting your gut, never giving up on your dreams, taking action rather than just talking a good game, and honoring your basic nature (whether you’re risk averse or are repeatedly called to grand ambitions.)   The show begins with a check-in about Mark’s surprise 2018 relocation from Malibu to Miami. He loves the warm water and the awesome restaurants, and the Ultimate Frisbee games are just as hard-core as in Malibu! Then we take the narrative back to his childhood in a small fishing village in Maine. A fascinating insight about the genetics and disposition of a born entrepreneur prevails throughout the conversation. From day one, this guy has shown industriousness, vision, and a fearless competitive drive that has led him to pursue ambitious goals, keep going when others might give up, and change direction on a dime when most would stay the course on the comfortable beaten path.   As a pre-teen, Mark harbored a desire to “participate in the economy,” so he built a thriving lawn mowing business in the summer. Feeling restless midway through high school, Mark took the initiative to apply to the prestigious Philips-Exeter Academy prep school in Exeter, NH. Yes, this place is a legit, boasting a billion dollar endowment and an alumni list featuring 19 US Senators, a US President (Pierce), a Mark Zuckerberg face, Dan Brown of DaVinci Code fame, and Mark Sisson of Primal Kitchen fame.   While Mark showed some early promise as a big fish distance runner in the small pond of Maine, he experienced a breakthrough in confidence and performance after an epic Outward Bound summer experience on an island off the coast of Maine. He excelled at Philips-Exeter in academics and athletics and was off to Williams College (often ranked as the #1 liberal arts school in the nation) to pursue his dream of becoming a physician. You’ll start to notice a recurring theme in the story: numerous pivots and redirections from even the best-laid plans. Mark’s medical school ambitions were detoured by a random knock on the door of his dorm room by a nostalgic Williams alum who had occupied the same room. The alum was so amazed by what he saw inside he challenged Mark on the spot to second-guess med school and pursue other passions. No, it was not a jacuzzi and live band party setup that Rodney Dangerfield created in the movie Back To School…I guess you will have to listen to the show to discover the details.   Indeed, Mark’s entrepreneur gene was in full bloom even in college. He became such a skilled house painter that he was making what most would consider an excellent annual salary in a few summer months of wielding a mean paintbrush. Forget scaffolding, just race up and down a ladder all day like a marathon runner, and paint with the dexterity of a gymnast, to finish houses in a fraction of the time a professional crew could.   With med school plans on hold, Mark headed out to Northern California to pursue his dream of qualifying for the US Olympic trials in the marathon. He had some fantastic success as an endurance athlete, running a 2:18 marathon (5th in the national championships), but overuse injuries ended his career before he could even participate in the 1980 Olympic trials. Mark had a fabulous swan song as an elite athlete when he moved over to the sport of triathlon. With running injuries managed on account of swimming and cycling sharing the training load, Mark gained competency quickly and placed 4th in the Hawaii Ironman world championships in 1982. Since Mark’s endurance career predated the days where elite athletes could earn a decent living, he was hustling all the while in the background. He operated a thriving frozen yogurt shop in Palo Alto, CA, custom-built a restaurant featuring the world’s first refrigerated salad bar, and did more house painting and construction work.   In the mid-80’s, Mark chased a new dream, heading to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a sportscaster. This entailed immersion into the model slash actor slash personal trainer scene in LA, and Mark soon emerged as a top trainer and health expert. Mark and I first met back in 1988. There was a newly-formed team of professional triathletes, and Mark was enlisted to coach us. His methods were revolutionary at the time, when he argued for athletes to avoid the chronic training patterns that led to breakdown, burnout, illness and injury. Instead, he told us take it easy at many workouts and focus on the occasional “breakthrough” workout where you could push yourself enough to break through to a higher fitness level.   Mark was ahead of his time with these insights, as the prevailing approach to endurance training was to grind out as many miles as possible and hope to avoid injury or breakdown. Mark’s own breakdown experience as a marathoner had prompted his awakening to a more sensible way of training. Mark would prove the value of his approach by occasionally jumping into high profile races or competitive workouts and hanging with professional level athletes, despite training minimally while pursuing a full time career as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant.     Mark also did consulting work to design nutritional supplements for various companies, and became the central figure in the first anti-doping organizational efforts in triathlon. In 1990, Mark was invited to serve as Executive Director of the national triathlon federation out in Colorado Springs, CO. After a few years of growing the sport wildly, Mark returned to LA to embark upon a lucrative career in the nutritional supplement world.   Yes, here as Mark humming along, making a great living and raising two young children with his wife Carrie. Alas, the entrepreneurial gene switched on again, and Mark decided to leave his cush position to plunge into debt and uncertainty, strike out on his own, and develop the world’s most comprehensive multivitamin, mineral, antioxidant, anti-stress supplement formula, aptly named Damage Control Master Formula. The venture became an immediate success, and Mark quickly ascended into the role of vitamin king living at the top of the hill in Malibu. Yes, this operation was dialed, with only a handful of employees and millions in revenue, mostly from a single product with a high profit margin. This gave Mark plenty of time to work on his golf game, to no avail. His grain-based diet causing hand arthritis was a worthy excuse. Seriously, but we digress…   Mark “fed the beast” (his term, not mine. Love it!) by hopping on a plane to Dallas every two weeks to tape a couple talk shows that were broadcast across the Bible belt to viewers whom apparently desperately needed the world’s best vitamin by “calling now” to the number on the TV screen. Alas, the infomercial era ended with a big giant thud. With the beast starting to get hungry, Mark blew a million bucks trying to keep the dream alive by producing dozens of episodes of his own TV show, which he quickly pulled the plug on before most of them ever aired (wouldn’t you love to see these now on YouTube?).   At this point, now 2006, Mark turned his attention to something called blogging. The launch of was inauspicious. After a year of devoted effort and a six-figure investment in the team and infrastructure, was pulling in a whopping 1,000 readers a day. Staying true to his values and vision despite the stress and anxiety of declining sales, Mark and his team stayed the course, cranking out great content without polluting the message with supplement marketing.   Over time, Marks Daily Apple readership continued to grow exponentially. The publication of The Primal Blueprint in 2009 was another watershed moment, as the reception was excellent and served as a catalyst for the overall explosion of the primal/paleo/ancestral health movement. Funny now, but Mark was turned down flat by many big time New York publishers when he pitched The Primal Blueprint. The prevailing rejection theme was that Mark was not an MD so he lacked the necessary credibility. True to form, Mark decided to self-publish and sell the book out of the Malibu warehouse—about as far away as you can get from the big time publishers on Madison Avenue! Indeed, once upon a time you could only find The Primal Blueprint for sale at Primal   As we reach the final decade up to present day, Mark covers the crazy explosive growth of his enterprise, and the consequent challenges and complexities this brought. You will be inspired by his well-placed enthusiasm and resolve to stay true to his vision despite challenges. #ListentotheSisson carefully and notice the difference between someone spewing shallow positive affirmations versus someone who faces the day with a healthy but realistic competitive intensity, a willingness to fail and grow stronger accordingly, and an emphasis on leading a healthy, balanced lifestyle. It is here, with his “Live Awesome” ethos, that Mark distinguishes himself from many narrowly-focused peak performers who succeed on a material level but neglect health, fitness, family life, or being kind in the process. While we didn’t discuss this in the show, “pivot” is Mark’s favorite word to describe the necessary skills and disposition to succeed in a competitive environment and be happy in general life. You have to keep moving and growing as a person, adjust to uncertainty and setbacks without falling apart, and generally becoming skilled at pivoting to take what life gives you in good spirit. Enjoy the Ultimate Mark Sisson Interview and stay tuned for a follow up Breather show called Deconstructing The “Listen To The Sisson” Show.

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