Knox Robinson is a writer, running coach, founder of the Black Roses NYC run crew, and was Tina’s co-host on the Running Realized podcast. In this wide-ranging interview, he shares his insights on summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, Fela Kuti, coaching, Ryan Hall, and Eric Clapton, with excursions into Buddhist philosophy.
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Knox recently guided a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro with iFit Adventures. Attaining the summit would be a transformative experience for anyone, but it held special meaning for Knox. “I felt like I was the son of Africa,” he recalls. “For me, as a Black American, so traumatically and tortuously removed from the land of my ancestors, to have been afforded the experience, privilege, or happenstance to go to the highest peak in Africa is a profoundly spiritual experience.”
It was a sensation that he first experienced when he was researching a story on Fela Kuti, the Nigerian musician regarded as the pioneer of Afrobeat. Kuti’s brother told him, “Mother Africa has a story for each one of her sons and daughters and it’s up to each one of her sons and daughters to uncover and discover what that story is and tell it.”
That idea was a revelation to him. “It was so liberatory to free me up from the vicissitudes of personal history, and also political and temporal history, but it also gives you a mission, like, ‘What’s your story?’ The story is there for you already, but you’re the only one to discover it.”
Knox has applied that lesson to coaching, as well as to life. “You’re just holding up a mirror to someone. In that typical Zen example, it’s blocks of stone or wood, and you’re just removing the sculpture that’s already there. That’s what coaching is like, helping reveal what’s already there. What if you crafted workouts along that spiritual idea, instead of a recruiting mitochondria idea?”
He cites Ryan Hall as an example of a runner following a spiritual path. Hall left Mammoth Track Club, which he’d been a member of since turning pro, in favor of “faith-based coaching.” At Boston, his first marathon afterwards, he ran the fastest time ever by an American. That, Knox observes, was “a peak moment in white history.” But what happened then? “When it was over, people went into the rulebook, did the most white thing. Went right into the fine print. And it was like, ‘fam, it doesn’t count.’”
Hall’s time didn’t qualify as a record because it was on a point-to-point course with too great of a net elevation drop. “So his whitest moment, the Blackest thing happened to it, ‘cause that’s what they do to Black people all the time. Like Black people overachieve, and then the system comes and it’s like, ‘Actually, we found this little rule that it doesn’t count.’ Ryan Hall had the peak white moment, and then they went to the rule book and to the white, Christian, blond, best runner of all time, it was just like, ‘Actually, your time doesn’t count.’ That’s when I started falling in love with the dude. And since that time he’s only stayed black.”
And how does that connect to Eric Clapton? Hint: It has to do with Jimi Hendrix and the famous graffiti, “Clapton Is God.” Click on the podcast player to find out. 🙂
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“Thank you” to Knox! We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.