San Francisco native who traded desk job for life as a professional runner to take on Cork City Marathon

Chris Mocko has no regrets at the bold move of swapping his desk job for life as a full-time runner, writes Denise O’Donoghue.

San Francisco native who traded desk job for life as a professional runner to take on Cork City Marathon

Update: Chris Mocko has won the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon.

For many people, a job in the world-famous Silicon Valley is seen as the highlight of a career, something to aspire to after many years of work.

For San Francisco native Chris Mocko, however, it wasn’t enough.

He had, by his own admission, a well-paying job at an amazing company, Square, but he gave it all up to follow his first love: running.

“I’ve been running for longer than I can remember,” Chris said.

He began track running when he was five, and moved on to marathons in his mid-20s. “I loved it since childhood but really fell in love post-collegiately when the pressures of competing on a track were gone and I told myself I would only continue to run as long as I was still enjoying it.”

At 30, he discovered ultramarathons. In recent months, he left his job to take a leap into the unknown and become a professional runner.

“I’ve never reached my full potential as a runner because it’s never been the priority in my life. Even if I can’t make a career out of it, I owe it to myself to see how fast I can run, how well I can place in major competitions, and how much of a dent I can make on my thigh gap.”

Understandably, his family and friends were a little bit concerned by the sudden change, but ultimately they were extremely supportive of his dream.

“It was definitely a surprise — ‘you can make money in running?’ — but mostly excitement that I was pursuing something that I care so much about. My parents were mostly concerned about the potential for long-term damages to my body and health from the stress of training and racing for over such long distances.”

Chris says the struggles are worth the euphoric feeling you get following a lengthy run, but he warns novice runners that the high often comes after weeks of gruelling training.

“Consistency is key,” he says. “I have been coaching a close friend who has just started into running and she just messaged me the other day after about four weeks of training that she felt amazing on her run today and it felt effortless.

“This feeling is what I want all aspiring runners to experience, but it takes a couple of weeks of discomfort and pain before you can achieve that ‘runner’s high’ and it becomes a joy rather than a discomfort to head out the door. My advice is to start small and start slowly so that you give yourself a better chance of consistently completely your runs. You’ll be a runner in no time.”

Chris finds keeping focused day-to-day can be challenging without the routine that comes with traditional employment. “The hardest part has been keeping structure to the days. It is all too easy to procrastinate a run when you don’t have a lot going on in a day, but it’s important to maintain a consistent routine.”

Despite the small challenges, Chris can rattle off an impressive list of running feats he has achieved.

“First place at the Ultra Race of Champions, first place at Marin Ultra Challenge 50 Mile, first place at Behind the Rocks 50 Mile, second place at Way Too Cool 50k, third place at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. Five ultramarathons in my first two months,” he said.

Chris’s success led to the mayor of San Francisco inviting him to take part in a marathon in one of the cities twinned with their own: Cork.

“My athletic club, The Olympic Club, received an email from the mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, that included an invitation from the City of Cork to participate in their marathon. When you receive an invitation directly from the mayor’s office, you tend to take it pretty seriously.

“I was able to participate in an Irish flag raising ceremony to kick off St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in San Francisco and even received a special shout-out from the mayor himself during a speech. I feel a mounting pressure to perform well on his and the entire city’s behalf,” Chris said.

Chris is one of many international runners taking part in the Irish Examiner Cork City Marathon on Sunday. Around one in 10 runners come from outside Ireland.

“We don’t get a huge overseas entry, about 10% of the marathon and half, but we’ll have runners coming from 24 different countries, representing 47 nationalities,” said Gina Johnson, event manager for the marathon. Gina and her team are busy putting the finishing touches to the marathon, which will take place on a Sunday for the first time this year.

“Preparations are going well. The change to Sunday has been challenging, having to reroute the course in some areas, ensuring adequate stewarding cover, and trying to inform businesses, residents and churches on the route, but it’s been a popular move for the runners,” Gina said.

“Our numbers are up nearly 10% on last year and we’ve a record entry in the half marathon, with over 2,600 entries.”

Chris hopes to finish ahead of thousands of his fellow marathon runners on Sunday. “My time is not nearly as important as my position. Fingers are crossed that I feel great on Sunday morning and I can avoid the Guinness and pub food before then.”

Naturally, Chris is keen to enjoy a pint or two of Guinness during his time in Ireland, although he has other things planned too. “Top priority: kissing the Blarney Stone.”

“As much as I want to explore the city in the days leading up to the race, my top priority will be ensuring I’m well-rested and recovered from the long flight. I’m hoping there is time after the race for some post-race festivities and perhaps a pint or two.”

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