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Joe Corcione trades alcohol and drugs for ultra running, podcasting

By Henry Howard

Joe Corcione traded in the hustle and bustle of New York City for the ultra running life in Phoenix. And he couldn’t be happier.

His path to running began as an adult, after growing up mostly without playing sports. Now, he is making up for lost time. Host of the “Everyday Ultra Podcast,” Corcione has been running for about four years and finished as the 10th male at the 2022 Javelina Jundred.

“Quite frankly, I had almost no athletic background growing up,” he says. “The only varsity sport that I ever played was golf. Some may argue that's a sport, some may not. My background in sports is basically non-existent.”

Instead of lifting a baseball bat or taking shots in basketball, Corcione hoisted beers and threw back shots from a tiny glass.

“My choice of fun was basically going out and drinking and having a ‘good time,’" he laments. “And that good time led me to slide a little deeper into drugs and harder stuff, and a lot of drinking, a lot of nights blacked out. Along that way, I developed a pretty nasty addiction to Adderall, which I was taking every single day.”

After college he worked on Wall Street, an unhealthy combination of someone already facing a potential downward spiral.

“That environment has its own inhibitors, high pressure, high stakes, all those things,” he says. “And it just made things even worse. And as even my addiction deepened from there, on top of it as well, I was really anxious and really depressed and everything like that.”

Picking a new path

Corcione hated his job, saw a four-year relationship crumble, noticed his health detoriating and began alienating himself from friends.

Thankfully, at 23, he left his job and returned to his parents’ home in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City.

He was at a crossroads.

“I was looking at the ceiling in my parents' house, laying on the floor where I was sleeping and knew I needed to change something, or else this life isn't going to go the way I want it to,” he recalls. “So long story short, the thing that got me back into shape was really getting my physical body in shape, and through that running was one of the things as well.”

Getting stronger physically was only one of the benefits.

“Along the way, I also got sober. I've been clean for over four years, and just been loving the journey ever since. And now ultra running is kind of like the new addiction, but I say it's a healthy addiction to swap out the old one.”

Finding fulfillment

Before he could line up at the start line of, much less finish, a 100-miler, he needed to regain his health and begin a running program.

“If you asked me after my first run, if I would've continued to do it, I probably would've said, ‘No way,’" he says. “My lungs just felt like they were on fire, and my legs were super sore and I didn't feel great. I never really liked running when I was just doing it as a workout.”

Corcione followed the progression of many runners. 5K. 10K. Half marathon.

But, somewhat uniquely, he was drawn to Spartan races, where he could mix some running with physical challenges. His first was in the mountainous region of Killington, Vt.

“It had huge ski hills, pretty steep terrain,” he recalls. “I got beat up by that race. The next day, I could barely even walk. I was totally toast. But there was something about that, just this feeling of accomplishment of, ‘Wow, I put in the training for this, and years ago I could barely even run one mile, and I just did three miles plus all those obstacles, and I did it.’ The reward of the struggle just hooked me into there. And that's really what started the spark. And that's why, I started going up higher distances, because I found the more that I struggled, the more that I felt fulfilled.”

In the previous version of Joe Corcione, he would reach for drugs or alcohol when faced with a struggle. Now, he reaches deep inside.

“In my life beforehand I was just trying to avoid the struggle,” he says. “That allowed me to build this insecurity that I can't do hard things, I can't embrace the storm, I can't weather things whenever they go south. And as we all know in life, they inevitably will, for every single person. I realized that by throwing myself into the struggle, I cannot only be more fulfilled by the accomplishments that I'm getting, but I learned that I was able to handle life's challenges a lot better.”

His first ultra

His first ultra was a 50K Spartan race with 60 obstacles, which took place in Hawaii. “It was super crazy, absolutely brutal day out there. I think I was out there for 11 hours, just got cooked by it.”

That began another transition for Corcione.

He realized that he didn’t really like the obstacles, but preferred the running part. That led him to trail running. Since he already covered 50K on foot, he figured he might as well up the distance once again. So he signed up for the McDowell Mountain 50 near Scottsdale, Ariz.

“It kicked my butt. I got destroyed. I went out too hot as usual, and then around mile 30, I probably dealt with every single ultra problem in the books, from stomach issues, from mental issues, from being hot, from sore legs, everything like that.”

But there was something different than his struggle fest at the 50K Spartan event.

“I loved it, man,” he says. “It was just so cool. They say an ultra marathon is like living a life all in one day. And I felt like I got that experience there. I did make a slight segue into Ironman and triathlon, but I hated the bike and the swim so much that I decided to stick with just running. That's when I pumped it up to the 100-mile distance.”

‘The great equalizer’

After a brief move to Wisconsin, Corcione landed in Phoenix in May 2020. He’s fully embraced the trail running scene there and focused himself on the longer distances.

“The thing with 100 miles is the longer the distance you go, I found the more of the great equalizer it is,” he explains. “I believe that the longer the distance, the less you have to rely on fitness. And I like that aspect. I like the aspect of you have to manage all these other variables other than just how fit you are in order to do really well in those races. And 100 miles is one of the pinnacles of that.”

Managing the mental aspect during 100-milers is critical. Problem solving on the go. Digging yourself out of a dark place. Finding grit when doubts arise.

“I love that aspect where it takes more than fitness, it takes the mindset, it takes the grit, it takes the determination, it takes the problem-solving, it takes all those different variables,” he says. “It's just so exciting to not just have to rely on being fit as much of a 5K or a 10K where it's pretty much fitness is most of the strategy in there. And I'm not knocking those, by any means. It's just more personal preference for me. I have so much respect for people who do the 5Ks and the 10Ks, because they would kick my butt any day of the week. It's a whole different kind of beast. But for me, the 100 miles is just great.”

Learning from failure

After his impressive performance at Javelina, Corcione publicly announced his intentions to grab a Western States Golden Ticket at the Black Canyon 100K. Overall, he performed well but was far back from the podium finishers in what was a very deep and talented field.

While runners can learn from their highs and lows, Corcione points to the experience at Black Canyon as a valuable teaching moment.

“I 100% learned more from that 100K,”he says. “I really wanted to go for the Golden Ticket at Black Canyon and race it. At the end of the day, I came in 29th male and not even close to getting that ticket. I battled a lot of struggles out there from a nutrition standpoint, from a breathing standpoint, from a pacing standpoint, but I think most importantly a mental standpoint.”

Corcione knew early on that the Golden Ticket was not realistic on that day. At the 20-mile aid station at Bumblebee, he was averaging a 7:05 pace but was 40th overall.

“Subconsciously, I had almost disqualified myself from the race, because inherently I believed that there was no way that I could catch up in that moment,” he admits. “It pains me to say that on this call. But I learned so much more through Black Canyon 100K, because I believe the most data-rich source in order to improve anything of your life is failure. It's doing things wrong, it's not getting the result that you want, all those things.”

In missing out on his goal, Corcione added to his knowledge of the sport.

“Failure will teach you way more than any single accomplishment that you'll have in your life. You get to really fine-tune the keys to success. You get to learn so much about yourself, you get to learn what you did wrong so that in the future you change how you reacted.”

Corcione’s three big takeaways:

  1. “I need to get stronger mentally and I need to believe in myself continually throughout the race no matter what position I'm in. And that doesn't mean having blind faith or anything like that, but I still got to believe that there is still somewhat of a chance. And if I just discredit myself right off the bat, then ultimately, that's going to be true. There's a famous quote, ‘Whether you believe you can or can't, you're right.’ And for me in that moment, I didn't believe I could, and I was right, and therefore it showed in my results.”

  2. “I learned I need to pace it a little bit better. I went out a little too fast for my liking. I think maybe working on my pacing a little bit in my long runs is really going to help.”

  3. “I need to tweak my nutrition strategy because I was getting some pretty bad stomach pains throughout. The drink that I was doing was not clicking well. I need to improve that for the future.”

Shooting your shot

Many ultra runners and coaches focus on process over results, letting the results come as they may. At the same time, they also shoot their shot at races, going for it. Will Corcione change his approach to calling his shot in public?

“It's an excellent question and I'll answer it backwards here,” he says. “Will I still be public about the goals? 100%. And I'll even say it on here. I'm going for Canyons 100K in April, and I'm going for the Golden Ticket again. I will continue to stay those things.”

Corcione says that when he is so public about his goals he gets surprised reactions. But for him, it’s not an ego trip.

“The reason why I do that is not to really boast myself or have this big ego and let everybody know,” he explains. “It's more so from a thing of myself, and this can get as spiritual or whatever as you want, as anything like that. I believe when you speak something out into existence, it gives it a lot more power. That's what I truly believe.”

For Corcione, it’s another tool in the tool shed, in addition to solid training, proper nutrition and other factors.

“I'm not saying that you can chant or mantra your way into victory and progress, because you absolutely can't,” he says. “You got to put in the work. But I do believe that there is power by voicing what you want to make a reality. Because when you do that, you build the passion inside yourself to orient yourself to that specific goal. And so for me, I know that's my goal. And I don't want to hide it. I want to be authentic. I'm almost being held accountable. And I like that aspect of being held accountable.”

Launching a podcast

The Everyday Ultra podcast is actually Corcione’s second. The first, The Art of Fulfillment, didn’t really catch on.

“As I was getting deeper into the sport of ultra running, I looked at all my guests that I was having on the (Art of Fulfillment) show and I realized that they were all ultra runners. A lot of feedback I was getting from listeners was them asking if it was an ultra running show. It just seemed like I really just wanted to talk to ultra runners and serve that community. So that’s how it started.”

The podcast, which generally comes out weekly, is starting to gain momentum. At the end of each episode, Corcione asks his guests the same question. What would they recommend ultra runners do every day to become a better athlete?

So, I turned the tables on Corcione. His answer:

"I always break this down into two things. One is the most common answer I hear from guests on my podcast and the other one is how I would answer the question myself. The most common answer I get is consistency. It's not about how many miles you put out. It's about how you show up every single day even if you’re busy, even if you have things going on in your life, you always find a way to get it done. In the long run consistency compounds and that is what gets you the results.

“The other answer I give is more personally for me, but I still think it’s equally as important as consistency. And that is having a firm and strong belief that you can get better, as long as you’re willing to put in the work and learn along the way. It can be so easy to think that you can’t improve, or that who you are is a fraction of who you will always be. But that’s not true, because humans are the ultimate adaptation machine. And when you know that, and when you can learn, and when you truly believe in yourself that you can get better, ultimately in the end of the day you will get to where you want to be.

Speed drill

Name: Joe Corcione

Hometown: Somers, N.Y.

Number of years running: Four

How many miles a week do you typically run: “Typically anywhere from 60 to 100 miles a week, depending on where I'm at with training.”

Point of pride: “Going from ZERO running/athletics background to placing top 10 male at Javelina Jundred over the span of four years.”

Favorite race distance: “100 miles for sure!”

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: “Pre race the night before is always pizza! The morning before a race or a big training run is a bagel with cream cheese (can you tell I'm from N.Y.? Ha ha). Training food/drink: GU Roctane. That stuff is amazing!”

Favorite piece of gear: “My Naked belt! Best running product I’ve ever tried.”

Who inspires you: “Right now, it's Zach Bitter. Zach has built such an amazing career as an ultra runner, and has accomplished so many amazing feats while also loving the sport, and adding value to others through his coaching, content and being a great advocate in the sport. Working with Zach as my coach has been one of the biggest keys to my success, both mentally and physically!”

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “I usually switch up the main song I get hyped to the most depending on the training block I'm in, as I like to have theme songs for each race! For Black Canyon 100K, which was my last block, my favorite song to run to was Unsainted by Slipknot.”

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: "’This is who I am, and this is what I do.’ I got this from Scott Jurek in his book, ‘North,’ where he breaks the FKT for the Appalachian Trail. I think it's just a powerful phrase that helps remind you why you're out on the trails pushing yourself, in the moments when you doubt yourself or why you're even doing it in the first place. Knowing that enduring is ‘what you do’ makes it easy to embrace the difficulty.”

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

Podcast: Everyday Ultra, available on all podcast platforms.

Instagram: @joecorcione

Strava: "Joe Corcione”


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