Since diving into the trail running scene in 2016, 32-year-old Schuyler Hall, known also by his DJ alias Skizzle Fresh, has made a name for himself in the trail running community, most notably as a YouTube personality featured on the popular Mountain Outpost channel. Hall continues to bring his wealth of running knowledge and humor to the trail running community through his videography, a new podcast, coaching, and his involvement with ATRA member Aravaipa Running. I recently caught up with Hall to talk about his recent projects and plans for 2021.
[TAYTE POLLMANN] Describe your various roles in the trail running community – athlete, coach and podcast host.
[SCHUYLER HALL] Let’s start with the athlete side because that’s the simplest. I run because it provides balance in my life – something I, along with everyone else, certainly lost for part of 2020. The chance to toe the line in everything from cross country to road marathons to trail ultras allows me to keep motivated to be bold in this endeavor.
I am also the head coach for both cross country and track and field at my high school alma mater, Mt. Eden High School. I work to extend the lifelong appreciation for running that was instilled in me at that age and share it with my athletes.
My DJ services have also been audible at the finish lines of races throughout the years, most notably at the Javelina Jundred. As the race pumps on through the night, the athletes, spectators and crew try to hang onto any energy they can and I try to provide some of that energy through music and inspired commentary!
Then there is my contribution to the entertainment side of the running community both as a videographer and podcast host through Mountain Outpost.
[TAYTE] You work closely with Jamily Coury (a.k.a. Jam Jam) of Aravaipa Running. This past December two of you launched The Mountain Outpost Pod broadcasting live on YouTube. What was your inspiration for this project and how is it different from the other work you’ve done with Jam Jam?
[SCHUYLER] The inspiration behind the Mountain Outpost Pod came from my friendship with Jamil. Jamil and I are actually friends, it’s not just for show online. We had less frequent opportunities to meet up in 2020 and saw a podcast as a way to catch up with each other.
In other respects, the Mountain Outpost Pod is the “cable news opinion show,” corollary to the Mountain Outhouse News Show we produced over the past few years. With the new podcast, we can be more long form, in-depth, and nuanced than the Mountain Outhouse News program. Plus, with the live component on the YouTube channel, there’s a direct audience engagement that we haven’t had in previous videos. This offers color to the topics we discuss and provides real-time feedback that allows us to cater to the trail running community in a new way.
[TAYTE] What was your college running experience and how did you get into trail running?
[SCHUYLER] I attended Williams College, a small liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts. I was a mediocre Division-III athlete at best, but the coaching staff was incredibly invested in me and my development as an athlete and person.
I competed in the 800-meters, then the 400-meter hurdles, and finished my career in the steeplechase outdoors. I was also a consistent third or fourth team member of the cross country program which, to my credit, was vying for NCAA titles. It was a good team and I didn’t mind getting dropped in workouts!
After college, I was training for my first road marathon and I signed up for my first-ever trail race thinking it was “basically cross country, just longer.” I was always better at hillier courses, so it seemed like a logical fit. I ran my first 50-kilometer trail race just two months after that marathon. I’ve kept most of my events on the trails ever since.
[TAYTE] You created the YouTube series, Run Flat, Stay Low, a parody to your business partner Jamil Coury’s Run Steep, Get High. How did this come about?
[SCHUYLER] Run Flat Stay Low started because I was trolling Jamil and his vlogs at the 2017 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile race. We were there filming the race and I was making clips poking fun at him. I didn’t delete the files off of the camera and our editor Michael Carson discovered them and formed it into what became episode one of Run Flat, Stay Low. Oddly enough, I actually don’t mind running hillier trails, I actually perform better relative to my competition in those courses than in flatter endeavors, but I’m not going to be scaling mountains like Jamil, so I’ve accepted my relative standing in the “vert” wars.
[TAYTE] Your day job is in healthcare. What led you to this career path?
[SCHUYLER] Everyone has a health or healthcare story. My father was diagnosed with ALS when I was in high school and the weight of knowing that this disease could cause a swift death was heavy on me. After college I moved to Phoenix, Arizona to be a community organizer around healthcare outreach and education. It was my work in Arizona that led to obtaining the role of Outreach and Policy Specialist that I currently have with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Oakland, California. The department has a very broad mission, so I work with non-governmental organizations, elected officials, and tribal nations to advance health outcomes for their communities.
[TAYTE] How has the pandemic affected your day job and trail running?
[SCHUYLER] The pandemic is my life at work now. I have been a part of an interagency response team helping to manage the federal response across my region, which encompasses four states, three territories, three Freely-Associated States, and one hundred and fifty seven tribal nations. Many of the policies ceded control to the jurisdictions, so we worked as best as we could to ensure they had the tools they needed to test, trace, and now work through vaccine administration.
When you’re on the phone day after day with emotional hospital staff or officials pleading for something as they watch their community die in front of them, it hits you hard. Add in the personal impacts of the pandemic and the goings-on in the world as a Black male who runs post Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, and my health very much went by the wayside for chunks of 2020.
My role as a coach has also suffered, which I regret. Balancing my medical day job made it difficult for me to meaningfully connect with my kids proactively. I’ve gotten better about it now and I host a video conference call every weekday to lead my athletes through a quick strength set so they can be active. I couldn’t care less about how they perform when we get back to racing this season, so long as they can find the balance in their lives that running has brought me.
[TAYTE] Tell us about your coaching philosophy. What do you focus on when working with young athletes?
[SCHUYLER] My goal is to instill a lifelong appreciation for fitness and running in my athletes. Not everyone is going to run in college, but if kids can leave my program with an understanding of their bodies and how their mental and social wellbeing factors in, then I’ve done my job. This will be my fourth year coaching and I’m constantly learning not just about the science of training, but also how to better communicate it to a diverse audience. If we can get them to move well, then the performance will follow.
[TAYTE] When did you start working with Jam Jam and how has he shaped who you are as a trail runner?
[SCHUYLER] My first real conversation with Jamil was after his run at the 2015 Hardrock 100 Mile. I was at the race with our mutual friend to film the happenings mid-race. One day he and Hayley Pollack, Director of Events and Operations at Aravaipa Running, sat me down in the conference room and asked if I would be on board for a random challenge video. I asked for no further details, which I would later regret because that turned out to be the original Drop Bag Challenge. Since then, I’ve been much more recognizable at events, which is awesome because people are now much more inclined to say hello whereas they might have otherwise not said anything.
[TAYTE] As an influencer in the trail running community, what is your approach to creating content?
[SCHUYLER] I aim to be authentic in anything I do, whether it is my personal platform, or something I’m tied to. Running and content creation is not what I get paid to do, so there’s no sense in trying to take myself seriously. I want what I produce to be of good quality, but I am not going to sacrifice my livelihood to put out more than I have the time or energy to put together. Spending time video editing cannot interfere with my ability to do my day job, coach, DJ and actually do the running that allows me to be a part of the community.
[TAYTE] Let’s talk about the trail running challenge video you produced with Jam Jam. What was the hardest part and can we expect more challenges in the future?
[SCHUYLER] The hardest challenge was certainly the Chipotle Challenge. Three burritos is a lot to begin with, but to add in a beer, a margarita, chips and guacamole, and running was a recipe for disaster. We did not bank on the inability to digest while running in 105 to 110-degree temperatures. The lack of water accessible along the route did us no favors either. I was on the edge of heat stroke as I approached the third location. I was out of water, my phone died, and I vomited. That was the most rewarding puke experience I have ever had. Challenges will be coming back soon!
[TAYTE] What are your trail running goals for 2021?
[SCHUYLER] Personally, I’m looking forward to getting back into the normal routine of running and coaching. My goal in 2020 was to set personal records (PRs) at many distances from the mile on up, and that goal has rolled over to 2021. Most of those may be time trial efforts at this point based on what races actually happen. I’ll be sure to bring folks along for the journey through more Run Flat Stay Low videos and the Mountain Outpost Pod as well.
[TAYTE] How do you think trail races will happen in 2021? Do you think conditions will return to normal and what adjustments should race directors be making?
[SCHUYLER] “Normal” is a fluid target. Permitting jurisdictions and race organizers are in a hard spot because they have to play a prediction game with a pandemic that has time and time again been unpredictable. They have to make decisions based on what they think the world will look like in three or more months and try to communicate with their registrants accordingly.
Even when races are allowed to occur, the capacity limits and willingness for runners to return to large groups are going to be the things that take time to get back to normal. Smaller events will be up by the end of June and the larger events by the fall, but which people and how many can run/spectate will be a much more involved conversation.
Race directors have to keep being transparent about their planning process, both as it pertains to safety protocols and the timelines they are getting from their permitting jurisdictions. No one likes to be caught off guard, but they will save a lot of headaches by signposting throughout the planning phases how things are going and allowing runners to manage their own expectations.
[TAYTE] What’s one tip you have for trail runners looking to race this year?
[SCHUYLER] The public health official in me would encourage folks to get vaccinated when they can and to consult with their doctor if they have questions. The commentator in me would recommend that folks stay flexible with their planning, train now to be generally fit, and be ready to sharpen up at the end of 2021 to put this year behind us.
[TAYTE] Is there anything else you’d like to share?
[SCHUYLER] The trail community is pretty accepting, but it’s incumbent upon all of us to not forget that we all have our own personal experiences over the last few years that shape how we interact with the world. What you see online isn’t always a true reflection of how people have weathered the ups and downs. What you say online is also not forgotten.
As we get back to a place where we get to enjoy each other’s company in person, invest in your relationships and spend more time listening than talking. By being our open and authentic selves we will do more for maintaining the reputation of being an accepting community than shying away from difficult conversations about the tough realities we have lived through.