Mark Zuckerberg ran a relatively scorching 5K this past Sunday at Stanford Medicine’s My Heart Counts 5K. The CEO of Meta crossed the line in 19:34, good for 11th out of 885 participants and an average mile pace of 6:18. And he might owe that impressive time to a surprising exercise routine.
Just two weeks from his 39th birthday, Zuckerberg finished fourth in the 35-39 age group. According to a post Zuckerberg uploaded to Instagram the day after the race, he ran with Silicon Valley peers Sam Lessin, Daniel Hegeman and John Hegeman, all of whom are 34 or above, and managed to break 20 minutes.
As the average 5K time for an advanced runner in their age group is a shade under 21 minutes, this is an impressive effort from the whole group.
So, how did he run 3.1 miles so quickly? Well, according to a thread in the comments on that Instagram post, without running too many miles in training. Zuckerberg replied to one admirer: “All the BJJ got me stronger. I barely train running now and I’m faster than when I used to run a lot.”
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Zuck’s a fighter, not a runner
BJJ? That stands for Brazilian ji-jitsu. Zuckerberg has gotten super into martial arts over the last year. Last fall, he posted a video of him sparring with Kai “The Shadow” Wu, a UFC featherweight fighter based out of Northern California. Connor McGregor commented on the post, writing: “Yo!!! Fucking awesome Mark!”
For those who keep up with the proclivities of tech billionaires, this was no huge surprise — Zuckerberg appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience last August to discuss his burgeoning interest in MMA. (Broadly speaking, interest in martial arts has been on the up and up in the tech world for some time now.)
During his appearance, Zuckerberg also contextualized his disengagement with his old running habit, which he’d once dutifully charted on Facebook — in 2016, the man hit his goal of 365 miles over the course of the year with five months to spare. “I used to run a lot,” he told Rogan last summer. “But the problem with running is you can think a lot.”
We’ve spoken to CEOs who rely on running for thinking time. Fliteboard’s David Trewern doesn’t answer an email before he gets out for a run. Palantir’s Alex Karp taps into Zone 2 for endless hours each week. But to each CEO his own, and until this weekend’s effort, Zuckerberg evidently drifted from cardio to the cage. And to hear him tell it, training in mixed martial arts made him faster. Is there any truth to that?
Can MMA make you faster?
Sure — MMA can boost your cardiovascular endurance, your lower body strength and your core stability. Assuming you’re prioritizing your recovery accordingly, sessions rife with grapples and takedowns could get you in the best shape of your life. Even if you’re closing in on 40. It’s reasonable to suggest that martial arts training boosted Zuckerberg’s stamina. (There are some intangibles at play, too — perhaps MMA helps him tap into a grittier mental state. Better than fretting over the metaverse on a six-miler.)
But if you’re determined to break 20 minutes in the 5K, you should prioritize weekly mileage, interval training, hill workouts and tempo runs, not kickboxing. Good for to Zuck, who somehow backdoored his way into a real 5K redemption story (there’s chatter he tried to hide an unsavory finish time in the past?). No matter how much money you make, or free time you may or may not have, you can’t fake low-six-minute miles.