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Ashton Kutcher Is Feeling “A Little Bit Stressed” Before His First Marathon

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Days before racing the New York City Marathon, Kutcher linked with GQ fitness columnist Joe Holder to talk training, nutrition, and that time he dusted Diddy on a run through the Los Angeles hills. 

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Photograph: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

When you think of Ashton Kutcher, maybe your mind goes straight to That ’70s Show. Or maybe it’s Punk’d. Or it could be that run of romantic comedies, or that time he was Steve Jobs, or all 80 episodes of Netflix’s The Ranch. Maybe it’s all the tech investing. What we’re trying to get across is that the man is busy and has been for a long time. But he’s still making room for personal goals—including running the 2022 New York City Marathon.

Just ahead of his race, GQ caught up with Kutcher to discuss his marathon training journey, running on behalf of his non-profit Thorn, why he hates speed work, catching the injury bug every runner tries to avoid, and how he might be the reason Diddy ended up running his own NYC Marathon back in 2003.

GQ: Just straight up: Why are you running the NYC Marathon?

Ashton Kutcher: It’s not like anything I’ve done before in my own life. And really just kind of just a test of my own mettle to ensure that I sort of regain my own personal physical dominance. My non-profit Thorn reached out and said that they had 100 passes for the marathon to raise awareness. We build software to fight against the sexual exploitation of children, so we help companies and law enforcement identify kids that are being sexually abused online—today we’ve identified 25,000 kids that are being abused. And we keep going and we keep building more new software because the landscape online keeps changing.

I thought “What better way to meet the convergence of two goals?” I’ve always wanted to run a marathon. In my mind I always said, at some point in my life, I’ll run a marathon. I’m not getting any younger. Then COVID hit, so it kinda knocked it out. But this year, they reached out and they were like, “All right, it is back on, we’re gonna go.” I started to get my game face on and to start to hit the road. 

I’ve always liked running—running is my preferred method of cardio. But I’d never run more than probably four or five miles before, ever. So I started inching up to that six-mile threshold. It seemed like there was a plateau with six miles, and there was another plateau at that nine-mile mark, and then there was another plateau at the 13-mile mark, and all along the way, I just kept hitting these false ceilings, and then working with some folks to engineer my way through it, and now I have a week to go. And if I said I wasn’t a little bit stressed, I’d be lying. I’m a little bit stressed.

I’ve run a couple of marathons myself, it sounds like you got a little bit of the marathon blues—right before the marathon, a little bit of trepidation starts to set in. But talk about your training program a little bit. It seems you’ve been training with one of my friends, Becs Gentry. I’d love to hear a little bit about how she’s getting you ready for it.

Well, the biggest surprise along the way is Becs had a baby, which is awesome! I had this idea of training on Peloton, because most of my training at that point was just on the Tread. I was on the treadmill running and running, but you get like a six-mile run on a treadmill and it gets pretty laborious. Since Becs was a marathon runner on Peloton, I was like, All right, I’m just gonna run with whatever she says to do, and I didn’t really have a training program or anything.

And then after a while, I thought it could be interesting to interview people while running. I admired how these Peloton trainers would go on there, run and be talking at the same time. So I called the CEO and said, “Hey, I wanna do a talk show while running on treadmills to raise awareness for our non-profit and maybe get people to go check out Thorn and donate money. And I’d like to do a talk show on your platform, and the only compensation I want is, is just at the end of every run, I wanna be able to send people to the non-profit website and see if you could raise money” and they were like “yeah, okay, but are you a trainer?”

I said “No, I’m not a trainer! I need a trainer to come and be a part of it, and then I’ll do the interviews.” So we started doing these interviews with people, which were all very funny, but I think underneath it, the question kinda hit me was “why.” Because I know what my why is: My why is to raise awareness and help find these kids that are being abused, but everybody has a why. Everybody wakes up every day and makes a decision to get out of bed because they want something or they want to achieve something or they want to do something, so I thought that that would be an interesting arc for the show.

Then as far as training went, I was primarily on the treadmill for the first, probably up to seven, eight miles, and then I started to hit the road. We actually went on a family Sprinter van trip with my kids to check out national parks—that was our summer vacation. We all got in the Sprinter and we were stopping along the way: Grand Canyon and Arches National Park, and Monument Valley, and we were in Denver for a little bit, and then in Nebraska, and then the Mount Rushmore. Every place that we stopped I had to run because I was still on my program. So I just ended up running in all these national parks. Becs would just send me my weekly training program. It’s speed doing speed work and shit! I’m not a speed work guy—I’m a slow and steady fella.

Speed work was my favorite part of marathon training, to be honest!

Well you see, for me? No, thank you man. I don’t want a 800 meter sprint. Nothing fun about an 800 sprint.

Let’s talk about that: What were your favorite runs? The slow and steady long runs? Did you have tempo runs? Did you have hills? I’m a track guy. I grew up playing football and track before I hit these marathons so I love the speed.

I’m a fellow football player as well.

So why didn’t you like the track?!

So I ran track, but when I ran track, I was slow. They stuck me in the 800. And only now do I realize that it is the race nobody else wanted to run. So here’s the thing, when I was a kid, I remember in junior high, I ran a 6:40 mile in seventh grade. And nobody ever told me that was pretty fast for a junior high school kid. For a mile, I’m very happy, give me a mile, give me two miles, and I’m very happy. But these 800 meter all outs? Nah, pass!

My favorites are the hills, because we live in the Hills. If I go out for a run here, I’m like running down to Sunset and then back up the hill, and it’s a grind but it’s over like that. Walter Payton was my favorite football player, and he had a hill that he used to run—I used to have a picture of his hill in my office. So I like the hills and I like the recovery runs. Those are real nice.

I respect that. So did you do any kind of cross-training or prehab? Did you pick up any weights, anything like that?

No. I’m a jiu jitsu guy. And so I was doing a bunch of ju jitsu and cross-training early on, but then Becs goes, “Listen, you gotta be careful, you’re gonna end up getting hurt.”

I’m like, “Look, I’ve been doing jiu jitsu for eight years. I haven’t gotten hurt—other than I dislocated both my big toes.” The cartilage in both my big toes is completely torn, but I got it in a place now where it’s OK for running. Then early on, about a month into marathon training, I tweaked my big toe doing jiu jitsu. I was slow-roll sparring with my partner, and I ripped my big toe again. So I had to pause jiu jitsu until after this marathon. I actually can’t wait. I’m actually so excited. I have a spar scheduled for Tuesday, I’m ready to get back on the mat. So I flipped it and I started supplementing with some Pilates, which is very nice, and a little bit of yoga and a little bit of free weights, but mostly just running. Becs says you get ready for a marathon by running. So it’s just been, run, run, run, run, run. I was doing great, and then I went for a 15-mile run and my speeds were getting pretty good. I was like, “Wait, I can actually run this thing at a pace where I could qualify for Boston.”

So do you have a pace goal for this?

Well, so hold on! My pace goal was always under four hours. That’s it. And then I broke 8 minute per mile on a 12 mile run. Or something—it was sub 8-minute pace. This is two months to go for the marathon. 12 miles, I thought, “I’m at 8 minutes, l keep up the speed work, I could get this down to 7:40 or 7:30 pace, and for my age bracket, I could qualify for the Boston marathon.” This is the mental torture I put myself through, I don’t know why this happens to me, but this is what happens in my brain, it goes like: Then you would be legitimate.

Yeah, I love that. If you’re going to do it, might as well push yourself.

So I get to Iowa. There’s a beautiful trail to run in Iowa, and it’s flat. I’ve got a 15 mile run this weekend. I’m gonna hit it, I’m gonna hit my long run and I’m gonna see if I can crank this thing off, 7:30, 7:40, pace. I get after it. Right, and I’m COOKING. You know when you’re running by people and you go “I know they think I’m fast right now.”

Yeah! We call that hunting.

So I’m running and it is feeling good, right. I’m at 7:20s. Man, I’m just ripping this run off. I get to the halfway point. I turn back. Flying! Clicking miles off. It starts to rain. I’m at mile 12. And it starts to rain. I’m like this is beautiful! Get a cool down on mile 12. I got three to go. And I’m at 7:30s right now. This is the greatest. I finish it, and I ran 7:30 pace for 15 miles. And I got two months to go. I only gotta tack 10 more miles on to this. And I felt good, I finished. My legs felt fresh.

I walk in the house and my left knee is…I can’t lift my leg. It feels like it’s dislocated. What the hell did I just do? This has been two months now. My tibia was starting to deteriorate. So I had bone deterioration of my tibia and tendinitis, where the hamstring comes around to the front of the tibia. So then I had to really back off of it. I’m back to my four-hour goal at this point, because the last two months have been rough riding—I basically have only been able to go on my long runs. I’m gonna be fine, I will get across the line, but I’m not gonna break any records out there.

You know, as long as you get across the line. So have you tried out any fueling strategies yet for the runs? What are you doing in that regard?

Yeah, yeah. I got the fuel in, so I get that thing where after the first six miles, I gotta go…

You got the bubble guts.

I’ve dipped into the woods several times in training! I’m a professional. But there’s lots of bathrooms in New York, so I’m not that worried. At first I tried with the chia, whatever those things were, but that did not operate well with me. So I’m now on more team Maurten. I do the 320 beforehand, fuel with that, and then I’ve got the little 100s, the gels. Those are nice. That’s like getting a Jello shot.

Those are what I use. I use that and caffeine during my marathons.

Oh, I’m a caffeine junkie. I like nicotine as well. I used to be a smoker. I chewed tobacco and then I was a smoker, but I quit. I like nicotine salts and so I’ve got these minty nicotine salt pouches, and they keep me from getting cottonmouth So caffeine, nicotine, and Maur-teen. The “-teens’” are getting me down the road.

I like that. Let’s talk about some of the transformations. I heard you lost maybe about 20 pounds during this? The physical transformation is always interesting.

Yeah, I’m down to like my modeling weight right now. When I was modeling I was 175 and I’m right around there, but I don’t love my marathon body. I’m not crazy about this. But I’m also not supplementing with weights or anything. I probably am not eating enough. I’m not a big breakfast guy. For years I would do an 18-hour fast and then I would do fueling windows. I operate better under that, so I had to get myself to take on more calories, and the best source of calories I’ve found is beer.

Bro, c’mon man. I mean…actually it is a good recovery drink.

It’s a vasodilator. It’s got plenty of calories. It’s fantastic, man!

But go into your diet a little bit, what are you eating?

I usually do a smoothie or something in the morning. I’m not big on eating breakfast. I don’t like having food in my stomach all day long. And then lunch, [my wife] Mila’s mom is an amazing cook, and so she makes me like, potato salad and goulash. I usually just heat up some leftovers for lunch. Dinner, my daughter is pescatarian, and so dinner is usually a piece of fish and some grain, and then like a salad, and then a nice beer or two. That’s my diet.

I’ve lost all my upper body muscle mass, it’s gone, I’m all legs right now. So it feels great, but I’m just so skinny right now, it’s crazy. I just lost all my muscle mass.

Maybe next time adding in a little bit of strength training will go a long way. But I have a question about a funny story that I heard—I want to know if it’s true. Back in 2003 when Diddy, aka Sean Love Combs, ran the New York City Marathon, did he really run the race because you beat him in a run? Is this true?

Here’s what happened. By the way, I have to call him. I’m going to send him my number for the marathon, and I want to find out exactly what his time was. He never told me what his time was and I asked him several times. Apparently he had a knee issue. He tells all about the knee issue—he doesn’t tell me the time. [Ed: It was 4:14]

He was in LA—I want to say it was around the MTV Awards or something like this. And he comes out to my house and we’re hanging out and he goes, “What are you doing today?”

I say, “I’m going for a run.” And he said he would run with me. So he leaves and then comes back with a whole run—the whole exercise kit on. He’s got an outfit for everything.

And so we go out—and I actually ran this route several times since I’ve been training for this marathon—and there’s this hill called Deep Canyon. It’s one of these soul crusher hills, where it starts out like a 1% grade goes to 2, goes to 3 goes to 4. At the end, it’s like an 8% grade. It’s insane. So we leave the house and go down the hill, he’s feeling good, and there’s all these paparazzi there that had followed him up from the Beverly Hills hotel and they’re photographing us running down the street. We get to the half-way mark where we gotta turn around and now go back up the hill.

He’s like, “I’m dying right now. Are you all right?”

I go: “I’m good. This is my regular run.”

And Diddy goes “No, no, this is bad.”

I say, “Well, yeah, but you got all these photographers here, you can’t stop! You have to finish it.” And he was gasping really, really hard.

We get back to the house and he goes, “That was not okay. That was not all right.” We may have gone out the night before, so it might have been one of those alcohol shiver sweats, right? Where your skin starts to get numb because the alcohol is coming out—one of those. He was not doing well. And yeah: That’s the year he ran the marathon.

You touched upon it a little bit earlier about what you’re doing with Thorn. I find it interesting you’re kind of approaching the issue as a tech problem, and I know you’re running on behalf of them for the charity. So if you want to give a little bit of a deeper dive into that passion to close out the convo and you know how it started, that would be great.

So about 15 years ago, I saw this Dateline special about these kids that were like five, six, seven years old in Cambodia, that grown-ass men were flying to Cambodia to assault these kids and somebody was profiting off of it. And I thought this was crazy. I can’t believe this exists in the world. I started looking around, trying to find what the organizations were that were proactively going after that issue, and there were some small organizations that were doing some stuff but nothing at any kind of scale. I just started to approach it the same way I look at startups, because at the time I was investing in a lot of startups. I thought the first thing I need to do is figure out what the total addressable market is here, how big is this problem? And I spent about five years researching the problem to try to size it, and at one point somebody said to me, this isn’t a problem just for Cambodia—this is a problem here [in the United States]. This is happening here.

In the research, I found that it’s very vast, and I won’t quote numbers because the numbers are relatively hypothetical, but it’s in the millions of kids that are being sexually abused. So we found out that 70% plus of the transactions for this material were happening online. I thought If we can build companies that are good businesses online, maybe we can make [sexual explotation] a bad business by identifying this content. So taking the same tactics that companies take to identify spam and malware and remove it to identifying and removing a child sexual abuse material from the internet.

So right now we have three core pieces of software that are all identifying children that are being sexually abused. There are two products that we have for law enforcement to help them prioritize their caseload and find these kids and collaborate on cases, and that’s been used around the world by law enforcement and in all 50 states. And then we have a new product that we just finished building a couple of years ago, that’s being used by enterprise companies like any company that has an upload button on their site where you can upload a photo, an image, or a video.

We can help them identify the content and report it and take it down. Today we’ve identified 25,000 kids, and every year that number gets greater. We’ve got a real problem on our hands and we now, thanks to the work of the folks at Thorn we’ve got some real solutions, and it’s just about getting folks to implement those solutions and then staying one step ahead so a lot of the people that are consuming and publishing this content are really technologically sophisticated, so staying one step ahead of them and finding these kids is. That’s what we do.

Amazing. And then: This is the last question that I ask to everybody in an interview, for somebody who’s reading this, is on their health journey or just needs to kick start or even wanna run a marathon. What advice would you give them?

It’s just one step at a time. Running is just a controlled fall. That’s it.

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