“In running, the times are the times and if you’re not performing or you’re not doing what you used to be capable of, I can see that it would be hard to find the motivation. Running is not a very forgiving sport. If you don’t do the work, you’re not going to see results. Like, you always have the ability to ride a bike. That’s muscle memory. But, the ability to run a 5-minute mile? That’s not muscle memory. That’s training, and the training is something you have to do all the time. There’s no break — when you’re not running, you’re still training. If you want to go out and party, that’s not helping your running. It’s a full-time lifestyle. You’re in it all the time. Running is very transparent — it’s easy to see if you’ve done the work or not.”
Michael Wardian’s enthusiasm for running, competing and pushing perceived boundaries is palpable through a phone line, which is one of the realizations I came to while talking to him for about an hour a week ago today. After the call, my own motivation meter shot up a few ticks and I started thinking about different ways I could test myself this fall.
I’ve been following Shalane Flanagan’s running career since I took up the sport myself in high school. We’re the same age and both grew up in Massachusetts, competing in many of the same scholastic meets in the late 1990s. She was a boss back then, she was a boss in college at the University of North Carolina and she’s been a boss on the professional circuit for the past 13-plus years. A lot has changed in American distance running since 2004, but Flanagan factoring in races isn’t one of them. The four-time Olympian, who lives and trains in Portland, Ore., as a member of Jerry Schumacher’s Bowerman Track Club, is a threat to win, set a record, earn a medal or make a U.S. team whenever she steps to the starting line.
“For me, I had such interesting jobs that were with great companies, and I was so bored. The one thing that was the key thing—that I like about coaching—is that it’s so hard and there’s so much on the line. It kind of scratches an itch that keeps me a little bit settled. Coaching helps me because there’s so much going on all the time. It’s intense, and humans are really unpredictable. We could do the same workout, the same time of year, three years in a row and then the fourth year it doesn’t get a response. Then you’ve got to figure out why. What caused it to be different? I love that. I love that there’s stuff on the line. That’s why I wanted to coach, so I was able to do a corporate job and carve out some time in the day to do that, and it would keep me going.”
Coming out of Yale in 2011, Kate Grace was not a favorite to make the 2012 Olympic team. With an 800m personal best of 2:03.41, however, she had shown some promise, securing a sponsorship with the women’s apparel company Oiselle and joining legendary coach Frank Gagliano’s New Jersey-New York Track Club to train with some of the best middle-distance and distance runners in the country. Grace qualified for the 2012 Trials, competing in both the 800m and the 1500m, but did not make the final in either event.
As a middle-distance runner for Great Britain, Colin McCourt represented his country in international championship competition and notched world-class times of 3:37.06 in the 1500 meters and 1:46.72 for 800 meters. After failing to make GB’s Olympic team in 2012, McCourt retired from professional athletics and started working full-time. Over the next five years he gained over 50 pounds, topping out at 207 (94 kg) just a few months ago.
Earlier this year, McCourt was forced into a bet by 17 of his friends: break 16 minutes for 5K—an average pace of 5:08 per mile—by the end of 2017, or tattoo each of their names to his body. In January, he ran 24 minutes at a parkrun 5K near his home and started running regularly again. To date, he’s dropped 35 pounds (16 kg), posting daily video updates to his Instagram account and blogging about his journey on Athletics Weekly’s website. He recently started sharing his daily training on Strava. I caught up with McCourt last week to talk about the bet he has going with his buddies, the biggest keys to his weight-loss success thus far, the similarities between his journey as a professional athlete and a self-described “normal geezer who is out there grinding, trying to just lose weight so he can run around with his kid and not get 17 tattoos on him,” the unique connection he shares with his followers on social media, and much more.
Knox Robinson is a New York City-based runner, writer and coach. He is the co-founder and captain of the Black Roses NYC run crew, and an ardent purveyor of running culture. Robinson ran collegiately at Wake Forest before stepping away from the sport for the better part of a decade to work in the music industry, where he managed the careers of various artists, and also served as the editor-in-chief of Fader, a magazine dedicated to covering hip hop and indie music, style and culture.
I caught up with Robinson last month to learn more about his background and unique perspective on running, and discuss the role that culture and music have played in shaping that point of view. We also talked about the current running boom, how Instagram brought writing back into his life, and much more.
Ed Caesar is an award-winning writer who came up with the idea for his first book, Two Hours: The Quest To Run The Impossible Marathon, when he was on a reporting trip to Kenya in 2011. In the time since, Caesar has developed a keen interest in the sport of professional marathon running and recently accepted an assignment from Wired magazine to report on Nike’s Breaking2 project.
I caught up with Caesar a few weeks ago to talk about the sub-2 hour marathon attempt, how he’ll be covering it, along with the current state of marathon running as a professional sport. We also discussed Caesar’s own evolving relationship with running and training, how it’s affected his writing, the parallels that exist between the two disciplines, and much more.