Photography by Pooja Merai
Interview No. 13
34 Years Old
Interview by David Ofori-Amoah
Tell me about your running history? Have you always been a runner?
[laughs] It’s strange sitting on this side of the table. I’d rather be the one asking questions.
I started running two years ago when I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. Before that, the only thing I ran after was the bus.
What inspired you to sign up for the marathon?
I wanted to become more self-disciplined and achieve something I didn’t have to share. At the time, everything I was a part of was collaborative. I love working in teams, but I wanted something I could point to and say, “yeah, that was all me.”
I decided to sign up for a half marathon and talked to Antonio to get some pro-tips. By the end of our conversation, I found myself committing to a full marathon instead. The logic was to get to 20 miles—once you can do that, adrenaline, excitement, and the crowd will carry you the last 6 miles. If you’re going to run 13 miles, what’s another 7 miles of training, right?
Wrong! Six miles is a lot of ground to cover, but in the heat of the moment it made sense. In hindsight, I was totally duped into running the Chicago marathon.
Before the Chicago Marathon, had you run long distance races before?
NOPE! It wasn’t until I started training for the marathon did I run my first race—The Solider Field 10 Mile. Before that was the Presidential Fitness test in ninth grade—where everyone had to run a mile around the track.
Did you receive any advice that helped you prepare for the race?
Antonio was my lifeline. He hooked me up with Hal Higdon’s training program, the rundown on gear, and a ton of race-day pro-tips. I didn’t listen to any of it! [laughing]
[laughs] Why not?
That’s a lie. I listened to quite a bit—but not as much as I should have. I wanted to discover the peaks and valleys on my own. I also had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew 26 miles was a lot of ground to cover but I didn’t have enough miles under my feet to understand what it takes to complete that kind of distance. I had no business running marathon [laughs].
How was your first marathon?
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. [laughing] The first 20 [miles] were great! The course snaked across the city and the crowd was tremendous. There was a profound sense of comradery—surrounded by 30,000 runners chasing after the same thing. Running a marathon may not be on everyone’s bucket list but I recommend everyone check it out as a spectator. It felt like a city-wide block party and it’s scary how fast the elite runners are up close.
When did it take a turn for the worst?
I ran out of the gate way too fast and got caught up in the excitement. A key piece of advice I ignored was—start much slower than you think. I remember breezing past the halfway point and hitting a wall 7 miles later.
At mile marker 20, things took an ugly turn. Both of my legs started cramping and I couldn’t run 10 yards without collapsing to the ground. I walked, hobbled, and crawled the last 6 miles of the race. My body and mind were gone. It took everything I had to drag myself across that finish line.
“I stopped searching for it. [runner’s high] It’s a struggle every time, man. But that’s part of the deal. If it wasn’t a struggle there wouldn’t be anything to overcome and endure. It’s an endurance sport not a euphoric sport.”
[laughing] The idea for the Baker’s Dozen came after the marathon? What inspired the project?
Curiosity. Even though I didn’t beat Oprah’s marathon time, [laughing] I felt proud of what I was able to accomplish in 18 weeks. Marathon training is a big time commitment—I ran 6 days a week for a little over 4 months. Towards the end of training you’re going out on runs that take 3-4 hours to finish. It felt good crossing the finish line, but it felt great finishing what I set out to do. With all these miles under my feet, I wanted to see how much farther and faster I could go. And instead of talking about it; doing the damn thing.
In addition to running 13 races, you talked to other runners along the way—why did you decide to include those stories in the project?
In the U.S alone, there’s something like 2 million people who run half marathons each year and that number is growing. I wanted to know the logic behind those numbers. What motivates them to line up and run?
Did you find the answer?
There are a million reasons that push people to the starting line. Some of those reasons are intimate and deeply personal—others are not profound at all. The common thread that ties 2 million runners together, is the work they put in on the way to the starting line. It says a lot about who you are and who you aspire to become. That says way more than the medal they put around your neck at the finish line.
Do you consider yourself to be a runner?
I loved Leah’s answer to this question, “I’m a runner when I’m running.”
What do the best days of running look like?
The days I lace up and get out the door without hesitation.
What do the worst days look like?
The days I lace up and bail to binge on youtube and eat cinnamon toast crunch out of a mixing bowl. Hypothetically speaking.
Do you believe the runner’s high exists?
I stopped searching for it. [laughing] It’s a struggle every time, man. But that’s part of the deal. If it wasn’t a struggle there wouldn’t be anything to overcome and endure. It’s an endurance sport not a euphoric sport.
I can’t speak to runner’s high, but autopilot usually kicks in around 1.5-3 miles. The first three miles are the worst—everything aches and running is the last thing on your mind. Once you get past the third mile, your body feels stronger and you’re locked-in. It’s almost like your brain gives up trying to convince your body to stop running. If I can get a good rhythm going and stay in the pocket, I can coast for the next 8-10 miles; easy.
“If you want to finish fast and feel great, you have to put in the work. The universe will not provide; the universe is a jerk.”
Knowing you were running 13 races, how did your approach to running change? How did you feel going into each race?
Slow and steady. Avoiding injury was top of mind. Getting hurt would have thrown a wrench in the whole project. My pace goal was to finish each race below the 2 hour mark, but if I felt my body starting to breakdown; I pulled back. That happens if I haven’t trained enough leading up to the race or the conditions are way too hot. Pull back, make adjustments in training, and focus on the next race.
The first few races were exciting. The nerves were kicking and the winter weather punched you in the gut. Milwaukee was the worst! But the more I ran, the less I focused on the pomp and pageantry surrounding the race. It became all about locking into the run and getting a good rhythm.
Has the BK12 project affected your life outside of running?
It’s helped me become more mindful. It’s a healthy reminder to focus on the present and not worry so much about the outcome. Setting personal records can be a powerful motivator, but it can rob you of the present moment. Only longer runs, I often catch myself obsessing over the next race or correcting past performances. With such intensity that I couldn’t tell you what I ran by or through the last 5 miles.
Now I focus on my breathing, how the pavement feels under my feet, and listen a lot more. I run with no expectations and stopped tracking short-term performance goals. Consistency and discipline carry you a hell of a long way. Hatch a plan and stick with it. You’ll be surprise where you end up in a year’s time.
What advice would you give someone new to long distance running?
If you’re like me, you won’t listen to a single word anybody tells you. [laughing] I recommend signing up for a race to establish a baseline of understanding. You’ll have a better feel for the distance and know what tweaks you can make to architect your own experience. Without a baseline it’s hard to know which advice to follow.
What were some of the more useless pieces of advice you received
[laughing] Adrenaline and good vibes will carry you through the last few miles. You have to put in the work. It’s not a question of whether you will finish, but how you want to feel once you cross. I met a few runners who ran marathons with hangovers and never logged a single mile of training. But if you want to finish fast and feel great, you have to put in the work. The universe will not provide; the universe is a jerk.
Lightning Round–Gummies or Goo?
Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal.
What’s the worse flavor?
Everything that isn’t Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal.
Favorite shoe brand?
Nike. Although I’ve been running in New Balance v1500 v2 and they’re winning me over.
Running gear, you can’t live without?
The Nike+ app. Anything that helps track pace is gold.
Favorite BK12 quote?
“It’s surprising what your body can do if you let it.”
What’s the best costume you’ve seen at a race?
Hands down it has to be Skeletut.