One Year Later.

Joey Berriatua revisits the highs and lows of his past year—including his transition from a collegiate runner at Santa Clara to a member of Tinman Elite.

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One year ago, I arrived in Boulder to begin what I hoped would be the greatest journey of my life. No money, no job, no friends, no teammates—nothing but the intentions of becoming the greatest version of myself. My collegiate career wasn’t bright enough to garner interest from any elite teams, so I knew I would have to take a chance on myself. My goal was to earn a spot on one of the brightest up-and-coming teams on the distance running scene, and to prove to myself and others that there was a lot left to give to this sport. I knew that if I wanted to continue to pursue running, Boulder was my only home. I knew the road would not be easy. I knew I would likely face the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in my running career during my first year in Boulder. 365 days later, I’ve exceeded the expectations of others, and myself. But the most exciting thing is: this is only the beginning of my post-collegiate career.

Going through my college at Santa Clara, I always had intentions of pursuing professional running post-collegiately. Reaching the sport’s biggest stage; testing myself day-in and day-out to truly see if I could reach the upper echelons of the sport. I graduated from Santa Clara with PB’s of 3:49, 8:19, 14:13, and 8:52 in the steeplechase. I wasn’t recruited by any post-collegiate groups, leaving me with few options. I was unsurprised, but not disheartened by the lack of interest—I knew that any opportunity to train and race post-collegiately would take me to another level. If someone took a chance on me, they wouldn’t regret it. 

That’s where Tinman Elite came in to play. From following the Tinmen through race results, social media, and their website, it was clear to me they weren’t looking for just the fastest guys. They wanted people that could make an impact, guys that would add to what they’d already built. A group of runners who identified themselves as a team, working to better the sport and each other everyday is something anyone can get on board with. They were best friends, not recruited by big brands to join a well-established team. They knew that their happiness came from being in Boulder with each other. They wanted to create something great for the sport and for themselves. Being a part of that sounded like a perfect fit. 

I bought a Tinman Elite shirt in March of my senior year. Never ran in it, never wore it; to me it was a symbol of something that that would be earned to make this team, one way or another. That shirt, and the logo on it, meant more to me than a hope to be a member of a budding team. To me, it symbolized a commitment to taking the risk I’d been too afraid to take in the past.

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“I bought a Tinman Elite shirt in March of my senior year. That shirt, and the logo on it… symbolized a commitment to taking the risk I’d been too afraid to take in the past.”

Taking that risk meant moving to Boulder after graduation in hopes that the team would take a chance on me. The idea always seemed fascinating, but as it became more of a reality, it became more daunting. No one would be holding my hand. There were a lot of factors that were out of my hands. Nothing was guaranteed, but not taking a chance on myself would weigh on me for the rest of my life. My parents were supportive of my aspirations, but uneasy. At the very least, at the end of the day I would be in Boulder, fighting for a dream. 

I didn’t grow up the adventurous type. Taking risks, no matter how big or small, wasn’t on my agenda. Making the move to Boulder was undoubtedly the most significant risk I’d made in my life. I arrived in Boulder feeling eager, intimidated, and free. For the first time, my safety net was gone and I would have to test myself. As if I wasn’t already well out of my comfort zone, Sam invited me to go on a hike and scramble up some of Boulder’s famous Flatirons during my second week in town.

Scrambling up those rocks was undoubtedly the most terrifying thing I’ve done. The fear of falling overwhelmed me, but Sam eventually encouraged me to get to the top. We sat looking out over Boulder, taking in the view, when he asked a simple question, “Why are you here?” Coming up with answers on the spot is typically easy for me, but I couldn’t think of a response that would really capture everything. Becoming a better runner was the obvious answer, but thinking about it, there was so much more to it. 


At the time, moving to Boulder felt almost like an impulse decision. It had all come together so fast that I was on the road before I truly realized what was happening. While it was clear to me that this was the right decision for myself, a lot of things weighed on me during the move. I graduated from Santa Clara University debt-free, which was nothing short of a blessing. My parents had made a sacrifice to ensure that I was receiving the best education possible, which would set me up for a cushy job in Silicon Valley upon graduation. They never expected anything in return; their return on investment was supposed to be watching me secure a successful future and take advantage of the opportunity presented to me. Wanting to pursue a professional running career felt like I was throwing their return on investment out of the window. It felt, at times, like my dream of running was a ridiculous pipe-dream that needed to be put to the side, and like it was time to grow up and tackle the real world on my own. Thoughts of failing my family for pursuing something this ‘selfish’ frequently crept into my mind.

Looking back, it seemed that the moments that solidified my decision to leave the Bay Area were all surrounded by my idea of happiness. There was no question, for me, that my time running for Santa Clara was nothing short of perfect. If I could go back and it all over again, there would be no hesitation. It was my time outside of the sport that left me yearning for more. The relationships I had made with people during my time at school, for the most part, felt ingenuine. Often, I felt that I was putting on a face to be socially accepted by people who I thought I needed to be accepted by. I did what everyone else was doing to fit in. Upon graduating and moving back home, those relationships quickly disappeared. I had a core group of friends that were easy to rely on in tough times—but I couldn’t help but feel that I’d wasted a few years trying to be someone that others wanted me to be. 

The only thing that concerned me more than the past was the future. In the limbo between graduating and moving to Boulder, I was mentally preparing myself to transition into the working life. It was terrifying to think my life after college would be a spitting image of my social life in school if I went straight into the corporate world. It had become clear that what brought me happiness while at Santa Clara was running and my team. A future without some sort of team left a massive void in my life that left me feeling uneasy. This idea left me feeling depressed, and my outlook spiraled downwards fast. I took my emotions out on my family and closest friends, the only people who were actually there for me. Unsure if there would be another group of people that could bring me the same happiness that my team brought ever again, a majority of my time back home was spent alone.

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“It had become clear that what brought me happiness while at Santa Clara was running and my team. A future without some sort of team left a massive void in my life that left me feeling uneasy.”


Sam’s simple question, “Why are you here?” brought me to tears. Similar to taking that risk of scrambling up the rocks of Boulder, there was a giant risk of moving here. For the first time in my life, there was nothing to fall back on. That realization was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. There was a greater chance of failure than success. In my mind, however, I had no option but to succeed. 

My transition to life in Boulder was surprisingly smooth. I quickly found employment at Boulder Running Company (which helped alleviate some of my financial stress) and made plans to meet up with the Tinman guys for an easy run. That first easy run with the full team quickly turned into a feeling of a warm welcome. I immediately sensed that this was a group of guys who truly wanted the best for me. They didn’t care about who the “14:13 guy from Santa Clara” was, they only cared about the guy who had committed himself to the team and the sport, and who he would become. Very quickly, before it seemed like I had even blinked, Boulder was my home, and I was training with Tinman Elite.

Training and racing with a chip on my shoulder has been one of the most transformative things I’ve learned in my first year with Tinman Elite. One of the greatest things about sport is that there is always something more for an athlete to prove—whether to themselves or to others. Athletes face mental struggles constantly, regardless of what level they’re competing at. Early on, for me, there were constant internal battles with myself as to whether or not I truly belonged at the elite level. I quickly found that training with some of the best athletes in the U.S. can be equally invigorating and humbling. Getting my ass kicked in every single workout and long run tested not only my patience, but my confidence. Over time, my biggest lesson was learning to trust in my coach, my training, my teammates, and—most importantly—myself. 


This trust all came together in one particular moment for me. Before running my first indoor race of the season, a 3,000m at the UW Indoor Preview, I asked Coach Schwartz for a race plan. When heat sheets came out, I was surprised to find myself in the slower section. The week leading up to the race was filled with frustration, but I felt ready to take matters into my own hands and prove that I was a new level of runner. The only response Coach had for me was: “Win. It doesn’t matter what the pace is or who’s there, stick to the front, and if you feel good, take off with 1k to go. That’s where you can show off. Don’t worry about taking it from the gun and running some ridiculous time. Learn how to win.” It was easy, at first, to feel pissed off by this basic strategy. I had placed so much energy into being ready to prove myself with some huge PB, and now all I could do was settle with sitting and racing for what I imagined would be a mediocre time.

While frustrating, the advice and plan was also incredibly calming. All the stress I’d held onto leading up to that point had dissipated, and the simplicity of the new approach allowed me to enjoy racing. Luckily for me, one of my competitors, Michael Eaton, decided that it was also his day to prove himself. He took us through the first mile in 4:15, seven seconds ahead of the pacer and the rest of the pack. I took the lead with 900m to go, and never looked back (metaphorically, of course—anyone who watched that race knows I actually looked back every 10 seconds). I was on a high. It’s difficult to pinpoint a race in my career that was more enjoyable. Everything clicked. I felt incredible. Midway through the race, I knew a fast time was coming, and any sign of pain or fatigue was gone before I had even realized it. I was just competing, all else be damned. I was rewarded with the win in 7:59—a 20 second PB and an auto-qualifier to the USATF Indoor Championships. Not bad for a kid who had never even made NCAAs. I had found my swagger. 

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“Everything clicked. I felt incredible. I was just competing, all else be damned. I was rewarded with the win in 7:59—a 20 second PB and an auto-qualifier to the USATF Indoor Championships.”

That race, and the belief that came with it, placed me on a different level in training and racing. Every single race following that 3,000m came with the mindset that I was capable of competing with some of the top runners in the country. I quickly learned the harsh reality that sometimes accompanies a breakthrough in this sport: the top runners in the country are very, very good. A majority of the time in my races following UW, I ended up getting my ass kicked. Just as quickly as I had gained confidence, it seemed like it was gone again.

The USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee proved that I still had a long way to go in the sport to be a consistent top runner. It was my first real experience of racing the big dogs and, with my newfound confidence, I was ready to grab the bull by the horns. However, I found myself falling off pace after coming through two miles in 9:15. I finished 29th, humbled by guys who are just hands down better than me. I learned everyday wasn’t going to be a 20 second PB kind of day. However, that day taught me that my running career was going to be a long term investment. If I wanted to find myself battling to the line with the best runners in the country, it was going to take years of training and doing everything right. That day opened my eyes to what it really takes.


While my first year in Boulder has been the most enjoyable of my life, it has also been the most challenging. Unless you’re a professional with a contract, post-collegiate running is nothing like running in college. The resources that college teams provide: shoes, coaching staff, physical trainers, sports doctors, and recovery options are non-existent unless you pay for them. This makes deciding what to prioritize, from groceries to travel, nothing short of stressful. At this level, making an effort to take care of yourself outside of the time you spend running is just as important as the running itself—and unfortunately after college, it can be expensive. The toughest part of it all: checking all the boxes to take care of your body takes up a lot of time. Time most amateurs do not have, as most are working full-time jobs in order to afford as many of the ‘little’ things as they can. This sport, as an amateur, is a constant, and contradictory, balance. This was a harsh reality I slowly worked through and came to understand in my first year with Tinman Elite.

“An MRI following the USATF Outdoor Championships showed I had strained my adductor, torn my conjoint tendon, and developed signs of a sports hernia.”

I learned very quickly that prioritizing health is crucial to staying consistent in this sport. Not doing so practically ruined my first track season as a post-collegiate. An MRI following the USATF Outdoor Championships showed I had strained my adductor, torn my conjoint tendon, and developed signs of a sports hernia. I first started feeling pain in late April, but decided to train and race through it. The pain and discomfort got worse and worse, to the point where I couldn’t hurdle over steeplechase barriers without shooting pain.

I made a conscious decision to continue my training in hopes of qualifying for the Championships so I could gain experience racing at the biggest meet before the Olympic Trials. There were some good days during those three months—but a majority of the days were spent trying to ignoring the signs of my injury. Not being able to afford to consistently see a strength coach or massage therapist on a consistent basis surely did not help my case from a mental perspective. My frustration grew at the fact that some factors were out of my hands. At times, I broke down, losing the faith I had in myself, feeling helpless. But through it all, I never doubted that my coach and teammates were there for me.

One of the biggest reasons that I wanted to be a part of Tinman Elite is that we genuinely enjoy each other’s company and share in our successes. Watching my teammates train, race, and develop, I’ve often found myself wanting them to realize their goals more than my own. It’s a powerful thing. You can have the worst race or workout you’ve ever had, and can’t help but be stoked for your teammate who just had the workout or race of their life. The times where I had to sit out on a workout or a long run due to my injuries only left me more excited to get healthy again, because I knew my teammates were developing quickly, but at the same rate that I would when I could fully train again. The support from the team is overwhelming, and while an injury can’t help but make you feel alone and sorry for yourself at times, I am constantly reminded that there are 12 guys who care about me and want to see me come back and succeed. 


In one year alone, Tinman Elite has challenged me beyond any expectations. Mentally, physically, and emotionally, my limits have been pushed and exceeded on a daily basis. I’ve been able to be a part of something greater than myself. I’ve been able to be pushed by my teammates, and have helped push them to their own successes in turn. When I was contemplating running post-collegiately, I had toyed with the idea of training on my own. Looking back, I know I would have been capable of it—but it would not have been enjoyable or sustainable. I thrive off the energy that my teammates bring to runs, workouts, doubles, the pool, and weight room every single day, and I hope they are able to feed off of my enthusiasm in the same way. I have found myself with significant PB’s in every event, which I truly believed would not have happened in such a short time without my coach or Tinman Elite. A year ago, I would have laughed if you told me I would qualify for two USATF Championships. Now I feel like this is only the beginning. These guys will be Olympians one day—and my plan is to be racing alongside them. 

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“Tinman Elite has brought me more than a purpose in running, they have brought me the happiness I was hoping to find in this sport and life.”


All photos provided by Cortney White, David Salafia, and Joe Hale.

THE RETURN OF CONNOR WINTER

THE END:

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“I SLOWLY BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT THIS COULD BE THE END OF MY RUNNING CAREER.”

As I stumbled across the finish line I knew it was all over. The end of everything that I had chased for as long as I could remember. I had sacrificed everything in the pursuit of this one goal—and I had fallen well short. All I wanted to do was find a place to hide so that no one could see the emotions that I was feeling in that moment.

I had just missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships in my final season at the University of Colorado. It was my second year competing in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. After qualifying for NCAAs last spring, just months after my first steeple. I had made the mistake of going into Regionals just assuming that I would qualify again this year. I had it all planned out—qualify for NCAAs and run my way to a high finish in the steeplechase final, earning an opportunity to keep running after college. But that all changed when I failed to qualify for NCAAs.

Our sport has a short-term memory. Athletes who string together incredible collegiate careers are overlooked after an injury in their senior year. Post-collegiate athletes have their contracts dramatically reduced if they have a rough season, if they’re lucky enough to secure a contract at all. In a sport where the only guarantee is uncertainty, there is no room for anything but the opposite. So, after an end to my college career that left my health in question and my options limited, I was faced with a harsh reality: 

I SLOWLY BEGAN TO REALIZE THAT THIS COULD BE THE END OF MY RUNNING CAREER.


THE FALL:

Once the season was over, there was no more running. It was over. Just like that, no next step, no next level, it was just over. At first, I was relieved that the constant pressure and expectation to perform was gone. I could do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. I didn’t spend a second worrying about how something might affect my running. I let my body and mind recover from the mental and physical grind that was collegiate running.

Connor and the Buffs celebrating their victory at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Connor and the Buffs celebrating their victory at the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Don’t get me wrong—I loved every second of the grind. All the miles, mental struggle, and monotony was made worthwhile by the memories I had made while at CU. Alongside my fellow Buffs, I was part of back-to-back Cross Country National titles, broke 4 minutes in the mile, and won the PAC-12 Track championships. The biggest problem for me was that my identity lied in the wrong things. My blinders were on, and I was completely unaware of how special these moments truly were, and how special it was to share them with people I cared about.

My identity as a person was entirely defined by my running. My happiness and worth was tied to my performances. One moment, my self-worth would be off the charts as I broke 4 minutes in the mile, and the next moment I would find myself questioning my value because of something as irrelevant as a bad workout. This mindset was damaging, and not sustainable. In order for me to realize who I was, I needed to lose running.

Ironically, my lowest point was not after failing to qualify for NCAAs. It came a few months later. After graduating and watching my teammates and friends move on from CU, I had moved in with my Grandma, broken up with my girlfriend, and could hardly lift my left leg to put my sock on in the morning. I didn’t recognize myself. It seemed like there was nothing left of my previous life. It had all been suddenly ripped away. I felt lost and out of control.


THE BREAK:

Upon graduating from CU, athletes have an ‘exit physical exam’ with the sports trainer. I told her that I couldn’t sleep at night or put my socks on because my left hip was in too much pain. We decided to get an MRI and sure enough, my labrum was torn due to my femur being sharp and rubbing on the socket. And, just for good measure, my adductor had torn off the bone due to all the tightness in my hip.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the physical damage running had caused my body. Part of me was relieved to know why I had fallen apart at the end of the season. Most of me was sad to face the possibility that I might never run again. The doctor and I decided that surgery was the best option to fix my hip. The process would include a five-hour surgery to repair the hip and adductor, then six months of recovery with no running.

My recovery process went well—maybe a bit too well. During my six months of rest, I had been spoiled by Grandma’s good cooking and even better desserts. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person reflected back at me. I had gained 20 pounds, and showed no signs of stopping.

It was at that point that I decided that I had a choice to make: I could waste my God-given talent, or I could get out the door and go for a run. I opted for the latter. On my first run back from surgery, I was a mess. My legs had chaffed so badly that I could hardly walk and every muscle in my body hurt. After that I went out and bought some ‘dad-shorts’ so my thighs wouldn’t chafe, and kept at it. I stayed patient, and my runs were nothing special—just a few minutes each day. Eventually I was running pain free and was enjoying running again. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of the comeback to competitive running.


THE COMEBACK:

Losing running made me reevaluate why I was a runner in the first place. In college, I had forgotten to enjoy going for a run. I had begun to feel like each run was a chore, rather than a choice. In those first few weeks of chafing-filled jogs, I rediscovered the reasons why I began running.

But despite my love for the sport being rekindled, there was still something that was missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was getting back into decent shape and had started doing some longer runs and fartleks, but I felt so isolated.

One day, a friend invited me to go on a run with them. On that single run, things fell into place, and I realized that the missing piece was the comradery of the sport. There is something so special about suffering alongside someone who is chasing after the same things. There is an unspoken bond between teammates that cannot be explained, but is something that sticks with you forever.

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“THERE IS AN UNSPOKEN BOND BETWEEN TEAMMATES THAT CANNOT BE EXPLAINED, BUT IS SOMETHING THAT STICKS WITH YOU FOREVER.”

I knew that if I was going to take running seriously again I needed to find a team to train with. Not just a group of guys—but a team. A team that truly cared about each member and wanted to bring out the best in each other. There were two problems: the first was that I was a washed-up, has-been runner who hadn’t done anything with running in over two years. The second was that I was doubtful I could find a team that truly was a team, not just a collection of individuals pursuing their own goals.

After looking around for a while, I got connected to Tinman Elite through my soft-tissue therapist, Marcus Allen-Hille, who also works with a couple of the guys from the team. They came out to run with me, I’m not sure if they came out curiosity or pity, or just to see whether or not I still had anything left in the tank. I immediately latched on to their vision for what a team should look like and the goals they were striving for. I started with jumping in some of their workouts, grateful for the opportunity to hang on for dear life on the back and try not to get dropped.

After a couple of months, the Tinman training began to take full effect, and I had never felt better. I just kept grinding and looking forward to each opportunity to train with such great guys. When it finally came to time to test the fitness and go for a race, I had no idea what to expect.


THE RACE:

Most of the team had signed up to race at Emma Coburn’s Elk Run 5k, hosted in Crested Butte, CO at 9,000’ elevation. I decided that would be as good of opener as any. Born and raised at altitude, I felt confident that the playing field would be more level for me. To my surprise, I ran away from the field and won the race in a new course record time. Breaking that tape brought in a flood of emotions—gratitude that my body was allowing me to do this, elation that running felt natural again, excitement for what my future could now hold. This is when I knew that I had found something special. I loved running again, I was performing well, and I was surrounded by supportive and encouraging people.

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“BREAKING THAT TAPE BROUGHT IN A FLOOD OF EMOTIONS—GRATITUDE THAT MY BODY WAS ALLOWING ME TO DO THIS, ELATION THAT RUNNING FELT NATURAL AGAIN, EXCITEMENT FOR WHAT MY FUTURE COULD NOW HOLD.”

When I first started to jump into those workouts with the guys, I had no expectations that I would officially become a part of Tinman Elite. I was grateful that they were nice enough to let me tag along, but aware of how my situation must have seemed to them. Over time, I began to see the possibilities that I had seen at the end of college again. I began to feel that I had the ability to do something that I love and to push myself to the absolute limit of my potential. More importantly, I had found a team of likeminded runners that shared that same love, and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.

The journey is far from over, but I know that there is no other group of guys that I would want to do this with. I am sure there will be plenty of ups and downs, but through it all I can count on the unwavering support of my teammates and sharing in the joy that each one of them brings to running. If there is anything that I’ve learned through this experience, it’s to never give up on what you love and find people who will help you get there!


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On June 8, 2019, Connor made his debut in the 10,000m, crossing the line in 28:34—a new Tinman Elite team record and a mark that automatically qualified him to compete at the USATF Outdoor Championships. Connor’s patience, self-belief, and investment in his teammates adds a comforting presence to Tinman Elite that is irreplaceable.

WATCH CONNOR’S 10,000m race below:

Photos: Benjamin Weingart & Michael Scott

Sharing in Community — Boston

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In this sport, it’s about far more than just us. Everywhere we visit, we hope to meet the athletes that support us—the people fueling the fire behind everything we are doing here at Tinman HQ. So when we travel, we hope to take that time as an excuse to meet the running communities we are guests in. Through the miles shared on their roads and trails, we hope to connect with the athletes who call this place home. We hope to inspire, excite, and positively impact the running world in an effort to give back to the sport that has given all of us so much.

We hope to push the sport forward—with help from all of you.

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“When we travel, we hope to take that time as an excuse to meet the running communities we are guests in.”

Our recent trip to Boston was no different. As we pulled into the parking lot of the picturesque Chestnut Hill Reservoir with the trunk full of Tinman gear, we were met by 50 eager harriers from across the northeast. After Sam provided introductions, the run kicked off as the golden hour sunlight streamed down. We all ran together. Old friends, past training partners, and budding young athletes, all enjoying the beautiful day with one another. No barriers, no pace-pushing, no factions—just a group of runners enjoying the thing that they love most.

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Our goal as a team has always been to authentically share the lives of our athletes. This was no different in Boston, then at home in Boulder. Burritos are a staple—the universally-agreed-upon ideal fuel after a long day of mileage. So after a couple of loops around the reservoir, we headed down the street to a local burrito spot, Amelia’s Taqueria (personal favorite of our photographer, Ben Weingart).

Over hefty burritos and chips and salsa we had the opportunity to be present with some of the athletes that support us. We got to hear your stories, crack mediocre jokes, and get to know the runners who care about what we are doing.

From those that lived down the block, to those who drove in hours to run with us, we truly appreciate you all.

Coming to a city near you,

-TME

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Photos from the event can be found here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qyn5xfpd9s3j2eu/AAB6LM5lytYmAjE2LgYr_pL4a?dl=0

For those in attendance, if you see a photo of yourself feel free to use it. Just give us and our guy @benjaminweingart a tag so we can share in your story.

Oslo Diamond League Recap — Drew Hunter

“This is track and field. What an opportunity to be here,” were the first words out of Johnny Gregorek’s mouth back at our hotel room following the Oslo Diamond League Meeting. In the relatively tight knit community of track and field, the Diamond League races are the pinnacle of the sport. Each summer, the Diamond League circuit produces world-class fields only rivaled by Olympic Games and World Championships. In the beginning stages of my professional career I didn’t have the opportunity to race at such a high caliber meets. Now, with a solid foundation under me, and a semi-decent resume to my name, I am able to participate in a select few Diamond League races each year. However, these high caliber fields often mean that the runners at the back of these races can lose sight of what’s important in this sport—competing. They fall into the ‘just happy to be here’ trap and allow themselves to be gapped early on in the race. So, in the week leading into the 3,000m at Oslo, I made it my mission to show up to the line with a competitor’s mindset.

Drew and Johnny Gregorek (3:49 miler) in Oslo, pre-race.

Drew and Johnny Gregorek (3:49 miler) in Oslo, pre-race.

Throughout the week, and especially in the final moments leading up to the race, I meditated on being in flow state through the first two kilometers of the race. Light hands, relaxed jaw, no strain in the shoulders—flow state. The fastest you can run while being completely relaxed—flow state.

Drew practicing his daily meditation practice.

Drew practicing his daily meditation practice.

My soft tissue therapist, Marcus Allen-Hille, texted me before the race with some advice that stuck with me. Marcus told me to, “Envision what you aspire to experience. Then create it as best you’re able to.”

“Envision what you aspire to experience. Then create it as best you’re able to.”
—Marcus Allen-Hille

Drew with friend, mentor, and soft tissue massage therapist Marcus Allen-Hille before heading overseas

Drew with friend, mentor, and soft tissue massage therapist Marcus Allen-Hille before heading overseas

Heading into Oslo, I was coming off of my worst 1,500 meter race of the season. In Finland, I came through 1,200 meters in perfect position to get the World Championship standard, but fell completely off pace in the last 300 meters. I would be lying if I said that race didn’t disturb my confidence going into Oslo. So, per Marcus’ advice, I decided to meditate on a positive and rewarding experience in Oslo. I focused on the feeling of what a good race brings—the indescribable happiness that has me constantly coming back for more. I used a lot of positive self-talk and confident race visualization in the days leading up to the 3k. I fed off my teammates’ swagger coming off their solid performances at Portland Track Festival and reminded myself that this is fun! Stop overthinking it—just run.

Watch Drew’s disappointing 3:39 1500m in Finland eight days before Oslo Diamond League:

Walking into a packed Oslo Stadium, I had the biggest smile on my face. After all, we are entertainers and rarely have such an impressive audience to put on a show for. My emotions were completely in control standing on the starting line. I had my plan and I knew I was going to do everything in my power to create the positive experience I’d envisioned. The gun went off, and we started clipping off 62 second laps—and I was in the flow. The leaders seemed content with the slower pace (I wasn’t complaining), so I sat back through the first mile. Right after the mile mark, I could sense that a move was coming. I slowly started to work my way up closer to the front of the pack in preparation.

Most of the time, I would say I have a pretty high race IQ and know when to make moves and when to cover moves. However, racing against 12:40 5k runners is a different game. I had to trust my fitness level and focus on the moves I could make without breaking myself. So, once the break of the East Africans (and Stewey McSweyn) occurred, I knew that wasn’t the race for me. I quickly found myself towards the front of the chase group and, with the help of the Norwegian crowd responding to Henrik Ingebritsen surging towards the lead group, I took over the lead of the chase pack. The race went by relatively quickly once I was at the front of the group. I hit the bell lap with a surge of adrenaline and maintained my position all the way through the finish line. 7:39 flashed across the clock. Heading into the race, I didn’t necessarily have a time in mind, but let’s be honest—7:39 sounds a hell of a lot better than 7:40.

I competed well. Coming in with the slowest PR in the field, I knew the odds were stacked against me. I kept going back to my pre-race goal, which was to give myself an opportunity to run well.

Johnny and I did not win either of our Diamond League races. We didn’t run a world record or anything remotely close. But, we were in the thick of it. We scored our first ever Diamond League points and, for the first time at this level, we felt like we belonged. And in this sport sometimes giving yourself that chance is all you need. Johnny ran a superb race, sitting mid-pack for most of the Dream Mile and using his signature slingshot finish to pick up some places following the hot pace early on. Going into the 3k I had my sights set on finishing top eight, secure a few Diamond League points, and to be quite honest—not embarrass myself. Coming in with a comical 8:14 3k personal best according to IAAF (I have run 7:51 indoors), I knew I was throwing myself to the wolves. But here I was in beautiful Oslo, Norway with an opportunity to run against the very best. That’s all this sport is—opportunities. And I wanted to make the most of mine.

WATCH DREW’s 7:39 3,000m at the oslo diamond league:

Written By: Drew Hunter

Photography: Foon Fu

50 METERS WITH TINMAN ELITE

From the Artist, Ben Weingart:

When we started this project, I had no idea what the final product would look like. After 12 months and countless miles—I stood in front of 20 images that showcased both the emergence and growth of Tinman Elite, and my development as a photographer and artist.

I’ve always known the Tinmen were special. From the first time I met Sam in the basement of a bar during Boston Marathon weekend, to sharing sweet potato pancakes with Reed after his breakout performance in Des Moines at USA’s, to talk of big dreams and the steps necessary to get there—I’ve seen the team become what they pride themselves in being: a family.

As atrophied muscles and minds have become resilient and dynamic, I’ve witnessed the brotherhood, the compassion, and the excitement firsthand. From five mavericks to an unruly mob, the Tinmen’s athletic accolades have grown and their momentum builds.

Sam and I often talk about leaving running better than we found it. For me, this sport has shaped both who I am in front of and behind the lens, and I cannot imaging walking away from it until I’ve given back in some way. I originally dreamed that this donation to “aerobic culture” would be through my performance as an athlete. But the more I’ve been able to peer behind the curtain that covers the running industry, the more I’ve learned: to make a difference all you need is unrelenting passion. It’s that passion that led me to take a leap of faith, flying out to Colorado on little more than a PBR-fueled conversation and a few Instagram DMs. It’s that passion the stoked the belief that this story is worth telling, and worth telling in the right way. And it’s the same passion found in the bravado of every every athlete, elite or otherwise, that throws up the Tinman axes—unrelenting, compassionate, and pure.

I used to think that we were going to change running—but now I believe it.

We wanted this exhibition, encapsulating a year of growth, to live on. To be available to anyone who is interested. From the steep banks of the Boston University Indoor track, where the project was originally unveiled, to you with love and passion.

-b.w. and the Tinmen

April 2018
Boston, MA

June 2018
Boulder, CO

June 2018
Boulder, CO

June 2018
Boulder, CO

June 2018
Boulder, CO

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June 2018
Des Moines, IA

June 2018
Des Moines, IA

June 2018
Des Moines, IA

June 2018
Des Moines, IA

June 2018
Des Moines, IA

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Nederland, CO

December 2018
Nederland, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO

December 2018
Boulder, CO


All photos captured by Ben Weingart.

TIN TALK EPISODE 1: DREW HUNTER & SAM PARSONS

Join Sam and Drew as they sit down to discuss hard-hitting conversation topics like: what they’ve learned from Tom ‘Tinman’ Schwartz, who has better style, and the Tinman Elite group chat.

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WAtch on youtube

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Listen on soundcloud

 
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subscribe on apple podcasts

Tin Talks is aimed at providing light-hearted insight into the members of Tinman Elite. Follow along as they share their random hot takes, their thoughts on the sport of running, and what Tinman Elite is all about.

Narrated by friend and photographer of Tinman Elite: Benjamin Weingart.

Episode 1 Topics include:

3:05 Tinman Elite team culture

10:30 The team group chat

16:30 Current favorite shows and movies

20:30 Girls / Style

29:27 Hard-hitting topics

33:13 Lessons from Head Coach Tom Schwartz

39:00 Speed Rounds

56:00 Tinmob questions

THE LOGO


Videography by Kirk Warner

Tinman Elite started like most things do in the digital age: as a hashtag. Not a serious one by any means, but for Drew Hunter and Morgan Pearson, it meant something. They took pride in running under the guidance and title of our coach’s nickname Tom “Tinman” Schwartz. I had previously met and spent time with both Drew and Morgan and I followed them on Instagram. I remember seeing #tinmanelite but I had no idea who or what it was. I wasn’t sure if it was actually a training group or just some inside joke. What I did know was that I looked up to them both from afar because of their commitment to fearless racing. Little did I know that a year later I would join them in Boulder and be able to play a part in giving this hashtag life.

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“They took so much pride running under the guidance and title of our coach Tom “Tinman” Schwartz.”

I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in marketing from NC State. I switched majors from supply chain after a sports marketing internship opportunity with adidas. Thanks to my time at NC State and adidas, I had a basic understanding and passion for branding, storytelling, and any sort of creative expression. After a conversation with Drew about potentially training together and talking on the phone a few times with the Tinman, I was sold. They believed in me, and I promised them I would give everything I had. I was excited and packed my bags to Colorado. Once I arrived, I quickly learned that I wasn’t the only one with the bright idea to train with these two Tinmen who had already seen great success under Tom’s coaching tutelage. I met Tyler Mueller and Reed Fischer in my first few days in Boulder and we all quickly formed strong friendships. We spent countless time just hanging out and training hard. We all were just so determined to prove ourselves as Tinmen and race competitively at the professional level. We trained hard and didn’t focus on any sort of outside distractions.

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“We all were just so determined to prove ourselves as Tinmen and race competitively at the professional level. We trained hard and didn’t focus on any sort of outside distractions.”

As our bonds strengthened, we formed a daily routine of sitting down after dinner to talk for hours about the people we were, the people we wanted to be, the sport, and what aspirations we had in it. We realized that we all wanted to do more than just run fast and hide away at altitude. We all wanted to be a part of something. We wanted to create a team that was more than just a bunch of individuals brought together by a sponsor, where everyone had more important individual agendas at the end of the day. We wanted to make a team that could potentially make a difference. Above all else, we wanted to form a team that was focused on making a positive impact in the sport for anyone and everyone that wanted to be a part of our journey.

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“Above all else, we wanted to form a team that was focused on making a positive impact in the sport for everyone and anyone that wanted to be a part of our journey.”

We look to push the sport of running forward on and off the track through hard work, belief, and love for one another.

We came up this sentence during one of our after dinner discussions, and since then it has become our mission statement, our guide, and the words that ground us with every decision we make as a team. This one sentence gave life and direction to a seemingly pieced-together, overlooked group of athletes.

This sentence would also shape the design process for the Tinman Elite logo. The logo had to be a symbol that stood for everything we wanted to represent as runners, people, and as a collective team. After weeks of brainstorming, we finally decided that an axe was a perfect embodiment of the do-it-yourself, hardworking mentality that we strive for as members of Tinman Elite. An axe is one of the most reliable working tools. It is an instrument that is used by hand and is only effective when full physical and precise mental focus are utilized. It is essential for us as professional athletes and as a team to collectively be reliable, hardworking, and precise when it comes to practice and racing in order to reach the highest levels in this sport. The axe was the perfect object to finally start the conceptual design process. After searching through Google Images and Reed playing around on Photoshop and illustration software, we came up with a few early designs—but none that felt quite right. We realized that it just wasn’t authentic, it wasn’t REAL and that is exactly the type of team we wanted to be.

Bobby Peavey changed all of that.

Bobby and I have a lot of mutual friends within the running world, and I had been a fan of his obscure and unique hand drawn artwork he frequently posts on his Instagram feed. I knew right away Bobby’s gritty, hard line work was exactly the type of aesthetic we were looking for and that no computer illustrator could produce.

Bobby lives and trains in Boulder, Colorado as a trail runner and has been a friend of ours since day one. He understood our mission, who we were as people, and what our aspirations were. He started to sketch some ideas for us, and the logo was starting to breathe life.

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“I knew right away Bobby’s gritty, hard line work was exactly the type of aesthetic we were looking for and that no computer illustrator could produce.”

At one point I remember getting frustrated with the designs Bobby was sending because they just didn’t evoke any real emotion I was hoping to elicit. Something was missing and after a good deal of reflection I realized it was missing the most important element of Tinman Elite. “We are not a group, social movement, or track club. We are a team that pushes and cares for each other.” Even though it evoked sharpness, reliability, and hard work—it didn’t have that “team” element incorporated in any way. So we decided to add another axe to symbolize that we have each other’s back through everything.

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“So we decided to add another axe to symbolize that we have each other’s back through everything.”

Bobby added the banner to bind axes together and inscribed the team name within it.

The logo was finished, and we were all excited to start building Tinman Elite around it.

We printed the logo on a few t-shirts and created an Instagram account that debuted the logo in March 2018. A few months later, we launched our own website. We were able to create freely and remain authentic to who we wanted to be, and now to see the support we have after only one year means everything to us. We all take so much pride in being Tinmen and what it represents. Not just because we created it together, but because we now have this foundation to actually push the sport of running forward by bridging the gaps within this sport, spreading positivity, organizing camps/races, raising awareness, and bringing the community together any opportunity we can. We hope that anyone who ever wears a shirt for a workout or a hoodie pre-race has the same pride, toughness, and love we bring into training, life, and the sport of running.

Keep the ball rolling.

Your friend,

Sam.

SUB4

On February 9th, 2019, Jeff Thies ran 3:59.89 for the Mile, becoming Tinman Elite’s
fifth Sub-4 miler. Read on to hear about Jeff’s journey to Sub-4:

THE START:

My journey to sub-4 began in February 2018, after failing to qualify for Indoor NCAAs in the Mile at the MPSF Championships. I ran a 4-second PR at the time, but was outkicked over the last 300m and finished in 4:03.3. I got scared. I was afraid I didn’t have the speed it took to make it through rounds in the 1,500m to qualify for Outdoor NCAAs. So I got the idea that the 10,000m was a safer bet and something I would pursue. It’s a dangerous thing to put so much stock into a less-than-stellar performance that it changes your goals completely. The quote “scared money can’t win” by Cormac McCarthy proves to be right once again.

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“Scared money can’t win...” proves to be right once again.

In a quest to build the base strength necessary for a 10,000m race in just a month, I progressed my weekly mileage from 70, to 102, and then 105. Yeah, yeah I get it, I’m an idiot. So it wasn’t a huge surprise when I felt a strange, almost empty, feeling in my left foot during a warmup for a workout. The weather that day was extremely windy and rainy. I was determined not to let foot pain or weather stop me from having a great workout three weeks before the Stanford Invitational 10,000m.

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I progressed my weekly mileage from 70, to 102, and then 105. Yeah, yeah I get it, I’m an idiot.

THE FRACTURE:

In the weeks that followed that rainy workout, I brushed off the pain in my foot as routine tendonitis ,and went on with my training as normal. The feeling in my foot continued to worsen and I did what I could to lie to myself about the reality of my injury. But after running some 200s as a pre-race workout on Monday, I couldn’t ignore the pain anymore. I remember getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and not being able to walk. I talked with my coach and athletic trainer, we decided I would try and race in order to hit a regional qualifier before taking to time off to let my body heal. That Thursday, I flew to Stanford with my left foot in a boot. As my teammates went for an easy run, I was left standing at the track in street clothes, pretending I had gone for my run before the flight. I had spent the whole week trying to convince myself something wasn’t terribly wrong. The day of the race, I attempted a shakeout in the four-foot deep hotel pool. I remember landing on an uneven part of the pool, and the shooting pain that followed had me gripping the side of the pool in excruciating pain. That night, I warmed up for the race by sneaking onto the football practice field at Stanford and only turning to the right in an effort to take pressure off of my fifth metatarsal. Things felt okay during the warmup, and in a last ditch effort to appear normal on the start line, I spiked up. I think we can all agree at this point that I am not full of great ideas. As the race got going, clipping of 70 second laps felt relatively comfortable, I was right on pace. However, I was visibly limping. After eight laps, I tried to convince myself to just make it to the 5,000m mark, and then I could decide if I was able to finish. These mental gymnastics didn’t help numb the sharp pain I felt every time I landed on my left foot. I quickly realized the race was a lost cause and dropped out 200 meters later. I sat on the track next to my coach and cheered on my teammates for the next 20 minutes. My coach reassured me that I had made the right decision, but I still felt as though I had failed. I looked over to my mom and sister, who had driven seven hours that morning to come and watch me. I felt ashamed that they did all that for me, and I had dropped out. When I got back into the boot, I sat in the hotel and worried over what my future would hold. This season was supposed to be the time I proved that I was worthy of a professional contract. Now, it was simply a matter of being able to run without pain again.

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This season was supposed to be the time that I proved I was worthy of a professional contract. Now, it was simply a matter of being able to run without pain again.

When I got back home to Portland, I went through the process of getting an X-ray and MRI. This verified that I had a fifth metatarsal stress fracture. Something you could painfully feel by just rubbing your thumb across the massive bump on my foot. So it was time for a new game plan. In my mind four to six weeks as the doctor would say meant closer to three and I would be able to run on the alter-G in 2 weeks. Two weeks after my MRI, I got on the alter-G and set it to 20%. That is only 30 pounds of pressure on my legs, and it hurt every single step. I went home and couldn’t help but cry. My future in running had never seemed more in jeopardy. Running in college for the most part is very safe, you almost always have “next year” to focus on to get through injury. But once you graduate nothing is guaranteed. So time went on, and I hobbled around in a boot. My new plan was simply to get back to 100%, no matter how long it took.

RESILIENT:

After seven weeks without running, I was finally able to run on the alter-G without pain. I worked up the percentage of my body weight that I could handle without pain, before moving to the turf. The number of loops I ran on the turf was mind numbing, but it was working. Throughout the comeback, the worries about my future never subsided. I would have regular anxiety attacks. Two to three times a week, I would get 5 minutes into a run and need to stop. I physically could not breathe. My chest would get tight and my mind would begin to race through every single thing that could possibly go wrong. Anxiety is something I have always battled. In 5th grade, I ended up in the ER because I was struggling to breathe. I didn’t realize what I experienced was an anxiety attack until recently. I learned more about myself, and the ways that I could best handle my anxiety through that injury. A lot of good can come from an injury if you approach it with a growth-oriented mindset.

REDISCOVERING TEAM:

After graduating, I stayed in Portland for a few months to continue working with the athletic trainers and Coach Conner to steadily progress back into running consistently at full health. I loved the opportunity to remain around my teammates as they prepped for Regionals and Nationals. I went to every practice, and spent as much time at workouts cheering them on as I could. It reminded me of everything I fell in love with during my time at UP. The team atmosphere where every guy is working towards a collective goal of maximizing each individual’s potential. It creates a culture of growth and positivity that I knew I needed to find in my next chapter of my running career. It was during this time that I met with Nick Roché, a former Gonzaga Bulldog. He is a great friend of Tinman Elite and put me in touch with the team. They embodied everything I was looking for in a team. Initially, I was hesitant to reach out, unsure if they would consider adding me to the team after my injury. Fortunately, this chip on my shoulder resonated with the members of the team. They had all at one point or another had chips on their shoulders and were counted out, just like I was. After talking to Coach Schwartz and the guys on team I immediately felt at home. As I prepared to move to Boulder, I had this soaring feeling that I knew my career was far from over. And this new journey in my life was just beginning.

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The team atmosphere… creates a culture of growth and positivity that I knew I needed to find in my next chapter of my running career.

In October I moved to Boulder, CO to start training with Tinman Elite. As Reed said in his Citius Podcast recently, “sometimes you have to bet on yourself.” He’s too right, and that was exactly what I was doing. I packed up my little Honda Civic and drove 17 hours to move into an Airbnb with no long term guarantees, except that I would get to train with the Tinmen. Betting on yourself isn’t always easy, but it is much easier when you have family, teammates, and coaches all willing to take a little gamble with you. I have learned that the best way for me to subdue my anxious feelings is through increased confidence. This confidence is something I can find through training and surrounding myself with people who are committed to their goals and actively working to achieve them. The energy that is brought to practice every day is with the Tinmen is undeniable, and I immediately latched onto that energy and found my confidence.

THE RACE:

That undeniable feeling is something I took with me to Ames this past weekend. I was heading into the race with a singular goal: break 4:00 in the Mile. As I left for the airport on Wednesday, Parsons left me with a parting quote, “run like a Tinman and you’ll do great.” When I toed the line, that quote was playing on repeat in my mind. The gun went off, and I went out with Pat Casey and the pacer, but after 400m I knew I was on too hot of a pace. I dropped back a few places, staying calm and coming through the 1,200m mark in about 3:01. Having that confidence from my teammates, I wasn’t scared by the fact that I would need to close hard to accomplish my goal. I closed in 58 seconds for my last 400m, just barely sneaking under 4:00, finishing in 3:59.89. It was a massive relief to have finally done it. Sub-4 was a goal I’d been working towards for years. I remember running 4:10 in 2015 and telling a teammate I was going to break 4:00 one day. He laughed at that goal I had, but I knew it was something I could, and would accomplish.

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I remember running 4:10 in 2015 and telling a teammate I was going to break 4:00. He laughed at the goal, but I knew it was something I could, and would accomplish one day.

February 9th, 2019 was that day.

Breaking 4:00 this past weekend is one of those performances that redefines and reassures who I am. It is an accomplishment that can never be taken away from you. From that day onward, I am a Sub-4 Miler, and that feels pretty damn good. Now the real fun begins. I no longer need to worry if I can do it, I can just focus on running faster and competing for the win. It’s the sort of confidence boost that I needed before heading to New York for USA Indoors at the end of this month. So while Sub-4 marks a huge milestone for me, my goals have now been reset for something greater.

And that’s what’s beautiful about this sport: no matter what level you’re at, there’s always something greater to pursue.

This is for you.

Sam shares the heartfelt story of his decision to represent Germany in the next chapter of his running career.

Videography: Asa Bloom Creative Direction: Sam Parsons Special Thanks: Kirk Warner


I’ll never forget the moment.

Everything changed.


I was fresh off of my worst race of the year…on paper at least. A 13:47 5k in Heusden, Belgium where I nearly finished in last place. I was racing with this blind ambition that I was ready to run sub 13:15. I was coming off of a huge 1500m PR (3:38.1), a steady progression of shedding six seconds off my 5,000m PR in every race, and was running some 200s in 24 seconds with some of my NJNY friends, (sorry coach). I think I came through the 3,000m mark right under 8 minutes, and man did I pay for that aggressive start. I’ll let you guys do the math on that last 2k, because I sure as hell am not gonna relive that shit.

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“I was racing with this blind ambition that I was ready to run sub 13:15.”

After the race, I was pretty deflated and my foot was throbbing in pain. I remember seeing Sean McGorty on my cool down and giving him a bro-hug after he’d just ran a huge PR of 13:18 (aka the &%$!* time I was supposed to run) and here I was...head down, walking, two minutes into my painful attempted cool down. I knew my season was over.

I decided the next day to get on a train to Germany. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see my Mom. I just wanted to get away from running. When I arrived home in Diez, Germany, I was greeted for dinner by so many members of my family and community. It was a huge traditional German dinner: made from scratch, filled with fresh meats, and all the carbs I could ever dream of consuming. Little did I know that this dinner would end up being such a pivotal moment in my life.

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“I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see my Mom. I just wanted to get away from running.”

I was sitting there drinking my tall German beer (Licher) next to my Uncle when he asked me a question: “Sam, when will you run for Germany?” he asked, “When will we all get to see you race here with us?” I stared blankly into the distance as I felt everyone at the table slowly quieting all the different conversations that were ensuing as they dialed in with anticipation for my response. Anyone that knows me personally knows that I rarely have nothing to say, and here I was surrounded by my loved ones and I was completely lost for words. I said, “I don’t know.” I sat at the table perplexed, and a little ashamed, that I had never even considered representing Germany before. Time passed, and the dinner went on and on. One of my favorite aspects of European culture is how long the dinners are. Everyone is so present and no one is really there to eat the food—but to connect and interact (and drink, of course). These are the same reasons why I love running, now that I’m thinking about it.

Later on during the dinner, my Uncle leaned over and quietly asked:

“Glaubst du an dich.” (Do you believe in yourself?)

I said, “Yes.”

“Glaubst du, du kannst Deutscher Meister sein? (Do you believe you can be a German Champion?)

I said, “Yes.”

He went on to tell me that he believes in me too, and explained to me that for someone to achieve something special, all it takes is for you to believe in yourselfand at least one other person. He told me that he will be there to see me at the German National Championships and in Tokyo in 2020.

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“For someone to achieve something special all it takes is for you to believe in yourself and at least one other person.”

That struck my heart. I was born with dual citizenship—my Mom was born and raised in Germany, but I had never actually considered running or representing Germany. Why? Because everything I have ever done in my life is because I have listened to my heart. My heart was always set on running for the United States. I have a firm belief that you can only compete at your best if your heart is fully invested.

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“I have a firm belief that you can only compete at your best unless your heart is fully invested.”

For the rest of the month I was in Germany I was consumed by this idea. I didn’t really talk or console anyone in my family about it after the dinner. I knew it had to come from within. I knew a decision like this had to be 100% in my own heart to pursue and what I thought would ultimately bring me the most happiness.

One morning, after my daily walk to the local bakery to pick up breakfast, I looked at my Mom and said that I wanted to represent Germany for the rest of my running career, and that I wanted to represent her. My Mom burst into tears and was brought to the floor beside herself. My Mom is one of my best friends, and is the strongest women I know. She used to work for children with autism, and now works in a retirement home as a physical therapist. Her job requires her to be stable, patient, and in control. I have never seen my Mom be so emotionally vulnerable. I picked her up and gave her the biggest hug I could. I knew in that moment that I would never need any more validation that I had made the right decision.

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“I looked at my Mom and said that I wanted to represent Germany for the rest of my running career and that I wanted to represent her. My Mom burst into tears and was brought to the floor beside herself.”

We went on to talk about why my decision had brought out so much emotion within her. My Mom came to the USA when she was 23 years old. She never went back to Germany permanently. She met my Dad in school in the States, they got married, and had two kids. My sister Molly, then me. Aside from the occasional family trip to Germany growing up, I was an Americanized kid. Suremy mom spoke German to me growing up and I still speak it to this day, but she explained to me how she always felt ashamed of herself for not instilling enough German principles and “way of life” into us. I can’t image how hard that must have been at times for her. I look back on moments when I would refuse to speak German back to her when I was in middle school because I was to embarrassed to in front of my friends, and feel her pain. That moment with my mom in the kitchen in Diez is a moment I will never forget, and will forever cherish.


I write to you now in this moment, and I could not be more excited to begin this next chapter in my life. I never want to become complacent in whatever I am doing. I want to face new challenges that push me out of my comfort zone. In my experience, facing these challenges and working through them is the purest way of finding out who you really are. And that’s why I run. Running is the most fulfilling endeavor for me to push my emotional, physical, and mental being. 

——————————————————————————————

For anyone that has shared in this journey with me so far—to anyone that has supported me, showed me love, believed in me, and helped me pursue this dream...

This is for you.

It always will be.

Thank you.

Drew Hunter—The Return

“In really one of the best efforts ever on this course… The 2015 Footlocker National Champion… Andrew Hunter.”

These words echoed through Balboa Park on December 12th, 2015.

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Since that race, I’ve taken a four year hiatus from cross country to focus on the track.

All of that changes on February 2nd at the USA Cross Country Championships in Tallahassee, Florida.  

The Intro

Summer ’15 was spent on the backroads of Purcellville, Virginia. Just west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Purcellville is a hidden gem for distance running. With miles of soft surface trails, two beautiful cross country courses to train on, and a higher likelihood of seeing a cow on your run than another human being, Purcellville provides solitude for emerging runners. This solitude allowed me to master my craft.

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This solitude allowed me to master my craft.

The Process

I ramped up my mileage to 70 miles per week and began working under the tutelage of Tom “Tinman” Schwartz for the first time. After three years of successful coaching from my parents, we decided to take the stress off of them and put it in Tom’s hands. This was a tough decision, but ultimately it came down to prioritizing everyone’s best interests. My parents could focus on developing the high school and club team at Loudoun Valley, instead of traveling across the country with me. This provided Tom with the singular task of developing me into one of the best runners in the world. The coaching transition went pretty seamlessly, and Tom and I quickly developed a strong coach-athlete relationship that blossomed through steady communication. I began to familiarize myself with his training system—the routine and nuance of what to expect every week. Under my parents, I had a very simple training system that was based off of consistency and health. Every week I would complete two workouts and a 90 minute long run. Both workouts would always start with some sort of stamina component and end with short and fast reps to work on speed development. Week after week, I became incredibly efficient and stable in my racing and training. This pattern did not change under Tom. What did change was the ability to push myself once every few weeks with some harder training. Overall, I still was tackling critical velocity repeats and tempo runs for the vast majority of my stamina training, but every once in a while Tom would have me get after something more aggressive. Looking back, the injury-free years I had under my parents set me up for a special senior season.

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This provided Tom with the singular task of developing me into one of the best runners in the world.

My senior cross country campaign went as smoothly as I had hoped. I won every race I entered, broke almost every course record in Virginia, and was headed in the perfect direction to peak at Footlocker. For the first time in my running career, running felt effortless and easy. I just ran hard. The success came through my consistency and a “warrior” mindset that I was the best high school runner in the country. Week after week, month after month, I became fixated on meeting one goal and moving onto the next. I didn’t let anything get in my way. I developed a steady training regime that was focused around peaking in December and rarely put on emphasis on anything other than that.

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Week after week, month after month, I became fixated on meeting one goal and moving onto the next. I didn’t let anything get in my way.

The Transformation-

After clocking a solid 14:26 5k for the win at the Footlocker South Regional race; I was still just running hard. A week out from Footlocker, I completed my final big session. A Tom Schwartz prescribed special: 3xMile cut downs, starting at 5k effort and getting down to 3k effort, with four minute rest between reps. I ran 4:42, 4:30, 4:13. I was ready.

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A Tom Schwartz prescribed special: 3xMile cut downs, starting at 5k effort and getting down to 3k effort, with four minute rest between reps. I ran 4:42, 4:30, 4:13. I was ready.

The Outcome-

The week leading up to the race I was confident about what I needed to do. As I’d talked about all year with Tom, the plan was simple: Run 800 meters with the group and if you feel good and it’s slow, take off. That’s what happened. After a 2:13 first half mile split I decided it was time to go. So once again, I just started running hard. My lead increased at the mile and two mile splits. All of the hill repeats that Tom had religiously assigned came to fruition on the brutal Balboa Park hills. I would be lying if it didn’t hurt, but I dove into the pain knowing that on the other end was eternal satisfaction. With a mile to go, I knew I was going to win. And really after months of near perfect preparation, I knew I was going to win and a dream became reality.


The Present-

Sitting here typing this, I am baffled with how long it has been since I have stepped on a cross country course. In the early stages of my running career, I definitely considered myself to be a strong, cross country type of runner. For the past four years, I’ve just been running 3 and ¾ laps for a living. Every miler’s dream. This coming weekend, I’ll get back on grass in an effort to qualify for the 2019 World Cross Country Championships. What makes this return even more unique is that the buildup to this cross country race is the polar opposite of what my Footlocker build up was. Going into Footlocker as a senior in high school, I had uninterrupted and consistent training. This fall was the first time I had experienced an injury that kept me in a constant unknown. After the long track season that included three round-trip flights to Europe, I had some nagging injuries that didn’t seem to dissipate. Like many runners, I pushed through and ran some mediocre races, took my two week break and expected the injury to just go away. I tried to come back to training too fast and ended up in a worse spot than where I started. I was discouraged by watching my teammates and competitors training hard and rising to a new level of fitness. But, I had an incredible support crew that got me out of the injury rut. My soft tissue therapist, Marcus Allen-Hille not only helped with my day-to-day aches and pains, but constantly reminded me to live in the present and not focus on a goal that may be weeks or months down the road. Marcus taught me how powerful it is to breath, sit with your feelings, and be present with those around you.

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Marcus taught me how powerful it is to breathe, sit with your feelings, and be present with those around you.

My strength coach, Chris Lee, helped me sort through all my weaknesses every week for hours on end. Mark Plaajtes, who is not only an incredible physical therapist, but also a positive presence every time I walked in to see him. John Ball, an undeniable guru who worked with me for six hours of the span of two days. My coach, Tom Schwartz, who listened to all of my frustrations about not being able to run. And finally, all my Tinman Elite teammates and my incredibly supportive family, who at the end of the day, love and care about me even if I suck at running.

The Revival-

After the tumultuous fall, I finally started to get the ball rolling again. This positive change didn’t start from being selfish and doing every little drill by myself, sleeping in, and focusing solely on what I thought I needed to do. It was about getting out the door with my teammates, helping them, sharing in their successes, and slowly but surely getting some momentum on my side. All it took was surrounding myself with likeminded individuals who were striving for greatness in the same ways I am. They reminded me that they cared about me, and that my presence was important for not only the team, but for my own running. My first workout back with the team was a short and simple one, but I remember it vividly. Not a hard workout by any measure, but it was a special one. For the first time in months, I felt the flow. I felt the energy and rhythm and excitement that was building in Boulder. For months, it was all about “what’s wrong with me” and not about “how can I help my teammates.” It was all I had been missing.

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For months, it was all about “what’s wrong with me” and not about “how can I help my teammates.” It was all I had been missing.

The Return-

The reason I am opening up my 2019 campaign with Cross Country is because quite frankly, it excites me. The last few years have been dedicated to the track. But, my roots are on the cross country course. The thought of being amongst a pack for a large chunk of a race, feeling the flow of the grass and dirt, and the excitement of something new gives me something to build towards. USA cross is the perfect place to start my 2019 campaign because cross country is the first place I felt like a runner.  

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Four years was the last time I wasn’t considered a “middle distance runner.” Four years too long. Time to return.


Four years ago was the last time I looked to my left and right and battled 100+ guys for a podium spot. Four years ago was the last time I felt that mid race chaos ensuing as a large hill or downhill approaches. Four years was the last time I wasn’t considered a “middle distance runner.” Four years too long. Time to return.