By Taylor Dutch, @taylordutch
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
HONOLULU (07-Dec) — Standing on the pristine ocean shore outside of the Outrigger Reef On The Beach Hotel, Nick Symmonds is poised despite the challenge that lies ahead of him. On Sunday morning, the IAAF World Championships 800m silver medalist will compete in the Honolulu Marathon, the first marathon of his career and the longest run he has ever done. But even with minimal training by marathon standards, Symmonds, like always, is embracing the experience.
“I’m excited,” Symmonds told Race Results Weekly. “I’m very nervous. The longest run I’ve ever done is 15 miles. I know I probably should have done something longer in preparation, but I wasn’t able to get it in so I’m just going to have to game-up on Sunday.”
Six months earlier, Symmonds was competing in the 800m at his final appearance at the USATF Outdoor Championships before retirement. Prior to those championships, Symmonds had become a household name in track and field not only for his running accomplishments –six national titles, two Olympic teams, and a personal best of 1:42.95– but also for his outspoken voice in the sport.
As the New York Times wrote in a feature about Symmonds’s retirement: “He will leave as perhaps the most outspoken, polarizing and essential American track and field athlete of the past decade. As a runner, his preferred style was to sit and kick. As an activist for athletes’ marketing rights, as well as an advocate for gay rights and gun control, he operated from the front, a loud, bold provocateur.”
Symmonds finished that 800m in seventh-place and failed to advance to the next round, but he was far from being done. Immediately after the race, he announced his plans for his next challenge: to run his marathon debut in Honolulu, a notoriously humid race with a tough course.
“I had this bucket list of all the things I wanted to do in running and as I neared my retirement, I realized that the one thing I haven’t done yet is run a marathon. It’s always been on my list, not necessarily to race a marathon but to run a marathon,” he said. “I think my time will be somewhere between three and four hours, I know that’s a big window but when the longest run you’ve ever done is 15 miles, it’s not a lot to go on. It’s going to be uncharted territory for me after 15 miles so ideally, I’d like to break three hours and 30 minutes.”
A lot has changed in Symmonds’s life since the national championships in June. He is no longer a professional runner, but instead has fully embraced his role as CEO of his company Run Gum, which he founded in 2014.
“Right now, growing Run Gum is my number one priority and being a good hobby jogger is my second priority,” Symmonds explained.
While standing in the sand in Hawaii, Symmonds admits that striking a balance between work and training hasn’t been easy. He doesn’t try to pretend that his mileage has been consistent or high. He doesn’t exaggerate on the workouts, and he admits that his training hasn’t been optimal, but he’s OK with that.
“I probably averaged about 25-30 miles a week for the last six months, so not your best marathon preparation but I did a lot of mountaineering. I climbed Mount Rainier in 21-straight hours, 9,000 feet up and 9,000 feet down,” Symmonds said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life and afterwards I thought, there’s no way a marathon could be that hard. It’s only three or four hours, right? So, I’m going to use that to give me mental strength and 20 years of competitive running that has settled in my legs to hopefully get me through this 26.2-mile beast.”
While training this fall, Symmonds also took notice of some of the inspiring performances by fellow U.S. runners on the international stage, particularly Shalane Flanagan’s TCS New York City Marathon victory where she became the first American woman to win the race in 40 years. While Symmonds doesn’t plan on competing at the same level as Flanagan, he couldn’t help but admire her grit.
“I’ve known Shalane for well over a decade and you can’t meet a harder working athlete than Shalane Flanagan so it was really cool to see her do that,” Symmonds said.
In his first stab at the marathon, Symmonds isn’t going to try and win. He won’t be gunning for the podium like he’s done so many times before, but he will embrace the unknown with the potential for another challenge down the line.
“I’m going to try and go around 7:30’s and it’ll fluctuate a little bit since it’s hilly here, but again, I just want to have fun with it and really feel that experience,” he said. “I really do enjoy the training for the marathon and so provided I’m not totally broken after this, I might sign up for a spring marathon as well.”