Nick Symmonds is Leaving the Sport Better than He Found It

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S: What about women? Are you a fan of women’s running?

N: Yes, absolutely. As much as I am a fan of men’s running. I’m a fan of competitive sport whether it’s women or men, as long as they’re clean I want to watch them perform.

S: What women athletes inspire you the most?

N: I think what Allyson Felix has done is just jaw dropping. Her consistency, her range, um, her … the way she carries herself. If I could have had a career half as good as Allyson Felix’s, you know it’s pretty amazing, so I think that I’m always blown away when I watch her race whether it’s the 100 or the 200 or the 400 or any relay, she’s the best female Olympian – or I think female track and field athlete that I think we’ve ever produced. And she’s such a great person. I had a chance to watch her train in East LA and get to know her a little bit and she’s one of the kindest most genuine people I’ve ever met.

S: Aw, that’s great. And what did you think – do you have an opinion on intersex athletes running in women’s races?

N: I think it’s one of the most complicated issues that competitive sports ever faced. But in my opinion you have to go to the chromosomal level to really understand it and break it down and have a way to set rules and I think that XX human beings should race each other and XY human beings should race each other. And if there is an anomaly, XXY or some other chromosomal makeup, I think that they- there needs to be a place for them to compete, but I’m not sure that it’s against other XX females.

S: That’s a great answer, I really like that. I don’t know where I stand. It’s … it’s such a complicated … issue, but that was a really measured good response.

N: It’s the way a biochemist would answer. [laughs]

S: It was very scientific now that you mention it. I like that, it makes sense. So like a lot of women athletes, and women in general, feel reduced to our physicality. Do you feel, as an athlete, that sometimes you’re reduced to your physicality? Like you’re just a body?

N: I felt like that a lot when I was right out of college. I had gone to a DIII school where I had a job and I was in a fraternity and I was studying biochemistry and running and I felt like a real well-rounded person. And that’s who I wanted to be. And then when I got out of school I was really just stimulating my body every day and I was bored, I wasn’t really learning anything anymore and I did, I felt like kind of this piece of meat that went into the gym and ran the track and it wasn’t a very fulfilling existence. I didn’t feel mentally stimulated.

S: Welcome to our world, Nick!

N: [laughs] And so I wanted to – I wanted to be that well rounded person that I felt I was in college and that’s when I really started exploring the world of business and entrepreneurship and it was – I was 25 when I started my first company and started investing in businesses and it, I feel like every day I want to be stimulated physically and mentally and now that I have track and field training and entrepreneurship, I feel like I’m getting both, I’m ticking both of those boxes.

S: What was your first business when you were 25?

N: You know my coach and I incorporated a company called Gold Medal LLC, and we called it that because he said, ‘Even if you never win a gold medal, this business is what will ultimately pay your bills.’ It’s basically the holding company that has controlled all the endeavors that we’ve taken part in. Currently Gold Medal LLC is doing business as Run Gum.

S: Where did you get perspective? You have such a great perspective. You don’t whine, you point out problems. You don’t really whine, you try to solve them and you saw from an early age that you needed to be more than just an athlete. So where did you get this perspective?

N: I’ve had the absolute privilege of traveling all around the world to some really rich places and also some really poor places. And when you see how the majority of the world lives in a very simple and sometimes impoverished way, I think it gives you some perspective here as an American how really lucky we are. The opportunities that we have and the wealth that we’ve created in this country, even when things were going really poorly or even when I feel like I’m not being treated fair, I still know that I’ve got it pretty good. And I’ve got to thank my parents for showing me at an early age, kind of helping me know my place in the world. And as I get older and humbled a little bit by the aging process, it becomes more clear just how lucky I am.

S: I’m 41. I can relate.

N: Well I can’t do the things that I did in my mid-20s and it’s frustrating. And I think 2017 will be my last year as a professional runner, but you just have to view that as life kind of kicking you out of the nest and pushing you off to the next exciting endeavor.

S: I definitely appreciate that a lot. I totally feel the same way. You just have to say, “Hey I did that, it was a great experience. Moving on.”

N: Well I can’t be the best 800 runner in the world like I was trying to be in my 20s, so what can I be the best at in my 30s? Maybe that’s being an entrepreneur, trying to be the best entrepreneur, or maybe it’s mountain climbing like I have a passion for, trying to climb the highest mountain, I don’t know.

S: Do you think that you’d ever get married, settle down?

N: I’d love to. I always thought that for me to be the best track and field athlete I’d need to be extremely selfish. It’s kind of a selfish way to live your life, being a professional athlete, and I never wanted to be a selfish father or a selfish husband. So for me, being married and being a father meant not being a professional athlete. And now that I’m about to finish up with the pro athlete side of life I’m really excited to start exploring those other things in life that make life meaningful.

S: So every lady look at Tinder now …

N: Good timing, right?

S: So is it time to go on the Bachelor? [laughs]

N: [laughs] No, I have a serious girlfriend and we just recently moved in together and it’s been awesome. She’s been very supportive as I’ve made this transition from pro athlete to entrepreneur to average dude just out there running 10 minute miles. So it’s been really awesome having her around for the last year.

Nick and his pet rabbit, Mortimer, posing for PETA in 2013

S: And what about your pet rabbit Mortimer? I’m guessing he died.

N: Mortimer’s no longer with us. He had a great run. I bought him back in, it might have been 2007. And the average lifestyle for a rabbit sitting in a cage, and the lifespan might only be two or three years. Well Mortimer had an eight year run, so I think he had an awesome life as a free range rabbit.

S: That’s so great! And was the PETA thing more of a stunt, or are you a big PETA fan? or something in the middle?

N: Something in the middle. PETA is doing a great service and I’m really for the ethical treatment of animals. And I think too often what they’re trying to do is confused as left wing nutcases who don’t believe in eating meat or they’re all vegans and it’s somewhere in the middle. You know? there are a lot of people in PETA who choose to be vegetarian. And people have called me a hypocrite because I’m a hunter and fisherman but I support PETA. But I think just because I kill animals and eat animals doesn’t mean I don’t think that that should always be done in an ethical way. I think that every creature on this planet is here for a reason and has a role to play, whether it’s producing eggs or uh… you know, a wild salmon that I catch and consume, we are part of a really complicated ecosystem, and food chain, and I think that animals you know deserve to be treated in an ethical way, but in some cases are part of our food source. So I do believe that humans are carnivorous and are designed to eat animals, and if we’re going to do so we need to absolutely treat those animals with respect and kill them and consume them in an ethical way.

S: I think that as an outspoken person I think that some people tend to think that you are very opinionated and black and white, but it seems like you’re very thoughtful in your opinions and you definitely see the nuance and know that things are more complicated than most people like to think.

N: Oh, everything is complicated. The only thing I really have an issue with is when people are talking about something subjective in an objective way. I’m never going to try to force my opinion or my moral code onto somebody and I ask that other people don’t do the same. If you are vegetarian or vegan, by all means you should practice that freely. What a great country that we have such an unlimited food supply that you can choose to live that way, but if I choose to hunt and fish and I want to kill animals in a very appropriate ethical way and consume them, then that’s my opinion and that’s my right.

S: Yeah, it’s not really for someone else to say whether that’s right or wrong.

N: Exactly

S: So yeah, so 2017. Are you recovered from your injury? [Nick was injured shortly before the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track Trials and was unable to compete.]

N: Yeah, you know I had that ankle injury and I took about six weeks off, and it’s 100% healthy now, I’m doing about 50 miles a week with a couple workouts and a couple lifts and just trying to get back my base and fitness.

S: When you were at your peak, what would be your peak mileage be training for an 800?

N: When I was in my mid-20s I could run 70 miles a week pretty consistently. I’m lucky if I could run a couple months of 60s right now. Fifty seems to be a number that is easiest for me to hit, but I’ll – I think in the heart of winter when I really start training I’ll try to get up to 60 miles a week again.

S: So what’s your easy pace? You know, just joggin’. 

N: Oh … 7:30s is pretty comfortable for me

S: Wow! A lot of people might be surprised they could keep up with you.

N: Yeah, you know I talk to people all the time and they say, ‘Well I’d love to go for a run with you but I probably couldn’t keep up.’ and I’m like, ‘I think you’d be pretty surprised.’ I start around 8:00 minute pace and once my old legs warm up I might dip down to low 7’s but the days of me clicking off 6:30s effortlessly are probably gone.

S: That happens.

N: I don’t mind, I get to spend more time out there!

S: That’s so nice! After 2017, then what for you?

N: Run Gum is growing so quickly I’ve recently transitioned from the role of co-founder to the role of CEO. My business partner is the CFO and we are just so passionate about telling people why we think Run Gum is the better answer for them so I’ll continue to have a more active role with Run Gum and I’d like to get into mountain climbing more. I set a goal when I was ten to become an Olympian and to climb the tallest mountain on every continent. And I’m a two-time Olympian now and I want to go back and revisit that goal I had of climbing these mountains. I’ve been picking off higher and higher and more challenging summits over the last couple of years and I think that upon my retirement in 2017 I will transition into a career of pro mountain climbing.

S: Awesome! So do you think you’d be a hobby jogger?

N: I love running! I absolutely love – I love going out for an easy run. 30-60 minutes with my friends talking and catching up, there’s nothing better. Intervals? I don’t know that I need to do another interval again after 2017. [laughs]

S: I can only imagine. It gets old. What about a marathon or something, do you think you’d ever do that?

N: Yeah, and that’s part of this mountaineering project. I think that the training would be such that a marathon might be more appropriate for my legs than an 800. I think in 2018 I’ll run my last competitive race and it’ll be a marathon.

S: Really! What do you think you’d run a marathon in?

N: Honestly I have no idea. I’d just try to finish. The longest run I’ve ever done is 13. So trying to do that twice sounds horrible. But! I think I could run under 3:00. That would be my goal, to train to run under three hours.

S: Awesome! Well thank you so much Nick, it was great talking to you.

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Cinnamon made Salty Running, takes lots of pictures and drinks lots of coffee. By day she's a camera assistant for films and tv in New York, and by night she's on a quest for zen in the 10k. Her writing is a mix of satirical humor, finding wholeness as an average runner, cheering for runners at all paces and more.

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  1. I loved this interview and really appreciated a lot of the things he had to say, in fact he surprised me a few times. I really appreciate his thoughts on the doping situation (black and white when it comes to breaking the rules) but also acknowledging that grey area. As well as on genetics and when it comes to intersex/trans athletes. As someone who admittedly is VERY grey (I rarely see things in black and white, though I agree that if you break the law or rules…it’s pretty clear) its nice to read that I’m not alone in believing it isn’t always as simple as yes/no etc. Same thing with the PETA stuff, you can eat meat/hunt/fish and still believe in animals being treated properly etc.

    1. He’s a very talented guy all around – athlete, pitch-man, entrepreneur, advocate, conversationalist … I was impressed and I really enjoyed talking to him. I think the one thing that was most surprising to me is that he possesses humility. He is confident, opinionated, and assured, but knows his place in the world too. He is grateful for his gifts, his success, and aware of the power those things afford him and is committed to doing good work with that power. How can you not be a fan?

  2. Great interview. Nick does come across a little cocky and brash at times, so it was great to see something more long-form and get to hear his thoughts. I enjoyed this obviously thoughtful responses.

    I really appreciated his comments on the USATF — as a “sub-elite” (apparently, according to Spikenard’s article posted last week!), I ask myself somewhat regularly if I need to join USATF. But I struggle to see the benefit for me as an athlete, and I don’t think Siegel needs my money for jet fuel.

  3. Love this guy and what he has brought to the sport…and I’m not just talking about the gum 🙂 I had previously listened to the Run to the Top Podcast and this was a great change up from all the usual stuff you hear from Nick. Thank you!!