Running a marathon is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Including, as it turns out, two-time Olympians. It’s the last running goal Nick Symmonds wants to check off his list.
“I’ve done everything I wanted to do — break 4:00 minutes in the mile, make the Olympic team — except run a marathon,” he said.
The former 800-meter specialist will give 26.2 a go, and check off that bucket list goal, December 10 at the Honolulu Marathon.
Nick announced in January that 2017 would be his last competitive running season — he missed the 2016 Olympic Trials due to injury, so the 2017 World Championships team was set to be his last hurrah. But he failed to advance out of the prelims at the national championships.
By all accounts, Symmonds, now 33 years old, had a longer pro-running career than anyone would’ve anticipated — including himself. Symmonds ran NCAA Division III track for Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where he won seven individual NCAA DIII titles. He chose Willamette over other schools that offered athletic scholarships and majored in biochemistry.
“I never planned on being a pro-runner,” Nick said. “When I signed my contract at 22, I thought ‘This is cool, this is neat, I should save as much of the money as I can.’”
But he never thought running would be his career. Instead, he’s now transitioning from pro-runner to professional, dedicating more time to his company RunGum, a caffeine-infused chewing gum.
So how does a recently-retired elite middle-distance runner train for a marathon while running a rapidly-growing company?
Easy: he takes weekends off.
Nick trains Monday through Friday, single sessions only. He does intervals on Tuesdays and goes long on Fridays. Six weeks into his training for Honolulu, he’s at 45 miles a week.
“I’m training for this like an average guy who works a 9-5 job,” he said. “I get the miles in when I can.”
He’s a morning runner, preferring to go before work, using the quiet time to plan out his day before heading to the RunGum office. He trains solo, as he has for the past few years. He’s run 70 mile weeks in the past, but had never run more than 13 miles at once until Labor Day weekend.
Nick is maintaining his strength training regimen, slightly changing his weight-lifting routine to use less weight for more reps.
It’s not in training for a marathon where Nick is noticing much of a difference — it’s in the community.
“Marathoners are very positive people, very supportive,” he said. “Track and field is very competitive, very negative. If you’re having success, that means you’re taking away from somewhere else.”
Nick plans to take the race seriously, but he still wants to enjoy his last race as a professional runner.
“I think I have a 50 percent chance of breaking 3:00 hours,” he said, sticking to the prediction he gave us last year.
And there will plenty of time for fun before and after. With RunGum a race sponsor, Nick will be at the expo for photo ops at the RunGum booth and speaking on several panels. (Participants: check your goodie bag for a packet of RunGum!)
And, of course, he’ll stick around after the race for a bit — many of the RunGum staff will be there along with their families. It’ll be a chance to celebrate the company’s success.
“We’re doing phenomenally well,” Nick said. “And I’m not saying that just as the chief evangelical.”
RunGum turns three-years-old in October; Nick took over as CEO shortly after not making the 2016 Olympic team.
“I remember when I was running professionally, I was so happy I wasn’t working a 9-5 job,” he said. “But now I love the structure of it, and I love having my weekends back.”
Earlier this year, RunGum was in a “rapid growth phase,” Nick said, focused on building out staff so they’d be ready to scale up. He now has a team of 10.
Founded by Nick and coach Sam Lapray, they made RunGum because it was a product that Nick wanted to use himself. It provided the perks of an energy drink, but without worry of GI distress. Nick said he’d find himself wanting the pick-me-up effects, but wasn’t thirsty and didn’t want the calories or sugar in an energy drink.
Initially well-received amongst other elites, the big question for RunGum was if non-elites would use it. According to Nick, they do. RunGum is now distributed in all 50 states and through a half-dozen e-tailer sites.
Think of RunGum as dehydrated RedBull. It has caffeine, B vitamins, and Taurine, and the ingredients are absorbed more quickly through chewing gum (they’re absorbed sublingually) than by drinking.
Plus, Nick is quick to point out, there’s no calories and no sugar. But like most supplements, reviews are mixed. Despite the name, Nick said he hears testimony from people using RunGum in varied situations, like paramedics turning to it for a mid-shift boost.
You know, runners think of the name as meaning literally running, putting one foot in front of the other. But other people interpret it differently. Fishermen think about salmon running the river. Mechanics think of an engine running. Running errands, running into meetings … it’s about running the day and not letting the day run you.
With his team now in place, Nick is excited about 2018, “We’ve got more flavors, different product lines — I think people will be impressed,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s got a marathon to train for.
What advice do you have for Nick before his first marathon?