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March 26, 2017

Going long with breakout U.S. distance runner Noah Droddy

I called up Noah Droddy a week removed from his impressive 61:48 mark at the NYC Half-Marathon. We touched on blue jeans, how he’s spent his last few years, and a quasi-analysis of the state of American distance running.

Here’s our long chat for your recovery from your long run:

Noah Droddy: I’m on my bike, if you can’t hear me let me know let me know.

Stephen Kersh: OK. If you want to wait, that’s cool…Or not. It’s fine.

ND: No dude. Go for it! Just bear with me as I suffocate up these hills.

SK: Where are you biking from?

ND: I was at the gym – soaking in the hot tub. Not working out.

SK: I used to work at a gym and if someone came to just soak, it was called an Executive Workout. I think you’re kind of white collar.

ND: Yeah dude, I actually work at that gym. And we have to wear ties. It’s very white collar – for minimum wage. My main gig is actually working at the shoe store. But as far as the gym, most of our team actually works at various gyms. We all kind of work at different ones. And the people who don’t work at gyms, we can sneak in. It’s an informal sponsorship.

SK: That’s helpful to have teammates who will aid and abed.

ND: Yeah – we have each other’s back when it comes to the hot tub.

I ask Noah if he’s heard of Citius. He thankfully says yes and commends us for good work. God bless. I tell him about our Blue Jean Mile.

ND: I’ve always said after my career, I want to set records in wet denim. See how fast I can go in soaking wet jeans.

SK: Wow. I feel like you could give this a very honest shot. Especially if we gave you an altitude conversion.

ND: There’s got to be a bonus for wet jeans. Like if the jeans are dunked in a tub right before the race, you get a $500 bonus.

SK: I think a beer-jean-mile is the ultimate test of a blue collar runner.

ND: Exactly. It’s the only accurate test.

SK: All these runners always talk about being blue collar, but unless you’ve done a beer-mile with soaking wet, raw denim on – then shut the hell up.

ND: Yeah get out of here with that blue collar stuff unless you are running beer-miles with Keystone Light. In blue jeans. Wet blue jeans.

SK: I guess I should ask you some questions related to running.

ND: Are you recording this?

I not-so-quickly tell Noah about this app I got yesterday that records phone calls. I only paid $10 for the app, but can now record any phone call I make. I’m drunk on power.

SK: I guess my first question is how you ended up in Boulder. Did you move there right after college?

ND: I graduated from DePauw University – the Harvard of the Midwest – in 2013, and then I moved to Chicago to take an internship for the company that puts on the Warrior Dash. So that internship lasted three months and then I just hung around Chicago. I was unemployed and just hung around a lot for three months and then I moved back to Indianapolis. I worked as a gardener for a year.

SK: What did you garden? (This was a dumb question)

ND: Uh. People’s yards. I did weeding, and mulching. It was great. I worked for a local company and they took good care of me. I wasn’t running much because it was 40-hours a week of hard, physical labor. If I got out of the door, it was a win. I was jogging 40-50 miles a week.

Then I started to work at a running store while also going the gardening thing. I went full-time at the running store, and got more serious about running. After a long hiking trip is when I really got serious, I guess.

I moved to Boulder in November of 2015 is the really short-winded answer.

SK: And then you hooked up with Richard Hansen and Roots?

ND: I hooked up with Richey before I moved to Boulder. I was in this transition in my life where I wanted to leave Indianapolis. Nothing terrible was going on, but it was time to have my “head west, young man” situation.

So I started thinking about what I was good at. I knew I had a little bit of talent with running, so I thought I could use running as a vehicle to move somewhere else I wanted to be, and maybe running could be a good excuse to do that.

I reached out to a few groups, but no one really got back to me. And, honestly, why would anyone have gotten back to me? My most impressive PR was my 10K from college (29:40), and I was a couple years removed from that, so there was nothing on paper to show I would have been an asset to any group.

I found Richey on Twitter, and shot him a message. The group didn’t have any performance standards for entry which was key. I told him I was going to move out and run a half-marathon in November. We had a couple of phone conversations and he said he’d coach me if I showed up…. And I showed up.

SK: You say you had a “little bit of talent,” but you had to believed you could do something with running if you were willing to move your life, and use running as the vehicle for that move? You had to have faith you could make running a viable lifestyle is what I’m trying to ask, I guess.

ND: I mean viable in what way? I didn’t think I would make money running. And I was right about that (Laughs). I wanted to make it viable in a holistic way – “a pursue my best life” kind of way. I knew I had some talent – I ran 29:40 in college and I was only running 50 to 60 miles a week, and I was coming off injuries. I have a million reasons why I sucked in college. So I thought maybe if I went all in on it, I could continue to get better. I just wanted to keep getting better. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I told Richey I wanted to run the Marathon Trials and lower my PRs.

I remember him saying, “We really don’t know (about what you’re capable of).” And I was just sort of like “Yeah, we don’t have any way of knowing. But I have faith I can get better, and I don’t know where that ends.” That’s all I needed.

SK: I’ve pretty much done the exact same thing. I moved from D.C. to Flagstaff after my 5th year at Georgetown. I wasn’t that good in college, but I figured I could squeeze some more out of myself. And then when you do get more out of yourself, it’s addicting you know? As runners we’re hardwired to get the best out ourselves and keep pushing limits. Which probably ruins a lot of people, myself included, but it’s the best life I know.

ND: I think as long as you have a little of that fire in you, you really have no choice. Running is going to do with you what running wants to do with you. If I would have stayed home and continued to half-ass everything, I don’t think I would have ever been happy until I went out and really DID it. You have to put yourself in a position to prove something to yourself, or else you’ll constantly be asking those “what if” questions.

SK: And that would ultimately kill you, as well, so nothing matters.

ND: Exactly.

SK: I was in the race where you qualified for the Marathon Trials (Phoenix Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon, 2016). I finished, and I saw this dude with long hair overcome with emotion. I thought to myself how cool that was because obviously you qualified for the trials on the last possible day. It turned out you also ran a huge PR (64:18). But now, you’re running almost three minutes faster than that, and it’s only been 14 months. How has this been possible? I feel like you must have to trick yourself into forgetting about barriers.

ND: Totally. That’s the key thing. To explain the drop in time in black and white, it’s important to remember I had only moved to Boulder two months before I ran that race. I got in six weeks of really good training and I put it together really well in that race. But bookended between that race and my 61:48 has been 13 months of incredible training. I took six days off last year. I’ve been running consistently in the Vigil System for that entire time just really working my ass off. Couple that with being at altitude for longer and being better adjusted in my life and so many other things that just take time, they all just factor in to me continually getting better.

I’ve been doing two years now of what I would call professional-style training, whereas with that race (in Arizona) I had only been doing two months.

You hope to continue on this upward trend. I keep having a good race and then I do my best to forget about it. I’ve been on a great upswing, but I know, eventually, that will stop – so I’m trying to prepare myself for that – but it’s been a good ride so far.

SK: You’ve been running a lot of great half-marathons and I know you were at the Marathon Trials, but do you have any marathon plans you can speak to?

ND: I’m going to go back to the track first. I have the 10K qualifier from last year, so definitely want to run through US Outdoors. I’ll run Payton Jordan to try and bring that time down, though. But, yeah, we’re discussing the potential of a marathon in the fall.

SK: Does the distance excite you?

ND: (Pause). I don’t know yet. I think the marathon will suit me well, eventually. I think this last half-marathon I ran shows that – not necessarily because the time, but because the way I ran it. My 5K splits were all within 10-seconds of each other and I ran nine miles of the race by myself. I think being able to get into a rhythm like that is a good characteristic of a marathoner.

I really idolize guys like Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Rod Dixon. Guys who had range, you know? It seemed like these guys didn’t give a shit about the distance of a marathon. They’d run a 5K like three weeks before and then go run 2:09 in a marathon. They were pure racers. That’s the kind of runner I aspire to be. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as a marathoner. I want to be a guy with range, and a guy who can show up and race whatever the distance.

Maybe that’s the problem with American distance running? We over emphasize the distance of a marathon. Everyone freaks out about the marathon. What if we treated it like a normal race?

SK: That’s my whole thing! All we talk about is how you will in fact bonk at 20 miles because you ran out of glycogen, so obviously you will bonk at 20 miles. If we never thought that, though, maybe we wouldn’t?

ND: We’re talking about shoes and special drinks and yada yada, but like dude, let’s just pummel ourselves in training, hop on the line, and hope for the best.

SK: Here’s another question I’m not sure you can speak to: are you expecting a sponsorship soon?

ND: (Laughs). I’ve made that mistake before. I recently signed a deal with Polar watches, which is a great. But in terms of signing that elusive shoe contract, I don’t really know. As of right now, I haven’t heard anything.

I think I deserve it. I’m comfortable saying that aloud. I think I deserve someone to believe in me like that. You know, I feel like everyone is asking me this question, and you know after I ran 28:22, I thought maybe. After I ran the (10K) Trials and got some media attention, I thought someone would pick me up. And then I ran the 10-mile Championships, took Sam Chelanga to the line, finished second and thought that had to have done it. Then I ran Houston, ran 63:22, minute PR, rough conditions, thought someone would look at that and take a chance on me. That didn’t happen, so now it’s hard to get my hopes up.

If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, nothing changes. I’m in a good spot here. It’s not like I’m in desperate straits, but if a shoe company decides to back me, I’d be very thankful for that. If they don’t, it won’t change anything about my day-to-day.

SK: Unless you’re coming out of college with incredible accolades, it is increasingly difficult to get much out of sponsors. There’s not much to get.

ND: There’s just so much talent right now, it makes it hard to get anything. A guy like Shadrack Biwott gets dropped by Asics and he’s a badass dude! He’s just one of many guys who do not currently have salaried contracts. It’s sad and it’s asking the question if we, as the American public, even value distance running anymore? No one can make a living doing it, we’re all doing it because we love it, but the sport is going to lose a lot of talent if no one can make it financially.

SK: It makes it so difficult to develop talent because the financial landscape of our sport automatically dissuades a lot of people.

ND: I agree. The diehards are always going to be around, whether there’s money or not, but there will be plenty of talent that won’t stick around because they feel inadequate without the paycheck. Which will be a shame for the sport to see that talent pool watered down.

SK: Last question. Any books or music you’ve been into lately and want to plug?

Noah talks about a sci-fi book he’s been reading, it sounds nerdy. He tells me I wouldn’t understand. We both laugh!

ND: Big podcast guy. I’m always on the prowl for podcasts.

SK: That’s probably the best thing you can legally be on the prowl for. Otherwise it sounds really bad. I’m happy you’re prowling for podcasts, Noah.

ND: I mean I’m prowling for a bunch of things all the time, but podcasts are definitely on the list. “Oh there goes, Noah, just talking to himself and prowling for podcasts.”

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