Runners of NYC: David Perry of adidas Runners NYC, BLK RBN
“I knew that I wanted to do something beyond just being a runner. My aspiration has always been to give the sport to more people and to make it more popular because I knew that my pro career probably had a shelf life, so I wanted to do something that was beyond—and threaded in with my love for fashion.”
The third guest on the Runners of NYC Podcast could have pursued a professional running career but opted to chase his dreams in the fashion industry, which brought him to New York.
David Perry was an All American at the University of Portland before moving to New York for a job within the fashion industry and eventually starting his own company called BLK RBN. As a Pilot, David clocked some very impressive personal bests including a 13:58 for 5,000 meters and 28:42 for 10,000 meters on the track. When he moved to the city, he has immersed himself into the New York running scene and focused on the marathon for the past year. In the summer of 2018, David was vocal about his goal of qualifying for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. He shares what he learned from the lofty goal and how his approach to running has changed over time. We also delve into his role with adidas Runners NYC and what he brings to everyday local runners on a daily basis. Learn about David’s journey, how he became a runner and what keeps him running.
You can follow David on Instagram here. | Follow and check out the BLK RBN line on Instagram | For more information on adidas Runners NYC, please feel free to reach out to David on Instagram.
Music for the show is by Future Generations. Photo of David Perry taken by Jason Suarez in Berlin. Podcast artwork by Kyle Klosinski.
The following interview transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Jeanne: We are, yeah, actually in your home, which is a first. This is the first time we’ve ever recorded in the guest’s apartment.
David: A home visit. No I love it. I love having people in here.
Jeanne: So we’re going to just dive right in and ask—the first question we’ve been asking everyone is, when did you get to New York, or when did you first move here?
David: I’ve been here for about two years now. So, finished school in 2015 and I spent a year in Portland and then moved out here.
Jeanne: Cool and what brought you out here, originally.
David: I have a twin sister here. She is two hours older than I am, so I’m the youngest child, technically. I’m a foot taller though so it doesn’t look like that. But yeah, I came out here because I just wanted a change. I kind of had taken a year off from running and was just enjoying the fruits of life and a little partying and just being a post-collegiate athlete. So I’d spent about a year in Portland designing for a clothing brand and then I just wanted to take the leap and get to New York City. I’m super into fashion, so I just wanted to get out here and give it a shot.
Jeanne: Yeah, let’s touch a little bit on that clothing brand and your interest in fashion. It’s BLK RBN, which is your own brand that you’ve been working on. So you started that while you were at Portland, or after graduation?
David: So, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study entrepreneurship. I mean, that’s not a traditional major for a lot of collegiate athletes, so I studied entrepreneurship. I started the brand BLK RBN while I was in school, so while I was studying, in between my BA and my MBA, I launched it. So during my fourth year, when I had one more year left of eligibility I launched cut and sew running menswear collection. All USA made.
Jeanne: Very cool. Were you super stressed doing that, and running? I can’t really imagine doing both at the same time.
David: Yeah no, it was crazy. I think I always just wanted… well, I’d been around so many big brands for a long time. I mean, being in Portland, I’m down the street from Adidas, and I was running for a Nike school at the time and I was always just like, fuck it, I think I can make it better.
Chris: And what did that entail, while you were at Portland? Did you find yourself just sketching designs that you wanted to do? But at the same time, you were running for a pretty competitive program at Portland. Can you sum up, I guess, how good the team was at that time?
David: I mean that was—well I would say was the pinnacle of the program, but our third place was trumped by last year’s second, or runner up, at NCAAs. So, the program, I think with myself, Scott Fauble, Reid Buchanan, Ryan Poland, Stephen Kersh, we had a lot of really great guys that were all around my class. Woody Kincaid. We had a really competitive program, and I think it was the first time we were really actually aspirational to look at a trophy. So I was taking it super seriously. I would float in between our—sometimes our number one, when I got to edge out Fauble—to always being a top 5 guy. So I played a really big role. But for me, I knew that I wanted to do something beyond just being a runner. My aspiration has always been to give the sport to more people and to make it more popular because I knew that my pro career probably had a shelf life, so I wanted to do something that was beyond and threaded in with my love for fashion so I studied all this. Fashion was not in my major, you know I really had to learn how to make a T shirt, how to source fabric. The fabric was sourced from Japan, things were made in Portland, and made in Los Angeles, I made some in New York. I made a ton of mistakes, I sunk all my money into it. So it was an obsession. It’s been an obsession.
Chris: And what did the other guys on the team make of it?
David: I think until I had a release party and I had like twelve garments that were impressive. And I still look at the stuff, I run in it, daily—from that first collection—and I think everyone was pretty shocked. Because of the way in which I did it. I didn’t just go out there to print on T-shirts and say, I have a brand. Everything was made from fabric. I chose every seam. I chose the branding, I built the brand with some good friends in Portland, but ultimately it was all on me. And I think they were pretty shocked and wondering how this had happened. You know, all in the shadows.
Jeanne: Cool. And I want to keep talking about your fashion for a moment, because I have heard you credited with the look that LeBron James later went on to wear, which is a suit and tie and then shorts.
David: Ah. Yes. That LeBron look.
Jeanne: It’s really the David Perry look is what it is.
David: I would love to take credit for it. That was my second job in New York City. It was for a local brand named Thom Browne. I came here with an advertising job, I knew I didn’t want to do advertising. And I hosted a race actually that—when I was starting to do this work with Adidas, I hosted a race and the winner of that race, this guy named Brody Gann won the race. And I had seen Brody at races before, because he was always warming up in a Thom Browne sweat suit. And like, it looks ridiculous.
Jeanne: What does it actually look like?
David: Oh it was beautiful, luxurious. It was a full sweat suit, but it was the most expensive sweat suit ever made.
Jeanne: All black?
David: This one was gray with white stripes. But I just knew, I was like—I told myself before that race, I was gonna beat Brody. Brody then beat me. Put five minutes on me in a ten mile race. Got to know him. And then yeah, he offered me a job.
Chris: Was it hard I guess, to get involved? When you think fashion and you think big cities, like London, Paris, New York, especially. Those job opportunities, how tough are they to come by? Especially with what you wanted to do?
David: Yeah I mean—Thom Browne is the pinnacle brand. There’s no athletic brand, there’s almost no brand in the world that I’d rather work for. So to have that opportunity was so rare, and that also came to fruition because Brody got brought to my race by Tim Jeffreys, who’s a local runner here. So they’re good friends.
Jeanne: Yeah, Tim loves Thom Browne.
David: Tim’s in the suit as well. So yeah, the all-gray, tight-fitting suit is a runner’s special for sure.
Jeanne: I just want to go back for a second, to your college career. You were discussing how you were on and off kind of like the number one guy, definitely a top five contributing athlete to Portland’s really great career and team there. And I guess the transition from running collegiately to running now with Adidas and pursuing your own goals and dreams and you mention that you kind of took a step back, you took a little bit of time off, and I guess, yeah how has the transition been to running sort of on your own at times? That was a long question, sorry.
David: Yeah. There’s a lot of questions in there. I can definitely unpackage that. Because, just in context on my career. Yeah, I was a contributing member to a podium squad, when we took third place my senior year. But heading into my fifth year, that track season before, I ran a PR. I ran 28:40 and change for the 10k and I was definitely a favorite heading into NCAAs. I partially tore my achilles on the first round of NCAAs at regionals. So I was out that track season. I came back, won conference, and then tore my achilles again in the same place.
Jeanne: Same one?
David: Same one, same place. At the championship in cross country, in Terre Haute, Indiana. So I can’t even describe how heartbreaking that was. So for me, I hated running at that moment. And I kind of vowed to give it another shot, go out for my fifth year, spring track season. Which was just shit. So I think, by the end, I was just super spiritually burnt out. It wasn’t even my body. I was just like over it. So I wanted to step back, so that ended my collegiate career. Definitely on a sour note for sure. But, when I got to New York, I got brought back into a different type of running. Which is the running culture here. The running culture here is the most serious running culture in the world.
Jeanne: How would you describe it, if you had to choose a couple of words?
David: A couple words? Um, rambunctious, unadulterated, very against the grain. So I got brought into the running scene here, really through just knowing of Black Roses NYC, and knowing Knox Robinson. Having a really good relationship with him, from afar. He’d always supported BLK RBN and my pursuits, and yeah he really brought me into the fold. To kind of play a little coaching role, run with him a little bit, catch a vibe, see what the scene was like. And that led me to also running with Orchard Street Runners for a gnarly 10k, through the city at night. And then I think that really catapulted my role into Adidas runners, right now.
Chris: At the same time, you’re just witnessing some of your former teammates from Portland go on to have these successful pro careers, on the roads, on the tracks. There’s no little part of you that says, I could still have been with them?
David: Oh, yeah. I mean, I look at all those guys. I’m still in touch. I mean Scott Fauble and Stephen Kersh have been coaching me the past year, for the marathon. So I’m still really in touch with all of them. I’m in touch with Woody Kincaid and Reid Buchanan, and yeah. When I see their success on the road, on the track. I know that if I would have chosen that path—who knows where I would have been—but there is a piece of me every day that wants to be there.
Chris: How do you approach PRs these days? Well the Orchard Street Runners 10k is a little different, because it’s not always an actual 10k. But say you did get into a legit, measured out 10k race, and you have this PR that’s hanging over your head from college. Now, do you just forget about it and think, this is a new stage in my career? And you’re also focusing on the marathon more now, right?
David: Right. So the past year, I’ve been really focusing on the marathon. So that wasn’t really a looming thing. I had never run one. And now I’ve run three, and I’m pretty fried. I had an Olympic Trials Qualifier in my mind for that. And I was still six minutes off, after—I couldn’t have trained harder. I couldn’t have trained better, I couldn’t have given it anything else. I really took myself to the edge of where I felt like, in the moment I could get at the marathon. I sacrificed a lot to get there. So for me, now, I’m stepping back. I’m healing myself. Through the rest of this year and then I’m looking at track for the next year. I’m not really focused on the marathon, anymore. I think, honestly, I think I had to bid it adieu and look at what I want to do spiritually in running. If that’s like, really run hard on the track, I think I can handle that with my body. And I’m still agile, and looking at those PRs, like I can fucking crush those.
Chris: Yeah, I want to hang on to Berlin for just a moment. Because you were one of the people. I mean there were a lot of guys who were very vocal ahead of this year’s race, and you were like—we’re going to try, whether it’s a suicide mission or not—we’re going to go out after that Olympic Trials Qualifier. And it sounds like it’s humbled you a little bit, I guess what did you learn from that race about the magnitude of that difficult goal? I remember looking at Instagram photos of you and your preparation, and I was just thinking, David looks ready to just go for this race. You couldn’t have been training, I don’t think, any harder. But, you and Nick Roche, who is a good friend of ours, attacked it from the start, right?
David: Yeah, exactly. I had the best training. I know all my splits, all my workouts. I saw Jeanne on the track. I was there sweating. It was a hot summer here. So, I really put everything I had, and I knew my preparation was—there’s no perfect preparation. But I think personally, for me, I look back at my log, I look back at my efforts on the track, and also some of the mindfulness—you know all the processes that I took to lead up to the race. And you know, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. There could be numerous factors I could point out. My achilles is still injured. You know, I was overtrained. Whatever, I could have all these excuses. But I think for me, I’m humbled at the marathon. I’m humbled towards that distance. Jeanne’s effort, for instance, is fucking heroic, and I think, same with Caitlin, who you’re going to interview next. So, seeing that distance, I have a new respect for it. Nick and I went out in 70 and change, which should have been—for the first half, chill. It was not chill. That dude pulled me through. It was a crazy experience, because he pulled me through the first half, and I was like, ooh I want to drop out. I might have to walk it in. I felt really cooked.
Jeanne: Were you guys with a pack? Or was it just you two?
David: No, that was the hard part. I mean, still being new to the marathon, your group is everything. So, Nick and I burnt through every group that we could find and we were in no man’s land at the half. So, now we’re alone, and I feel like I had gone into the well a bit, for on paper, a conservative effort to run 2:19. So, after the half, I was thinking. I’m not looking great. I don’t feel great. But, I’ve got to soldier on, I’ve got to help Nick get this goal for as long as I can. And I look over at Nick and he looks at me and he is ghost white. And then I realize, he’s fighting demons. And we both come to the consideration after talking, with you know, maybe ten miles to go, that either we’re finishing together, or we’re not finishing. Both of us aren’t. Because, yeah, the marathon. No one knows in the moment how hard that race is, so if you step off I don’t judge people that step off after going for it. Because it’s unruly on your body.
Chris: On paper. And results-wise, that would be your personal best. Do you feel that was your best effort?
David: No. I think we both could have shaved minutes off. I would feel good to say we both should have run 2:21 that day. Sub 2:19 wasn’t happening. Definitely not. So there’s more to gain. But, at the same time, there’s a six minute margin for that OTQ. I have to be realistic. So.
Jeanne: Yeah, and not to keep harping on the marathon after you’ve already clearly bid it adieu, but your previous marathon was also not in the best conditions. Because you ran Boston, this past spring, and everyone knows—it was probably the worst possible condition for that race.
David: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Let’s pull up those scars.
Chris: You’re a survivor!
David: Yeah, honestly. My first marathon was Berlin in 2017. I jumped in to pace Nick. I stayed through it. I ran 2:30, it felt really easy. I was just going to jog through it, and then it felt great. And the day after that, Scott (Fauble) and Stephen (Kersh) said, looks like you’re going for a Trials Qualifier next year. So then I knew, OK, I’m in this for a year. I have a shelf life, but let’s see what happens. And Boston was just. Well, I run with Adidas, a bib came up, and I had qualified, so I was like, alright let’s do it. Awesome. We’ll see what happens. Fauble and Kersh were both smart to say, don’t run that. Because we’d love to get you in some half marathons. Prepare you in a different way. But I had an opportunity to run Boston, so I took it. It’s legendary. And it’s legendary for a reason. I mean, on the shit day that I had, to a beautiful day—there’s nothing like that course and every runner should run it. Or every marathoner should run it. But, yeah, I’ve re-lived that race too many times. Just the process of getting bussed out and seeing all the tents and gates flying through the air. The 30-40 mph headwinds were not a joke. That was happening. The bus ride that takes an hour, it was a torrential downpour. I got lucky, because I got to warm up in the little school that if you’re lucky you get to slide into to stay out of the rain. But, by the time you get to the start, it’s a mile and a half away. My socks are soaked. Everything’s soaked. You’re already miserable, and I’m watching guys pee on their hands to try and stay warm.
David: Yeah. Everyone is like, this is survival. This isn’t a race anymore. I think everyone was seeing their PRs go out the door. I ditched a PR at probably around 10 miles. But, yeah, torrential downpour. Hailing at times.
Jeanne: Did you think about dropping out?
David: Ah, every moment.
Jeanne: Why did you not?
David: I mean, it’s a point to point. I’d heard the horror stories of the bus coming to pick you up. You could’ve walked it in quicker. And my dad was there. I had family there, I had my girlfriend there. You know, I didn’t want to be a chump.
Chris: Any other day, would you have woken up, seen that forecast, and say you have a long run to do, would you have done it? With the same forecast?
David: Training? If it was an important run, definitely. I’m going to go, and I’m going to hammer, because it’s all effort based.
Jeanne: You can also wear a lot of layers if it’s a training run.
David: Yeah, exactly. And that was the thing. I looked to my left, and Knox is in the chute with me, and he’s stripping off all of his layers and I’m like, oh no. I’ve gotta be manly, and you know, do this. I mean, Desi was smart, and kept on all of her layers. I wish I would’ve done that. But, yeah, anyone that didn’t make it, or did drop out. That was probably a wise decision. Because it was rough.
Chris: We’ve got a couple of friends who are photographers. Fred Goris, Jason Suarez. And they were out on the course and I remember talking to them after the race and they said that they saw you with less than a mile to go, and they were yelling at the top of their lungs for you to just look their way, and nothing. You were just gone. You were a ghost at that point.
David: Yeah. Unfortunately, I remember with 5k to go, saying fuck it. I’m going to take off my glasses, my hat, my gloves. I thought, I’m just ready to suffer and get through this. Which was a mistake. I probably went from six minute mile to seven minute miles, and was just hanging on. The regular fatigue you get in a marathon is one thing, but then when it’s 35-40 degrees and raining, then that fatigue and not feeling your body moving and functioning. And then my mind shut off in the last 5k. I didn’t hear anyone, I didn’t see anyone. I remember a lot of the time, just uncontrollably grinding my teeth and wondering how much dental work I was going to have to get after this race. So I remember coming through the finish line and going directly to the medical tent and being there with my teeth chattering, having weird soup and just trying to function. And then I had to jog home, which was another story. Another humbling experience. After a year of doing it now, I understand fully the process.
Jeanne: And I understand the bidding it adieu thing, but I gotta say that since you live in New York, you’ve gotta at least run the NYC marathon. It’s a whole experience.
David: For sure. Yeah, New York’s close. I’m excited to watch my teammate, Scott Fauble, run under 2:10. Or. I don’t know what his goal is. But yeah, that boy is fit, and that five borough race is unlike anything. I definitely have to do it.
Chris: And you’re also I guess, helping a lot of these Adidas Runners in New York City go after some goals. So what’s it like for you to be surrounded by people who might have other types of goals that are focused more on just finishing the marathon, or breaking four hours? How do you see your role in their own goal setting?
David: Yeah. I think it’s a very unique opportunity. I took the role with Adidas and Adidas Runners because I wanted to make sure that I could give something. Running is selfish, all the goal setting and everything we’ve been talking about is a selfish pursuit. It’s selfish to my family, to my relationship towards my friends. But, in that, I can now share the opportunity of watching other people go through training processes. I’m seeing my friends get into the sport I love. I mean, this group has given me the chance to work with people all around the world, and same with social media, to give the opportunity to help runners get into the sport, and grow through the sport. Age is irrelevant. I help high schoolers, I help fifty year olds. So all the sudden being able to give back from this selfish pursuit and make it selfless, has been awesome.
Chris: And Adidas Runners is not just in NYC. It’s in cities around the world. What have you learned about the running culture in general out there, how is it different from here in New York?
David: I’ve gotten to run with Adidas Runners from all around. I’ve gotten to experience the culture of all the groups that come here. When an Adidas Runner from Sao Paulo comes like we’ve had this past week, I get to hang out with him. I’ve been to Japan and been to their run base. Same with Paris and London. So the groups are always very unique and the offering that they give is always different. It’s always culturally very relevant, so I think I’m always getting little tidbits of stuff that I like from those cultures. But I always know that New York City’s the best. Our group specifically has one of the greatest core groups of individuals. That I think represent many different levels across the board and from different boroughs. We are made up of a very uniquely skilled set of individuals. So, humbly, I’d say that the New York Adidas Runners is at the epicenter and I think we’re doing the most innovative things, but yeah to speak to New York running as a culture. Running in New York, is a life. Running is a life choice. Here, it’s not an activity, it’s an identity. Which creates such a rich group of people, and people who are trying to do really unique things. Whether that’s building brands or helping bring free workouts to people who wouldn’t have that opportunity usually. Running is now an identity and a source of life for a lot of these boroughs.
Jeanne: That kind of leads into one of the questions I wanted to bring up. Since you are our first guest who’s done a lot of running elsewhere, before moving to New York, what do you notice about the conditions—like the actual running in New York vs. elsewhere? Do you compare it all the time?
David: I mean, no because I’ve been here for two years now, I don’t as much. But I’m a Coloradan, so I get back there and I have the best elevation with the best trails. I spent 5-6 years in Portland, which has some of the best trails and some of the best culture around running. But yeah, New York is tough. It’s not ideal. None of this is ideal. None of this cement. When it’s hot, it’s super hot, and when it’s cold, it’s super cold. It’s all cement. It’s hard to access trails. But, I also think, that’s a little bit lazy too. Because, in a train north for thirty minutes, you have infinite trails. I saw you, Chris, in the Hamptons, so we have the opportunity to get out of the city. We have Central Park. I want to continue to hammer down the truth that New York has everything you need. And I don’t want it to ever be an excuse.
Chris: The other question I had is, it’s not just you, there are other leaders within Adidas Runners?
David: Absolutely. So we have a core group. And it’s interesting, because Adidas Runners is trying to focus more on a life focus, so focusing on pillars around nutrition, around movement, which is kind of physical training, around mindfulness, etc. So I have a core group, including: Jessie Zapo, Adam Francique, Shiara Robinson, Kwasi Kesi, Lottie Bildirici—who’s our nutritionist who’s an amazing triathlete and just finished her first ironman. I hope I didn’t forget anyone, that’d be a bad look. But anyway, it’s all love.
Chris: There are running groups all across New York City that sometimes just train once or twice a week, but for you guys, it seems like there’s something every day of the week.
David: Yeah, we have like eight different things because we have all those coaches and captains, and then we have MOTIV NY, which is really like the recovery and movement pillar. They are an amazing group of athletes themselves, and physical therapists, and movement coaches. They help assist us on long runs as well.
Jeanne: I wanted to get your thoughts on what it’s like to be doing Adidas Runners and also BLK RBN at the same time. Does it ever seem like a conflict? And how do you negotiate that?
David: That’s a good question. Yeah, I won’t ever give up BLK RBN. It’s personally embedded in me. I think running embeds something in your DNA, and BLK RBN has done the same thing for me because it’s bringing everything I love in one world. So it’s almost always kind of a conflict. Because I work with one of the largest sportswear brands in the world that makes clothing of the same breadth as BLK RBN. But I think having this pursuit as an entrepreneur is important to keep me sharp. It helps me do the best work that I can for Adidas Runners. And Adidas is the creator brand. They have so much dedication for creation and solving problems through design, that they have to see this as a win for them. That I’m contributing in a much larger way to the running industry.
Chris: What was it like for you to bring your story of launching a clothing brand, working with Adidas Runners full circle by going back to Colorado this summer to share your story with the next generation?
David: I think that’s an inherently piece of wisdom that I’ve always wanted to give. I’ve made a ton of errors in my schooling, in my brand, in my running. So to help right those wrongs for other people, I’m here to educate student athletes. I think what’s often overlooked at times is the next generation. I think we’re often focused on ourselves, and people our age, and how are we contributing to runners that are our age. But, I’m focused on the youth because those are the future Olympians as well. So, I went back to my high school and try to show them and change the perspective that just because you’re a student athlete doesn’t mean you have to give up athletics once you’re not going pro. Like, I’m not pro. I’m whatever you want to categorize me as—an elite, a sub-elite, etc. But, I’m still able to compete on a high level, I’m able to contribute to the running industry in a different way, I’m giving awareness to the full industry and to the people that make up the industry. And one of my greatest hopes is that I can continue to give more opportunities for professional athletes. I want money in professional runners’ pockets. Both male and female. Because this is such a hard sport to get into and it’s such a hard sport to stay in. There’s injury, there’s a short shelf life. There’s not a lot of brands that want to pay runners, so I think I’m just trying to educate young runners, and even guys like the Tinman Elite in Boulder, I’m just trying to take them under my wing. Those guys all came to the talk that I gave in Colorado, and then they brought people like Riley Masters and a bunch of really awesome Boulder pros to run with these high schoolers. To start to bridge the gap between the pros and the younger community. And I’m doing that same talk actually, at the University of Portland, in February.
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