“Go Slade, go. Don’t stop. Just don’t stop.” Those were the words I said to myself. Or maybe I said them out loud. To be honest, I am not sure. What I was sure about was the pain in my legs. How the pain increased with each step up the mountain. It was beautiful where I was. The air was clear, the trees were green, and the sky was blue. But I was hurting. I was talking to myself. More importantly, I was determined not to be defeated.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this to happen. I wasn’t expecting to come back stronger and more aware of what I could do. I was expecting to come to Portland, learn about Nike’s latest running shoe, get a nice look at the Nike campus, and head back home to sunny and warm California. But as we all know, things do not always go the way we planned.
I was recently invited to the Nike Zoom Speed Project in the brand's homestate of Oregon to check out the new Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 31. I’ve never been to a running event outside of Los Angeles, but I was excited to get a more well-rounded experience with product beyond the normal color and materials you find on most sneaker blogs. I want to effectively be able to tell people the good and the bad of a sneaker, outside of just saying whether or not you could rock them with a pair of Mercer pants.
And since we're being honest, I should note that I don’t run very often. I play basketball a few times a week and I play golf once or twice a month, but long distance running isn’t a part of my normal routine. Even when it is included, my version of long distance running is a mile, maybe two. Anything beyond that, and I am outside of my comfort zone.
The trip started like any other trip. I caught an early morning flight out of LAX and landed in PDX at about 10:30 a.m. I made the trek into Portland and this is when things got weird. We didn’t stop at a hotel. Rather, I was whisked away to the Nike campus in Beaverton, bags and all. I knew we would be attending the Pre Classic, which is in Eugene, Ore., so I didn’t think too much about it. But maybe I should have.
“1, 2, 3, 4…1, 2, 3, 4.” The numbers were repeating in my head. Counting along with each stride. It was all I could think about. I just needed to focus and I could make it through. The pain at the ball of my right foot was increasing with each step. Whether that was a result of the cushioning in the Pegasus 31, or the lack thereof, didn’t even matter anymore. I just wanted to make it back to the campsite without collapsing in the dirt.
After getting a tour of Nike Campus, we were sent away to the Bo Jackson building and were told to change clothes. After switching into my Nike running gear and the Nike Zoom Kiger, we met up with Rory Fraser. Suffice to say, he is one of the best long distance runners in the world. Little did I know, he was going to show us how he got to that point.
According to Rory, he was here to 'make us puke.'
To start the workout, we did a quick half-mile jog to the Nike track. After some stretching and warm-up drills, the madness began. He announced we would be running time trials and his goal was to make us faster over the next few days. His job was to train us like elite athletes train. According to Rory, he was here to “make us puke.”
Wait a minute. I thought this was a media trip. I understand a little bit of running on the track, but what do you mean “train like elite athletes?”
BANG! Off went the gun and we were running our first 200. I had fallen to the back of the pack in the first 100 meters because I was complaining in my head about what was happening, but then my athlete instincts kicked in and I couldn’t let that happen. There was no way I was going to let these other media people beat me in a 200. I kicked it into high gear about half way through and easily made it to the front of the pack. I did it. I won. I could do this all day. Maybe it will not be as bad as I thought it would be.
As we all jogged back to the starting line, Rory smiled. “Great job,” he said. “Love how you kicked it in at the end." I smiled on the inside and bubbled with unearned confidence. If ever my ego and pride had failed me, it would be in the coming moments.
“Now we’re running a 400. Ready. Go. BANG!” Rory yelled.
Wait a minute? A 400? I thought..but…shut up, Jacques, just run.
And I did, for all of about 300 meters, and that is when the brick wall appeared out of no where and crushed every muscle in my body. I had to slow down. I couldn’t keep up. I instantly went from the front of the pack to the rear and my ego went from top of the class to the gutter. That unearned smile was now gasping for air and trembling in pain. But I didn’t stop. My run slowed to a jog, and I pushed through to the finish line.
“OK…OK…that’s enough for me” I said to Rory, struggling to catch my breath. “Oh, we are just getting started,” he said. “Great job everyone. Now let's run an 800. Ready. Go”
This cycle continued for another two 400s and another 200. At which point, I was drinking water by the bottle and dealing with the increasing pain taking residence in my thighs.
OK guys, great warm-up. Now we are going to go run 2.5 miles in a trail off campus before we head off to Eugene.
I hated Rory. I had just met him, but I hated him. A lot.
Off we went to the trail. I fell to the back of the pack instantly. Eventually falling so far back, that I lost the bright hues of their running apparel though the thick of the trees that surrounded us. I was alone. I wanted to stop running. I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. I ran. Slowly, but surely. Step by step. At times what felt like inch by inch, I ran.
After making it through the trail and back to the gym, I showered in silence and changed back into my clothes. Trapped within my own mind, I recounted the distance I had ran in the last hour. Four miles. I felt accomplished. I hadn’t ran that much since high school. Despite the struggle, despite the pain, despite being the last one to hit the showers, I did it. I didn’t stop.
If day one was tough, day one was the reckoning. We started at 6 a.m.
The ear piercing sound of a rooster woke me. For a moment, I was without pain. But then I moved and I realized that things were just getting started. I crawled into my running gear and used my bed as leverage to do simple things like pull up my shorts and put on my socks. I was sore, and my groans made it clear to fellow media in attendance.
Around 6:30 a.m., we jumped on a bus to Hayward Field at University of Oregon and attended the launch of the Pegasus 31. The shoe had been designed by Mike Miner with the help of Mo Farah. During the announcement, Mo flashed his trademark wide smile and charmed the people in attendance with his humble nature and driving spirit. Even in my self-sulking and pain, it was hard not to smile after hearing him talk about the shoe and express his excitement for the design process. The shoe looked nice. I wished there had been more colors than just blue and pink, but I knew they would be coming down the line.
After the event, we were escorted back to the track where we were greeted with personal pairs of the Pegasus 31 and an announcement that we would be working out with Mo this morning. It was all of 7:30 a.m. While I didn’t say it aloud, I just hoped it would be brief.
Mo took us through some stretches and drills to get us up and ready for the workout, which were unusually tough. The previous day’s workout was sitting heavy with me. My legs were sore and I could feel every twist and turn I made.
As worry started to set in, I thought back to the sneaker media workouts that last a total of 45 minutes, if that. I wish I was back at one of those launches.
“Ready?” Mo said in his light-hearted voice. “Lets go!”
The rest of the group, the the other media members and consumers, were delighted to run with Mo. I was delighted to run with Mo. Let's just say my legs didn’t want to run with Mo. But mind over matter. Get out there and make it happen, Slade.
Mo actually kept the run light. Just two laps around the track and afterward a break for photos. I was relieved. Even if it was only temporary. Of course, that wasn’t it.
It was Rory. The tone of his voice spoke of more. I didn’t want to run anymore.
“We are going to run over to Auzten Field. However, we can’t get into the field till 10, so we are going to run the Prefontaine Trail in the meantime,” he said. “It's a quick 3.5 miles.”
And just like that, we were off again. Running. Sweating. My feet pounding the pavement sending the vibrations of my awkward running form up through my lactic acid-filled muscles.
I didn’t need the self credit of coming in first to make it worth it.
After that first mile, things started to deteriorate quickly. I couldn’t keep up. So again, I fell to the back of the pack. Eventually losing the bright yellows and greens of runner shirts to open expanses of trees and grass and spray painted arrows in the dirt telling me which direction to go.
But I didn’t stop. Oh, how I wanted to. I wanted to stop by the moss-covered trees, by the bridge over the creek, or on the bank of the river that flowed so effortlessly as I struggled to just take another step. Luckily, we didn’t have to be at the field 'til 10. Lets just say with my slow jog, I made it just in time.
Once at Autzen, we worked out with ex-NFL athlete Alex Molden. This time we were doing speed drills. I breezed through these. I was strong in this area. I was hurting from the run, but that didn’t matter. My ego needed this. My heart needed this. My mind needed this.
Later that day, we headed back to the campsite and had lunch and a refresh period before we ran another 2.5 miles through the forests of Eugene. Like the other runs, it was tough. But at this point, I had let go of all the things holding me back and telling me to stop. The things telling me that it hurt. I realized they weren’t helping me. Telling myself that it hurt was useless. Telling others was just as pointless. I wasn’t running anymore. It was a personal journey now. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to finish and I wanted to finish strong. I didn’t need the self credit of coming in first to make it worth it, but I did need to know that I gave it my all.
After a 7 a.m. start, we ran through a Nike Training Club workout with one of the Nike Master Trainers on a one lane road tucked away in the woods. The surroundings were absolutely amazing. Yes, the workout was tough. Yes, it hurt. But none of that seemed to matter as much. I had let go of the negative and embraced the uniqueness of what I was experiencing. It made things a lot easier. This time, each crunch, 400m sprint, push-up, burpee, and plank was met with a personal question, “Are you giving it your best?”
I wasn’t running anymore. It was a personal journey now.
After the workout, Rory took us on our final 2.5 mile run, mostly uphill. It was, by far, the most difficult run of the weekend. My entire body was hurting. My right foot was pulsating. Maybe my days playing basketball have messed up my running form. Or maybe my body was just taking a beating from the extreme amount of running it had done over the last 72 hours. But I pressed on.
Despite it being the most difficult run, it was also the most amazing. The forest and trees of Eugene are a welcomed change from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Nothing really compares to running under a sunlit canopy of trees on a soft under brush surrounded my babbling creeks, moss covered trees, and a gentle breeze.
This media trip was different. The shoes that Nike brought me here to experience transitioned into a moment of clarity. Somehow, a personal journey occurred. On Sunday morning as I sat in the airport waiting to catch my flight back to Los Angeles, there was a tone of sadness. Unlike that first day when I wanted to stop after the 400, I didn’t want the weekend to end. I wanted to run. I wanted to feel the burning sensation in my legs that caused me to stumble and almost fall on the trail. It was a weird feeling, but I liked it.
Nike tried to kill me and they succeeded. But it was a version of me that needed to be killed. A version of me that needed to experience the pain and use it to push me to a new level. A new level of determination, a new level of fitness, and, most importantly, to a place where the ubiquitous saying of “Just Do It” transcends the marketing hype and flamboyance and pushes you to run.