He’s a charismatic Olympic track star with strong ties to the Pacific Northwest, who races with flair, heart, and fierce determination, doesn’t stand still for BS, and campaigns for important causes he strongly believes in.
Steve Prefontaine? No.
It’s Nick Symmonds, Willamette University track star, two-time Olympian at 800 meters, and Silver Medalist in the 800 at the 2013 Outdoor World Championships. Not to mention, founder of my favorite road race, The Nick Symmonds Springfield 800.
Also an entrepreneur, Boise native Symmonds, along with former coach Sam Lapray, launched Run Gum, a chewable version of a sports drink, in 2014. Back in January Run Oregon wrote a review of Run Gum, and recently I was able to ask the 32-year-old Symmonds a few questions in a telephone interview about his career, overcoming injury, his frustrations with politics and cheating in sports, his future plans, race strategy, and the growth of the Run Gum brand.
Joe Dudman, Run Oregon: First of all, how is your ankle doing, and how have you been dealing with the setback in training and racing?
Nick Symmonds: It’s 100% healed! I was able to deal with the injury by putting things in perspective. I know that once you reach 30, pieces start to break. I took time off to let it heal, and spent the time fishing and hiking in the Pacific Northwest since I was based in Seattle.
Run Oregon: How frustrating was it to miss the 2015 World Championships [due to a dispute over USA Track And Field sponsorship rules] and then the 2016 USA Olympic Trials [due to the ankle injury]? And was one more frustrating than the other?
Symmonds: Missing the World Championships in 2015 was definitely more frustrating. I earned my spot, and I resent the fact that being held off the team was based on an ambiguous document. Missing the 2016 Olympic Trials was on me. I ran a workout I shouldn’t have done, and I take ownership of that.
Run Oregon: What are you up to now, and what does your future racing schedule look like?
Symmonds: Lately I’ve been focused on building the Run Gum brand and that’s been keeping my hands full most of the time. I’ve been running around 50 miles a week in training, and I’ll be meeting with Brooks soon to plan my 2017 schedule. I’m really looking forward to the 2017 race season.
Run Oregon: You’ve been an advocate for several important causes over the years. How satisfying has it been to be able to use your celebrity in that way?
Symmonds: I’ve always wanted my career to be more than just running around in circles. I’m passionate about LGBT rights and gun control, and I’m lucky to be able to promote those causes.
Run Oregon: I’ve run the Springfield 800 every year, and it’s one of my favorite races because it’s so unique. Was that your idea, and what was the inspiration for the race?
Symmonds: There aren’t many 800 meter road races around! Yes, that was me, along with my publicist and the City Of Springfield. It’s been fun to work with the mayor’s office. I like seeing the kids go by.
Run Oregon: I hope the race continues. Do you plan to keep holding it for the foreseeable future?
Symmonds: Yes, I’d like to see it continue. I’m glad you like it, and I hope you keep coming out for it.
Run Oregon: The way you run the 800 is fun to watch, hanging back and then surging past people and moving up over the last 300 meters. Have you always run it that way, or did that strategy evolve over time? And is it as much fun to race that way as it is to watch?
Symmonds: When I was competing in Division 3 [at Willamette University] I ran it several ways, but in world competition I have to run it this way. I aim for plus-2-second splits, and I try to go out at 51 seconds for the first lap. The sprinters go out harder. It’s not fun! It’s difficult to run that way. You have to fight traffic. I’d much rather be a front runner, but I just can’t do that.
Run Oregon: Do you have any sports heroes of your own that have inspired you? Any inspirational figures outside of sports?
Symmonds: Outside of sports my inspirations have been my dad and my coaches and mentors. As a professional athlete it sounds funny to say this, but I have trouble with sports heroes. Professional sports are full of cheaters and dopers. I used to look up to Lance Armstrong as an inspiration until he was exposed as a doper. It’s hard to put any emotion behind athletes when you don’t know whether they’re clean or not.
Run Oregon: Is there anything Run Oregon readers may not know about you?
Symmonds: I’m happy to make the Pacific Northwest my home region. It’s really my second home, since I lived in Salem for four years and in Eugene for eight years. I’m glad we’ve been able to keep Run Gum based in the Whiteaker district in Eugene. I love bringing jobs to Oregon!
Run Oregon: What else can you tell us about Run Gum?
Symmonds: Run Gum is an energy gum that has the same ingredients as most energy drinks. It provides the same boost as an energy drink but doesn’t fill your stomach. It’s great before races, or before business meetings, increasing energy and focus.
Run Oregon wishes Nick well on his 2017 season, the continued growth of Run Gum, and many more successful years of the Springfield 800.