This is my own starting line of sorts. The start of a new series, Eight Lanes (or #8Lanes) in which I conduct in depth Q&A's of athletes and other people who interest me. The goal: to reveal stories, ideas, and current topics that dig deeper than the usual fare. To go beyond tips and tricks and smoothie recipes. If track is a metaphor for life, it's about more than lane one; life takes up all eight.
So when it comes to our heroes, what's behind the armor? What are the fits and starts? The worries and cravings? What do they do for fun, for growth, for love? How do they keep their minds as fit as their bodies? And how can we feel more connected through their stories? My hope is that we all get to a place beyond social media's 'easy perfection,' past the poised pics and happy, shiny updates. I yearn for the grit! Not just because it's more interesting, but because it's real. I love people's REAL stories, and I hope you do too!
With that, I'm honored to present my first interview with the one and only Lauren Wallace. She's a person dear to my heart. We met in the soup-like humidity of Ohio at USA Outdoors in 2013, where she was among a very early wave of athletes we were signing. As her sponsor during the past two years, we've watched her - with guidance from her skilled coach Drew Wartenberg of NorCal Distance Project - diligently lower her times in the 800m to the magical 2:00 mark, as well as snatch the USA Indoor 1000m Championship earlier this year. As 2016 looms, Lauren is not only one to watch, but one to cheer for at every turn of the oval. I'll be hanging on the rail fo sho!
SB: You have some really great tattoos. Can you share what they are and what they mean to you?
LW: Yes, I have three. I got the first one when I was 19 and it’s a breast cancer ribbon with butterfly wings for my aunt who passed away in 2007. She died from breast cancer. She was very inspirational and a big influence in my life. It was devastating when we lost her, so I want to have her with me all the time. When I’m having a hard time, my mom texts me something about her. Something she said to help inspire me.
The second is an Arabic phrase: ‘Dream as if you’ll live forever’. I studied Arabic for three years and am fascinated with the language and the culture. The meaning goes along with a similar vein to my aunt. There are no guarantees. Life is short.
@jwjeffer photography on point at the Hoka Middle Distance Classic (left).
The third is the tree on my back. I got it in May, a week before Prefontaine Classic. I thought about it for a long time, and I asked my roommate Alycia Cridebring if she could draw it for me, and the tattoo artist did exactly what my Alycia drew. I wanted a tree. I wanted either a pine or an oak because those are the two trees that are most prevalent where I’m from in NorCal. I went with the pine mostly because pines are some of the oldest trees, and I’m spiritual that way; they link us to the past. They’re long lasting, resilient, they brave storms, and they provide shelter. I chose not to have foliage because it makes it more vulnerable and the branches are reaching out into the unknown.
SB: So I just went to this conference and Brené Brown spoke; a lot of discussion around being vulnerable, and how that’s linked to living a whole hearted life. The athletic endeavor is one where you are continuously vulnerable; you put your heart on the line and publicly commit to lofty goals. Is that difficult?
LW: Brené Brown. So much good! It’s funny, I’m actually reading her book Daring Greatly right now. I love it. It’s full of notes and highlights and scribbles.
Absolutely. It’s very scary. Not only because you’re afraid of the critiquing, but you also have an accountability to yourself. Being accountable for everything you do in training. And as runners, we’re very accountable people. We don’t want to disappoint ourselves or other people. To combat that, I’ve broken my bigger goals into smaller goals. The Olympic dream is an example. You spend 4 years critiquing and making incremental steps and then hopefully all the pieces come together and you get that end goal.
SB: It's said that we often learn more from our failures. What's a failure you've learned from?
LW: I do think failures teach us a lot. I’m still working through what happened at USA’s. [Note: Lauren ran 2:00.4 and placed 5th in the semi-final of the 800m at Outdoor Nationals; a time that would have put her into the final, even on the worlds team, in years’ past, but knocked her out in 2015]. So many people considered it not a failure. That I ran “such a fast time.” But that wasn’t the goal. I wanted to make the final. The goal was to compete for a spot on the team. I didn’t do the job. I didn’t finish the task. I’ve learned that I need more experience and I need more time racing. Some people get really lucky and in the pro world and other times it takes a lot longer. I’m still working on it!
SB: After a failure, or a loss, what's helped you walk tall again? Is it just time, or are there things you do?
LW: You can either let the failures defeat you or you can build a little fire. I’m going to keep coaxing that little fire and then I’m going to let it rage in July.
It’s interesting, not everyone sticks around when you fail. Not through the rough patches. People want to be around you when you do something big, and those people tend to be away when you fail. Then there are the people that help you pick up the pieces when you break, and walk tall again. My teammates, and Drew… I don’t know what I would do without them. They are my family, my connection.
SB: With a win, what's your favorite way to celebrate?
LW: Being around my people. It’s not necessarily what we’re doing, but if I’m with my people it’s good.
SB: So it’s the same with a failure as with a win! Just be with your people.
LW: Yes, totally true.
SB: What did you do to celebrate your indoor 1000m win this spring?
LW: I spent so much time in drug testing, I don’t think I left until hours after the race.
SB: Tell us more about that. I don’t think most people know what it’s like to be drug tested.
LW: You get to do what you want to do, but you have someone from USADA shadowing you. I was in media for 45 minutes to an hour. Then cool down. Then back at media. Then I had to go upstairs and wait ‘til I had to pee. Sometimes you’re just schmoozing with the other athletes. You’re in a room. It was fine. I pride myself on being a very well hydrated athlete.
SB: What do you think are the top challenges of professional T&F are right now?
LW: I can really only speak from an athlete perspective: money creates opportunities. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the opportunity. Some runners make zero dollars and they’re doing it for the love of the sport, and some runners are making three figures. The contrast is absurd.
Let’s say for example that I wanted to move to a training group on East Coast. I would never be able to do that because I can’t afford it. People are forced to not go all in. They have to take a second job, scrap it together. When you tell someone you’re a professional runner, the second question is “what do you really do?”
SB: On the topic of prodigies, what's your take on college vs. becoming a pro? If you could sit down with Mary Cain two years ago, and she asked your advice, what would you tell her?
LW: The pro world is really stressful. If you can handle it, then maybe it’s right for you. But if you’re in college, and you’re on a team, it’s easier to put your heart on the line. To take risks. And then the social aspect of college, it’s invaluable. I think a long slow approach is better.
Trackside pow-wow with mom.
SB: Do you believe what you wear has the power to affect your mindset?
LW: When I was in high school, my mom told me a study about professional boxers. The boxers who wore red, won more. So then I went through a phase of wanting to wear red all the time, even if it was just something small. When I took tests, I wore a red shirt. Or competing, a red hair tie. I agree with the phrase “look good, feel good, run good.” That’s a real thing! If you feel and look good, you’re going to have more confidence and that translates into everything. Putting on your kit. Spiking up. It’s powerful.
SB: Do you like to have friendly banter before hand with your competitors or do you keep things close to the vest?
LW: That is SO individual. Some people chat everyone up. They chat up other athletes, the officials, everyone. Personally, I like to keep to myself. And try to be in the zone. But even that is misleading… Drew recommended a good book recently “The Champions Mind.” I read it when I was injured. One of the points is that it’s counter-intuitive to TRY to be in the zone. If you do everything correctly, it just happens.
SB: Has a competitor ever done or said anything to get under your skin? If so what? And how did you control it?
LW: Sometimes I get annoyed. But that’s more of a personal thing. That’s more me getting annoyed because my anxiety and stress levels are up. The only thing that’s really negatively affected me is getting tripped up in a race. So hard to keep calm and composed in that situation which is of course what you’re supposed to do. Haha, I’ve definitely said and done some things!
SB: Like what? What does pissed off Lauren Wallace look like?
LW: Oh you know, throw hands up or out, yell “Back off!” An F bomb here and there.
SB: What are the things you like to do for the sheer joy of it?
LW: I’m really outdoorsy. I love being able to romp around in the mountains. No destination, just go. I take my dog Finn, he’s an Australian Shepherd. I have to be careful now, because I get really competitive with myself. How many miles can I do in a certain amount of time? And then I remember I’m supposed to be resting, recovering.
SB: Does he herd you?
LW: He doesn’t herd me. I trained it out of him. I love all dog breeds. I love training. I trick trained Finn for a while.
SB: You know those crazy competitions where the dogs are going through tunnels and over jumps. Maybe that’s your next chapter!
LW: Haha, agility? Yeah totally. I was also talking to my mom about rescue training. I was like, “what do you think about search and rescue?” My mom’s like “No Lauren!”
SB: From the outside, it seems that NorCal Distance Project is a very tight ship; that Drew’s program is very controlled and regimented. True/not true?
LW: It is very closed knit. And it is very regimented. But if you’re the type of athlete that craves that, it’s perfect for you. For a new athlete to come in, they have to fit the flow of the group. They have to fit personality wise. I was kind of born into it because I already had Drew in college at UC Davis.
SB: When you do things that might be out of the training book, does it feel like sneaking around on Dad?
LW: Haha, there’s some of that, but sometimes it’s more in our own heads. We think, “Oh no, maybe we shouldn’t go hike in the Grand Canyon,” and we’re so stressed about it, and then it turns out he doesn’t care at all.
SB: Do you believe a strict regimen is required for success?
LW: It’s individual. I know people who have no regimen and they don’t have set practice times and they don’t know what they’re doing ‘til that day, and they’re highly successful. Some people would say it’s too controlling. I see it as a much more collaborative effort.
Snatching the USA Indoor 1000m Championship in a lane-one sneak attack.
SB: Can training and racing be creative? If so, how?
LW: It can be a little bit of both. Obviously, a lot of training is very scientific. Your body is an engine and you need to do all the correct things to treat it properly. You can be creative in the way you train. If obstacles come up, you need to pivot and do something else.
With racing, it’s so in the moment. Half the time you don’t know what you’re thinking. Your brain’s in autopilot and it needs to do what it needs to do.
SB: What's your biggest, scariest dream? If all things come together, what starting line do you picture yourself on? What podium?
LW: Making an Olympic team would be the biggest, scariest thing. It’s so big and scary that I get uncomfortable saying it. My parents and my teammates are like “You can do it!” But what if it doesn’t work out? Part of it is you feel a little bit of guilt. So many people are doing things to help you out. You’ve put so much of your life into this one thing, and you’ve asked so many people to help you along the way. If you don’t get it, it’s like you’re letting them down.
SB: For sure, I can see that. But one thing to remember is that it’s not all selfless. Those people are getting something from you as well. They’re drafting on your dream in a way.
LW: Hmm, yeah, I can see that.
SB: For 2016, 800m or 1500m? What and why?
LW: Almost certainly the 800m. I have the most experience and confidence in the 800. In terms of the field, it’s the strongest it’s ever been. And the 1500! Both are unreal. And unruly!
SB: Haha, what do you mean by unruly?
LW: Everyone is so close. It doesn’t even matter if you can run 2:00 anymore. No way! Now you have to be sub-2. It is SO cut throat out there.
SB: Will you and Kate Grace race each other this spring?
LW: Kate and I are definitely going to race each other this season.
SB: Any dates?
LW: Indoors…we might line up, we might stagger. I don’t know Kate’s schedule. I know my schedule roughly. Running a 3K in Seattle, either at the opener or UW invite (Jan/Feb). Don’t know which one yet. I’ll be running a mile indoors.
SB: Has a friendship with Kate grown? And do you see it as an improvement to have a Oiselle teammate at NorCal?
LW: Right now, I’m coming off an injury. I’m not fit. So they can drop me on all the runs. But Kate has been so nice. Flipping when I flip and then adding on. It’s great to have someone in those situations. We haven’t done any workouts together yet. Maybe one workout on grass. I’m really excited for the track. She says she’s really bad at threshold stuff, and I just say no way, you ran sub 9 at the 3K there’s no way you’re bad at it. She’s all about camaraderie. She doesn’t compete with you at practice. She’s more like come on! I’ll help you, or you need help.
SB: So what’s the injury been?
LW: I’ve had two stress reactions in my left foot. But now I don’t have any pain in my foot. I’m running, slowly building back up. A lot of grass work. It’s crazy. Running is so hard! I’m like “oh my god,” this is so unbelievably difficult right now. “Why is this so hard?”
SB: Haha, some of us call that phase, when you’re getting back into it, the “butt flap feeling” – where it feels like your butt is not whole, and one half is flapping against the other. Wait, do pros get that too?
LW: So good. The butt flap feeling! Yes, totally. And it’s not just the butt. It’s your legs, it’s your stomach. I’ve been doing so much biking; my thighs. Oh my god, chafing. I’ve been using Vaseline.
SB: Wait chafing? Could that be a gear/apparel problem?!
LW: No! Not even. It’s skin against skin. My thighs, and this weird spot near my armpit.
SB: What? Okay, now I don’t believe you. I think we’re going to need pictures.
LW: Haha, it’s true! It’s so true.
SB: NorCal has New Balance athletes and you and Kate with Oiselle. Is that a pro, or do you think there would be advantages to being 100% one sponsor.
LW: I think it’s fine. I don’t have to pay for shoes. As for me, it works out perfectly. You give us what we want, NB gives us what we want, and we train hard.
SB: What's your take on the controversy that went down this past summer with Nick and the World's team?
LW: It was a necessary wrinkle in what needs to happen for change. Nick’s in a position that he can take a stance. It was very admirable for him to do that. And it obviously got USATF thinking. And it got them to do something. It may not be what everyone was hoping or wanting, but it was a step in the right direction. And… I was happy to hear at Worlds that people didn’t feel pressured. They said they were able to wear their sponsor brands. There’s a little bit of change happening. There’s a shift. And that’s positive.
SB: Now for something completely different… are you dating anyone right now?
LW: Not right now. Truth be told, I was in a very long-term relationship all through college and then into the beginning of my pro career. I have never had to be alone for a long period of time. I’ve dated people on the circuit, but it doesn’t work out. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s them. I do think this can be a very lonely sport. You don’t meet a ton of people. I don’t know anyone or hang out with anyone that I didn’t hang out with before. How do you meet people?
SB: What about online dating? Haha do you have an app?
LW: Oh man, I have one, but I haven’t used it yet.
SB: Lack of interest?
LW: Maybe it’s my age. I don’t know. It’s a time thing. My time, I have double days four times per week. That gives me three days to do something if I’m not too tired.
SB: Let's say a guy was asking for your advice on how to date a pro woman distance runner. What tips would you give him?
LW: Oh, I don’t know. People want to go out to bars and get drinks. Haha, that’s just not going to happen most nights. I mean… we’re in bed by 9:30pm. Can’t take weekend trips.
In my previous relationship, we dated for 3.5 years; he wasn’t a runner. I couldn’t go to Vegas on New Years. I couldn’t go places on Spring Break. If you want to date a pro runner, get used to being a homebody and be creative about when you can take time off. It’s hard working around an athlete schedule. A lot of people in the running world date runners, and marry runners. Jenny Simpson. The Gouchers. Those relationships were built in running. It’s possible to meet people on the circuit, but I’m young. Haha, there are no male runners in Sacramento.
SB: Well, I think they should move there, so they could possibly date you.
LW: Well wouldn’t that be nice.
SB: Are men intimidated by your athletic prowess?
LW: Certain guys are. If they are, that’s their issue. I’ve definitely met people who are like “let’s race!” And I’m like “Nooooo… let’s not do that.” And maybe they don’t want to deal with you because you are better at something.
SB: What’s the mental side of dating a pro runner?
LW: The ups and downs and emotions. Like I said, I was in a very serious relationship, and I talked about everything: my hopes, dreams, my fears, and that can weigh heavily on someone. As humans, we crave being able to help others and have a sense of belonging and connection with another person. And when they can’t help you feel better, that can take a toll on their own mental health.
SB: How old are you?
LW: I’m 25
SB: Do you have thoughts about having kids someday?
LW: I don’t have baby fever by any means, but I love kids, so I will definitely want some of my own at some point. For now, my cousin and sister’s kids are more than enough.
SB: Among your female competitors, who do admire and why?
LW: Two: Molly Huddle (who did some big stuff today, winning the Tufts 10K), and Brenda Martinez. Both are very similar in that they fly low under the radar but they do huge things on the track. They are all about their training and their lifestyle and they get shit done. And it shows. They’re very tenacious and gutsy in their racing. Brenda will say “the plan was to do x, y, and z” and then she does it. “My coach told me to take the lead with 300m to go.” And I know from experience that to take risks like that, it’s so scary.
SB: Is Drew like that?
LW: If I ask for them. I’m a planner, and really like to plan things. I like to play to strengths. More helpful with a race plan. Go into it with an A, B and C goal.
SB: Do you have a female role model or mentor outside running?
LW: Absolutely. My aunt Mary is a huge influence.
My Mom. My mom is a very powerful, misunderstood woman. I really admire everything she’s been through. She had my brother Matt when she was very young. He was diagnosed with cancer when he was young, and she found a doctor to treat him, and then she started going to nursing school and then she became a nurse. Then she eventually became a lawyer years later. She ended up going to law school when I was in high school, but still made it to all my track meets.
Never too late to learn. Mom graduates from law school.
SB: What do you mean by misunderstood?
LW: My mom is a fixer. She fixes problems. She saved my brother’s life. When my Aunt got cancer, she took her to all her appointments. But the way that she does it is not always the most pleasant. She can come across very powerful and opinionated. She’s very aggressive, and people don’t understand that. She wants to fix the problem and is doing it the best way she knows how. She’s a force.
SB: I know you’re a big reader… what are you reading right now?
LW: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. And I just finished up The Martian. I really liked it, I read it in two days.
SB: Have you seen the movie? Maybe that should be your online date.
LW: Haha, I’m waiting for my friends to finish reading it so we can all see it together in the theater.
SB: I know you speak some French! Favorite French saying or phrase?
LW: Yes, I love it. I keep a French quote journal. One of the quotes: “Il n’ya qu’un bonheur dans la vie, c’est d’aimer et d’être aimé.” – “There’s only happiness in life to love and be loved.”
SB: So good. Maybe that will be MY tattoo.
SB: Do you watch TV? If so, favorite TV Show?
LW: One TV show that I will seek out, if it’s on: So You Think You Can Dance.
SB: Favorite current song?
LW: I really like the new Mumford & Sons album. “Snake Eyes” is my favorite track.
Mumford and Sons new album just released, check it out: Wilder Mind on Spotify.
SB: Do you have a Hollywood crush?
LW: My mom and I love movies. I love Kevin Costner. Daniel Day Lewis…but only in The Last of the Mohicans.
A sight for sore eyes...Kevin Costner and Daniel Day Lewis.
SB: Oh yeah, hot.
What do you think about doing that's fun after pro running?
LW: I’d really like to something outdoorsy or in the mountains. I’d like to go back to school. I love school. I love classes, and reading and writing. I’ll probably do something with natural resources, environmental sciences.
SB: The world needs that!
Our athletes inspire everything we do. They make us want to put more love, more attention to detail, more "training time" into design. So it's only natural to name some sweet styles after them. Voila! The Wallace Jacket.
Available for the first time today, in two colors, inspired by our friend and hero. It's a gorgeous street-and run-ready jacket that uses our exclusive wind-and water-resistant Katron fabric. I've been wear testing it for months, and I'll say that it's one of the few windbreaker styles that I will wear equally on the run and with street clothes. Plus the snap-off removable hood is extra fly. Design love...from us to Lauren to all of you! I hope you enjoy it!