Behind the Singlet is a new series of articles from Pace & Mind highlighting the incredible stories from runners of our team and the running community. We aim to inspire you, while ‘shining a light’ on their stories, favourite running spots and the singlet they stand behind. This series is written and produced by Pace & Mind runners, Koray Salih & Kim Bergeron (bios below).
Runner: Jonny James
Occupation: Independent Front-End Web Developer
Favourite Run: High Park
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.” – Bill Bowerman
You may find him shouting words of encouragement or snapping shots of you as you run past him in a race. You may even find him in the pages of an indie fashion magazine, with his unique style. Yet, it is his deep and thoughtful character and passion for running that will make you lose track of time in a conversation. On a mild Saturday in February 2016, we had a chance to sit down with Jonny James for Behind the Singlet at Zaza cafe in High Park to hear what he had to say. We hope you enjoy.
Kim: When did you start running?
There are actually 2 phases. As a kid I went to an all-boys school until grade 8 which was based on a British system so there was a lot of rugby and running. That was my first foray with running and racing. Then when I went to high school, I quit any physical sports because it was pushed on us in phys ed class.
Then when I was about 25, a friend of my sister’s had just done a triathlon. She came up to me and said : “You look like the other male athletes at this Tri on the weekend.” She said I “looked like a runner” and I remember thinking that was strange because I hadn’t run as an adult. I was in university at the time doing my Honours Science degree so one day, I decided to go to the 200m indoor track at the Athletic Centre at U of T. I had bought some New Balance cross trainers which I thought was great, because that way I could have a pair of shoes to play tennis in and also run in. I trashed my knees running in those shoes until one day a runner stopped me and told me that I needed proper running shoes. I didn’t really have anyone to go to for advice. So I bought a proper pair of running shoes and joined the triathlon club where I quickly discovered that I really hated swimming and didn’t like to spin on a stationary bike. I only ever came out on running nights and for the brick workouts where you practice cycling followed by running to learn the transition in Triathlons. I never ended up doing a triathlon.
I was more interested in running. I remember seeing this guy on the track at UofT and saying to my fellow Tri Club friends that I wanted to be like that guy who was flying around the track. My teammates told me that it would take years to get to that level, of being able to be a marathoner. I never did meet that runner, but I was inspired by his style and saw something that I wanted to be. It was because of him and my sister’s friend, who said I looked like a runner, that I started running as an adult. I had always been this hyperactive, scrawny, asthmatic kid, not an athlete, but I had finally found my calling.
Kim: How did you make your way up to the marathon?
Since picking up running, I was always fascinated by the marathon. One day, I just signed up for the Chicago Marathon. I didn’t know anything about training or scheduling. I signed up on July 2 and then counting back I realized that I had missed the first two weeks of the training plan.
Kim: You run mostly alone, how did you learn the training?
I started running in the early 2000s, so it wasn’t as hard as the runners from the 70s/80s/90s or earlier. I just had a voracious appetite for knowledge and information. The beauty of running is that knowledge can come from action, or picking it up through reading and talking to other more experienced runners. I’m the kind of person who likes to figure things out on my own, even if that means the risk of being sidelined by injury or doing something the wrong way.
“The more I run, the more I realize that I don’t know anything about it.”
I love talking to new runners because they always know so much about running and I think I was probably like that 10 years ago, being someone with a lot of philosophy and ideas. But, now…
“the only thing that I know is that you need to be consistent.”
Outside of that, there is not much else. You can do your hill repeats, track sessions, long slow distance, tempo runs or whatever, but in all of that, it really just comes down to consistency.
Kim: How do you balance your training and work?
When I was married I had a very supportive partner who saw how much I loved running and how it improved my life, and by improving my life, it improved our life together. She herself was into cycling. We both had our own sport that brought joy to us, and we could share our experiences separately and together. We could also support each other. It was cool.
Now I look at the emergency doctor who is married, has two kids, and works these crazy night shifts and is training for a marathon, so how does he/she do it? I don’t think there is a secret to it, I think you just have to go out and do it.
Kim: How do you treat running now?
I’m at a different place right now where I’m enjoying more downtime and also enjoy not running with a watch. I’m becoming enamoured with running again, where before it was starting to feel like a second job. In 2015, it was not my best year for running. I only raced once at the Black Lungs Toronto organized Ekiden race. I was supposed to run Comrades Marathon, an 89km race in South Africa, but got a stress fracture in January and was told to stop running completely. Then, in the Summer I was training for the Chicago Marathon and sustained a bad ankle sprain while running on a trail up North, so that sidelined me for a couple weeks. When I came back from the sprain, I realized I didn’t want to go to Chicago, which was strange because I always had this drive when it comes to running. Maybe it’s an age thing, or experience or I’m getting smarter about running. I used to think “I absolutely need to do these 18 miles” and if I didn’t, I was letting myself down or something. I don’t know if I’m kinder and gentler, but I’m definitely smarter about running.
Kim: What lessons do you bring to your work or life that comes from running?
That’s the interesting thing for me about running is that I draw a lot of threads between my life and how I approach my running. I’m always shocked at how I dedicate so much of myself to running. For example, how I can come home after a day of work and go do 20 miles or how I can go out hungover on a Sunday morning or go out at 7 pm at night in the dead of Winter and run 24 miles. It’s mostly because I know I have to do it, I have to do this run. I mean…
“what other thing in my life can I say I am that dedicated to.”
That’s a testament to the benefits of running and why I do it. There are so many reasons why we run, for some it’s vanity or it could even be for inner peace, or world peace. It’s the perfect sport. It fits any occasion you may encounter. If you have a bad day, or you’re stressed out, or someone close to you passes away, or you fall in love, or even you’re hungover, you know that if you go for a run, you will come home feeling better than when you left.
Kim: Do you think running helps with your mental focus?
It is mostly a mental game. When you run, you engage with the world and environment around you, making you a healthier and happier person. Running can be selfish and that is an important thing. If you are doing something good for yourself and giving yourself the things you need, then you will become a better person for yourself and to others. It’s important to dedicate yourself and give to yourself wholeheartedly. Running is just another form of being kind to yourself. It’s a form of Self-love.
In terms of the mind game, running is great because it allows the chatter you hear throughout the day to become louder when you are out running by yourself. It’s your inner monologue that happens. I prefer running on my own, because there is no dialogue. That’s why when you come home from a solo run you always come back with a clearer mind, because you allow that noise in your head to play itself out. You are more aware of it. That awareness allows you to let it go.
Kim: What’s your most memorable moment in a race?
My most memorable moment was at the finish line at Hayward Field at the Eugene Marathon in April 2013. It was my fastest marathon to date. I had visited Pre’s (Steve Prefontaine) hometown and talked to people that knew him growing up so that was pretty special. I stayed overnight in Coos Bay and went to pay my respects at his grave before heading up to Eugene where his legend as a runner was cemented. Eugene is like Mecca for runners, this is where most of my running heroes have raced at some point. I ran the marathon and when I got to the finish line I asked the race director if I could kiss the finish line at Lane 1. I hobbled over, and he lifted the tape for me and I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the rubber track. I’m a germaphobe so for me to kiss a rubberized track in Eugene, Oregon takes a lot! That was probably one of my most religious experiences even though I’m not a religious person . But there was also this sort of communion that happened during that race. That Marathon was pretty special.
Kim: Do you ever think about quitting running?
I don’t know, maybe 20 miles into a run I do! I don’t think about quitting running. I probably say it sometimes, but I don’t actually mean it. It’s running! I mean, it’s the best thing in the world! I would like to run for as long as I can. If someone told me, I could run the fastest race of my life but that it would mean the wheels coming off, I wouldn’t do it. I would rather run until the day I die than trade that for a single fast time.
Kim: Do you have any advice for beginners?
We humans naturally gravitate towards things of comfort. This surfaces when training. For example, I avoid doing single-leg squats because I don’t like them, but that’s actually the very thing I need. So I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of ‘do what you love’, because it’s not always the right thing, or what you need. Sometimes we need to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to improve. For me I experienced that through swimming. I couldn’t even swim when I joined the triathlon club! I jumped into the pool and my bathing suit and goggles came off! It became very obvious to the Triathlon coach that I had no idea how to swim, so he just had me doing drills while the others did the workout. Because of injuries that I’ve sustained, swimming has become this thing of healing that I have come to love. So what I mean is, since I was forced to swim to stay in shape and maintain my cardio in the absence of running, I grew to love it and can now do it with confidence.
The important lesson for people starting to run is that you might not love it the first time, or the hundredth time, but I don’t think we should set out to love stuff necessarily. There is an important lesson in subjecting yourself to things you don’t love, or don’t even like all that much , and I think that’s the beauty of running. You learn one of the greatest lessons you can learn in life, and that is one of tolerance. If you can just tolerate that initial discomfort when starting to run for the first time, then eventually you will find your tolerance increasing and you can keep pushing those boundaries.
Kim: You’ve suffered a lot of injuries, what makes you come back to running?
My injuries have allowed me to have this lens and perspective on running. When you’re out with a stress fracture for 8 weeks and the doctor gives you the go-ahead totp run for one- minute on/one- minute off for seven minutes, then all of a sudden running becomes this joyous thing again, but it is also painful and humbling because you’ve lost all of your running fitness. Coming back to it just made me admire people that are starting out for the first time. Returning to it makes you remember what it feels like to run for the first time. If I didn’t know what it felt like to run and “feel fast”, then I wouldn’t do it again, but because I have that in my memory, that feeling of effortlessness and power then I dedicate myself again to getting back to that level. . If I didn’t know that in my mind, I would never have gone back to running after my first injury. Suffering an injury is humbling and it centres you.
Kim: How would you describe the running community in Toronto?
It’s amazing! I’m not really concerned with why people run, everyone has their own reasons. I just care if people are running. If people are running in a club and it takes 100 of them running down the sidewalk to get you out, then do it! Do what you need to do to get out and run. The community in Toronto is amazing and it’s blossomed a lot.
When I used to run through Parkdale with short shorts and a singlet, I would be made fun of by the same people who are now part of a club that has 100 members. They would shout ‘put some clothes on Jonny!’ while I kept thinking that, when you get to where I am, you don’t want to be running in basketball shorts and a long sleeve and have that constriction.
Personally, I depart from the club mentality, because with every club, it demands a bit of an allegiance. Also…
“running is a bit like church and you don’t go to church to socialize, you go to pray.”
So when I go out to run, I want to just run. It’s definitely my “religion”. One of peace and tolerance and I’m happy to be part of that.
About Kim Bergeron, Writer
Kim Bergeron – Kim started running during the harsh winters of Quebec City to clear her mind from complex law studies. Her hobby evolved to a passion when she started racing in Toronto in 2012; progressing from a half-marathon to marathon. She loves meeting runners and discovering their motivation and passion for the sport. She writes about all things running at paceandmind.com. Follow her on instagram at: @kiminphotos.
About Koray Salih, Photographer
Koray Salih – Koray’s passion of running and photography are a match made in heaven. He spends race day either running, or capturing the essence of elites driving hard, teammates and friends achieving goals and family and friends celebrating. You’ll find him in one of those places. You can follow Koray’s adventures on Instagram @coreofyoureye or koraysalih.com
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