As the creator and host of the podcast For the Long Run, Jonathan Levitt unpacks the “why” behind runners’ ambitions. As he says, “I’m not interested in, ‘Oh, talk to me about your splits and tell me about your training.’ I want to know who you are, what you care about, and how you can help other people.” He hopes that by sharing his own running journey, from his pursuit of breaking three hours in the marathon to trail running and chasing a five-minute mile, he’ll encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and pursue their goals.
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At the beginning of each episode, Jonathan asks his guest who they are. Some answer purely factually, others go deeper. For Jonathan, the best replies address both aspects of the question. He describes himself: “I’m a guy who lives in Boulder and likes to run, likes to be outside. I like to help people learn and grow and motivate. And I like taking big public swings with fitness-related stuff or projects that I feel passionate about, and overshare the hell out of it in hopes that someone else might feel inspired to shoot their shot or do something that they’re a little uncomfortable with because I think that the ability for people to see that people are taking chances on themselves inspires other people to do the same.”
Jonathan is also a Sales and Endurance Team Manager for InsideTracker, which gives him another avenue for helping people, as well as more latitude with his podcast than he might otherwise have. “I’m pretty adamant about using my platform for good. It’s not my main job. And with that, I get to take more risks than, let’s say, someone whose income solely comes from podcasting or being a creator or whatever.
“So I don’t really have a fear of saying the wrong thing or rubbing someone the wrong way in the effort of making progress on something and sort of calling it like it is. And so to me that’s the ultimate flexibility or privilege, to be able to use my platform in the way that I want to, to create better outcomes.”
That can lead to some awkward moments, but, Jonathan points out, “If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing, and if you’re not making mistakes, you’re leaving room on the table. Look at training for a marathon or training for a race. If you never get injured, you’re either gifted genetically or you’re incredibly conservative, which is fine. If you run for fun and enjoyment, and performance goals are not the focus, then be conservative. But for those of us who like pushing boundaries and pushing limits, and I mean that in the literal and metaphorical sense, an injury or a mistake is a sign of growth and you’ve just gone over the line.
“But the bottom line is we all have this platform and ability to influence people, and regardless of the color of our skin or our gender or sexual orientation or whatever, we all have a responsibility to. Or maybe we don’t, but I would like to think we all are part of helping move humanity forward, again, regardless of skin color, race, whatever. My grandfather, the last thing I ever heard from him before he died in 2019 was, ‘The meaning of life is to leave the world a better place than when you entered it.’ And so that’s how I live my life and aspire to do it. Some of it is around the aspect of gender and race and all this stuff. And some of it is I just want to motivate people to get out the door and be healthy and chase goals.”
Jonathan’s own goals have changed recently. He ran his first marathon in 3:35, an excellent time, but he was disappointed with it. He believed that to be a “real runner” he had to break three hours. “I defined myself by my 3:35, my 3:27, my 3:20, my 4:01; that one hurt a lot. And for four years, it was the focus on breaking three hours in the marathon. That’s what mattered. That’s how you know, ‘I am a successful runner’ and the marathon owed me that. And, as our friend Peter Bromka says, the marathon doesn’t owe you anything. So I got to this place where I had swung and missed four times, and I ran 61 minutes over goal time in one of those races. I realized something needed to change, so I ended up changing coaches.
“I ran 2:59 in 2019 and finally broke three and I did it because I was disassociated with the outcome and it was all about the process. And it was awesome and it was incredibly rewarding because it was a celebration of all the miles that I put in.”
Then the pandemic hit, he moved to Boulder, and completed the best training cycle of his life. He went into the California International Marathon confident that he would have a great race, but mismanaged his fueling and wound up vomiting for 12 miles. He considered dropping out, but “for some reason I finished that race and I felt so proud of that finish despite it being 45 minutes slower than what I had anticipated. I fought so hard for that finish line and I called it the start of ultra training because I puked for 12 miles, which was like two hours worth, and that’s ultra running for you.”
He decided that he needed to focus on something other than the marathon, and is going in two very different directions – trail running and attempting to break 5:00 in the mile. The mile attempt came about because of his partnership with Puma. He was going to run a series of 5K time trials and asked them for a pair of fast shoes. “They said, ‘Well, how fast?’ and I said, ‘As fast as possible, as fast as legally possible.’ And they said, ‘But seriously, what distance?’ and I said, ‘5K’ and so I ran in a certain shoe for that. But they’re like, “If you ever want to go faster, we have this track shoe,’ which looks like they sliced a chunk out of the toe box.
“And so they sent me both and I was like, ‘I’ve never broken five in the mile. Maybe I should run it in this shoe and make a little thing about it.’ And because I’m completely incapable of doing things at a small scale and I need to blow things up into much bigger things in every way possible, I was like, ‘What if we did a breaking five campaign?’ So it’s not just me running a fast mile, but let’s see if we can get other people to do this.”
Jonathan partnered with a race in Boulder, Mile High Mile, and For the Long Run contributed $1000 to the elite prize purse. Sara Vaughn is going to pace his heat, and, he says, “I’m cautiously terrified and excited by Sara Vaughn telling me, ‘Stick with me; we’re gonna do it’ and being able to smash this goal as a result of that.”
He’s optimistic about achieving his goal, but says, “If I run a 5:01 or a 5:07, which would not be a PR, I would still be satisfied. I am doing this because I want to take a huge swing publicly and I’m already seeing other people doing the same. I’ve gotten a half dozen or a dozen DMs from people saying, ‘Oh, I’m 40 years old’ or ‘I’m 50 years old’ and ‘I’m getting back on the horse and taking a swing at my PRs from 20 years ago’, or ‘I’m doing that thing finally that I’ve always wanted to do.’ To me, that’s the win, that’s what I’m going for.”
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