Alexi Pappas: On staying put in TrackTown USA

In order to achieve her goal of becoming one of the world’s best distance runners, Olympian Alexi Pappas said she will stay in TrackTown USA because she “needs to be in a place and around people” who support her goals. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Teicher)

EUGENE, Ore. – In a race, it’s important to focus on running the mile we’re in, rather than worrying about mile 9 when we’re in mile 3. Likewise, it’s important to focus on the running-season we’re in and fully commit to it rather than worrying too much about the future.

Generally, I don’t plan my life more than one year in advance. With a career as a professional runner and filmmaker, it’s hard to know what one year or five years ahead might look like. I’ve never planned a subsequent racing season before the current one was over. With an Olympic year in particular, it would be odd to plan anything much past that major life event, anyway. Nobody expected me to be anywhere besides Rio when I was in Rio.

Now the Olympics are over. Now is the time to reflect, learn and adjust as needed. Fall, just like when I was in school, feels like the New Year. More so than any other point in the year, the door is open for change. Now is the time when I could pick up and move, change locations, or change anything I might need in order to better chase my goals and dreams.

Change is glamorous – like the time I dyed my hair blonde and chopped half of it off. Change is good – like the time I switched from the 3,000-meter steeplechase to the 10,000 meters. But I’ve also learned that change for change’s sake is not always positive or necessary.

Olympian Alexi Pappas works out in the weight room at Hayward Field in TrackTown USA.

Olympian Alexi Pappas works out in the weight room at Hayward Field in TrackTown USA. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Teicher)

I’ve almost made major changes in my running life several times over the past few years. I almost left Eugene – not just once, but a few times. I almost moved somewhere where I could be more deeply immersed in the film world I also love, or somewhere to pursue other higher academic degrees and opportunities.

Ideally, change should help us along the path to achieving our current goals and also our new goals. The question to ask first when considering change, then, is: what are my most important goals for this year? Personally, my goals are to keep running and to become better at the longer distance events I’m growing into and loving more each year.

It is not my goal to simply run and improve, though, which I could probably find a way to do anywhere – my goal is to become one of the world’s best. In order to get there, I need to be in a place and around people who support my goals and can help me see to the tiny details in this sport that separate the good from the great. This is unique to every person, but for me, simplicity and concentration is important. I am easily excited by people and would likely become a fisherwoman if I spent enough time in a fishing community, for example. I like being around people and places that are dedicated to something. Since my goal is to run, I need to be in a place where running is the “thing.” While pursuing this running dream, I would not do well living in whatever big city I may eventually end up in someday. My home base in a place like TrackTown USA, is exactly where I belong.

Like few other places in the world, TrackTown is a place that supports my training and goals. There is no doubt that my ability to run out my front door to practice, the grocery store, and even to my massage therapist is key to my success. The simpler and easier my days and quality of life can be, the more intense and difficult my workouts can be. The city seems to be designed with a runner in mind, both in geography and the types of energy and people it attracts. There is a history in TrackTown that I draw confidence and positivity from and also hope to contribute to. I travel for races, altitude camps and for film work, but I am always happy to return home.

Further, I am an athlete who needs her coach! Coach Ian Dobson, who I’ve worked with since 2012, has guided me from a great college runner with potential to a great athlete competing on the world’s stage. He has the right balance of confidence, experience and open mindedness that I admire in a leader and in a coach.

Sometimes, the best change is choosing not to change. Sometimes the best change is staying put. For me, staying in Eugene and working with Coach Dobson was the biggest catalyst to my progression from University of Oregon Duck to Olympian. And it was through years of consistency that I became successful. It has not always been easy watching people around me shift and move from year to year, but I know that I am doing what is best for me.

Olympian Alexi Pappas on staying in Eugene: "Sometimes, the best change is choosing not to change."

Distance runner Alexi Pappas on staying in Eugene: “Sometimes, the best change is choosing not to change.”  (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Teicher)

(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Teicher)

But remaining in TrackTown USA doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a change at all. Rather, changes have come in more subtle ways, such as trying to train with young men like Soh Rui Yong, or in the form of trying the 10,000m for the first time, for example. Or by trying to push myself physically and mentally through training trips to Mammoth Lakes, where I am grateful for the chance to train with and learn from world-class marathoners I admire.

This year, Coach Dobson and I started the new season by having a several-hour brainstorm about what was successful and also what we learned last year. I loved this long coffee-filled check in session. We will be making some changes in the coming year, but they will not be as obvious as when I dyed my hair blonde – instead we subscribe to the school of thought that the most significant gains can be made with tiny changes and choices.

Change is not about turning completely upside-down, then. Sometimes, change means simply standing on our tiptoes to get a better look or different view at what is around us. This theory about change is not so different than the mantra I use during a race – during rough moments, I tell myself to stay – this is the most effective way to guide my races and often, my life.

Previous TTUSA stories by Alexi Pappas

On the best women’s 10k race of all-time

The night before my first Olympic Games

Training with the boys at altitude

How I spend my Sundays

The longest run

Run like your best 12-year-old selves

On being happy to compete

Watching greatness

Staying connected

My growth as a runner

Running as a team sport

Race decisions can be invisible 

Trust your race plan 

Outside my comfort zone

On budgeting willpower

What the President said

Channelling your inner racing bug

No easy way to prepare for marathon pacing

Alexi is an avid tweeter and her thoughts can be  found @alexipappas.

Alexi Pappas graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth College before joining the Ducks as a University of Oregon fifth-year student, helping lead the team to two NCAA championships in 2012 and 2013. She currently runs professionally for the Nike-sponsored Oregon Track Club Elite in Eugene, Oregon. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Alexi set a personal best and Greek national record of 31 minutes, 36 seconds with a 17th-place finish in the 10,000 meters.

As a filmmaker, Alexi co-wrote, co-directed and stars in the feature film, Tracktown, which was produced with support from the Sundance Institute and premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival. She contributes poetry regularly to Women’s Running Magazine and most recently she and her partner Jeremy Teicher created a 5-episode short film series entitled “Speed Goggles in partnership with Kodak, published by the New York Times. She is also co-founder of the Portland chapter of the Film Fatales, a nationwide group of female directors.