Boris Berian Talks the Running Life

From college drop out to professional runner

It was 2012, and a young Boris Berian of Colorado Springs dropped out of school and walked into a local McDonald’s to get a job to pay his bills while he focussed on what he really wanted to do with his life: run track. It was an unconventional decision for a collegiate athlete, but academics never held much interest for Berian anyway. In his eyes, the McDonald’s job was his chance to make enough money to train, travel to races and really see what he could do.

And so, a young, quiet and laid back Berian began silently working his way to the top of the US middle distance scene. It was not without early setbacks, though. Long work hours were exhausting, and training alone was less than ideal. It showed. Sure, he was getting in shape, but he found himself running only because he felt he had to, completing lackluster workouts. What’s more, he was hardly making enough money to scrape bye.

Then, two years in, something happened. Carlos Handler, coach of the Big Bear Track Club in Big Bear, Cali., called Berian and asked him to come to California to train with his group.

Handler knew Berian had world-class potential. It was an easy sell. With nothing to lose, Berian headed west. It was exactly what he needed. Berian quickly found new motivation and a rekindled love for the sport. He found himself no longer running because he had to, but because it was fun. Running with friends was an easy road to success, and it wasn’t long before Berian clocked a 1:43.34 in the 800 meters to become the fifth fastest American to run the 800. The world was watching.

And then, he got injured (he pulled his Achilles in a workout). Despite that, he’s determined as ever to continue climbing to the top. And if his early success is any indication, he just might do it.

We recently caught up with Berian to talk about his outlook on training and life, and how he maintains balance as a professional athlete (he’s perhaps the most laid-back runner we’ve ever interviewed).

It must be hard to deal with an injury when your livelihood depends on physical fitness. How do you deal with the pressure?

Haha, I’ve learned a lot of patience. This year, my tempos and endurance-type workouts have been much better than in past years because I really just haven’t been able to do a lot of sprint workouts for the 800 yet.

Plus, there is no world championship this year (it’s an off year), so that helps. It means that I’m able to make this year all about building a strong base so that I can go into next year 100 percent. I’ve also learned a lot about my Achilles injury and how to manage it. I have naturally tight calves, so I’ve incorporated daily self-massage techniques to help stay ahead of it.

What about psychologically?

It sucks. But getting mad at my Achilles is not gonna help it heal. I realized I just have to take all the necessary steps to help it heal. That means a lot of rehab, recovery and strengthening.

Based on your experience, do you have any advice for other runners dealing with potential injuries?

Communication with your coaches is very important. If you’re feeling something, even if you don’t think it's’ anything big, just let your coach know, and ask for advice. Never let any pain become too big. In general, runners tend to wait and wait and wait to see if an injury will resolve itself. And when it doesn’t, you end up with a chronic condition that could take months or years to heal. Don’t let that happen.

As a young athlete, you were very unsure of what you were doing or why you were running. What changed?

Between high school and college, I got a lot more serious about running because I started seeing how much I improved each year. And I began to identify as a runner. After the season ended, I didn’t know what to do with myself; life without running felt boring. So, it got to the point where I just wanted to see what would happen if I really put my mind to it. I started to wonder how fast I could run if I gave my training 100 percent. At the same time, I really disliked school. And so, I decided to focus solely on running.

What is your personal approach to training? You’re perhaps the most laid-back runner we’ve ever interviewed.

Haha, yeah. I just don’t obsess about running. When I’m not running, I don’t talk about running. But when it’s time, I just do it, kick it into gear.

What’s the rest of your life like outside of running?

Big Bear is a tiny little village with no distractions. So, when we’re here, we literally just watch Netflix, play video games and run. After the season, though, when I get a month break, I always do a good bit of traveling. Other than that, I relax and run.

What is it like running for New Balance?

New Balance has been amazing; they’re like a family. I can talk to my boss and anyone at HQ anytime; it doesn’t even have to be about running. The people there are incredible.

OK, we gotta know what shoe you’re running in these days.

I’ve been running in the 880s the most (and sometimes the Zantes). I really like the 880s because they offer solid support and a more substantial heel drop, which I've found very helpful for my Achilles.

What do you think you’ll do after you’re finished racing?

Probably coaching; I definitely want to remain in the sport.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to go after their dreams?

If you’re 100-percent passionate about something and you have a good plan of action to reach your goal, then go for it. You need a dream, and you need steps. Without steps, you won't get very far.

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