Friday, January 7, 2011

Runner in the Spotlight: Théoden Janes

Théoden Janes is the Pop Culture Write for the Charlotte Observer. On Facebook, he's better known for being the biggest running celebrity of Charlotte. He is known to many inner circles as the "Perez Hilton" of the Charlotte Running community, not for digging up juicy gossip on local runners, but for being the first to receive critical insider information. Théoden is always the first to find out the latest information regarding door prizes, the parking situation at an upcoming race, and discounts at local venues. Through his Blog and his Facebook Page, Théoden has inspired and connected runners.

How long have you been in Charlotte? What brought you here?
[Theoden Janes] I moved my family down here from New Jersey in 2006. We were getting tired of paying more than $2,000 a month to live in a house the size of a shoebox in a neighborhood that was, um, kinda gross ... so when the Charlotte Observer offered me a job as Entertainment Editor, I took it and ran -- although to be honest, I wasn't a runner at that point.

When and why did you start running?
[Theoden Janes] I did a little running for exercise while I was in college, but when I say "a little," what I mean is I ran maybe a few miles a couple dozen times, total, on no regular schedule. I also took up smoking in college. Although I was always a light smoker -- for many years I only smoked when I drank, or in the evenings -- I carried the habit around with me for more than a decade and a half. It actually pains me to admit that. Given the company I now keep, it almost makes me feel a little embarrassed, since so many of my running friends have always been so healthy.

Anyway, I quit cold turkey in the spring of 2007, then shortly before my 35th birthday in September 2008, I decided to start running. Not to lose weight, since I've always been fairly slender. Just for general health and fitness reasons. I ran my first 5k a month later. I enjoyed it so much that I wound up running a 5k the next weekend, and the weekend after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. I was hooked. Obviously.

What are some things you love most about running?
[Theoden Janes]The fitness benefits are great. It's been a fun way to meet some very cool new people. I like starting my day with a run; there's something invigorating about getting up before sunrise and logging a bunch of miles. It can be hard to get out the door sometimes, but by the time I walk back through it, I feel much more ready to face the day. I think what I love most about running, though, is that I find it so inspiring.

Through my blog and through Facebook I've been able to inspire many runners to do more, go farther, go faster, et cetera. But I also find so much "self-inspiration" through running. Not sure that's a real word, or if this makes sense, but it's been so amazingly satisfying to maintain discipline and work hard and set goals and achieve them -- or set goals and learn from the mistakes I make when I DON'T achieve them. I never would have imagined I'd accomplish 1 percent of the things I've accomplished through running in the past two years.

What is your most memorable race and why?
[Theoden Janes] That's a tough question. I mean, I'll never forget my first race -- the 2008 Komen Race for the Cure -- because in a classic newbie move I pinned my timing chip to my bib. Hey, I had never run a race before and the volunteer didn't hand me any ties when she gave me the thing! My first 10k was memorable. My first half was, too. My first trail race....

All six of my marathons have been memorable in some way. New York because it was my first and because of the spectacle and because it was my introduction to both the bonk and to serious cramping. San Diego and Shamrock in Virginia Beach; I have now melted in marathons on both the East and West coasts. Ridge to Bridge because I put up such a huge PR. And Thunder Road, twice, because I ran such evenly-paced races amid so many great friends. By the way, I think it helps to write race recaps, whether they're for hundreds of friends on Facebook or just for yourself, in a private journal. I only do them for major races now, just because I usually can't find time to do them for smaller ones, but having that document in my personal history is priceless. Memories fade, but if you put your experience into words, you can bring those memories back into focus anytime you want.

Where is your favorite place to run in Charlotte?
[Theoden Janes] Also a tough question. I love the cross country trails at Davidson College, the Greenway system in the University City area, and in Dilworth. But there are also so many places I haven't had the chance to run yet: Reedy Creek, McMullen Creek, Crowder's Mountain. I guess the easiest way to answer this is "anywhere that's not my neighborhood," or "wherever my friends are running."

What’s your favorite distance and your PRs for that distance?
[Theoden Janes] Would you stop asking hard questions?? Hmm. I mean, I hate 5ks because they hurt so bad, but I love that they're so challenging and the fact that you have to fight so hard just for seconds. I don't like being tied down to a marathon training schedule, but I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with running a marathon. 10ks are great -- although there aren't nearly enough of them in Charlotte. 10 miles: an awesome distance. The mile is such a pure event, and it makes even average runners like me feel fast.

I guess if I had to choose, though, I'd say the half marathon. Easy to train for, easy to recover from, and for whatever reason, it feels like there's a bigger disconnect between effort level and actual speed in half marathons than at any other distance. I have often looked at my watch in the middle of halfs to see that I'm running a 7-minute pace, tried to back off, and then clicked off another 7:00. Compare that to the last mile of many 5ks, when I'm at 6:40 or 6:50 and it feels like I am going to die. My PR for the half marathon is 1:34.

How do you manage your time between being the Pop Culture Writer for the Charlotte Observer, a dad, a husband, and a runner?
[Theoden Janes] I could talk all day about how difficult it can be find time for everything, but I know there are tons of runners out there who are performing the same juggling act. I'm no Superman. I mean, the bottom line is it's all about compromises. I'm very fortunate to have 1) a wife who pretends to understand my obsession -- even if she really doesn't -- and 2) the ability to get out of bed when the alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m. instead of hitting the snooze button.

What inspired you to race the Frosty 50k, your longest distance yet?
[Theoden Janes] Peer pressure. It won't happen again.

What changes in running community have you seen since moving here?
[Theoden Janes] I don't think there's any question whatsoever that Charlotte has a great running community, possibly one of the most-tight-knit in the country, for a city as big as this one. For years, we've had healthy competition between the running stores in town that have yielded lots of terrific local races. But the proliferation of Facebook combined with a running boom here -- the creation of the Charlotte Running Club and other great smaller clubs around the area, plus the Observer's support of my efforts to bring unique content to the running community -- it's like a perfect storm.

Two years ago, when I first started running, people were lucky to know a dozen other runners in Charlotte. If they didn't run with them regularly, they didn't exist. You might have regularly seen some of the same people at local races, but there weren't a lot of genuine connections being made. And then everybody started getting on Facebook and the various factions slowly started intermingling. Friends of friends were making connections. And if you really put yourself out there, you essentially would go viral. Take my friend Kevin Ballantine. This time a year ago, we had exactly zero mutual friends on Facebook. He joined the Charlotte Running Club in 2010, and now we have 56.

Another example of growth that you can see: Sometimes I'll bring a new person out to run with my other group -- the University City Road Runners -- and when I introduce them, one will say to the other, "Oh yeah, I've seen you post comments on Théoden's Facebook page." Later that afternoon, I'll see on my News Feed that the two of them have become friends, then a Wall post that reads "Great running with you today!" The community here is so diverse, so active, so supportive. The only drawback is that Facebook can be a huge time vacuum -- sometimes on Saturdays, after a big race, it can take an hour or more to go through and congratulate everyone on their performances.

What do you think can be improved upon in the Charlotte Running community for 2011?
[Theoden Janes] I'd love to see the club throw itself into efforts to help make the Thunder Road Marathon an event that brings out more runners and more spectators. I'd like to see more variety from event directors when it comes to race distances. 5ks are great, but especially during peak times there are just way too many of them going on. Quality of choice matters to me more than quantity of choice. I'd also like to see the boom continue. We've done a great job of unifying the runners who are out there, but what can we do to encourage all those people who are merely *thinking* about running to actually get out there and do it?

What do you enjoy most about the Charlotte Running Club?
[Theoden Janes] Because of my schedule and my family's schedule, it can be difficult to take part in many of the group's runs and social activities. What I love though is seeing so many other people get so much out of the club. To use Kevin Ballantine as an example again, this is a guy who was a good but not great runner a year ago. He joined the club and his enthusiasm for the sport exploded -- and he went from being about my speed to becoming one of the fastest runners in Charlotte, in a period of maybe six months. Obviously individual results will vary, but the point is that the Charlotte Running Club really knows how to get members fired up about running. It will help you set goals, and it will help you achieve them. It's a joy to watch.

What’s your next race (after Frosty 50k)?
[Theoden Janes]I'm running the Charlotte Running Co. Trail Race -- the 13-miler -- out at the U.S. National Whitewater Center on Jan. 22. I ran it last year and had a blast. Once again, the goals are to have fun and not twist an ankle.

Can you share one of your new year’s resolutions?
[Theoden Janes]Trying to go 365 days without using a drive-thru. I don't eat much fast food as it is, but I'd like to eat even less. But if they open an In-N-Out in Charlotte, all bets are off.

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