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Last Lap with Knox Robinson: The Explorer

Nike+ Run Club coach Knox Robinson talks about NYC run crews, the second boom of running and the rewards of coaching.

Few runners seem to explore what running looks and feels like the way Knox Robinson does. The former college runner at Wake Forest spent his twenties as editor-in-chief of a music magazine, then came back to running in adulthood in a big way. The 41-year-old from Beacon, N.Y., is now a coach of Nike+ Run Club in New York City, captain and co-founder of Black Roses NYC run crew and a top 100 finisher in the New York City Marathon. Away from the Big Apple he runs trails in Appalachia, curates exploratory runs in Mexico and can be found “wherever running is weird and interesting,” he says.

What attracted you to the run crew scene in New York City?

There was a little shift in New York that happened. A lot of guys in my peer group who were into partying, drugs, alcohol and tattoos kind of swapped one addiction for another and got into running. I was already running, and it was cool just to hang around folks who were super passionate about it. You didn’t have to talk about all that tedious and incidental stuff that surrounded running culture in the ’90s. It was awesome to see people just throw themselves at it, freeing themselves from all those previous trappings and just going at it for the feeling of it all.

How has this second running boom changed the sport?

Until recently, I think it was easy to take a selfie and say ‘I just ran a marathon’ and people would think you must be fast, or you must be amazing. Yeah that’s incredible, but there’s a sustainable and soulful approach that we can investigate and explore, and that’s really the beginning of understanding the gifts of running. It’s not just about ‘I got this finishers medal, I ran this marathon,’ it’s all about running as an inner exploration, and the engineering of the self.

What tends to make non-runners take up running?

Smokers are the easiest because they just want to quit smoking. Otherwise, I think sometimes an individual just says today’s the day. And they get up and run 1 mile. I want to think there’s something in the brain that says, ‘Hey, let’s get up and do this.’

What’s the most satisfying thing about coaching runners?

Last weekend, Black Roses NYC had a dude qualify for Boston, a woman qualify for Boston, and another woman break 4 hours for the first time. That was really satisfying as a coach. But it was also really satisfying that the entire group rallied around those people and cheered them on their journey. It’s really, really edifying as a coach to create a space for someone to explore their own dream of running. But if other people jump in and lift them up, that’s when you don’t really need acknowledgement as a coach. Looking at running as a kind of community building, and healing the human heart and addressing our public health concerns, that’s really what gets me up and going.

What directions will running head in the future?

I think people are gonna want to get weirder. The pattern I’m seeing is, you get into running, you get super passionate, the craziest goal you can think of is running a marathon, you throw yourself at it, you get hurt, you come back, run your marathon and afterward you’re like OK, so what? That’s when it gets interesting, and I think that’s why people are getting into trail running, or unsanctioned races, or weird races. In our culture we want to have goals and achievements and rewards, but running transcends and supersedes all of that. Because it’s ancestral, it’s part of our DNA, it’s part of our makeup. So once you really get into running, you’re constantly thinking, what’s next? That’s the promise and the torture of it.