Sleeping next to a Southern California beach almost every night and plenty freedom to roam, Stephan Shay is living the dream.
For the past year, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier has been living in a vintage 1960s motor home this year he calls Lolita, balancing work, training and his desire to be a bit more footloose and fancy free than most elite runners allow themselves to be.
“When I was a kid, I always kind of thought I’d be out West somewhere and that I’d sleep on the beach if I had to,” says Shay, a 29-year-old runner who grew up in Michigan and earned a marketing degree from Brigham Young University in Utah. “It’s a lot of fun and there’s a certain romance to it with all the freedom it can bring, but it’s not something everybody is cut out for.”
After ending a long-term relationship last winter and then living for a stint with his brother, Nathan, in Huntington Beach, Calif., Shay started looking for used RVs and found a 1966 Clark Cortez for $5,200 with all of the original appliances, cabinetry and seating. It needed some rehabbing, but he taught himself how to do exterior body work, installed new flooring and then had it repainted in a vintage Volkswagen green.
So far, he’s put $10,000 into his 18.5-foot home on wheels, but he figures that offsets the rent he hasn’t had to pay.
Needless to say, it’s attracted lots of attention as he’s hung out in various beach towns near Los Angeles.
“People have told me, ‘that’s a rad looking toaster,’ and I think it does kind of look like an old-school toaster a bit,” Shay says. “It’s not like I’m an attention whore for it, but I like when people ask questions about it. From there, we’ll start talking about other things like surfing, even though I don’t surf. It’s a cool way to strike up conversations.” [Shay recently bought his first surf board.]
Shay, the younger brother of Ryan Shay, who died due to a heart condition during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in New York City, recorded two of his best marathon results in the past year, placing 16th in last year’s New York City Marathon (2:19:47) and 10th in this spring’s Los Angeles Marathon (2:18:08).
As for training, he’s been doing his best to mix 85- to 90-mile weeks with two part-time marketing jobs: one for a lithium ion battery manufacturer, the other for Santa Ana College. (He also has a small sponsorship with Skechers.) He’s taken his rig on a weekend trip to Santa Barbara and twice made the seven-hour drive to Flagstaff, Ariz., to get in some high-altitude training with some of the many fast elite runners living there. (Lolita gets about 16 mpg on the highway.)
Shay admits he’s not quite back to the fitness that earned him his PRs of 2:16:48 for the marathon and 1:02:26 for the half marathon a few years ago, but he’s eager to ramp up his training this fall for the Feb. 13 Olympic Trials Marathon on the streets of Los Angeles.
In the meantime, he’s embraced the spartan lifestyle RV living demands, especially because he knows he’s producing less trash, using less water and reducing his carbon footprint.
He knows life will continue to evolve, but he suspects he’ll always own an RV of some sort—whether it’s Lolita or another one.
“I got bit by the bug and I realized how much fun it is and how much freedom it gives you,” he says. “I don’t have anything against people who want a big house. But at 29, I’m pretty happy that all my stuff fits in an 18-and-a-half-foot bus. For me, life is about trying to find that balance between paying the bills and having that life you want to live. This was the perfect balance for me.”