Conversation with Nick Symmonds: Sponsors, Olympics, and Run Gum

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Recently I was given the opportunity to interview 2x Olympian Nick Symmonds. I read (and reviewed) his book a couple of years ago. I found chatting with Nick to be just as personable as he comes across in his book. We chatted about a range of topics, from injuries to controversies to gum.

Injury

On withdrawing from the 2016 Olympic Trials due to injury: It was an ankle fracture and I just needed to rest it for about 6 weeks so that’s what I did. I just spent the summer working on my business and fishing a little bit and then about mid-August it was 100% healthy and I’ve been slowly working my mileage up since then. I’ll probably run in a couple of races this winter but mostly this fall is just making up for lost time and trying to get that base back under me. ”

Athletes and Sponsors

The issue in a nutshell: Over 50% of professional track and field athletes in the US live below the poverty line. The ‘powers that be’ say it’s because our sport isn’t popular enough to generate enough revenue.  But that’s simply not true. Track and field generates millions, if not billions, of dollars between domestic competitions, USATF’s fundraising,  IAAF’s fundraising, and IOC… 4 billion dollars exchanged hands at the 2016 Olympic games. There are literally billions of dollars in this sport. It’s just that none of it ever goes to the athletes. The greedy executives at the governing bodies make sure that all advertising dollars filter through their hands first and by the time the money trickles into the athlete’s pockets, it’s not enough to live off of. So the governing bodies either need to share 50% of their revenue directly with the athletes or they need to open up the advertising regulations to allow the athletes to market themselves to sponsors.

On speaking out: I knew that there would be repercussions. I knew that people at USATF would give me the stink-eye when I saw them and say things behind my back and ultimately make it difficult for me to get sponsors. But that’s okay. I have a business that can pay my bills. If my running income went to zero tomorrow, I’m going to be just fine.  For me, at the age of 32, it’s about leaving the sport better than I found it. This sport has been incredibly generous to me, it has given me life experiences that I’ll cherish the rest of my life. I just want to make sure that the next generation has an opportunity to make a fair living in this sport. And right now that’s just not the case. USATF, IAAF, and IOC are making it almost impossible for a young man or woman in track and field to earn a fair wage.

On his sponsors: Brooks is my number one sponsor. They’ve taken really good care of me over the last three years. I sure as heck wouldn’t be running if it wasn’t for Brooks Running. It is an absolute pleasure to be running for that company. And I’m not just saying that. They really are great people.

Nick has also garnered some deals over the years to auction off space on his body for temporary tattoos. 

On temporary tattoo sponsors: If it’s a USATF-governed race, domestic race, then I don’t have to tape over it. If I compete in a race that’s governed by the IAAF, the international governing body, or the IOC; then I have to tape over it. The IAAF isn’t forced to play by our rules. If I’m competing in a foreign country I have to play by the rules still.

Olympics

HBO aired a special episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel all about the Olympics and some of the deplorable things that happen to bring the events to fruition. Nick was interviewed as part of that special. 

On feelings toward the games: There’s the underlying fundamentals of the Olympic games, these beautiful moments of people competing for love of country and love of sport. And there’s always going to be that underlying beauty to it. But unfortunately, greedy humans have adulterated that and perverted it and turned it into a commercial. And there is a very dirty heart to the Olympic games that displaces families, displaces human beings from their homes, is all about corporate greed, all about shoving money into their pockets. The IOC are not saints. They’re greedy assholes and they treat people very poorly.

There will always be those beautiful moments in competition when you’re just inspired. I remember watching the 1992 games, Barcelona.  I was 9-years-old and this is what made me want to be an Olympian. Just beautiful moments in competition and seeing people compete for their country. The IOC left that in the dust when they started commercializing the Olympic games.  It was an amateur event until the late 80’s, then they started allowing pros to come and compete. That was going to build the fan base. Build the audience. Which would, in turn, generate more revenue in sponsorship income. But they never bothered to compensate the athletes when they turned this into a commercial monster. Never bothered to take care of the communities. It became this giant commercial entity that was all about making as much money as possible. And there’s nothing wrong with the evolution of the Olympic movement in that way. But there’s a right way to do it, where you take care of people, and there’s a wrong way to do it, where you ruin lives, ruin communities, and basically get rich on slave labor.

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Run Gum

On being the CEO of Run Gum: I founded the company with my coach, Sam Lapray, and in the early days of our startup we were just co-founders and our number one priority was just running fast and we had a nice gum business on the side. As it’s growing as fast as it is, it needs leadership. With Sam’s background in finance and my background in business and media relations, it made sense for me to take on more responsibilities as CEO and Sam to take on responsibilities as the CFO.  We have a great business manager that is our COO. We have another half dozen employees or contractors working with us, but that 3-man team is really making all the decisions and trying to direct this business from cute startup to the future of the energy market. And we really believe that RunGum is the future.

On the evolution of Run Gum: I have a degree in biochemistry from Willamette, so I was experimenting with performance-enhancing stimulants, specifically LEGAL performance-enhancing stimulants. There is a lot of literature and scientific studies out there that show caffeine, taurine and B-vitamins can have some serious performance enhancing effects on endurance athletics.  I was drinking energy drinks or I was drinking energy shots or taking pills and I found the recipe that I liked. The recipe that made me feel really good, like I was really ready to perform at my best. But I was swalling liquids. Heavy, acidic liquids to get these stimulants.  They were destroying my stomach and I thought, “When I’m ready to perform, and if I’m trying to perform optimally, why are all of these companies forcing me to swallow something? I don’t want anything in my stomach, I just want the stimulants.” I knew the body could absorb these stimulants sublingually, through the lining of the mouth, and I thought “Gum is such a superior delivery method to liquid, it just screams a new energy product.”

[ctt link=”U76Tz” template=”9″]”2x Olympian biochemist created this product so that he could kick people’s butts” http://ctt.ec/U76Tz+ About @rungum on @jillwillrun[/ctt]

On how Run Gum works and who it’s for: We infuse two pieces of chewing gum with caffeine, taurine and b-vitamins and I’m able to get the stimulants up to 5x faster through sublingual absorption, with nothing heavy sloshing around in my stomach to slow me down.  So RunGum was born out of necessity for me to compete at the top level, but we found that so many people can find daily use for this product. Whether they’re cyclists or swimmers or going to a 3:00pm meeting when they’re tired,  college kids studying for exams, or even at a party… there are so many applications for RunGum.

On how to use Run Gum: I think everybody is a little different with how they use this product. For me, I like to chew it for about 10 minutes to absorb all the active ingredients, spit it out and go have a great performance. Chewing gum can have enhanced cognitive effects, to make you more alert and focused, so sometimes when I’m in the office I’ll chew it for an hour. But I think the majority of the functional stimulants are absorbed in 10 minutes and you’re good to go.

On why Run Gum is a better choice: All of these energy companies, whether its energy drinks or energy shots or pills or coffee or anything. They all have one thing in common, they force you to drink something. And I’m not thirsty, I just want the energy. RunGum is the cleaner, faster and more affordable way to get those stimulants. If you go to 7-Eleven right now and buy an energy drink, I bet you’ll pay about $3 for that. But you can get a pack of RunGum right now for $1.50, so it’s a much more affordable way to get these stimulants as well.

We talked about the Run Gum website some too. It’s got lots of fun content available, for FREE, because beyond just selling gum they really want to encourage people to get outside and be active. Find activities that bring people joy. 

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Outdoors

On outdoor passions: Fishing is probably my go-to. I love hiking and surfing and anything outdoors I love. My favorite is fly-fishing. I’m out there, chest-deep in water, trying to find salmon or steelhead or trout and that’s definitely my favorite type of fishing.

On climbing mountains: I’ve set my sights on climbing the 7 Summits, which is the tallest mountain on each continent. I think that’s going to take a lot of training, it’s a goal I set for myself when I was 10-years-old. I’m kind of going back and honoring that goal that my young-self set.  It’s a full-time job to train for some of those mountains. It takes 6-weeks to climb Everest. It takes 3-4 to climb Denali. They’re serious, serious expeditions. That would interfere with my training for track and field. I know I want to finish strong on the track. The mountains aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be there when I am done.

 

This interview has been condensed and edited. It was hard to pare down some of the conversation, Nick is a good person and fun to chat with!

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