NEW BALANCE IS HELPING FOUR AMATEUR RUNNERS REALISE THEIR NYC MARATHON DREAMS — RUN YOUR WAY
Editor’s note: Sam Friend is one of four amateur runners who New Balance is supporting to run the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon. Tempo is partnering with New Balance as we follow these four aspiring runners to the finish line and beyond. Along the way, we’ll also shine a light on some of the inclusive run crews and communities helping them reach their highest goals.
We're celebrating the message that each person has their own story and their own way of running. Because the only right way to run is your way.
“I was always different from my two brothers,” says 29-year-old real estate associate Sam Friend.
“They were into rugby, soccer, cricket, basketball, any sort of team sport, and I was never into that. Rugby, especially in New Zealand where I grew up, is pretty huge, but it was never for me. And then, when I got into cycling and running, I sort of thought, ‘Oh well, this is where I fit in.’ You don’t have to be part of that sort of masculine team sport.”
“Running gave me time – especially before Hunter, when I was always out there by myself – to clear my head. It certainly gave me that opportunity to think about things further.
“The running community in general was super inclusive, with people from all walks of life and I think, for me coming out, it made me feel more comfortable with being who I am. You can still be an athlete and push yourself to the limit regardless of your sexuality. Running gave me that confidence to be comfortable with who I am and still be competitive – I can still push myself and I can still race.”
Running offered Sam a way of being authentic that he didn’t see mirrored in other sports.
“Maybe 10 to 15 years ago, there was no one out in competitive sport and that was a bit of a barrier for me. Running has been a huge help with that.”
“The running community in general was super inclusive, with people from all walks of life and I think, for me coming out, it made me feel more comfortable with being who I am.”
“I'm of a generation where perhaps I’m bridging a gap between people who are older than me and didn't have many out-and-proud athletes to look up to and the generation slightly younger than me who have a lot more people who are now out and proud. But I was in that gap where it wasn’t really spoken about.
“I didn't have that person to look up to but, certainly through running and Hunter, it just made me feel like I could be who I am without trying to hide anything.”
“Hunter” is, of course, Hunter Athletics. After spending his teens running with Harriers clubs in New Zealand and then switching to cycling due to a shin splint injury, Sam moved to Melbourne around 2016. A work friend introduced him to Hunter in the beginning of 2020.
“Hunter is awesome. They welcome anyone of any ability. It’s not about being the fastest, but it is all about your personal best. Everyone encourages everyone else to do well, as an individual. It’s all about being inclusive.
“We always want more and more people to come each week. Every week we do an intro, and we always ask the question, ‘Who’s new?’ I don’t think there’s been a week where we haven’t had someone new turning up for the first time.” At Hunter, Sam has stepped up to a leadership role in the past year.
“This year, I’m one of the Hunter captains. There are about eight of us. We work with [former Tempo editor and Hunter co-founder] Riley [Wolff] and we’re sort of there for the whole crew. If they don’t want to go up to Riley or Kieran [Ryan], the other founder, they can come up to ask us questions or message us on Instagram or whatever.
“We help organise things. For the Gold Coast lead-up we had a Sunday long run every week, which we were pumping out and trying to get as many people as we could involved with.
“So yeah, I’m one of the captains. I’m just a quiet encourager, I would say.
Though he’s been training six days a week, Sam is yet to complete a marathon.
“I did Gold Coast this year, which was my first marathon, but I got cramps in my right hamstring at about 30km and, sadly, had to pull out. So I’ve never completed a marathon. I started one.
“I was devastated. It had started so well, too. The weather was perfect and we had a great group – a big pack all looking after each other, passing drinks around. And then, at about 25km to 30km, I started to feel a tightness in my hamstring. It started out on just my right leg and then I felt it on my left leg as well and I was like, ‘Oh, this doesn't feel too good.’
“I was hoping I’d be able to push through. I dropped to the back of the group and tried to hang on, but by about the 30km mark the pain was so severe – at this point both my legs felt like they were going into a full spasm cramp – I was thinking, ‘This is it.’ I stopped on the side to massage it out a little bit, still hoping I could go on. After that, I jumped back in to take a couple of steps but it was obvious: ‘Nah, you’re done.’
“So, my first marathon, my dreams were crushed and the hope had all gone.”
New York City, then, offers him a chance to settle some unfinished business. With a bit of help from New Balance, that is.
“It’s my opportunity at a redemption, to finally cross the finish line. Up until Gold Coast this year, I didn’t think that I could physically push myself through a 12-week marathon training block. I see a lot of other runners just like myself, recreational runners, pumping out 140km, 150km a week, and I didn’t think I could get anywhere near that. I sort of maxed out at about 100km and thought, ‘Well, I’ve got a niggle here or a niggle there.’
“But doing the 12-week block for Gold Coast was awesome, and I’m super excited to build on that fitness to lead into New York and actually cross the finish line this time.” Sam admits that his goals extend past simply finishing to targeting a pretty impressive time.
“It’s hard. I’ve got a time I want to get: I want to go sub-2:30, but ideally I’d like to go 2:28. I was on track at Gold Coast. I was sitting at about a 3:29, 3:30 min/km pace until the cramp came on, and that felt comfortable all the way through the 30 kilometres I ran. So I’m hoping I can achieve that, but New York’s a harder course than Gold Coast, which is nice and flat and fast. Really, I’d be super thrilled with anything under 2:30.”
As most runners would recognise, anything under 2:30 is serious. Whether he hits 2:28 or not, Sam is targeting the fastest time among our four New Balance runners. To help him get there, he’s been working with coach Joel Tobin-White from Pulse Running. “I’ve been with Joel for about two years now. He keeps me honest and accountable. I get a training program each week and there’s a lot of chats with him to analyse sessions – what went wrong, what went well and how to improve from there.”
Specific comparisons with Sam’s lead-up to Gold Coast mean everyone is hoping New York can give Sam the redemption arc he’s so badly hoping for.
“We’ve analysed my experience in the training block for Gold Coast and in the race itself, and we've changed things up leading to New York. Joel and the Pulse team have such a wealth of knowledge and experience that, if things don't work out the first time, they’re able to amend it and try new things to get me right for the next race.”
Plus he’ll have the advantage of running in the FuelCell SuperComp Elite v3.
“New Balance is the reason I'll be there on the start line. They're getting me to New York, supporting me the whole way through the training, and they’re getting me ready and geared up, good to go, for race day.”
“I've never run in New Balance before, so this is my first time and it's been amazing. The shoes are next level, so I'm super excited to race in them in New York. It's going to be pretty exciting.”
Lastly, for anyone younger out there who might still be coming to terms with their sexuality or identity, Sam would say that running can be a big help. If he regrets anything, it’s only the times he wasn’t running.
“I would say to my younger self, don't give up. There were a lot of times when I was like, ‘Oh, I don't need to do any exercise. I don't need to run.’ But I think it’s super important to have something that gets you away from all the rush and bustle of life. Having something that drives you, whether that's running or any other kind of sport, or even just a hobby you’re passionate about, is incredible.
“But running, specifically, is the most amazing sport. To go out there, whether it's alone to clear your head or with a group of mates, it's an hour, two hours a day and it's just time you take time for yourself out of everything else in your life.”