Q & A: Elite Runner Alexi Pappas to Run Shamrock Shuffle | NBC Chicago

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Q & A: Elite Runner Alexi Pappas to Run Shamrock Shuffle

Pappas holds the No. 1 bib in Sunday's race

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    Alexi Pappas

    Elite runner Alexi Pappas hopes her bib number in the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k previews her status at the finish line.

    The Olympic hopeful and Nike Oregon Track Club elite runner holds the No. 1 bib in Sunday's race.

    I had the opportunity to chat with Pappas recently about her life as a runner, including her daily routine and motivations, both on and off the track. This year's Shamrock Shuffle marks Pappas' second visit to Chicago and her 25th birthday. Her first visit was last fall when she paced elite runners in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

    Pappas grew up in Alameda, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area. She attended Dartmouth for her undergraduate years where she ran with the women's cross country team and studied creative writing and English. After graduation, she moved to Eugene, Ore., to run with the University of Oregon running team, the Ducks, and attend graduate school.

    Beyond her running career, Pappas is a filmmaker, writer and actress with a background in improv theater. She and her boyfriend are currently in post-production on a coming-of-age film called "Tracktown USA," which stars Pappas and actors Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley.

    How did running become a career for you?

    Running post-collegiately was not on my mind until I came to Eugene to run with the Ducks. I lived with two of my teammates. They were friends with runners on the Oregon Track Club Elite Team that I am now on. We would have dinners together and spend time together, and I could see that it was a very real and wonderful possibility to be part of the team after college.

    How does the Eugene community motivate you?

    The first time I came to Eugene was for the Olympic Trials in June 2012. The community in Eugene is a huge thing for me. It's not only the Ducks and the Nike Oregon Track Club. Many people in Eugene appreciate running and do it themselves. There is a great balance of people who care about what you are doing and also care about what they are doing in the same world. It's a positive feedback loop.

    What distance do you race?

    I am training to run the 10k on the track with the goal of the 2016 Olympics. I'm more of a 5k and 10k runner. (Last weekend) I ran the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Fla. -- it's a 15k. Running the 15k helps make the 10k feel shorter!

    How does a typical running day start for you?

    It starts the night before, by setting my coffee maker to go off right when I wake up. I like to wake up to the smell of coffee. Lately I have been making a lot of French toast in the mornings, which sounds hard, but it's really not. After breakfast, I go to practice with my team. Morning practice is usually around three hours, incorporating a variety of workouts. Workouts may include hills, a progression run, the track or a tempo workout. I also do strength and conditioning twice a week with my running coach Ian Dobson.

    What happens after your morning team workout?

    I come home and make a big meal! Jeremy Teicher is my boyfriend and co-filmmaker. We eat, shower and stretch. We work on the film together for several hours in the afternoon. I have also gotten in the habit of napping in the afternoon. I was resistant for a while, but I realize now (sleep) is a very important thing. I do a secondary run in the afternoons, between 20 and 45 minutes. My afternoon run is usually at least five miles.

    What's your favorite place to run in Eugene?

    We try to go somewhere for our long run -- one long run on Sundays is pretty typical. There are a lot of options within 20 minutes of Eugene. The Amazon Trail is a great option. I try to stay soft as much as I can. Running soft is good for your body. There is a Ridgeline Trail System that we travel to. The trails have more hilly loops, and it's really fun.

    What are you looking forward to in running the Shamrock Shuffle?

    I am really excited because the only way I know the city of Chicago is through running. The first and only time I have been there was to pace the Chicago Marathon. It involved all the runners that are my big sister/big brother athletes. To be given the opportunity to contribute to the Chicago Marathon was so inspiring. I heard about the Shamrock Shuffle during the Chicago Marathon. It’s the 10-year anniversary of Deena Kastor setting the women’s American 8k record. Deena is my biggest inspiration in the sport. It’s special to follow in her footsteps and be the elite runner at the Shamrock Shuffle this year. I will finish, and I will race.

    How do track races differ from road races?

    I use one piece of advice that Deena gave me -- it’s so important and beneficial to take in the energy around you. Soak in the environment and use it as a positive distraction or a positive boost. On the track, I only need or hear what I want to hear. In a road race, I like to break things up not by miles, but by scenery.

    What are three things that have shaped your running career so far?

    First, being aware that I can contribute to the sport in a few ways. It’s so important for me to run fast, of course, but I want to bring a unique energy to the sport. I’m motivated by how I can contribute beyond just running a fast time. Second, I try to be proud of my own improvements. It’s really a curiosity thing. I always have a sense of my own goals. Third involves the people around me -- my coach, Ian, and my teammates. Being at the highest level of anything is such a privilege. It’s an amazing opportunity to be around so many people who are also pushing themselves to be their best. Road racing is particularly special because everyone is in the same race, giving the best effort at the same time, on the same course.

    Beyond her daily training with an eye toward the June 2016 Olympic Trials, Pappas and Teicher work every night to finish "Tracktown USA," which is expected to be released next year. The film is a fictional story set in Eugene with Pappas playing Plumb, an Olympic hopeful finding her way.

    “(Moving to Eugene), I found this place that embraced running like other places embrace football," Pappas said. "I like to tell stories in specific worlds. Eugene felt like this unbelievable place that has been captured on film but not in this way. What would it be like to grow up as a very motivated, sheltered runner that becomes increasingly distracted?”

    Follow Pappas on Twitter for more on the running life.

    Celia Johnson is a local runner and blogger for Chicago Jogger. Follow her in Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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