Recently I had the privilege to interview Toby Tanser. Toby is a former professional runner with over 160 race victories around the world, including 42 New York Road Runners club races. He is currently a director of the New York Road Runners and the Achilles Track clubs, and lectures for ING Marathon clinics throughout the year. He's also the official running coach for Team Lifeline.
Team Lifeline is an endurance training program that proves that “you can go the distance,” by providing individuals of all ages and skills with the tools to complete a marathon or half-marathon. In exchange, team members raise much needed funds for Chai Lifeline, the international children’s health support network dedicated to bringing joy and hope to seriously ill children and their families. The funds raised by Team Lifeline are earmarked specifically for the organization’s Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, incredible overnight summer camps designed to meet the unique medical and social needs of children and teens with life-threatening or lifelong illnesses. To check out upcoming Team Lifeline races for which Toby can be your coach [click here].
To learn more about Toby and his amazing life, read on...
RD: Toby, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little about yourself. Where are you from? Family?
Toby: My Mother's side comes from Iceland, my father's side from England. I have lived in NYC for the last ten years so I now think of myself as a bona fide New Yorker. My family is spread all over the world
RD: Currently you’re the director of the New York Road Runners Club and the Achilles Track clubs. You’re also the coach for Team Lifeline as well as lecturing for ING Marathon clinics throughout the year. Your dedication to running is amazing and so inspirational. How do you fit it all in?
Toby: I wear many hats in the running community but due to the time constraints of trying to do my philanthropic work I have had to cut many things but still continue to work with my favorite things. Right now I am dealing with the Achilles race in Central Park, NY NY where I am the race director, as soon as it is finished I will dash off to Kenya to work on a school I am building there!
RD: Toby's the founder of Shoe4Africa a nonprofit organization (started in 1995) dedicated to helping the people of Africa. Recent projects include raising funds to build a much needed children's hospital in Kenya as well as the building of a primary school. To help raise funds for the hospital, in December Toby will run from the Sea to the Stars. His journey will take him from Mombasa (an island that sits off the Kenyan coast), to the top of the world's highest freestanding mountain--Mt. Kilimanjaro. To sponsor Toby with a donation for the run [click here]. Check out this great clip about Toby's upcoming run.
The following is a clip about an all women's race toby organized in Africa last year to promote HIV AIDS awareness.
RD: Tell me a little about the Achilles Track clubs? I’ve run NYC three times and there’s nothing more inspirational than seeing the runners with the Achilles Track club T-shirts on running the entire 26.2 miles.
Toby: An amazing group—I am actually disabled myself in a way, I had brain surgery a few years ago. That is how I got involved. If it were not for the Achilles there would be many people missing opportunities to get into sports in NYC and indeed world wide
RD: Although I’m nowhere near the runner you are, I do feel a common bond in that we both love the sport and we both love writing about it and sharing the world or running with others both newcomers and experienced pros. From being a contributing editor of Runner's World to writing for The New York Runner and Metrosports Magazine, not to mention your books Train Hard Win Easy the Kenyan Way, and The Essential Guide to Running the NYC Marathon, you’ve definitely touched a lot of runners. What's been some of the most rewarding moments you’ve had with runners either in person of via your writing?
Toby: Hey, don't forget my latest book MORE FIRE (100% author royalties go to building the hospital fund). You ARE the runner I am, and that is the bond - we are all competing against ourselves and when you go home from a race and have done your best it easily outweighs any position you might have achieved in the race. I feel a great connection to runners and often run races at the back of the field to talk, chat and keep in touch with all the running community. I mean when I am in Africa all my running friends are either Olympic or World championship medalists so it keeps a nice balance. In 2001 I won the Brooklyn Half Marathon, a few years later I think I was nearly the last runner to finish the race.
RD: I’m sure you've met many, but pick one or two individuals that have stuck with you over the years as being exceptionally inspirational. Why?
Toby: Terry Fox undoubtedly because of his amazing story, Paul Tergat because I had a one-on-one connection, training with him in Kenya, seeing his lifestyle and seeing a great man in action. I have been extremely lucky to live and train with a huge number of amazing world class runners, all of them taught me something, but the most inspirational person, outside of my close family, probably was meeting a Major who served under Gandhi when I was a little kid; I remember him to this day for all he taught me.
RD: For the past year, I’ve been a board member on a nonprofit organization call GO FAR (Go Out For A Run). This organization provides a 10-week program that teaches elementary-aged children about good nutrition, character building, and trains them for their first 5K. The 10-week program culminates in a 5K race. The most recent race had close to 1000 kids running. It was truly amazing to see the many kids so pumped about running. In 2008, you founded Kids Against Obesity. Tell us a little about the organization?
Toby: 2007 was when it kicked off; trying to get kids involved in running who normally would not go out and run. To make physical exercise something like a normal part of your day (as it was for me). I see the change running brings and I also see much encouragement for the 'fast' kids, but what about the ones who are actually discouraged to run—that I hate to see!
RD: How long have you been running?
Toby: I started running in 1990, so I guess 20-years.
RD: What got you into running?
Toby: I was a 40-per day smoker.
RD: What do you enjoy most about running?
Toby: Being totally me, in thought and body
RD: What are your favorite training foods?
Toby: Carbs; I live off carbs, bread products mainly and sweets
RD: I knew we had something else in common!
RD: Are you a lone runner or do you run with some buddies? What do you like about each?
Toby: I am a lone runner for the most part as I run around my ever changing day.
RD: What’s the funniest or oddest thing that’s happened to you while on a run?
Toby: Being mistaken for a prisoner on the run was pretty out there, maybe seeing a Kenyan swerve off course and start pushing a lawn mower in the middle of a 5-mile race.
RD: What’s your biggest running accomplishment? Why?
Toby: Beating a bus from one side of Stockholm to the other whilst on foot in civilian clothes. Because the bus refused to stop when I was waiting alone then I chased after it, overtook it, it overtook me, I had the whole of the bus screaming out of the windows rooting for me. I ran all the way to the end terminal
RD: Now that would make a great scene in a movie!
RD: Do you have a favorite brand of running shoe? Which model? Why?
RD: You run so many races. Do you have a favorite race you run each year?
Toby: My favorite distance is 7km. Since moving to America no favorite race, but when I lived in Stockholm we had an Olympic Day run through the city center run in the evening. To be flying full speed with the crowd on either side of the street, no cars, and feeling you are one inch away from extreme 100% effort is a great place to be. Once I Was being interviewed by the TV and the gun fired, "DO you think you will win today Toby?" (As I had won the year before)—"Well I would stand a better chance if I was not talking to you and was in the race!" It took me a minute to reach the start line, then I was behind 3000-runners. I had to thread my way through and it was only 7km. I caught the lead pack at 5km and over took them at such speed they presumed I was doing intervals along that stretch of the road, and let me go.
RD: If you were speaking to a group of non-runners or runner wannabes and trying to encourage them to run, what would you say?
Toby: I was not ready for the ride running gave me. I was totally unfit, out of shape, and had no interest to do anything sporty at all... By PURE chance I gave running a shot, and my life took off in a fashion I can not explain.
RD: What do you love about running the most now?
Toby: Coaching to me is now my competitive running; I run just for fun but love coaching athletes as I share their dreams, feel their pains, understand their emotions. Whether they are running a marathon in two hours, or walking in 7 hours, it is all the same to me, because it is all about what it gives to ourselves, and I feel lucky to be a part of that in other's lives.
RD: Well, we feel lucky that you've taken some time to share a bit about yourself and all you're involved with both in running and with those in need all around the world.