Jeff Pearlman

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Craig Vanderoef

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The Adidas senior director product running apparel and custumization (and former Virginia standout) thinks kids doing marathons is insane, lengthy trots are keys to happiness, Rudyard Kipling has all the answers and a kick-ass beard is very much attainable. POSTED July 5, 2018

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Back in the fall of 1989, when I was a captain on the Mahopac High cross country team, I was very much convinced we had a future star in our midst.

Though only a freshman, the kid was preposterously fast. He had a sprinter’s speed and a distance runner’s endurance. He regularly blew past me in workouts, and during meets I only saw the underbellies of his shoes.

His name was Tim Giambalvo, and the kid kicked ass.

We also had another freshman. He, too, was good. Not great, but good. Fast, strong. Sometimes he beat me, sometimes I beat him. We’d run together quite often, and he’d dreamingly fantasize about one day joining a major Division I program. To be honest, I didn’t see it happening. Craig Vaderoef struck me as merely solid.

The year is 2018. I am Facebook friends with both Tim and Craig. The two have enjoyed fruitful and spirited lives. I’ve enjoyed watching their growths and, on occasion, communicating. One, however, stopped running shortly after I graduated.

The other became an absolute stud.

Craig Vanderoef’s career has been a joy to watch, mainly because it’s built on devotion, doggedness, working, then working even more. He spent a year running at Indiana, then transferred to Virginia, where he posted blistering times way beyond my comprehension. He’s run a 2:30 marathon (which he calls “very disappointing”), a 68:50 half, a 24:55 8KM cross country race.

Best of all, he has followed his passion, and now lives in Germany and serves as adidas’ senior director product running apparel and custumization. Yes, he loves running. Bur he loves his day-to-day existence even more.

Which makes him a tremendous Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Craig, I wanna start with a random one. My son is a sixth grader at a middle school here in Southern California. And they have this running program, where they train kids to run the Orange County Marathon. The children range in age from 11 to 14. So when I was growing up, I did a ton of 10Ks, eight milers, even a few halfs at that age—but never, ever, ever a marathon. I think it’s batshit crazy, but no one here seems to agree. Your thoughts?

CRAIG VANDEROEF: Batshit Fuckin’ Crazy! There is just no need I can think of to have kids of that age do it. Are they physically capable of the feat, sure, if trained right can it be done in a healthy manner; probably. But why?!?!?!?

I think the joy of youth is in the joy not the struggle and the marathon is a struggle, on the very best of days. I am sure they tell you that it builds character or a sense of accomplishment, but so does a 10k or 10 miles and it does not put five hours of pounding on the body. Heck, if you listen to our parents’ generation getting beat up builds character and how many parents today would sign their 11-year old up for a punch in the face? (I realize more than would readily admit it here online).

My point being we can build healthy kids with healthy habits without going to the extremes of sport. Let them have fun and learn that running is a tool that builds confidence, fitness and gives one time to think and enjoy the world.

I think all of that can happen at 5-10km, but I would ask what Emmett has learned from the process. Maybe his experience would change both of our minds. I know the Lakeview Elementary ‘after-school runnin’ program created by Mrs. Mulaney impacted my life in a pretty big way and I never ran a marathon until late in my career.

So to summarize … batshit crazy!

J.P.: You love running. Like, you looooooooove running. I really like running, and always have. But yours is a passion. Why? How?

C.V.: Running has given me most everything I care about in my life. My career, my best friends who are like family. I even met my wife on the starting line of the LA Marathon.

Running has given me my health even through the scariest of times being fit gave me something extra that helped me in the healing.

I started running young to belong … Lakeview Elementary Cchool and the race around Lake Mahopac in second grade. Everybody went so I went. The lake race was a 10k around our town’s prominent body of water. That year I finished 305th to my older brother’s 303rd (Truth be told I caught him during the race and waited up for him a bunch. He was in 7th grade). The next year I broke my arm and needed surgery. That meant 16 weeks in a cast and no little league, so my mom focused me on “the Lake Run” because that was what I could do and that was how I could compete. I finished 73rd as a third grader and that was it. My mom decided I was a runner. (My youngest sister was actually born that day after my mom walked the 5k down to the lake to watch me run by for two seconds then walked home. I owe my mom a lot).

So around all of the other sports that I played and loved I had running. Running became my time and my space, and when you are one of five kids your own time and space are rare and wonderful things. I loved being out in the rain, but my mom couldn’t have five kids out playing in the rain (or sick afterward) so I was never allowed to be out in it—that was unless I was going for a run. So when it rained I ran.

I like winning and I won a lot while running and liked that the harder you worked the better you did (up to a point, now I realize I could have rested a bit more). You really get to know a lot about someone on a 20-mile run and you build friendships that no one else gets. You find limits and truth and you get to feel yourself almost eating up the ground.

I am not able to train super hard anymore and I miss it. I miss waking up to run 12 miles on the trails before work, I miss the friends who I have shared miles with and won’t again, but mostly I am thankful for each step I run now and for the gifts running has given me and the chance to make those moments happen for others via my work.

With his father Gary

With his father Gary

J.P.: So you’re the business unit director for global running apparel at Adidas. And I ask, with all due respect—does it really matter whether I’m wearing Adidas or Nike, Reebok or Asics? Like, at the end of the day aren’t good kicks good kicks?

C.V.: I would ask you “If I want to learn about Roger Clemens does it matter who wrote the book? I mean Hansen Alexander, Joseph Janczak or Pearlman? I mean at the end of the day aren’t good writers good writers?

I am not sure if those other two guys are actually great writers or even good, but one must assume they were good enough to get the book deals. I know you’re a great writer, I know because I know your commitment to craft and to research, to share a story well told, but what of the others?.

The difference in the books will be style, research, access, etc. The same nuance exists within the athletic footwear and apparel world. The big brands are all good enough to be big brands, but the style, innovation, and perspective they bring shapes products that will make you run better, feel better, maybe even look better.

So I think brand matters because I think the stylistic choices a brand makes coupled with their philosophy and commitment to innovation shapes the experience you have in the product they have crafted.

At adidas we believe sport has the power to change lives and we are obsessed with making athletes better as we have been since Adi Dassler crafted his first pair of shoes. Our products blend performance and style in a way no one else can and this combination of performance and style has always created icons of sport and style. The Stan Smith, Shell toes, the UltraBoost were all born from a performance insight, but they transcended sport and the beauty of their form secured their place as iconic parts of the style of sport and street alike. So if you want to have world record performance coupled with style where else could you go?

J.P.: We ran together at Mahopac High, and you were very good for a freshman. Not dazzling, but definitely better than solid. And then, years later, I look up and you’re running for Virginia, posting these sick times. How did that improvement happen?

C.V.: The trials of miles and miles of trials … I worked hard and ran a lot. I think a few key factors helped me to change my level as an athlete and they are not going to be surprising. Coaching, teammates and commitment to being better were they keys.

My parents moved us across New York going into my junior year of high school and when I landed at Sweet Home High School (real name) in Amherst, New York (just outside of Buffalo) I went from being school record holder for class and for-sure captain to a team that I was going to have to earn my top five spot. My track personal bests were way behind the other guys at Sweet Home. Guys like Jim Garnham and Joe Baran were rising juniors with a bunch of trips to the state meet already and the level of excellence was set by Coach Pat Wyatt. So, I went from running alone a lot and crushing everyone to running in a pack, to getting my ass handed to me in speed sessions and grinding it back on the longer stuff. Coach Wyatt got me into the weight room and worked hard to make me the runner I could be and I believed in him 100 percent. He made sure we knew the relay was more important than what we did alone and that the name on the front of the shirt meant more than the one on the back.

Our graduating class sent four athletes to Division I track and field programs that year. I started at Indiana University, where I was able to train with America’s best distance runners in Bob Kennedyand Todd Williams. They were gods and I got to see what it really took to get better and I busted my ass to make it happen. In reality that year I busted up my knee … apparently running 130 miles a week plus lifting a ton can have your patella so tight it pulls away from the tendon and it subluxes. The varsity letter from that freshman year means an awful lot to me still, knowing you worked hard enough to break yourself is a good lesson.

That injury and that year devastated me, but it also built the foundation of the fire that burned through my university career and beyond. I moved to Boulder that summer to train with the best American collegians I could find and got crazy fit, while realizing IU was not the place for me.

I called coach Sam Bell and let him know I would not be coming back, but I was the third member of my freshman class to make that call and he decided not to sign a release for me to run somewhere else the next year. I was a man/boy without a place …

So a friend of mine  said, “You are studying English. You should go to UVA. I have a friend who goes there. You should call him” (Jason would later become the head coach at UVA). Anyway, I called, I grabbed my stuff and moved to Charlottesville. I took a year off from school, working two shitty jobs making sandwiches for entitled rich kids by day and night.

I was running 120 miles a week getting my ass kicked by US national team member Rob Cook and just set my eye on the prize of getting back to school and back to an easier life. So I ran, worked, and read for a year. That was about it, I spent a year realizing what it was to want; to not have everything I wanted at the moment I wanted it and I tried to turn that into a desire to perform.

When I did get back into school I still had to work and I was never great at listening to coaches or taking it easy and I had some good races, some bad races, and in general a lot of missed opportunities. As I look back now I needed to better understand and live a more balanced work and recovery lifestyle.

Short version of this: I RAN A LOT!!

Craig (top, fourth from left) and Jeff (far right) were two components of the legendary 1989-90 Mahopac High cross country team.

Craig (top, fourth from left) and Jeff (far right) were two components of the legendary 1989-90 Mahopac High cross country team.

J.P.: As I age I find running increasingly hard. Bad lower back, creaky knees. Does there come a point when, just maybe, we need to stop and choose a different sport?

C.V.: I would say just imagine how bad your back and knees would be if you were not running! Running in general is a benefit to the body and being fit from the cardiovascular point of view adds so much to overall health and if you stop running you’ll lose those benefits and the problems may not go away. Over the years of repetition it is likely that your auxiliary muscle groups have become weaker and that can make the running motion put more stress on those key areas.

Likely what you need to do is reduce your intensity on your runs and start taking more time to build core strength. Build strength in your core and auxiliary muscles and you will run better and with fewer problems.

Over time I have had to say goodbye to competitive running and as a result I stopped doing the hours of extras each week as a results my form has suffered and so nagging injuries have shown up. This did not happen in our youth because we played other sports which kept our core strong and our stabilizers were built up through time on the basketball court or soccer field. My suggestions to you would be to get to softer surfaces … you can do your runs in Wood Canyon Park, great soft trails near your pad. The other way forward is a return to sport in order to make your running better.

I recently returned to playing lacrosse, which I said goodbye to at 15 so that I could specialize in running. I am playing in the for Nuremberg Wizards in the German second division with kids who weren’t born when I gave it all up. It has been a blast and it is helping my running to feel better again. I am using the muscles that lateral sports bring to life and so they are stronger and more able to do their job when I run. I would also throw out a huge THANK YOU to Mahopac coaches Counes, Corace, and Georgalas as the skills they hammered into me at 13-14 year old seem to have stuck pretty well.

J.P.: What’s your day-to-day job like? Soup to nuts?

C.V.: Set the vision and direction for all adidas global running apparel and customized running shoes. My job boiled down to a phrase is “Better Runs.” It is my job to work with and understand runners and create products that help them to have better runs. That might be a faster run, a dryer run, a less horrible run, what it is is a better run today so that they might be inspired to run tomorrow.

We work with runners around the world from Mary Keitany and Wilson Kipsang to the crazy guy running across the Brooklyn bridge at midnight to better understand what they need to feel and be better. After we understand that need, we work together with our designers and developers to create the product and with our communications partners to bring the product and story to life around the world. Our apparel was on the backs of athletes for the last four marathon world records, countless Olympic gold medals, and someone’s first ever 5k. I know it is just T-shirts and shorts, but I do my best to remind my team that they are creating someone’s favorite, the one piece they dig through the laundry to find, the piece that cannot run without. We are not curing cancer every day … but sometimes we are helping others to do so.

Soup to nuts though, the big part of my day that I take very seriously is as a coach and leader for the teammates and colleagues with whom I interact. It is my job to make the world a better place through sport but also through the teammates I can coach and influence on their journey to betterment. I have grown to see that work as my most important role.

With Almaz Ayana, the Ethiopian and Olympic champion

With Almaz Ayana, the Ethiopian and Olympic champion

J.P.: I talk about this with my son quite often, but I’ve never asked someone involved in running. So I’ll ask you: Twice during her career, the great Grete Waitz diarrheaed herself while leading marathons. I actually remember it happening in New York, thinking, “Fucking ewwwww.” But how do you view it? Admirable? Weird? Did you ever do the same?

C.V.: Grete Waitz was tough as effing nails! Nine times she went out and beat that NYC Marathon field. Nine times!! She was a destroyer of souls in the marathon and the kindest person off the track.

I was lucky enough to work with Grete and help the charity she co-founded Aktiv Against Cancer. Adidas apparel inspired by her still gives back today. I consider her husband Jack a good friend and am really proud to keep her legacy alive …

That said, poop is gross, no one wants to poop themselves, but it does happen. I have had to hit a porta potty on a run, but I was never leading the New York City Marathon, so stopping was the better option for me. The marathon is hard, and when you are running fast and you gotta go, you gotta go … as for me I would say always wear black shorts, and always have huge amounts of respect for Grete.

J.P.: Why does Kenya have such a dominant distance running system? What do they do/have that Americans lack?

C.V.: Kenya elites dominate for a few reasons. Of course at the highest level each athlete has picked his/her parents really, really well! Talent is a gift that is from your parents and what they give you and the Rift Valley is a place where some amazing athletes are born at altitude and many have a great aerobic capacity, lean build, powerful drive. But it is not luck of the draw, so do not even for a second be fooled. Those guys train their asses off! They put in a ton of miles and work incredibly hard. I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some of the greatest marathoners to ever lace up a pair of shoes and they became great the same way any runner before them did. The secret, as  John L. Parker Jr. put it … “What was the secret, they wanted to know; in a thousand different ways they wanted to know The Secret. And not one of them was prepared, truly prepared to believe that it had not so much to do with chemicals and zippy mental tricks as with that most unprofound and sometimes heart-rending process of removing, molecule by molecule, the very tough rubber that comprised the bottoms of his training shoes. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”

Americans don’t lack anything and that could be the problem. It is hard to find that deep level of hurt if you have grown up without ever wanting for anything. We grow up without a lot of worry in the true sense of the word and so it takes a really special personality to dig that deep and hurt that much day after day. A lot of guys do it, as do a lot of girls. Desi Linden has a level of grit and toughness few others ever have and she showed it in her winning of the Boston Marathon. All of us in the industry said it the night before, “If the weather stays this bad Desi wins, no doubt.”

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J.P.: You live in Nuremberg, so you have an at-a-distance view of America under Donald Trump. What does it look like from afar? What do people ask you when they learn you’re an American? Because I sorta envy you right now.

C.V.: What does it look like from afar? Pretty much the same shitshow it looks like close up, but just nine hours behind. I think it is a scary thing that is happening and watching the events triggered in Gaza, or Iran by an unqualified mean spirited racist worries me for sure, but I believe in the American people enough to believe the call to action for the midterms will show us a light at the end of the tunnel soon. Or at least I hope that.

Don’t envy me too much. I live in a country where they do not sell peanut butter M&Ms. Freedom and choice are a blessing you should be thankful for every day. They do, however, have healthcare for all, paid parental leave, and make sure everyone eats.

People shake their head at our president and the state of our government and they ask us how it was possible that it happened. A question that is often followed by, “How is Trump president? Everyone I have ever talked to over here didn’t vote for him!” And that’s the problem—the folks with passports with a wider global view voted one way, but those with a more closed view of their world that is centered around a local sphere of influence were lied to and scared into voting for a fraud and a sell-out.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life? Lowest?

C.V.: Let’s start lowest. Because I grew up very Catholic that one comes easier. January 12, 2001 the day my best friend Travis Landreth died while on a run. I lost a huge part of myself that day and I still have not found it. I am pretty sure that I never will. I was able to share his love of running and legacy via the Gel-Landreth that our teams created after his passing and I enjoyed seeing that shoe on runs around the world.

Greatest Moment: Those keep happening. I have an amazing wife who loves me and supports me regardless of the fact that she is way cooler and way more beautiful a person than I am. I got one more day with her today and I think that is pretty amazing. I have been blessed with parents who teach me still how to grow and learn each day, my chosen family is a group you would be blessed to know let alone call friends and I can them family. I suppose I am hoping my greatest moment is still ahead.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CRAIG VANDEROEF:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Alberto Salazar, YouTube, mugs with uplifting messages, Tim Giambalvo, “Over the Top,” Ty Dolla $ign, Rusty Staub, the smell of newspaper, the Elbe River, rum and Coke, Zeus: Staub … he is no Lenny Dykstra, but he was Mets’ royalty when I was a kid. Over The Top … Stallone, the turning around of the hat to create go time… amazing (Over the top was also the name of my favorite run at the University of Virginia, I ran it every Monday for four years and miss it to this day). YouTube is fun, but I love the smell of a newspaper, not as much as used book store. I am neutral on Tim G, TY$, the Elbe, Zeus and rum and Coke. But on the negative side those mugs and the people who carry them (unless ironically) and then there is Albert Saladbar.

• Five all-time favorite distance runners: Emil ZatopekBilly MillsPaul TergatKenny Moore (Runner/Writer, he brought all of my favorites to life on the page… Read “Best Efforts” a collection of his stories for SI, amazing especially “Concentrate on the Chrysanthemums”—life changing and an amazing view of Frank Shorter who I wanted on the list but ran out of spots, Brian Diemer

• Three memories of Mahopac running coach Tom GilchristGEEZ!!! 1.The pants, he always wore those bad shiny polyester BIKE brand coach’s pants and in an assortment of colors; 2. His coffee cup and slow drawl way of communicating … I can still hear his voice but not so much his words. Which I think is a little sad; 3. He was always there, I don’t know that he had a passion for cross country or track, but he never missed a day, he showed up, he listened to us and he would be there for you and that is great lesson too. He much rather would have been on the basketball court, but he was there. Summer before sophomore year he taught summer school P.E. at Lakeview and each weekday I got there and ran the full fields loop with the hills as he watched students that failed gym glass play softball or some such, and then gave me firm handshake for the effort and then was off. I worked super hard and at the end of that summer I was one vote short of being named captain for the year, but instead the team voted in another kid who didn’t run very much or very fast, and I was pissed!! Coach Gilchrist said “You’d have made a great captain, but Henry needed it more.” It took me a long time to absorb that lesson, but I still appreciate Tom trying to share it.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have had some pretty awful and long plane rides, but nothing almost death related. I had a deep vein thrombosis a few years back and I was told I might not wake up from the surgery. I called my dad to say “Thank you” and goodbye. I talked with my closest friends to do the same, but before I went under I asked the doctor for “one more day” … begged really for one more day with my wife, Raine. When you are about to not wake up ever again you are looking for the person you want to most wake up with.

• One question you would ask James Earl Jones were he here right now: Does the sexy voice or the Darth Vader voice get you more chicks?

• What do your running shoes smell like?: Roses … I am sample size and work for a running company, my shoes are never too gross. If your shoes are ratty and stinky they are likely in need of replacement for technical reasons.

• How much interest do you think you can muster up in Germany for a USFL book?: Hmmm … I would assume here in Bavaria you could sell a solid 37 copies to expats and folks who need to prop up their TV stands. Not a big American football fanbase here (ask the World League guys …) I smell a book idea? The world league of America Football and the rise of fandom in a United Germany?

• Best advice you ever received?: Professionally—“Always treat your products like they are art and people will pay for art, treat it like trash and no one will buy it.” Stan Mavis, who was then the SVP of Apparel at Brooks Sports. We never let anyone throw around adidas running apparel or put it on the floor. The products we make are artful expressions of equipment that make athletes better and each T-shirt or short represents months of hard work and dedication, it deserves reverence. Stan made sure I never forgot that and it drives me today.

In life, I go to Rudyard Kipling and the poem “IF.” It is a poem about how to live one’s life and move through it and I always hear it in my dad’s voice or the voice of my maternal grandfather. Life is not fair, not easy, but Kipling shares a path through all of it. When things are tough you can “Kipling it” I tell my teammates. I love that it is a poem that was a part of book, he didn’t even write it to have it stand alone because life is the some of its parts not it’s solitary efforts I suppose. “if you can dream and not make dreams your master or think but not make thoughts your aim”

• What are the keys to growing a kick-ass beard?: There are two keys …

Key one to a great beard: Shape the beard early. If you want it to end up long and pointed you need that vision day one. Shape to the vision, Jeff. Shape to the vision!

Key Number two for a kick ass beard: SPOUSAL BUY-IN! If your wife or partner is not a fan of the beard, the beard is doomed or your relationship is. In fact, if you wanna get your girl to break up with you but are afraid to ask… GROW A BEARD without her buy in.

If you have spousal buy in, magic stuff happens (or at least it does for me). Scented beard shampoos show up in the shower, beard combs and shaping oils show up on the counter. And once you have them life gets easier for the wife and a healthy, handsome beard is sure to follow. (genetics also play a part, but as of now that one cannot be adjusted)

• You against Odell Beckham, Jr., right now, in a half mile. Who wins? By how much?: OBJ. You gotta figure that in high school he ran 22.31 for 200 m and so he could have run 1:50 or so at 800 m if he had wanted. He would likely just sit on me for 700 meters and fly by me in the last 100 meters and win by 83 meters. I’m old and slow … he’s young and fast. My only chance would be that his Nikes would malfunction causing him a horrible injury. I’m no Giants fan, but still I wouldn’t want the guy hurt just to win … but if it did happen I would gloat.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life