A Conversational Pace – Xavier Salvador on overcoming the soccer bro stereotype, accountability systems, and absorbing cities by foot.

For the final time, I am going to apologize to Xavier for waking him up during Hood to Coast when my flash accidentally went off in the van. My bad, dude. Glad we’re dude-bros now.

Alright. Feelin better…

Xavier is a rare breed. First, he was one of the dudes I was poured into a van with on the recent Hood to Coast escapade (that’s not rare so much as it is just a set-up). But, the amount of friendly-energy that emanated from the guy was beyond contagious. That immediately struck me: I dig when you meet someone that, right away, you’re enamored by how animated and vigorous they are. 

And finally, to kill time in Portland before we headed out for our official legs, we stopped at a thrift store where Xavier bought a denim jacket. I just thought that was cool. 

Then I got to see Xavier run. Holy shit. The best way to describe it is to think about that friendly-energy I mentioned, but ball it up a bit tighter, spin it around a few times, inject 1000CCs of unalloyed intensity, focus a few laser beams for eyes, slap a pair of running shoes on it, and you’re getting close. It’s inspiring and intimidating at the same time. I’m just glad I didn’t have to race against him. 

And now, right here, we get to get up close and personal with Xavier to get the skinny on overcoming the “soccer bro” stereotype, a familial influence, peanut butter as legitimate running gear, and one of the gnarliest injury stories I’ve heard. 

Leggggs: My dude. How’s things? We’ll start in standard format: Who are you? Where can we find you? What do you do?

Xavier Salvador (ZZ): Xavier Salvador! Some people call me Zz though!

I wake up, run, eat, work, eat some more, maybe run again or bike, sleep, repeat. But in the conventional sense of the question and what I’m asked at every DC bar, I work as a health policy consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton, a government consulting firm. Most of my work entails advising the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services on how they can improve certain segments of its operations. 

Leggggs: Okay we’re gonna call you ZZ from here on out. And I also have no idea what you do still, but it sounds important, and therefore, I am impressed.

What’s your personal mission? If you had to sum yourself up in one sentence, what is it?

ZZ: This will sound very Thoreau. But in old age, I want to look back proudly upon my pursuits, knowing that I lived deliberately and sucked the marrow out of life. 

Leggggs: Hell yes. And speaking of something to be proud about, when did you first get into running? And, why?

ZZ: I always considered running somewhat a part of my life. I grew up playing soccer all-year round and enjoyed the attrition component of the game. I was never the fastest sprinter, but I could run box to box for 90 minutes. But I do remember one summer on a family trip to Craftsbury, Vermont, when I spontaneously hopped into a trail race and did surprisingly well, my aunt was adamant that I should switch sports. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, when I transferred to Cornell University after playing college soccer for one year at Franklin & Marshall college, that I fully made the switch.

I thought running could be a way to maintain some form of athletic intensity while having a social outlet. So as soon as I got on campus, I joined Cornell’s running club, went on a 10-mile run with the group’s fast guys, and instantly became hooked. It wasn’t until later that I learned that the dude leading that run was trying to weed out people and see who was actually fast. Let it be known that I held on. But he did think I was just a “soccer bro” and was surprised when I never stopped showing up.

Leggggs: Showing up. It’s that half the battle? Or 90%? Or whatever the saying is? Love it, dude. To maintain the social outlet of running, what type of run gets you stoked the most?

ZZ: I live for Saturday morning long runs, especially when it’s a hard, steady effort. Those are the best days for bonding with teammates and getting into a rhythm. Plus you always start the weekend on an awesome note and get to crush brunch afterwards.

Leggggs: I admit I’m just starting to meet more people in the running community here in Portland, but this makes me want to move faster on it. A long run with friends while still challenging yourself and doin brunch afterwards? Chef’s kiss…

Keeping in this same sorta vibe, tell me about your favorite run ever? What, why, where, how, who, when…. etc.

ZZ: This is a tough one! How do I pick amongst my children? That’s like picking my favorite day from the past 6 years. But one that comes to mind was in December 2020, while I was living in Vermont during the pandemic. One of the great things about strava is that connections feel more personal than instagram or facebook. You may be more inclined to reach out to someone if you realize that you’re running in the same neighborhood rather than just living there.

So through strava, I reconnected with an old boarding school friend who I had not seen for seven years!

In high school, we were both devout soccer players, so we became close friends as we spent the majority of our free time and early mornings practicing together. But then college came around and we went our separate ways. Fast forward to 2020 and I see that she added me on Strava. I then realized that she was also in Vermont and that we walked similar paths after high school. We both pursued college soccer for a bit, but then eventually decided to become competitive runners.

So obviously we had to meet up for a run.

We decided to drive to Burlington, Vermont to run on the city’s rail trail along Lake Champlain. This is one of my favorite places. The rail trail hugs the lake, has amazing green mountain views, and eventually leads onto a causeway that juts into the water. I believe we did 11 or 12 miles at a 7-minute pace. The winter wind off the lake made for a brisk day. But the run flew by as we spent the time reminiscing about our salad days and getting up to speed on the past 7 years. It was easy to pick up from where we left off.

Great runs are always best when shared.

Leggggs: I feel like that sentiment of Strava being one of the only social networks that truly and authentically social (versus surface-social like IG or FB) is shared by many, but not so matter-of-factly put as you lay it out here. Then you layer in the actuality of the run… Paintin a picture, my friend. Awesome to hear how that all came together.
Let’s flip the script a bit and talk about the worst run ever. What was so bad about it? How did you push through, if you did?

ZZ: Oh yeah one sticks out. So in college, I became an avid trail runner. But then after reading, Born to Run, I took a step further and started wearing Luna Sandals while trail running. This lasted for about two years though! I even ran a 1:14 half in those rubber tire strips. But it all came to a head when I was on a trail run in Vermont with my Uncle.

We had not been there before so I was trying to run and look at google maps to make sure we were going in the right direction. But then I suddenly fly forward, land on my face, and feel a sharp pain on the bottom of my foot. I turned over to look and see a six-inch stick protruding from my foot, pointing out parallel to my toes. Snap judgment, I yank it out and then try to keep running and play it tough.

But my uncle then had to support me as we made our way to the nearest clearing to find a road where my Grandfather could pick us up. But then we had no phone service so my uncle chose to run off to try to find someone with a car, leaving me at the trailhead while bleeding and swarmed by deer flies.

Eventually, my Grandfather showed up and drove us to the hospital. I’ll spare the details from there but the summary is that I had to go to the hospital three more times and get foot surgery twice. The second time was because my foot got reinfected. But during the second surgery, the surgeon found a piece of the stick still in my foot 6 weeks later, which caused the infection. Then that incident caused a mental spiral where I started restricting food because I wasn’t able to run for 10 weeks, causing a whole different set of issues. Sometimes I think that because I run so much that there’s a high chance that it will also be the main source of trauma in my life… Anyways, I renounce Luna Sandals from henceforth.

Leggggs: Jesus, man. You just described my literal nightmare. Something about feet and sticks and stabbings … curls my toes thinking about it, and you lived it. Glad you’re recovered. But, hell on earth. Thanks for reliving that for our benefit.

Okay, we’re gonna move on to running gear you can’t live without. Whatchu got in that bag?

ZZ: Does peanut butter count as running gear? But I’ll seriously shout out BASE salt! It’s an electrolyte powder that you carry in a tube and eat during a long run or workout. Trevor Hains, my Dojo of Pain, triathlete, bestie, got me hooked on it. He once gave me some flack about how triathletes take nutrition so much more seriously than runners. But it does help to make me feel fresh at the end of a hard session.
I also love my white Ciele hat. It’s basically an appendage at this point.

Leggggs: One of the first things I heard you say, outside of ordering two breakfast burritos was, “I need to get peanut butter before we leave.” I kicked myself for not doing the same. And we will hear more from Trevor in an upcoming Conversational Pace.
Outside of peanut butter, salt and that awesome hat, what are your go-to shoes for some of your runs?

ZZ: I split my days between Hoka and Nike. For all my easy/maintenance runs, I’ll wear either the Hoka Carbon X or the Mach 4s. Both are light with solid cushions. For workouts, hard long runs, and races, I rock the Nike Vaporfly. I know they’re kinda basic but hey everyone wears them for a reason. 

Leggggs: Nothin basic about a really good shoe. Everyone wears them for a reason, like you said.
Speaking a bit on hard long runs, do you have a mantra/a quote you repeat to yourself when things are getting super real on a run?

ZZ: When I’m getting to the end of a workout, like pushing through the last mile repeat, I’ll just scream out loud ‘COME ON, ZZ’. And I don’t really care if other people are around to hear it.

Leggggs: Unabashed motivation. 100% agree. So now for the dividing line (it’s not, I’m just trying to stir it up): Headphones or no headphones?

ZZ: I’ll mix it up. Some days I need a little upbeat motivation, but during others I like unplugging and getting lost in my thoughts. But having headphones in while running with someone else is like the most disrespectful thing. Some friends will ask to go on a casual run and then proceed to not talk and instead listen to music the whole time. Shameful.

Leggggs: That last bit makes ZERO sense. People are so odd… So when you do have your headphones on, what’s in em?

ZZ: Two artists with oeuvres that I listen to the most are Florence + The Machine and Glass Animals. But my desert island-run song would be Ghost Town by Kanye.

Leggggs: When you’re not feelin it, how do you convince yourself to get a run in?

ZZ: I try to convince myself that no matter how shitty I feel, I’ll always feel better after a run.  My club meets three times a week, but for the other days, I always try to reach out to friends in order to have an accountability system.

Leggggs: You never regret a run. And on the “no ragrets” tip, what are your bucket list places to run?

ZZ: I own a book dedicated to this question! ‘Epic Runs of the World’ from Lonely Planet. In terms of races, I want to run all of the World Marathon Majors!

Also my Uncle (the dude who was with me when I punctured my foot) lives in San Francisco always tries to get me to run the Dipsea, which is a famous 7-mile free-for-all trail race with a handicap start. You just have to get to the finish line as quickly as possible and are able to take any route you want, but if you’re in your 20s or 30s, you start last.

I’d also love to spend some time training in Flagstaff and Boulder! 

Leggggs: Dipsea sounds amazing. Been reading a bit on fell running, and it sounds a little similar.
Okay so, you’re one honest dude. What no-bullshit advice would you give to someone that wanted to start running?

ZZ: I would just say that it is a great way to learn about the place you live. It’s a quick way of going down new streets and locating cool things around you that you might not have noticed before. This is why I love running on vacation. I get to absorb so much more of a city than if I was walking or stuck in an uber. 

Leggggs: Smart. So smart. Now for the gratitude section: Who do you have to thank for where you are in your running journey?

ZZ: Any thank you section has to begin with Mom and Dad for instilling the love of sport, teaching about hard work and dedication, and always supporting my pursuits.

Then I’ll thank my Cornell Running Club friends! Find yourself some friends who will without hesitation sign-up for a 200-mile relay in the ultra division or will fly across the country just to watch you run a marathon.

And then finally I’ll thank my Dojo of Pain squad! I moved to DC hoping to find a core running group. And Dojo truly helped me grow as a runner and provided an amazing group of friends. I can’t wait to keep traveling with them around the country to more races. 

Leggggs: Where can we see you race/run? What do you got comin up?

ZZ: I’m doing Chicago in October! It’ll be my second time racing in the Windy City. I went to grad school there so it will be a fun return. And then Boston in the Spring!

Leggggs: Anything else to promote right now?

ZZ: I’ll always promote Dojo of Pain’s Instagram!

Leggggs: Finally, any parting shots for the Leggggs community?

ZZ: I’m so glad to have met you at Hood to Coast! That was one of my favorite race experiences. And there is no better way to make friends than by staying up all night in a van and running at the witching hour.

Could not agree more, ZZ. Thanks for chatting with the group today. If you;d like to follow Xavier, or ZZ, on his running journies, races, and other adventures, here you go:

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