A Conversational Pace – Matt Palmer on half tights, forgetful masochism, and quantifiable progress through dedication and effort.

Matt is a running footwear designer at Nike, a member of the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club, reps team half-tights, and talks about the power of just showing up.

One common theme that weaves throughout every single Conversational Pace that makes its way onto Leggggs is the importance of “community.” While this word means a grip of different things to literally every single person on the planet, one commonality shines through: We need it. Regardless of what “it” is and how you personally define the word, community is necessary for survival. 

Short story real quick: When I first moved to Portland in 2020 and the world immediately shut down, the search for my community, felt not even daunting, but fucking impossible. I found semblances through RunTrill’s #2milesaday6feetaway efforts, but even that left me running solo and reaching for something more tangible. 

Fast forward two years and keeping at the running-while-maintaining-an-active-search-for-community, interesting and incredible people, like pings on radar, just sorta popped up. More on that whole community search in a different post, let’s dive into one of these incredible and interesting people now: Matthew Palmer. 

Matt, or Palmer, depending on familiarity level is one of these community-first and immediately-welcoming people that you know you should have met yesterday. I remember my first interaction and sending a cold intro asking him to be a part of the Conversational Pace: “Yeah, I’d love to take part! I saw the one you did with Lauren too. Seems like fun and a cool way to highlight the local amateur scene.” This is the response you dream of when you try to open that door, and from there it just got better. Group runs, professional intros, and now, A Conversational Pace. LFG. 

Leggggs: Matt. What is up, dude? Thanks for joining us today. Let’s get it going with the niceties and intros. Who are you, and what do you do?

Matt Palmer: I am Matt Palmer…most of my running friends just call me Palmer (lots of dang Matts out there these days). I’m on Instagram @m.c.palmer and may pop up in a @thejbac post from time to time too.
I am a running footwear designer at Nike. It’s truly a dream job wherein I help enable athletes to achieve their goals by drawing lines that become shoes. I also race middle distance on the track (800/1500/Mile) as part of the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club.

Photo: Jacob Elijah @stayforthestoriesofficial

Leggggs: Sweet. Seen those JBAC jerseys around the river before, and it’s nice to put some names and faces with the sightings. Let’s talk shotclock… above the game. Your personal mission. If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, it would be…..

MP: Keep showing up and good things will happen. Overcoming inertia to take that first step, to put yourself in a growth environment, is the hard part. Once you get the hammer to the jobsite, swinging it is easy. I’d say my strongest virtues are accountability and consistency, as entirely unsexy as they are.

Keep showing up and good things will happen.

Matt Palmer

Leggggs: Nailed it. And not just because of the hammer reference. Showing up. Keep on it. It makes things happen. So, tell me, man, when and why did you first even get into this whole running thing?

MP: Probably later than you’d think! I started running a few days a week to stay in shape toward the end of college, but didn’t become intentional with training or start doing races until I moved to Portland 10 years ago at age 24 (didn’t run my first track race until I was 26). The combination of working for Nike, being amongst Portland’s vibrant running culture, and rapidly improving my times (initially) formed a cycle of motivation that I’m yet to escape. 

Photo: Zeth Peterka @zethpeterkaphoto

Leggggs: That will definitely do it. Pretty sure they put something in the air here that makes people run. Maybe it’s the total variety of terrain and routes so easily at our disposal. That in mind, what is your favorite type of run?

MP: Speed workouts on the track, for sure. Just give me a handful of fast 300s with plenty of rest, and I am at peace with all the peripheral chaos of the surrounding universe.

Leggggs: How about that peripheral chaos, eh? Not goin anywhere anytime soon. Tell me about your favorite run ever? What, why, where, how, who, when…. all of it, if you want.

MP: I think it would be 2017 Fifth Ave Mile in NYC.

It was my first time in New York City, and it was on the front end of a family vacation (my siblings and parents all live in different places across the US). I believe it was the first time anyone in my family had ever watched me race since I didn’t run in high school or college. I ended up getting second in the B (non-professional) heat while also breaking 4:10 for the first time, winning prize money for the first time, and being on TV for the first time. A lot of lifetime firsts taking place for this little late bloomer in the span of 4 minutes. It was the perfect place to end my season and do a cooldown jog straight to Joe’s Pizza.

Leggggs: That’s incredible. Seriously. Epic setting. Fame and fortune. Pizza. A 4:10… Kudos, man. So if that was the best, what was the worst run?

MP: Probably every Hood To Coast I’ve ever done (I think I’ve run 5 of them?).

Running three long tempo runs within 20 hours on zero sleep is neither my strength nor my joy.

Leggggs: What pulled you through H2C?

MP: The team aspect certainly helped me minimize my self-pity and squeeze out all remaining aerobic capacity at 5am to not let the other 11 runners down.

We had a decade-long Corporate Co-Ed Champion streak to maintain after all! “It won’t fail because of me,” I perhaps muttered deliriously at some point.

Chalk it up to traumatic experience compartmentalization in order to explain how I kept going back the subsequent year, like some forgetful masochist.

Photo: Brigit Cheshire @hellobrigit

Leggggs: Forgetful Masochist is now the name of this interview. I ran Hood to Coast for the first time this past year with a crew out of DC. Had a blast and want to do it again. But what was the biggest learning experience for me was having the right gear. From shoes to blankets, it was a game of comfort strategy.
What is some gear you cnnot live without?

MP: Disclaimer: I work for Nike, so buckle up for some #biased selections.

I am on Team Half Tights, so if I am running fast or racing, it’s gotta be in some Nike Dri-Fit Aeroswift Half Tights.

On the flip side, I am partial to the cheap Nike Everyday crew socks (6-pack, baby!) instead of the fancy ones.

Lastly, once the weather starts to turn in autumn, I am the first person to put gloves on and the last one to take them off in the spring. I don’t have a specific favorite pair, but keeping the fingers cozy is a priority.

Leggggs: I just got a pair of gloves from Nike. I’m a serial offender in forgetting to put gloves on and always find myself burying my digits deep in my palms to the point of cramping. Stoked to not have that happen this year.
I feel like I may know the answer, at least from a brand POV, here, but what are your go-to shoes for different terrains/run types?

MP: I started my running career being all about minimalist shoes, but as I’ve grown in experience (read: gotten old) I’ve steered more toward the traditional trainers. The Pegasus 39 is my latest go-to for everyday road miles (even messed around with them for some 400s while traveling in Europe this summer).
On trails, I split time between the Terra Kiger 8 and  ZoomX Zegama depending how far I’m going.
For workouts, I do most of my tempo/longer intervals in the Zoomx Streakfly. Despite dabbling with “super spikes”, all my track PRs are still in the Mamba 5 so gotta give a special shout-out to that underrated champion.

Photo: Cortney White @cortneywhite_

Leggggs: I mentioned this on Instagram, but those new colors for the Zegamas and Kigers or out of sight, man. If you had a hand in that, bravo. Shifting gears, now, off of… gear… let’s chat about motivation and inspiration for continuing your running journey.

What is a quote or saying or even grunt that you repeat to yourself mid-run when shit is getting real?

MP: During tempos and long intervals, I routinely remind myself in the first half that “it doesn’t get worse from here” meaning that this is as painful as it will be, so if I survived the last rep/mile, I can survive the next one too. Nothing fancy, but a practical reality check.

Additionally, I often say (half-jokingly) that “if it was easy, everyone would do it”. Helps re-align the perspective that the hard part is where the progress is made, where you graduate beyond the ability that was naturally given to you.

It doesn’t get worse from here

Matt Palmer, on running through the tough times

Leggggs: I am nursing an injury right now, and before I went to the doctor, a buddy of mine that knew I was seeing the ortho, texted me and said, simply, “It will only get better after this.” So it’s apropos that you say that, and I couldn’t agree more. I wish I had that mindset last year.

When you’re repeating this saying to yourself, are you with or without headphones? Meaning, are you team headphones or team no headphones when running?

MP: Nope nope. Many of my runs are done with company, so when I am running solo, I take the opportunity to be digitally disconnected and aware of my surroundings/invasive thoughts.

Leggggs: Boom. That’s the best explanation ever.

When I am running solo, I take the opportunity to be digitally disconnected and aware of my surroundings/invasive thoughts.

Matt Palmer, On running without headphones

That said, though, what music gets you amped up to either run or just, fuckin be rad?

MP: This usually occurs in the car en route to either a hard workout or a race. Something flagrantly obscene like “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar or something galactically epic like “Gravity’s Union” by Coheed & Cambria are common choices.

Leggggs: Niiiiiiiiice choices. Added those to the Conversational Pace playlist. When you are just not feelin a run at all, what do you do to get yourself out the door and going?

MP: Having friends to run with, whether a recovery run or workout, brings accountability to show up and also helps the mile/reps pass faster. This was the greatest unlock that inspired me to join a running club and training group. The pull becomes as much about the social connection as it does the physical activity and that can be a real treat.

Photo: Anderson Bobo @bobo.studios

Leggggs: Only recently really understood what community means in this regard. Seems so obvious, but damn if it isn’t sorta hard to come by.
Okay, we’re getting close to the end here, so let’s talk ideal states: Bucket list places to run…

MP: Was lucky to check one of them off this summer by running some trails in Chamonix, France!

Additionally, I would love to do a workout on the track in St. Moritz, Switzerland and do the Enchantments (in North Cascades) as a single-day trail run eventually.

In the spirit of keeping the dream alive, I hope to get in as many more races at Hayward Field as I can before I hang up the spikes. No place like it.

Photo: Ryan Thrower @runfreetrail

Leggggs: Saw your IG and noticed you were in Chamonix. I could end the interview now out of sheer jealousy, but we’ll keep going…
Say, I wanted to start running right now. What no-bulllshit advice would you give me to inspire me?

MP: “It doesn’t getting easier, you just get faster, but… you DO get faster”

One of the most rewarding things I find about running is how quantifiable the progress from your dedication and effort can, and most often will, be. And the measure doesn’t need to be relative to others! When you line up at a race, it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum result of winners vs. losers. Everyone has a shot to PR or achieve something new, and the effort of the person next to you will help maximize your own.

Leggggs: Well fucking put, man. Damn. Makes me want to quit and start all over. Let’s get to some gratitude now… Who do you have to thank for where you are in your own running journey?

MP: Firstly, my father, Keith, who blessed me with some natural ability yet didn’t push me into running growing up. Finding it on my own terms as an adult has allowed it to grow sustainably with my life and ambitions. I think I will be doing it for a good while from here on.

The first and only coach I’ve ever had, Elliott Heath. I’ve learned everything I know about training and racing from him and there is no way I would have willingly subjected myself to this many mile repeats or Michigan workouts without the obligation of his training group. He makes me better at what I’m bad at.

Lastly, the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club, who give me a balanced perspective on competitive running. They have offered me the high school/college team environment I never had, promoting both the competitive group effect and the post-run beers vibe (just don’t tell them I don’t drink).

Leggggs: Secret is safe with me, Matt. Hear that everyone? Shhhhhhh.

What races do you have coming up?

MP: I’m currently on the mend from a series of Summer “inconveniences”: a strained adductor followed by a rough bout with COVID followed by a sprained ankle (just two weeks ago). So nothing on the immediate horizon, just trying to get back into shape with some strong fall base training.
Would love to take part in Club Cross Country Champs in San Francisco in December (as much as I can ever say I would “love” to run a 10K) and then the main focus would be indoor track meets in the Dempsey at UW leading into another (hopefully) long outdoor track season focusing on 800/1500.

Photo: Somer Kreisman @somerrunner

Leggggs: I feel like adductors are a practical joke. Like, “Yeah go ahead and run. You were built for it! … JK!” Anyway…
Anyway – FINALLY: Anything else you want to promote right now? Be as shameless as you want, please.

MP: I also want to highlight a local non-profit, Go The Distance, that promotes recovery from addiction through running. They lead bi-weekly runs for residents of various treatment centers in Portland showing the multi-faceted benefits of running to physical health, mental health, and sense of community. I’ve been volunteering for them for the past year and have gained a new perspective of the difference running can make in someone’s life. Check them out at https://www.gtdgothedistance.org/ or @gtdgothedistance on IG.

Can’t thank Matt enough for agreeing to do this interview having not known me better than a perfect stranger before saying yes. The insights shared here are quite amazing, and I hope they help anyone reading with any stage of their running journey, or really, just life in general. Pretty adaptable when I think about it…

I am sure you will see him out and about if you’re ever running through Portland. And if you do, don’t hesitate to say hello.

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