There are barriers to self-expression for so many that don’t fit into the binary boxes kept in place to protect the comfort and power of the status quo, but I like to believe that radical self-expression can unlock the power of individuals, thus opening the door to revolutionary, innovative and far more interesting collective growth. – Julian Heninger
A good memory: My wife and daughter and I were grabbing beers and pizza at the Crosscut- Warming Hut No.5 in Bend, OR when all of a sudden all these people rolled in that gave off that runner’s vibe, if you know what I mean. But one dude, in particular, was a whole vibe (and I never say “vibe.”) Huge, curly hair, baggy jeans, fanny pack, white chuck taylors (I think, anyway…this was awhile ago), and just, again, vibin around the place. No better way to say it. When I gave the ol’ head-nod as I passed him to pick up my pizza from the food cart outside, he gave me an enthusiastic “WHATS UP MAN!”
Weird to think a few months later, I’d see this same dude in the Sandy High School parking lot repping the Bowerman Hood to Coast team while the Dojo waited for van 1. Fast forward to now, and he’s here, on Leggggs, diving deep into what it means to be human, visceral and unbridled creative expression, radical community inclusion and growth, and the multitude of manners in which the world of running can feel more like a home to those who seek it shelter in it.
This is Julian Heninger.
Leggggs: Julian. Hey man. I am so stoked you’re here. Let’s get into this. Formalities: Who are you? Where are you? What do you do?
Julian Heninger: I’m Julian, based and vibing in Portland, OR. My main hustle is working at Nike. My side hustle is doing graphic design for the Bowerman Track Club. My literal hustle is running for BTC Elite and chasing my potential with my teammates in the strange world of semi-pro running.
Leggggs: Glad to have ya, man. Lotta hustle, metaphoric and literal. Keeping it light still, let’s break the ice with a little joke. Whatcha got?
JH: The following sentence is false. The preceding sentence is true.
Leggggs: How about a personal mantra while I wrap my head around what you just said…
Leggggs: And if you had to sum yourself up in one sentence…
JH: I’ll try anything twice.
Leggggs: Boom bam. Alright. Let’s get serious. SERIOUS. Not really. But here: I’ve been reading more on movement, and how a body in motion leads to a happier mindset, and overall better mental health (and feelings of being less lonely, cough cough leggggs’s mission). That said, outside of running, what do you do to keep your body in motion, and your mind and soul happy?
JH: MOVEMENT! I cannot say enough good things about it. I’m a die-hard dance fanatic by both day and night. When you’re locked into hitting splits around the oval, that repetitive elliptically linear movement is definitely something I love getting hyper-focused on, but it can also be limiting if that’s the only motion pattern in which you find joy and purpose.
For me, and I know that dance can be just as rigid and calculated as running, I find that dance is where I can become completely fluid and meaningless. Lost in a groove or a beat, it’s a way to move your body where the only stakes that matter are having a good time and connecting with everything around you. I’ve found this flow state in running to be sure, but dance will always be my first love.
Leggggs: Can attest to the dance. At least what I’ve seen via IG stories. So with that in mind, do you feel there’s a relationship between finding personal happiness through focusing on your own wellness and becoming a more active participant in the world at large?
Said differently, does being happier with yourself make it easier to be part of a community, and therefore feel less lonely? How? Why?
JH: I believe that being true, happy, and comfortable with yourself, is an integral part to not only individual well-being, but the well-being of a community as a whole.
There are absolutely barriers to self-expression for so many that don’t fit into the binary boxes kept in place to protect the comfort and power of the status quo, but I like to believe that radical self-expression can unlock the power of individuals, thus opening the door to revolutionary, innovative and far more interesting collective growth.
TLDR; everyone misses out on the potential of the true you, most of all yourself!
Leggggs: Damn. You just sorta summed up why I started Leggggs in the first place so maybe we can call it quits now. That’s brilliant and absolutely true. That self-awareness, self-confidence… just, that true self and being comfortable with who you are and willing to share it… it’s beautiful.
But finding that inner wellness, that personal touch isn’t always easy. So, when thinking about your own personal wellness, what do you find to be the biggest barrier to taking time for yourself to become a better person for the world at large?
JH: I have found comfort in the compartmentalization of my life. Whether that’s the corporate or elite running space, or the communities in which I engage and invest my time in creatively and compassionately, I feel as though I tend to separate them out into versions of myself that most easily sync with the space I’m in. I’m fortunate to have inspiring people in my life who are their full-ass selves in every situation, and have helped me see the privilege in having an identity in which you are allowed to socially shape shift, free from persecution or prejudice. I’m hoping to break down the barriers holding up the compartments of my life, so I can consistently show up for my communities with a strong set of values and personage no matter the space I’m in.
Leggggs: Love this so much. Okay, let’s switch gears a bit and give some more context here. Running. Because we are runners. When did you first get into all of this?
JH: I have always loved moving my feet. I had that little boy joy as a kid where I would dance all around the house, up on the couch, and any good mantle. That movement and energy definitely made me a handful, but after trying out a variety of different youth sports, the common denominator was that I was fast, aggressive, and could play the whole game. I had dabbled in Track in middle school, but things clicked when my big brother Massimo persuaded me to try XC my first year of high school, and it was then that I discovered a deep well of inspiration and passion that I began to draw from.
Leggggs: That visual makes me incredibly too happy. I’m probably picturing you as a kid with the same hair, which is amazing.
What was the motivation for getting into running, aside from just the energy?
JH: I think I found something super powerful about the group of weirdos that I did cross country with. Often a collection of the social fringes of athleticism and popularity, we discovered how leaning into, and investing in the community we found ourselves in, uplifted not only our performances in races but our understanding of self and what we were capable of.
Leggggs: And how often are you running?
JH: Been battling some injury cycles the past two years, but when I’m in the groove, running is the daily, sometimes bi-daily ritual that structures my priorities and general ability to be an agreeable human being.
Leggggs: Sorry to hear about the injuries. We may have to talk I Will Never Run Again soon. Why do you keep going?
JH: Woof. This is something I think about a lot these days. My purpose has definitely evolved over the years. In college I was absolutely locked into the rigid metric-based goals of times and places. I discovered the thrill of dumping your self-worth into whether or not you’re a tenth of a second on either side of 14 or 4 minutes, or whether or not you cross the line first.
Euphoric when it works out and you’re on cloud 9, but pretty damn low when you’re in a canyon of self loathing and just want to disappear after coming up short.
Post college when I joined the workforce, my first job was in a Nike shoe factory working 12hr weekend shifts. Trying to train on that schedule was tough and lonely, and racing was ‘pert near impossible given the weekend conflicts. That year taught me the absolute gift and joy running is to me, and I remember talking to my teammate and mentor Carrie Dimoff about my first and only big race during that time-period, which was the US Half Champs I believe. She helped me get to the starting line with an immense feeling of gratitude for being able to finally do the thing I love.
That was a mindset I held for a long time and still do to this day.
What keeps me movin’ and groovin’ now that I’m in the final ⅓ of my twenties, is a much deeper and more expressive relationship to the sport. Discovering my potential has been a consistent motivation for me ever since my proto-masculine god complex developed in high school that many a young boy tends to discover. I still relish in pushing myself beyond what used to be a boundary in running, but I do so now not solely because of the self-validation that comes with it, but for a profound curiosity I’ve developed in riding the limit of yourself for just about as long and hard as you can. Sounds sexual and maybe it is, but there’s something deeply human about wondering if something is possible, and doing everything in your power to prepare yourself to find out.
Those breakthrough moments are intense, beautiful, and lowkey psychedelic. To be tried and tested at the edge of one’s ability bears an intensity that I can’t seem to stay away from. To do so competitively against a field stock full of crazed organisms all vying for the edge is an experience I continue to crave, and still will hopefully, in whatever medium I can, until the day I die.
Leggggs: Whoa. Just, Joey Lawrence but for real, whoa. On keeping running exciting beyond that ever-present curiosity, how do you keep it fresh?
JH: I honestly haven’t dabbled in too many running disciplines besides switching up distances every now and then to chase new goals. When it comes to excitement, however, stoke is something I’m rarely lacking in.
There’s a quote from Barbarian Days that I’ve always liked, where William Finnegan describes surfing as an imperative incantation of sorts: “I did not consider, even passingly, that I had a choice when it came to surfing. My enchantment would take me where it would.” This always resonated with me in how I feel about running. It’s less about excitement sometimes, and more so about a deep compulsion that fuels the engine of my days.
Leggggs: We should make some shirts, yeah? Just “don’t lack stoke” or “death to stoke lack” something. Stickers at least. Let’s do it.
Gotta favorite run that comes to mind?
JH: Oof. Another tough question. I think my favorite runs are those loose long sessions where you get lost in a beautiful landscape in the dog days of summer. I typically start those runs with no plan for pace or duration, and if I see a dope rock on the side of a canyon, I’ll stop and climb it.
Conversely, if the single track gets buttery and rolling, opening up the pace and whizzing through the trees like a speeder bike on Endor can absolutely be the vibe too.
Leggggs: Conversely, worst run ever.
JH: Man, I’ve had some rough winter runs in New Hampshire where the biting cold really makes you question the decisions you’ve made to structure your life this way.
One in particular I remember was a #2 bathroom situation (classic) out on a pretty remote road during the winter where doing the business was mandatory and all there was to wipe was rock hard snow, and barren branches, shed of their voluptuous salvatory leaves normally utilized in such a situation. I thought of sacrificing a glove or sock, but given it was probably like 5 degrees F, and I had many miles to go, I wasn’t going to risk a frozen ankle or finger. I think I made the snow work as sort of a frozen bidet vibe, and paid the price of a white hot chafe in the shower at run’s end.
Leggggs: A collective clench just went through the entire Leggggs community, I’m sure. What about a few bucket list places to run.
JH: I had the absolute privilege of getting to race two Ekidens (distance road relays) in Izumo Japan as part of an American Ivy invite team. The pure cultural passion that place has for distance running is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Hands down a big dream of mine to make it back for the Tokyo Marathon or another Ekiden opportunity. Shout out to the Aoyama Gakuin guys and my homies at Toyo U!
Leggggs: What is something you repeat to yourself mid-run when shit is getting real? Something to keep you going…
JH: It used to be “yes you can” which I think I stole from Alexi Pappas, but nowadays it’s less of a word or phrase, and more of a feeling in my body, where I focus on my arm-swing and cadence, and let those simple parameters of motion take control of my focus and guide me into the patient and zen like state needed to get through those tough moments.
I think it’s about hyper-focusing on what you can control in that exact moment, and letting the ability to do so, create a positive momentum in your mindset. When it comes to big competitive challenges, I remember in the Olympic Marathon trials I caught the eye, and of course electric shriek, of my Italian mother with a cardboard “Forza caro mio!” sign, which put me in the reflective headspace of mentally sifting through all the people in my life, and how proud they’d be if I absolutely smashed the race I’m in. It armors you against the doubt and pain you might be in, and braces you for the distance still to come.
Leggggs: Great idea. I like that idea of getting lost in the motions. My pep talk works about half the time, so I will be trying this on my next run.
All of what you’ve said so far could serve as prompts to get running, but what no-bullshit advice would you give to someone looking to run for the first time?
JH: You know that classic proverb “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”? I think the core of that message is that the destination is meaningless, the journey is even less important, and what actually matters is that first simple step.
I cannot overstate the power of being able to compel yourself to get out the door for a run. It’s an infectious self-discovery that cascades into all aspects of your life. If you can take that step, and learn how to do so one after the other, you’ll discover an inward potential that will unlock whatever it is you feel called to as a purpose.
Leggggs: Sorta on that same note, how do you convince YOURself to get out for a run when you really don’t want to?
JH: Those days when you really just can’t get yourself out the door definitely feels inescapable at times. I’d say especially so if/when you’re coming off an injury and what used to come effortlessly and joyfully becomes a trepidatious jog in which you hope you can get away with some miles without putting yourself back.
I often think of the days in which running has not come easy, as the motivation for convincing myself out there, given that past versions of myself who would kill for a 30min pain-free jog. Comes down to gratitude for the profound physicality of repetitive hard training. The physics of running kind of blows my mind sometimes, to be honest. A complex meat bag held up by tensegrity systems, hurling itself forward through syncopated impact, stability structures all firing to keep you upright 🤯…just do a DIERS gait analysis. You’ll thank me later.
Leggggs: Meat bag. Bravo.
Similar to the inspiration for someone running for the first time, what non-Runner’s World-type advice do you have for something starting their journey?
JH: Number one piece of advice I’d give is patient consistency. No matter how many miles you’ve run in your life, or how good you are, if you are starting running for the first time, or coming back from a month or so off, those first two weeks can suck. It is always better to do less more frequently, than more less frequently. Building that pattern and routine for your body at or below what feels like pushing, will set you up to enter the sport with a much more positive relationship and desire to keep going. Definitely not groundbreaking advice, but easily the best I can give.
Leggggs: I fear I’m currently in this mode right now, so I will be taking this advice to heart in a big way.
Earlier here we spoke about a body in motion is a happier body. What do you find to be the main benefit of running regularly?
JH: I think there is a special attunement you find within yourself when running seamlessly slips into your day. Metabolically speaking, it’s like stoking your inner oven to keep your systems humming and buzzing at a constant rate. It’s a sort of consonant harmony that can be fleeting at a high level, and rightfully so. I find it typically comes when you’re over the initial fatigue bump of a training cycle and the intensity of workouts starts to sync with the volume of base you’ve built.
It’s that “firing on all cylinders” feeling that brings a buoyant energy to both life and your runs. A friend once described it well, as if “there’s a hand at your back the whole way.” Those moments are inherently periodic and I try to appreciate them when they come, motivate me when they’re gone, but never take unsustainable advantage of.
Leggggs: What do you use your time running to “do”?
JH: The physical sensation of a rhythmic pendulum pattern is inherently hypnotic, and while the legs do the work, the mind can wander into far-off landscapes of thought and reflection. Striding beyond city limits allows one to open themselves to levels of understanding just as limitless as the natural landscape they traverse. There’s an awesome book called A Philosophy of Walking, where this freedom is described nicely: “To be alone, far from the hubbub. No longer to have to check your social share price daily, calculate your friends, ration your enemies, flatter your protectors, ceaselessly measure your importance in the eyes of fops and imbeciles…no longer assailed by worldly emotions, a heart no longer affected by society’s desires, but surrendered at last to its primary natural beat.” I know that’s a bit over the top, but that turbocharged mindset you find when you get yourself pretty far out, is one where creativity can flourish, and whatever you need to process, solve, express, or release, all becomes possible.
Sometimes however, it’s nice to simply zone out and surrender the pitter patter of your feet to their primary natural beat.
Leggggs: What are some of the lesser-known/unexpected benefits of running that people may not readily see until fully committing to the sport?
JH: I think people like to joke about the “runner’s high” and what not, but given that I’m no biochemist, I’m not going to break down the compounds flushing your system after sustained commitment to reverent cardiovascular worship. I also can’t speak to what your journey may look like should you venture down the path of consistent training. On an individual level, I think it’s a different experience for everyone. The notion of something being at the core of the experience for you to find however, is what I’m confident in. People have found sobriety, love, heartbreak, obsession, community, solitude, vigor, stamina, and most hopefully peace. Regardless of what awaits, I think it’s worth finding out.
Leggggs: 100% agree. Speaking to community a bit more, now, if a person were looking to join a running community (a local club, an online-only presence, etc.), what are some tips you would have for them to make sure they are finding the right one?
JH: Bank on the people and groups of where you’re headed and want to go. I think running is most powerful when shared with those who make you question and wonder at your own capability. The hardest step is probably the first, which is putting yourself out there, and attempting to find a place in which you feel safe and seen. Local run groups are a great place to start, and from there, narrow it down to the people within those groups that share a similar enough approach to the sport that you can find connection and camaraderie, but different enough that you’ll feel called to growth and new experiences. Specialty running stores or conveniently located coffee shops near trailheads are a good place to look too.
Local run groups are a great place to start, and from there, narrow it down to the people within those groups that share a similar enough approach to the sport that you can find connection and camaraderie, but different enough that you’ll feel called to growth and new experiences.
Leggggs: Believe it or not, we actually ran into one another in the later spring/early summer of 2022 in Bend. I only knew this because first, the hair, second, the style, and third because I saw you again in the parking lot of Sandy High during HTC. Stalker vibes, sorry. Anyway – to the question: What is it about the Portland running community that makes it so… magnetic?
JH: Whether it’s the perfect cocktail of natural beauty and proximity to epic PNW mountains, coastlines, deserts, or a digestibly sizable city in which one can find their footing, Portland definitely calls out to a lot of people.
My favorite thing about Portland is that subcultures exist pretty close to the surface. Whether it’s training for a marathon, boutique barista championships, or custom woodworked canoe crafting, it only takes a few conversations and some motivation to find a group of people trying to do whatever it is you’re interested in and passionate about. It might not exist at the levels of a big city like Chicago, LA, or NYC, and there are still barriers of inclusion and accessibility that need to improve, but I feel like the communities here want to be found in a way.
Running-wise, I think there’s a lot of people here that want to Train with a capital “T.” At the local westside city track, you’ll get hobby joggers doing their ritualistic one mile jog in lane 1, while a rag-tag group of runners from different clubs and parts of town rip their way around the track doing tempo repeats, all with an ultimate frisbee game and soccer practice going on simultaneously on the in-field. It’s beautifully chaotic and I’m honestly here for all of it, even if at times you might cause a heart palpitation when you slingshot the corner on a powerwalker.
Leggggs: It’s what makes Duniway both intimidating and approachable at the same time. Perfectly put.
If you could improve anything about the Portland running scene, or maybe just the entirety of the running world in general, what would it be? Anything at all. YOU HAVE THE POWER.
JH: The running world can come in all different shapes and sizes and expressions and experiences. I think that the prevailing sentiments, perspectives, and power structures however, don’t do the best job of reflecting that diversity.
If we all acknowledge the purported power of “the sport,” and the opportunities and lessons it brings; to be exclusive with this power is an actively hostile treatment to those excluded from it. I mean, I just waxed poetic about the beauty of this sport for the past 20 questions or so, and have been personally empowered by many life-changing opportunities, realizations, and experiences because of running. If you ask others in the sport, they will probably echo a similar relationship to the structure running has brought to their lives, and the vivacious energy it brings to chasing your dreams. I coach Youth XC and Track with the Bowerman Track Club precisely for this reason. To instill the lessons of self-belief and determination in Youth is an investment in our future, and I can very much confirm that the “kids are alright.” The training groups aren’t split necessarily by age or gender, but rather by where a young athlete finds the most people to run with at the ability level they’re at, and who can inspire them to improve. We definitely try to hold back young pocket rockets who want to rock with the 14yr olds as to not burn anybody out, but the notion that no matter what you look like, personally identify, or other societally loaded label you may carry, running is and should be a place where the often celebrated “simplicity” of the sport is made accessible to all those who feel called to engage in the challenge.
I ask those who want to gate-keep running (from youth especially), what are you so afraid of? Is it that you know the raw power of what this sport can do, and if made truly accessible, who may be empowered by it?
For those wanting to embrace the complexity of these questions, two absolute bangers that I’d recommend are Alison Desir’s Running While Black and this fantastic empathetically crafted article from Trail Runner Magazine.
Leggggs: If someone were to move to Portland tomorrow, what should their first steps be in becoming an active participant in the running scene? (who do I need to talk to? What clubs should I keep an eye out for? Where do you meet new people? etc.?)
JH: I’m pretty “Portland privileged” in this regard, having grown up near here and having avenues of connection from my time in the sport. I’ve loved seeing the rise in local talent and the coalescing of these groups into a nice little competitive community. For a pretty small town, to have Rose City Track Club, Jacuzzi Boys AC, Bowerman TC of course 😉, Red Lizard, and many more, all groovin’ and shakin’ is pretty sweet to see. There are also many running groups that run out of the cultural hubs that are specialty running stores in any small town.
r/RunPDX is also a poppin place, but always remember to be careful on the internet! I think an awesome way to get to know people is by putting yourself out there in local races as well. You’ll naturally find people around your level in a big enough field, and what’s better than sharing some competitive miles with a new face? A mutually respectful fist bump or hi-five at the finish line could be the start of your next training partner.
Leggggs: TIL r/RunRDX exists. Thank you very much.
Do you feel as though running is an accessible sport? If so, why? If not, what does it have to do to improve its accessibility, if anything?
JH: I touched on this a bit earlier, but I think the tricky thing with Running is it has the potential to be near the pinnacle of inclusion and accessibility, but it will need an evolution and reckoning for it to get out of its own way. Synthesizing running down to its core values and expressions, it can be easy to say, “Sure! All you need is a pair of shoes!” but we don’t live in a world that simple.
There have been some absolute trailblazers in the paralympic fields, and leaders in crucial discussions around inequality, racism, transphobia, and discrimination, and I am clearly not the person who should be centered or highlighted in those conversations. Change can be painful and disruptive, but we need to center the voices and experiences of those excluded from the sport, to lead the way towards a new “running boom” of which makes up for the past, and carves out a bright new future.
Leggggs: I guess to expand a bit more on this, hopefully without putting you too much on the spot, what do you personally see as the biggest barriers to a person wanting to start running? And what can the running community do to help?
JH: The running community is only strengthened by newcomers in the sport, so I think if you consider yourself in the community, look to others finding joy in something new as fuel to your own fire. I know if I’m in a training rut, seeing younger or newer people in my training group “rise through the ranks” so to speak, is an extremely motivating and uplifting force.
To newcomers in the sport, just know that you have something to bring and offer to a community, and if you bring humble excitement and courage to try something new, you’ll impact everyone around you. Massively systemic forces aside, the barriers to the sport are very real, and getting over the aerobic hump without getting injured and the general question of “when will this not suck?” is a patient difficult process. The whole point however, is that it’s hard. Breaking through that barrier is where that good good lies, and I can promise that it just keeps getting better the more you overcome.
Leggggs: Anything else you want to share with the community?
JH: Yo! Thanks for bringing unfiltered love for this sport into the forefront. Really appreciate the opportunity to brain dump. Check me out on soundcloud fam.
Leggggs: PLEASE EVERYONE GO CHECK JULIAN OUT ON SOUNDCLOUD. It’s really really good.
Where will you be in 5 years?
JH: Finding out how fast I can go, until I start to wonder about how far.
JH: Coach Elliott Heath! My brother Massimo. Parents, John and Nina for making me and this body. My lovely partner Sylvja for all she is and does. All my boys in the groupchat. Barry Harwick, Ken James, Scott Spear, John Linman. The rocks, trees, sage, and streams in the Steens Mtn. Wilderness and all they’ve taught me.
These Conversational Paces continue to turn over stones and unearth truths that have never even crossed my mind before. I’d like to send a HUGE thank you to Julian for sharing his time, stories, and insights with us today. Hope there are some takeaways that resonate with you.
Keep up to date with Julian’s journey:
- Instgram / gaunt.viking
- Soundcloud / Julian Heninger
- Bowerman Track Club / Meet the coach