I have friends in high places, I had the opportunity to interview the Brooks Beasts Track Club, a competitive, professional middle-distance track runners’ club sponsored by Brooks Running. Compared to some of the more established professional running teams, the Beasts are relatively young, having been established in January 2013 with Head Coach Danny Mackey and 1500m/miler Katie Mackey. The last two years has seen the addition of 12 more runners from around the country, all training out of the Brooks Running head office in Seattle and literally, in my backyard. I often see the Beasts burn past the trails outside my kitchen window in their neon yellow kits looking like glorious lightening bolts. Despite being a “runner” myself and feeling well connected to the Seattle fitness community, I knew very little about the Beasts. I feel pretty lucky to have spent an hour with these female athletes, getting to know more about the track scene, what its like to be a professional runner and most importantly, how being a part of a team influences your performance as an individual sport athlete.
These athletes are fully sponsored runners that run between 800m and 5000m distances. Most have been recruited straight out of college where they competed as amateurs for 4 years. Now, as sponsored athletes, this is their full-time job. Every day they wake up and go to work at Brooks. Their job happens to be doing timed interval sprints, functional weight lifting or practicing mental strategies to manage pre-race nerves. These women train every single day together to be the top athletes in their sport. Sitting around an outdoor picnic table with these athletes on a glorious Seattle afternoon, we spoke about ambition, competition, pre-race nerves, performance and the ever-present threat of injury. I was impressed by the composure of these young women, in an Olympic year, relying on their bodies to carry them to reach their goals of being among the fastest runners in the world.
Katie Mackey, the first to join the Beasts in 2013, offered a great quote to describe their job, “our sport is our body.” When it’s your job to qualify for the Olympics, it’s important to have the very best nutritionists, massage therapists, physiotherapists and sports psychologists supporting your journey. Everything you eat and drink, every hour you sleep, every vitamin, and every negative thought is discussed and adjusted and personalized so you can be at your physical peak on race day. The time and money that is invested in these athletes is not to be overlooked. Brooks is already a leader in the field of running shoes and apparel and they are more than showing their support of the running community with the comprehensive program built for these athletes. Brooks’ support of the Beasts is a testament to their commitment to these athletes, their aim to inspire local runners and develop ambition in young athletes.
Regardless of whether the Beasts were talking about the pressures to perform, the excitement about the upcoming Olympic Trials or the joy of being able to land a dream job, these elite athletes all circled back to the same thing: none of these women felt they could be competing at the elite level without their teammates. The team is a carefully recruited group of top runners from around the country. Just as they have their strengths in their individual events, so too do they have different strengths in their personalities. Natalja Piliusina (1500m and 8-time NCAA All-American) and Angela Bizzarri (3-time NCAA champion and 9-time All-American) often nodded in agreement and laughed as the others answered my questions but didn’t speak up much over the course of the hour. Their quiet strength balanced the boisterous exuberance of fellow teammates Megan Malasarte (Indoor and Outdoor Record Holder for the 800 at UGA), Jess Tonn (7-time NCAA All-American) and Hannah Fields (19-time NAIA National Champion). Along with Katie Mackey, the most senior member of the group and a 6-year veteran of the professional running community, Megan, Jess and Hannah were all but finishing each other’s sentences when discussing how proud they were to be running for a living with the phenomenal support of Brooks.
“Getting to your goals is hard and you’re going to fail but if you own our goals, own the work, support your teammates you get to own the success when it comes,” said Katie as she got supportive nods from her teammates. These athletes truly work together and as a result, raise each other up to a higher standard than they can hold themselves. Unfortunately, when you’re this tight with your crew, its equally devastating when one of your girls doesn’t reach her goals. Megan felt the sting of unmet expectations during her rookie year with the Beasts. Because she had seen steady success in both her indoor and outdoor events at the University of Georgia, she expected to keep getting faster and faster. She credits her teammates for helping her get through this “build year” and realize that sometimes it takes time for the work you put in to manifest into first place finishes. All the teammates have felt the same way. When you’ve worked so hard and put your body and mind through so much training, it is crushing when you just can’t post the times you want. Or even worse, you get an injury that sidelines your training or takes you out of competition. Hannah recently broke her elbow “which was brutal but thankfully, it’s almost straight now,” she exclaimed with relief. This was yet another example of their ability to laugh through the hardest challenges of their careers. The Beasts all feel devastated when their teammates don’t meet their goals. “The important thing we are learning as we mature professionally is to bounce back after a loss and to keep chasing your goals,” said Katie, looking around the table at her teammates. “You not only train your body, but you also train your mind to be resilient and keep pushing past losses to chase your goals.”
I asked them if they had any advice for young women starting out based on their unique experiences as competitive runners. The rest of the team was thoughtful as Megan spoke up, “find something you love and even though it’s not going to be easy or not always glamorous, if you love it enough, it will be worth it.” Hannah and Jess both agreed “that it’s important to find joy and even if it’s hard, it can still make you happy.” Excellent advice from a group of Beasts.
Get to know a few of the Beasts a little better in these fun Q&As, which unsurprisingly feature a lot of discussion about food, meals and eating out!
NAME: Katie Mackey
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: January 2013
MAIN EVENTS: 1500m/mile
My pre-workout ritual includes… I like to not have too many rituals because it’s exhausting! And also hard when racing all over the world, sometimes everything is different and I still need to be able to race my best. The one thing I always try to do it drink a cup of very strong coffee beforehand!
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… Beyoncé. Is that a thing? I would like to be her. Except that I can’t dance or sing so in place of *money* I’d like to substitute *talent*.
My spirit animal is… pronghorn antelope. They can run 65 mph for 1 and 1/4 miles, isn’t that just amazing?! I was always fascinated with them while growing up in Northern Colorado.
When I’m not training, I’m… mostly sleeping or eating. Exciting curve ball I know, but the truth.
My greatest extravagance is… there’s this smoothie place next door to InHealth (awesome chiropractic clinic that sponsors the Brooks Beasts Track Club here in Seattle) that sells these amazing smoothies for $12 USD. When I buy one every once and awhile, I feel really extravagant, like “yeah, I know it’s robbery but I want it.”
NAME: Hannah Fields
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: Summer 2015
MAIN EVENTS: 1500/mile
My pre-workout ritual includes… coffee, praying, and singing (in my head… I sound a lot better in my head than I do out loud).
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… this is my dream job so being a professional runner is my first choice! If I had to pick something else it would probably be a professional cake decorator. I don’t know anything about it, other than what I see on TV, but I like to draw and eat so it seems like a good combination of the two.
My spirit animal is… The first animal that comes to mind is a platypus. We have a few things in common, at least I like to think we do. Both the platypus and I come across as goofy and easy going on the exterior; however, we have a fight inside us and know how to never back down. I’m only making these interpretations of the platypus because they are venomous swimming ducks, which is a hilarious combination.
When I’m not training, I’m… eating, reading, drawing, or binging on Netflix.
My greatest extravagance is… I am taking this as the biggest way I like to treat myself. Ice cream! Ben and Jerry’s in particular. I love it with all my heart.
NAME: Jess Tonn
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: July 2015
MAIN EVENT: 5000m
My pre-workout ritual includes… wake up, feed myself, pump myself up (appropriate jams over my speakers), do activation/ pre-hab exercises, leave for practice too early because I’m afraid of being late.
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… chef/ restaurateur.
My spirit animal is… a golden retriever.
When I’m not training, I’m… most likely exploring Seattle, watching trashy TV, trying to find the next best coffee shop or cooking!
My greatest extravagance is… having a nice meal out.
NAME: Megan Malasarte
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: January 2015
MAIN EVENT: 800m
My pre-workout ritual includes… listening to some tunes in the morning to get me going, eating a tasty breakfast, then jamming pretty hard on the way to practice. Gotta get yo’ mind right!
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… dancer. Dance was my first love and I started when I was 4 and stopped when I was 13. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up back then, I would have said a ballerina.
My spirit animal is… a gazelle. Whether or not it’s true, I like to channel my inner gazelle while I’m running and hope to look as smooth and graceful as one.
When I’m not training, I’m… people watching at Green Lake. True story. I have my designated bench and everything.
My greatest extravagance is… anything fashion related. I somehow can always convince myself that I need that neutral striped tee or that necklace because it was 50% off.
NAME: Angela Bizzarri
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: Fall 2013
MAIN EVENT(S): 5k and 10k
My pre-workout ritual includes…
before I race I do my hair and make-up, most people dress up when they want to feel powerful. Racing is the time that I dress up for my job. My power suit comes in the forms of running buns and a sport top.
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… travelling Hiker. I would love to explore as much of this world as I can on foot.
My spirit animal is…
I have been told a Donkey, because I’m stubborn. Not sure if that is a compliment.
When I’m not training, I’m… swimming in one of the amazing lakes in Seattle. I try to rest and not move but movement keeps me sane.
My greatest extravagance is… a 7-Eleven Slurpee after a hard workout makes me quite happy. It’s the sweet cherry on top of a hard day of work!
NAME: Natalja Piliusina
JOINED THE BEASTS IN: Summer 2015
MAIN EVENT(S): 1500/mile
My pre-workout ritual includes… lots of coffee and music! I always do things in the same order and the same amount of time before my race. It all starts with the shakeout 5 hours before my race and ends with coffee 2 hours before the warm up.
If money and time were no object, I would be a professional… traveler. I love visiting new places and exploring different cultures.
My spirit animal is… I just took a quiz that said my spirit animal is a deer. I’ll just go with that one!
When I’m not training, I’m… binge-watching TV shows! Recovery plays a very important role in our daily routine so when I’m in season there’s not much going on outside training. During my off season I love spending time outdoors; hiking, going to the beach, traveling… Just being a “normal” person really.
My greatest extravagance is… spending money on random last minute trips/flights to places just because I feel like it.
For more fitness articles by Angie, head over to americanheavyweight.com.