It’s finally time for the 2nd Shoeless Joe Interview! I apologize for the delay, and appreciate all the warm words of encouragement from people who enjoyed my first one, with Uli Steidl!
Greg Crowther is a well-known Seattle-based runner with an incredible amount of accolades on both the roads and the trails, on both short and long distances. He can win 5Ks and he can win 100 milers. He’s represented the United States numerous times at the 100k World Championships. And to top it off, he served as the Seattle Running Club president back in 2011. More of Greg (and less of Joe) can be found at GregCrowther.com, his twitter profile, and SingAboutScience.org.
Unfortunately Greg has long been sidelined with an Achilles injury. He was out of commission for nearly two years, but is now getting back into the running saddle. And after a number of months spent tracking him down, he finally agreed to stop running for a few minutes and sit down with me. Enjoy!
Shoeless Joe: Welcome to a new edition of the Shoeless Joe interview! Today I’m blessed to get to speak to the head honcho himself, Greg Crowther! (mispronounced as “kroh-ther”). I spoke to Greg one time after a Cougar Mountain race, but this time we’re going to get real! Greg, how are you doing?
Greg Crowther: I’m fine, thanks. How are you?
SJ: I’m great! I had a small cyst near my butt that I got removed recently, but otherwise I’m fantastic. It’s an honor to be speaking with the Seattle Running Club President!
GC: Well, former president. Win Van Pelt succeeded me in November.
SJ: Oh cool! Win Van Pelt…that’s an interesting name. No offense but he does sound a bit more presidential than “Greg Crowther.” (mispronounces name again) I’m sure you were great though! Speaking of great, I hear you’ve had a great injury that has kept you from running for many weeks. What has that been like?
GC: The injury to my left Achilles tendon has been great in that it has been an important influence in my life, for better or worse — great in the sense of the Great War or Great Flood. I haven’t trained seriously or raced since August of 2010. I was pretty bitter and upset about this for many months; then my marriage ended, which really put running in the proper perspective. I dream of getting fit again, which might happen in a year or in a few years or never. For now I am mostly a “social runner.”
SJ: Oh, my source did not mention anything about any marriage ending. I’m afraid I don’t have any follow ups on that topic.
You say you might be fit in a year, a few years, or never. Can you narrow that down? Will you be racing the White River 50 mile this coming weekend? I’ve raced that one a few times; I think you would enjoy it!
GC: (Sigh) No, I’m afraid that I cannot “narrow that down.” To any hypothetical Greg Crowther fans out there who are breathlessly awaiting an announcement on my return to competition, I’d say, “Thanks for your interest, but please find something more worthy of your attention.”
Regarding White River, I’ve been smitten ever since 2002, when I crewed for defending champion William Emerson. Watching that race had a huge influence on me. Up to that point I had thought that ultramarathons were really long, dull episodes of power-walking over ridiculously hard, poorly-marked courses. White River showed me that an ultra could be a well-organized, runnable race contested by athletes who are fast as well as tough. The 2002 race was an epic battle between Emerson, Scott Jurek, Karl Meltzer, Hal Koerner, and Nate McDowell. Nate is probably the least well-known of those guys, but at that time he was as good as any of them, and when he came whipping down the Sun Top road, 43 miles into the race, at sub-6:00 pace, leaving Jurek and the others in the dust, I was super-impressed.
Since then I’ve been back to White River almost every year to race or volunteer.
SJ: That’s awful kind of you! Do you think you have a good shot at winning White River this year?
GC: (Sigh) My chance of winning is 0 because my chance of racing is 0, as I tried to convey earlier.
Are we working through a bunch of questions that you prepared before the interview? You should feel free to modify the questions as we go so that, in the context of my answers, they actually make sense. Otherwise people might conclude that you aren’t very smart or aren’t listening to me, or both.
SJ: Huh? Oh yeah, I agree! I remember my first White River, in 2009. I said “Hi” to Scott Jurek but I don’t think he heard me. Did you know he’s vegan?! I saw that online. It’s crazy that he’s able to run all those 50Ks and 50 milers without any protein. Do you have any dietary…umm…tendencies? Are you vegan…or paleo or something?
GC: I abide by a strict meat-based diet. Perhaps that’s why I’m 6-0 lifetime against Jurek.
SJ: (Laughter) Greg Crowther (mispronounced) getting feisty! I love it! Alright let’s keep the feistiness going with the Fleet Feet Fast-Acting Lightning Speed Round, sponsored by our good friends at Fleet Feet Seattle! Greg, I’ve brought this mask. If you dare put this over your eyes, you’re telling me you’re ready to throw down!
GC: Um, can’t I just say, “I am, in fact, ready to throw down”?
SJ: You may say you’re ready but that face says otherwise! Put the mask on! If you want to show as well as Uli did, you’ll need to block out all distractions!
GC: Hold on. What IS the “speed round,” anyway? Do I have to answer quickly? Or are all the questions about fast people?
SJ: Oh I’m sorry, did you not check out my interview with Uli? Yes, the game is I ask you a question fastly, and you answer fastly. Lightning fast! See, because running is about being fast. (trailing off) Well, for some people…
GC: Well, trying to keep up with Uli is generally a bad idea. I’m going to give you back your mask so that nothing catastrophic happens to it.
SJ: Sorry Greg, I will have to insist!
GC: No, I’m serious.
SJ: Well alright, maybe next time! Ok, here we go! What is your favorite brand of hot dogs?
GC: Do Schultzy’s sausages count?
SJ: I…suppose, yes! I’ll allow it!
You and I are heading to a karaoke bar tonight…what song are you planning on rocking?
GC: “Hold On.” In the style of Wilson Phillips, of course. My backup choice would be “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads. “This is not my beautiful house!” and all that. Sorry, am I being too long-winded for the Fleet Feet Lightning Blah Blah Blah Speed Round?
SJ: Not at all! Would you mind singing a few bars of “Hold On?” Just to prove you’re not one of those poser Wilson Phillips fans?
GC: Sure! In fact, I have my own backing track right here with me. (Actually does pull out phone and plays a karaoke version of “Hold On.” Greg and Joe sing together for a verse and a half.)
SJ: Awesome song, reminds me of VH1! Moving along, I see you brought a bike helmet with you. Do you play any bike polo?
GC: Uh, no. For me, biking isn’t really a sport, it’s just a way to get around.
SJ: You have been convicted of murdering Fleet Feet’s Brian Morrison. You’re on death row and nobody likes you because everyone loved Brian. What is your last meal?
GC: Fried chicken. I wouldn’t enjoy it, though, because I’d be upset about Brian’s death — I was framed, obviously — not to mention my own impending demise.
As an aside, you’re doing a marvelous job of working Fleet Feet into every other sentence. Didn’t they once give you a free pair of socks?
GC: I think you’ve paid your debt to them at this point. We should also be sure to mention the Seattle Running Club’s OTHER distinguished partner store, The Balanced Athlete. Whose owner, Eric Sach, was cleared of all wrongdoing in the Morrison case, by the way.
SJ: Yes, I agree. Everyone, go to The Balanced Athlete…tell them Shoeless Joe sent you; they’ll hook you up!
Keeping with the food theme, favorite type of M&Ms: Regular, Peanut, Almond, Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Coconut, Mint, Grape, or Pretzel?
GC: The green ones. Those are home runs, right?
SJ: ? How many tattoos do you have?
SJ: If forced at gunpoint to get one, what would you get?
GC: Whatever the gunman wanted me to get, I suppose. How many do you have?
SJ: None, too scared! But if Vibram Five Fingers hooked me up, I might be willing to get their shoe tattooed on my leg or chest or something.
GC: I agree; if you have to get a tattoo, you might as well get some free product out of the deal.
SJ: Totally! You’re doing great Greg, stretch run coming up. Who is your favorite character on The Cosby Show?
GC: I identified with Sondra because she was the most academically inclined of the Huxtable children. So her, I guess.
SJ: I liked Denise’s Army husband.
If you could run only one more race–any distance, any place, your fitness level at a place with which you’re happy–which one would it be?
GC: Hmm…good question.
GC: Assuming that I was able to train properly, I’d probably do another flat 100-miler, like Rocky Raccoon. Since I’ve only started two 100′s and only finished one, that’s a distance where I could still PR. (Pause) Plus, if you only get one more race, why not make it last as long as possible?
SJ: Good point, I agree! The following question was submitted by an SRC club member and fan, and it seems appropriate given your presidential status in the club. Boxers or briefs?
GC: If you must know: briefs.
SJ: Briefs, me too! Thanks to Patrick N. for that question!
Final question: Dirty Dancing or Pretty Woman? And show your work!
SJ: I agree! Plus Swayze looks like he’d easily best Gere in an ultra.
Nice work Greg, if you had worn it I would say you can take the mask off! It wasn’t a World Championship 100k, but I bet completing the Fleet Feet Fast Acting Speed Round was just as satisfying.
Getting back to the serious stuff, I’m fascinated by your time spent as president of the Seattle Running Club. Do you have any stories from that all-powerful position? Backroom deals with Brooks? Shady compromises with Nuun?
GC: Yeah, it’s a shame I can’t tell you about our super-secret contract work for the Department of Defense. Let’s just say that the future of the U.S. border patrol involves fewer guns and more runs.
I wasn’t entirely comfortable in my role as president, but I did have a few “It’s good to be king” moments. One was when I got an email from a guy working on ads for an upcoming exhibit on horror films at Paul Allen’s Science Fiction Museum. He needed to get some pictures of runners being attacked by a zombie and wanted to use SRC members as the runners. Vice President Van Pelt wasn’t so keen on the idea, but I thought, shoot, what’s the fun of being president if you can’t feed some of your constituents to zombies once in a while? So I encouraged club members to sign up.
A somewhat more serious example was the Fat Glass 50K last August. The idea grew out of a board meeting discussion about Beer Miles — those track races where people drink a beer every lap. We thought, well, *any* running group can hold a Beer Mile, but it would take a special bunch of loonies to put on a Beer Ultra. And, with the SRC kind of representing the lunatic fringe of the Seattle running scene, we figured that it was up to us to create such an event. And things blossomed from there, thanks mostly to the incredible generosity of SRC member Peter Kline, who hosted the race at his house.
SJ: Yes. I think the Fat Glass 50k may prove to be your shining legacy, I hope SRC can bring it back for a second round! If I may be so bold, could the Fat Glass 50k be the race Greg Crowther (mispronounced) returns to racing, if only for a day?! Could you handle six pints of craft beer in 4+ hours?
GC: At this point, I have neither the legs nor the liver to handle the Fat Glass 50K.
SJ: Yeah, maybe I won’t do it either. I see on your facebook profile picture, you look like you’re wearing some kind of lab coat. Are you a doctor?
GC: No, I’m a research scientist.
SJ: Ohh, a scientist! Cool! Can you answer this then? How did you get into being what you are now? I mean, I’m guessing if I asked 8 year-old Greg Crowther (mispronounced) what he wanted to be when he became adult Greg Crowther (mispronounced), the answer wouldn’t be “research scientist.” When I was 8 I wanted to be a pro baseball player. When I was 18 I wanted to be a pro baseball player. When I was 28 I wanted to be a pro baseball player. A few months ago I gave up on that dream and have since settled. But I don’t get the feeling any scientists have “settled” into their profession, despite the fact that their field of work is really hard and confusing and boring and hard and you gotta go to college and stuff.
GC: When I was 8 I wanted to be a pro baseball player too. The idea of becoming a scientist didn’t really take hold until college, when I realized that different academic disciplines have fundamentally different ways of exploring the world and figuring things out, and that the approach taken by the natural sciences–the scientific method–was especially compelling to me. In history, for example, there is no shortage of fascinating questions, like “What caused World War II?” But trying to answer that question in a rigorous, conclusive manner is really hard, because you can’t go back and re-create the world as it was before the war and experiment on it. I don’t recommend that, anyway. But science has this elegant cycle of devising a hypothesis, performing empirical tests of the hypothesis, refining the hypothesis, doing additional tests, etc. It’s a rigorous and powerful way of discovering things, but it’s also simple in a way. Even if you aren’t a genius, and can’t answer any of the big questions that everyone cares about, you can work on smaller questions that relate to the bigger ones, and make progress in that way. A distance runner’s “one step at a time” mindset is definitely helpful in science.
SJ: Interesting. Though didn’t we conclusively prove that the New Deal caused World War II? And I think the scientific method can definitely be abused by scientists with agendas, but I don’t want to get into that right now even though I’m sure you agree with me 100%. Moving on, what position did you want to play?! I wanted to be a first baseman who hit lots of homeruns at Candlestick Park.
GC: My childhood idol was Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox, and he played first base in his later years, so I liked that position as well. And I liked pitching too. I was told that, as a lefty, I had a “natural curve ball,” though I don’t think it was unhittable or anything like that.
SJ: Yastrzemski? First off, how old are you?! And how could you be a Red Sox fan living in Seattle as a child as I presume you did?
GC: (Sigh) You presume incorrectly, as usual. I grew up in Vermont. I’m 39. Yaz retired in 1983, when I was 10.
SJ: Ohhh, ok! Vermont is pretty far away; did you move out here because you really love running in a 54-degree drizzle 11 months out of the year?
GC: I much prefer that to running in 5-degree snow and ice, but my main reason for moving here was to go to grad school in physiology at the University of Washington.
SJ: I agree! I think we’re about done here Greg, but I wanted to talk about one more thing. (Reads from card) Have you ever considered minimal running? Learning to run free with Vibrams? Thanks to the generous folks at Vibram Five Fingers, I can get you a pair of Vibrams to try–free!–for a whole week. I’m confident you will notice the difference, and join the revolution. Are you interested in taking your running to the next level?
GC: No, I’d prefer to stagnate at the current level. Thanks, though!
SJ: Ok, fair enough. I also have a couple 10% off coupons for an upcoming Tough Mudder. Would you be interested in being on my team?
GC: I’m afraid not.
SJ: Hmm. Ok. I’m sure I can find someone. Are there any questions you wanted to ask me?
GC: Not especially.
It was awesome of Greg to hang out with me at his work and let me interview him. Thanks Greg! If any of you want to hang out with Greg in the immediate future, I have learned he will be at Crystal Mountain this coming weekend volunteering at the White River 50 mile (not racing, apparently). Tell him hello and maybe he’ll sing a couple bars of Wilson Phillips with you! You can also enjoy his blog at GregCrowther.com. He also twitters!
Call for Comments (from Joe)
- What’s YOUR go-to karaoke jam?
- Do YOU have a favorite Huxtable?
- Does anyone want to be on my Tough Mudder team?
Call for Comments (from Greg)
- Who, if anybody, should Shoeless Joe interview next?
Call for Support (from Joe)
- If you thought this was not-at-all offensive, please consider either becoming a member of Seattle Running Club or renewing your membership. The club is much more than some self-unaware schmuck interviewing his local running heroes. Join a community of like-minded running enthusiasts!
- Did this offend you? :(
All photos of Greg & Joe: Terry Creighton