It’s almost the end of the year, so it must be time for another really long Shoeless Joe interview! I met Justin Houck awhile back (read: May) and was enamored by his thoughtful intelligence, sparkling wit, and, I’ll just come right out and say it, his elegance. This is a handsome man. I knew he’d be perfect for this interview format, and I think you’ll all agree!
Shoeless Joe: Hi everybody! I’m so excited to be back with my new favorite runner, Justin Houck (mispronounced)! And I’m not just saying that because I tower over him! I’m a big fan because he has the best house of anyone I’ve interviewed and who also let me into their home. A gorgeous spread overlooking Lake Washington, I admit I was mostly distracted during the interview which is the reason if you think this interview is terrible. But most importantly, Justin is an SRC member and wore an SRC shirt too, so maybe now I won’t be lectured at the next board meeting! Justin Houck (mispronounced), welcome! And thank you for sitting here with me, in person!
Justin Houck: Thanks for having me Joe. That’s a great stab at pronouncing my name and sitting with you is an honor. Let the interview begin!
SJ: I’m honored that you are honored! To be honest though I don’t know much about you. All I know is you were a teammate of Uli Steidl at the University of Portland.
JH: Well, you’re right in saying that Uli and I went to the same alma mater but he preceded me by quite a few years…eight years, to be exact (Sorry Uli).
SJ: Oh I see. In my defense, I didn’t have any time this morning to do any research. What is your earliest running memory and how did you get enveloped by the sport?
JH: I won’t take it personally that you don’t know me, Joe. Even if you did do the research, I’m fairly certain there isn’t too much stuff out there. As to my earliest running memory, I have to go way back in preschool where as a class we were running a 400 meter race.
SJ: Where did you go to preschool?
JH: I attended the prestigious North Central Preschool.
SJ: Never heard of it. Go on.
JH: I made a tactical error that day by wearing my nicest dress shoes rather than some sneakers. As we rounded the first bend on the track, I was way back and losing ground. My preschool mentor saw this and picked me up on his shoulders and passed all the kids to give me my first track race win. This may have technically been cheating but I basked in the glory of winning and since have never turned back.
JH: Well maybe a couple times, but I’m still going strong.
SJ: Wait a minute, I’m going to have to back you up a bit and ask you what in the world a “preschool mentor” is.
JH: You didn’t have a preschool mentor? Well…that explains a lot.
SJ: Thank you! But did your mentor also happen to be married to your mom? My dad helped me cheat a few times back when I was a kid.
JH: My dad wasn’t my preschool mentor in particular, but I definitely looked up to him. He’s not a runner per se, but he had moments that showed he could have been a good runner. I don’t know if my dad helped me cheat, but it’s always a possibility…
SJ: I hear that. Has your dad or your mom or maybe both or maybe other relatives seemed disappointed at your wanting to be a competitive runner?
JH: I can’t think of anyone that has been disappointed. At least they haven’t told me to my face. On the flip side, my family closest to me have been overwhelmingly supportive, especially my wife. Although some may get tired of the non-stop conversations about everything running-related. I just can’t help but to bring up another running story.
SJ: Well, it could be worse. My uncle actually left the room the last time I started talking about running. In his defense though it was a pretty dumb story and I don’t know why I brought it up. Got any good recent running stories for us?
JH: Recent running stories, hmm…What comes to mind is my father-in-law, who ran the White River 50 mile.
SJ: I’ve run that race!
JH: Anyway, during the race, he had several hard falls, but in the end he finished. A truly inspirational story with him completing chemotherapy only months beforehand and then finishing an absolutely epic race. I hope to be just running at age 63!
SJ: Wow, that is intense. I hope to merely be alive at 63. But that reminds me of a question I have…well, let me preface; you’re 33 years old, right?
JH: I’m honored you think I’m that mature. I’m actually 28.
SJ: Oh right, 28. You’re welcome! Well my question is regarding running style. Would you say *you* have a running style? Your dad has that…63 year-old, post-chemo ultra style. High schoolers have that eyes-glazed-over, can-barely-dress-themselves-but-think-they-know-everything-cause-they-can-finally-drive-to-the-mall style. College guys think they’re so hip with their tattoos, girlfriends, and cool haircuts. How would you describe your running style? Has it developed and changed over the years? Can you envision your style, say, 20 years from now, when you’re….however old you’ll be?
JH: Haha. You’ve totally pegged the high schooler style. I wouldn’t say I have any particular style. As you know styles change and that goes for my running as well. I used to be a peppy toe runner but my body over the years has molded a more efficient gait. More midfoot strike and less back kick. Perfectly suited for some speedy ultramarathoning.
SJ: Well, speaking of speedy, I think you know what it’s time for!
JH: I can only imagine.
SJ: Epic FKT thrown down there on the speed round Justin! I have just a few more things I wanted to ask you. Speaking of FKT’s, the one and only Joe Gray is on record stating that those known for them are “no bueno” and “Real athletes r known for competing, not practice” (sic) My question is: do you think you could beat Joe Gray in a beer mile?
JH: Hmmm I don’t really see how FKTs and a beer mile throw-down with Joe relate, but yeah I think I could take him.
SJ: Nice! Would you be willing to be our spokesman and challenge Club Northwest to an intergendered Beer Mile to Determine Local Club Dominance at Beer Miling?
JH: Most certainly!
SJ: You used to work with the world-famous Joe Grant at Portland Running Company. Any dirt you can share?
JH: I don’t remember too much dirt. What I can remember is that he was a cool dude and he told me he was friends with the guy in the movie we kept playing in the store on repeat. The guy I later learned was Anton Krupicka.
SJ: So you’re saying Joe’s a name-dropper. That’s ok though, my name’s also Joe and I’m already doing that with your name! Is his hair real? I admit I’m a little jealous of it.
JH: I’m a little jealous of the Amish hat he’s been rocking. Instead of hair, you should rock the hat.
SJ: Before we go, I figured I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about White River. That was an incredible performance. Your 6:26 was the fastest Washingtonian time ever, and you still only have 52 twitter followers. At what point during the race did you stop worrying about leading your first-ever 50 miler versus some stout names and start thinking “you know, I can win this and in a pretty damn fast time too!”?
JH: To be honest, I came into the race thinking that I could win and with a pretty darn fast time. I projected myself at 6:30 and left Sage’s record for an ultimate goal. During the race I didn’t think much about time until about a few miles left. I did a quick calculation and realized Sage’s time was impossible. I didn’t know Anton’s time but if I did I probably would of gone a little harder at the end…oh well.
SJ: Any plans on increasing that twitter following?
JH: Well yeah, as for twitter followers, I thought 52 was good. No plans yet but you definitely have instilled some embarrassment on only having 52–
SJ: I have 132.
SJ:You handily won the Crystal Mountain Sky Marathon, you placed 4th at the hotly-contested USATF Trail Half Marathon National Championships, and most recently you cake-walked your way to the PNTF XC 10k title at Lower Woodland Park. Where do you predict we’ll be seeing Hawkeye in the months and years to come?
JH: If you mean races, I’ll be at the The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Run in San Francisco in December. Maybe a beer mile in January? Boston Marathon? The 2015 Sky Running Ultra Series? Western States and/or UTMB someday. Other than that, you can probably find me running around Seattle.
SJ: Is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask me?
JH: I was recently asked on a run if I was completing an FKT. I was a little frustrated by this and told the guy “No, I’m just trying to run up and down the mountain safely.” What do you think of FKTs and Strava? Do you think someone will die from trying to complete an FKT?
SJ: What is Strava?
Call for Comments
- Which is your favorite whiskey?
- Do you want to take part in our beer mile?
- Do you think someone will die trying to complete an FKT?
- Do you have Twitter? If so, follow Justin! And me!
Call for Support
- Did you enjoy this? Are you already a club member? If not, consider becoming a member! Our partner stores (Balanced Athlete and Fleet Feet) also accept cash and most major credit cards and are fully stocked with excellent Thanksgiving or Veteran’s Day gift ideas!
- Did you not enjoy this? :(
- John Wallace III
- 2013 Holiday Xtravaganza
- Martin Mudry
- Jodee Adams-Moore
- Sarah Robinson
- Sage Canaday
- Greg Crowther
- Uli Steidl
All photos & video: Terry Creighton