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An Interview with #TRAINBETTER Ambassador Knox Robinson

06/03/14

No compromises. It’s the backbone of ISAORA, and the common thread that ties us to Knox Robinson, the de facto ambassador of #TRAINBETTER, our first collection of active gear. Robinson, previously the editor of The FADER, is like the physical embodiment of the word “dynamic.” While juggling a career in the editorial world (though he retired from FADER in 2005, guy still keeps his writing game fresh, covering music and culture for the likes of GQ and V Magazine) and keeping his hand in the music pot (he’s managed the careers of Theophilus London, BLK JKS, and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble), Robinson has helped push the needle in the running scene, publishing FIRST RUN, a journal on international running culture, and co-founding BLACK ROSES NYC, one of the city’s most energized running collectives. With Robinson as a conduit, all these seemingly disparate worlds collide, creating a type of lifestyle that is inclusionary, expansive, real, and—did we use this word already?—dynamic

And so, with the launch of #TRAINBETTER, we wanted to introduce you to Robinson, a man everyone here at ISAORA aspires to be. He took some time off from training around the wide-open expanses of Beacon, New York (where he’s lived since 2008 after moving from the city) to answer some questions. Here, we attempt to get into the mind of a person who has, whether we’re talking about work or passions, stayed true to himself 100% of the time. Now that’s what we call living... no compromises.

What’s your relationship with ISAORA?

ISAORA has been on my radar for the past year or so, as my own sense of running began to change at the end of 2011. Late that year, following the NYC marathon, I began to see our corner of the current running boom take shape: a boundless excitement and curiosity for some new angle of life in the city mixed with some new ideas for how running might look and feel--a moment was starting to get underway and it had its own ethic and aesthetic. ISAORA was part of that—speaking to a "new" runner even as the label seemed predicated on responding to the most classic performance challenges of the lifestyle. 

So what made you move to out of the city and to upstate New York?

Hmmm a handful of personal reasons that aren't all that interesting compared to what's made me stay—haha. Mainly, it's been incredible living between a small mountain and a big river. 

What's the difference between your past urban life and where you are now? How does that change your lifestyle?

I'm still urban since that POV and perspective informs my work and my politics and my passions on a cultural and generational level. Beacon is actually an urban microcosm, a faded post-industrial town in between two of New York State's wildest crime zones and surrounded by a few prisons, blessed with few social services or youth programs and beset by what feels to be a mid-level drug abuse problem. I don't find any of that exotic or exciting, but I point it out as a counterpoint to what I said earlier about the benefits of being close to the natural world. It's not complete woodsy idyll here.  

To be honest, the "active" lifestyle in NYC had me performing personally and professionally but it could get a bit scary to be maxed out all the time in the infinite pursuit of whatever was at hand. I still live like that, sadly, but Beacon offers me a reset and some quietude at any given moment—I can easily drop everything to go for a run in the woods and end up swimming in a lake to clear my mind. 

What are your favorite things about running in the city?

I love running and training and getting in trouble with my crew BLACK ROSES NYC, as well as all the other crews on the downtown running scene. I love seeking out secret spots and finding personal touchstones that illuminate unexpected corners of the current running boom light years away from the washed-out, Photoshopped images on mainstream running magazine covers and ads. I love that NYC can be so competitive—as it can push us to be the best, whatever the best means to each one of us. And I love that the city's passion for running might inform the larger excitement for the active lifestyle on a global level. 

Alright, then. Favorite things about running upstate?

Upstate is the training camp—where you can get away from the distractions, the limitations and the trappings of running in the city. It's not for everyone, but if you find yourself expanding as a runner you need to get out and see what that feels like in different environments just to understand your own running and yourself as a runner better. 

Tell us about the genesis of BLACK ROSES NYC:

At the end of 2012, my partner Jess Zapo and I wanted to start a small training group—almost based on an art collective model, really—that preserved the excitement and wildness of the urban running boom but also served runners by sharing dedicated, coherent training advice several times a week and then documenting that via social media so runners and running crews around the world might also benefit from the experience without the filter of a brand voice or lifestyle hype. We also knew it had to be a group where men and women trained together equitably for everyone's mutual benefit. And lastly, we wanted to hold running up as part of NYC's vibrant street culture--positioning it as self-expression the way we might view the arts or celebrate the city's sporting life. 

What do you think was missing from the running scene?

I think the urban appeal and cosmopolitan élan of distance running was missing, and perhaps that's what I've tried to do most: celebrate and elevate the fresh style, self-discovery and sex appeal of bodies in motion that comes as people—anyone, really—falls in love with running. There wasn't a "before" and "after," of course; I don't think that way. I just think in terms of now. 

Do you think there are misconceptions of who a runner is?

Hahaha—perhaps, although these days so many folks are loudly proclaiming what it means to be a runner that I wouldn't know what those misconceptions are exactly. 

What do you get the most out of running?

It clears my mind and helps me think my way through life, whether by problem solving or sudden revelation.