Humans of HOKA: Benjamin Li

Benjamin Li is an oncology doctor who is always on his feet whether it’s in the office or on the road. Read more about his experience with running and how it helps him take care of himself.

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“You have to be able to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” This is a mantra that has stuck with me throughout my medical training. How can you, as a doctor, provide the best service to your patients if you are not investing the effort to be the best version of yourself? The analogy is similar to the low-oxygen warnings we always saw on airplanes (back when travel was a thing): put an oxygen mask on yourself and then put masks on those in need around you. To me, running is my source of oxygen, of balance, and strength.

My decision to become a doctor was intertwined with my ability and passion for running. I began running in high school and fell in love with the vast world it opened up to me. Nature, places that no car or bike could take you. Hard work and reward, more satisfying than any amount of natural ability could offer. And camaraderie, the undefeatable bond of shared suffering and sweet victory. Running added dimensions to life that I hadn’t realized existed, and somehow filled me with ambition, purpose, and the conviction to follow my dreams.

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However, there are two sides to the coin, and with great joy also comes great sadness at time. As any runner can tell you, one of the hardest things to face is… not being able to run. It is much, much worse than the state of life before running existed, because having tasted the glory, now each day has an opportunity cost when a run is lost.

When someone is down, there is a special opportunity to help them back on their feet. In high school, I was lifted up by selfless and passionate physical therapists (one clinic offering free service for high schoolers before official open hours). Through my experiences, I learned how to treat and manage my over-use injuries, and to help others with similar ailments. Fast forward a few years, and I realized that, whether or not related to running, everyone experiences their own “injuries” in life.

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Medicine and running gives you an interesting perspective. You get a glimpse of some of the most personal emotions and raw truths in settings of adversity. Day after day, as a radiation oncology resident, I witness stories of cancer from different aspect of societies. Ranging from the happiness and gratitude of being alive and present for their grand-children to the despair of realizing that life will forever be different and that what once was a self-defining trait (e.g. always being available to help others) is now reversed (e.g. always needing help from others). To those moments where you come to peace with the uncertainties that lie ahead and revel in the certainties of love that exist around you. Everyone has their injuries, and it is incredibly rewarding to help people get back on their feet and able to feel good about the path forward.

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HOKA ONE ONE. Not only are their shoes awesome, but they really help me to be my best version of myself each day. Being able to run light, to run freely, and to run protected from the wear-and-tear of San Francisco down-hill roads, my Hoka support maintains running as a refuge. Whether I pop on my RINCONs for a fast workout to push my limits and humble myself, or wear my BONDI 7s into work for a chance to recover while standing all day on my feet, my shoe companions really do double duty. These times are easy to lose motivation, to lose connection, and to lose hope. But anchoring on what I know makes me happy, makes me the best version of myself, and lets me most fully share joy and positivity in my work… running is helping me take care of me so I can take care of others.

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Benjamin is featured wearing the Bondi 7

Time to Keep Moving Forward with Magda Boulet

Magda Boulet, wears many hats throughout her day. She’s VP of Innovation at GU Energy labs, a professional Ultra Runner for HOKA ONE ONE, Coach in her running community, and most importantly, she’s a mom of a teenager.

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Tell us about yourself, Magda.

I grew up in Poland and immigrated to the US when I was 18, and somehow landed in the most beautiful state in the United States, sunny California. I was sworn in as a US Citizen on September 11, 2001. I discovered running as a high schooler and went on to compete as a track athlete in college at UC Berkeley. Many years later I qualified for the US Olympic team in the Marathon in 2008, and also competed in the World Cross Country championships twice. I started my Ultra career in 2013 and have been running on the trails ever since. I call Oakland, CA my home now.

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How did you get into running?

Growing up I was a swimmer, but when I came to the US one of my friends in high school encouraged me to join the track team. I needed something to do once the swimming season ended so I didn’t hesitate to try something new. I was immediately hooked. I loved not only the freedom to be able to run wherever and whenever I wanted, but also loved to socialize and make new friends. Running is a sport that tends to reward the hardest working among us. One must develop aerobic capacity slowly over time. There are no shortcuts and perseverance is essential to success. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world to race. I’ve ran everything from a road mile to hundred-mile races in the Sahara Desert, and just about every other type of race in between. I’ve represented my country, the United State of America in the World XC championships, and in the Olympics, but most importantly, I’ve made lifelong friends every step of the way.

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Why is moving everyday important to you?

Movement means so much to me. Of course, I love to run and train for big races, but more importantly I know the importance of a daily walk, especially in nature. I know it improves my mood, reduces my stress level and helps me sleep better. Getting some good blood flow to the brain helps me think better and stay on task when I have a long day at work. I just feel good when I’m able to move and there is something in me that just compels me to move all the time. I love discovering my mental and physical limits and breaking down my own barriers.

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How does moving help you in your many roles? (parenting, partnerships, career, etc.)

Movement clears my head and sets the tone for my entire day. At work, I have a standing desk, and anytime I have a meeting with someone, I try to do walking meetings outside instead of sitting in an office. I find that it helps us think and communicate on a much higher level when we’re moving and fosters a new level of creativity. I never regret a walking meeting. At home, I become a better human to be around when I make time to run, especially early in the morning. I find that I have more patience for my family, I lead with kindness and find myself more empathetic. I look for any opportunities to walk, hike, or run with my family. It really gives us a chance to connect with nature and with each other in a way that you just can’t while sitting on the couch.

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How do you encourage others to keep moving?

I am not only the instigator a lot of times, I’m the one who says yes to almost anything that involves movement. I like to create challenges at work or carve out a specific time each week for a physical activity. I encourage my coworkers to walk with me all the time if they want to talk to me. But I also have a lot of ambitious friends who like to set up challenges for us all over the world, from 200 mile relays in the desert, to running all the way around Lake Tahoe without stopping, to climbing the highest volcano in the world, I say yes to way more things than I probably should.

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What is Running for a Better Oakland?

Running for a Better Oakland (RBO) is a local organization that encourages Oakland students to develop healthy lifestyles through running. There are so many great things about this program, from the health benefits of just getting kids into physical activity to giving kids structure and confidence building that can improve other parts of their lives. I’ve had the pleasure of coming out to run with the kids on some of their training runs and I am just so inspired by the strong and supportive community they’ve established. I love this program.

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Anything else you’d like to share? 

What running has taught me: Running has taught me to be brave and break down my own barriers. Running has taught me to persevere. But what does Perseverance Mean? To me it’s not just effort. It’s not just trying your best. It’s refusing to give up, even when there are obstacles in your way. It’s staying focused on your goals and driving toward them when things don’t go as well as planned. To persevere is to continue working when the goal is a very long way in the future. Most goals that are worth chasing after taking many months or many years to achieve. And remember, it has been said that “a river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its perseverance.”

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Magada is featured wearing the Bondi 7.

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Ekiden 101 with Reitaku University’s Ryo Miyata

While the words Hakone Ekiden may not mean much to the average American (even to the devout runner), it’s tantamount to the Superbowl in Japan. An ekiden (駅伝) is a long-distance running multistage relay race popular in Japan that garners nationwide viewership in the millions. What is it about the ekiden that inspires a nation to run long distances? We sat down with Ryo Miyata, an ekiden runner from Reitaku University, to explain just what makes this event so captivating, the importance of the sash, and what he’s learned along the way.

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HOKA: First of all, what is an ekiden? What kind of competition is it?  Compared to other forms of road running, what’s different about an ekiden?

Ryo: In an ekiden, a runner relays their team’s sash to the next runner, forming a chain for the run. In other races (like a marathon), the runner likely runs for their own interests alone. In an ekiden, the runner can’t afford to do this, because you can’t help but be aware that you are running the race for others. Members who didn’t make the team, or for the next runner, and so forth.  I think that’s the biggest appeal of this race called ekiden: the competition calls for that kind of mental preparation.

HOKA: For the overseas audience, ekiden in Japan appears to be an inspiring competition. What is it about the ekiden that brings such inspiration to the audience, compared to other competitions?

Ryo: I think it comes down to that moment of passing the sash to the next runner.  It’s the real appeal of the competition: just look at the faces [of the runners]. The runner comes and passes the sash to the next runner, and at that point, he might give a good pat [of encouragement] on his back or [the next runner] might say a word of appreciation [back]. The audience notices such interactions, making that moment obviously a touching a scene, which I’d say is the biggest appeal.

HOKA: Tell us about your teammates.   

Ryo: Well, we spend time together while we practice, obviously, and we focus seriously during practice.  Other than that, we do spend the whole day – meals, baths, and so on – pretty much together. We know one another very well, and even when we are not practicing, we hang out with our teammates, too.  So through this dorm life, you do get to have relationships that are much deeper than those with other friends, I think.

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HOKA: Compared to a half marathon, is there anything different in the ekiden in terms of what goes through the runners’ minds while running?

Ryo: So, that’s again what I mentioned earlier about ekiden.  With an esteemed competition such as a half marathon, I feel there is not much of this mentality to “run for others,” but in contrast, an ekiden is truly a team sport. It is a sport in which the performance [of the team] depends upon how each runner has managed to bring out his best. There is of course that aspect of running for my own interest too, but there is also this wish to run in a way that is worthy of my team, my teammates, and various other people who have supported me all this time.

HOKA: How do you continue when it becomes painful?  

Ryo: So that’s when this sash that I am wearing [plays a role.]  You reach and grab it, and you remember: This sash reminds you of where it has been.  It is the same sash that has been passed on from all the previous runners. It is soaked in the sweat of your teammates: a testament to the efforts that they have already put in. A sash carries our wishes.  I am wearing it now, and since I am the one carrying this sash here, I am now the one responsible to run for the team. And that is how we encourage ourselves when things get painful.  Think of the other teammates. Remind yourself of them, through this sash. That is how I try to deal with rough situations.

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HOKA: In a deeper sense, what is the sash? 

Ryo: For me, a sash represents a commitment.  Something that you wear and that which gives a determination toward how I must run even a second faster for my teammates. What do you call it? — something that activates a switch of sorts.  It’s become something that flips that switch inside of me.

HOKA: Have you always wanted to become an ekiden runner? 

Ryo: I was in the first grade when I started running track and field, and it was then that I watched the Hakone Ekiden on TV and saw this serious expression on one runner as he was handing off the sash.  I realized he really was thinking about the team rather than himself and running earnestly with them in mind.  I began to think it was cool, and that is how I started to see the Hakone Ekiden as a goal for myself.

HOKA: How did you feel when you participated in the race? 

Ryo: I was nervous, of course, but it was also the moment that my dream since middle school had come true, and I was so happy about that.  When things got tough, I really felt it, and thought that I was running the ekiden of my dreams.  I felt I was in a dream.

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HOKA: Do you have a mantra, or something that you repeat to yourself when you’re in pain?   

Ryo: There’s a phrase that my high school coach told me: “return the favors through your run.” I so wanted to run the kind of race which would stir inspirations and encouragement for people who had supported me and cheered for me.  I had that strong longing, so I repeated that phrase over and over in my head even when the situation got rough. In the largest ekiden, the cheers that you get from the audience is extraordinary, beyond what you get from other marathons and races.  You are constantly showered with cheers from the roadside audience right from the beginning, calling out the name of the school or even your name.

HOKA: What have you learned competing in ekidens at Reitaku University?

Ryo: What I learned the most here is how to think and act on my own. What I mean is…when you get into a depressed state when, say, you’ve sustained some injury and are unable to run for a long time, it becomes necessary to think and act on your own. What can I do in this situation? What kind of practice I can still do now in order to get back to the race in the future? That, I think, is the kind of skill that would be called for even after you graduate, as you become a part of the workforce outside the world of track and field.  I think that skill, learned about thinking and doing things independently, will prove useful in my life going forward.

Click HERE to learn more about the Clifton Edge.

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Helping the Navajo Nation with Brandon Dugi

Brandon Dugi is an outdoor adventure photographer and endurance athlete based out of LeChee, Arizona, a small community on the Navajo Nation bordering Page, Arizona.

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I want to educate the world about the Navajo Nation and how it has been affected by COVID-19.

Growing up on the reservation as a child, I recognized the hardship my grandparents endured with the lack of running water and electricity. It was a difficult way of life, but I saw how tough they were and how it made them stronger as people. Seeing them struggle day by day I couldn’t imagine that it could get worse.

Then COVID-19 took place, and the Navajo Nation was hit hard. Covering three states including Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, it now has the highest infection rate in the country. Here is why it is so bad:

First off, 1 of 5 Native Americans has diabetes and there is a high prevalence of obesity underlying the conditions making COVID-19 dangerous.

Second, 30 percent of the homes on the reservation are still living with no running water and electricity. This makes it hard to meet centers of disease control health guidelines as it is not possible to wash your hands frequently.

Lastly, we are not getting the funds needed from the Federal Government and are having to wait weeks on end to receive any support that is addressing this crisis. These lack of funds and large delays, are big factors that are exacerbating the situation.

Fighting a disease that has a big impact on the elderly is hard for our Nation to endure. To the native people, our elders are our teachers, our protectors, our providers, our language and our way of life. We want to protect them as much as we can. If we don’t have them then who are we as a people?! Our history as Native Americans may be shattering but our hearts are strong, and we are coming together as one to help each other as much as we can.

Here are ways to help the Navajo Nation during these difficult times and help support our efforts:
Navajo Nation COVID-19 Relief Fund
Families helping Families (COVID Relief)
Navajo Hopi Health Foundation

HOKA NJNY Track Club’s Favorite Meals

My name’s Amy Stephens, team nutritionist for the HOKA NJNY Track Club. I’ve been practicing nutrition for over 20 years in NYC, specializing in diabetes and sports nutrition. When I’m not serving the team, I’m running marathons and ultra marathons.

I’ve discovered how important the right food is to: help you run fast, facilitate recovery, and move on with your day. On-point fueling for short and long runs has become my specialty. As the field of nutrition continues to evolve, I’m excited to share the latest updates and find the best strategies that work.

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Easy meals at home
This is a great time to try a new recipe. Use the extra time to experiment with a new dish or sift through your pile of favorite recipes. Finding a great recipe can be overwhelming and time-consuming, so I reached out to the HOKA NJNY Track Club of professional runners to find their favorite go-to quarantine meals. The recipes below are packed with nutrition from fresh veggies, lean protein and healthy carbohydrates. They’re making great food and running fast! I’ve included a few quick and easy recipes that are packed with flavor. These meals will inspire and impress you!

Benefits of home-cooked meals
When cooking meals at home, the focus is more on good quality ingredients and less on added fats and sugars. Preparing meals at home not only enables for healthier options, but helps with portion control, too! When cooking in your own kitchen, you can add extra veggies and cut back on the added oil. Home-cooked meals have half the amount of harmful saturated fats, half the sodium and calories. The flavor is based more on the high-quality ingredients, which makes these meals more nutritious.

Organize your pantry
Great meals start with great ingredients. Whether you’re new to cooking or are a master chef, stock your pantry with these items. I created a grocery list as a guide to keep these staples on-hand.

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Start with your favorite meal
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with your favorite meals. HOKA NJNY runner Cecilia Leeper makes different versions of her favorite spaghetti and meatballs, based on what’s in the fridge. Add spinach to the meatballs to boost the nutrition with antioxidants and iron without changing the flavor. Try adding your favorite green or grate vegetables into your favorite pasta sauce. Zucchini, carrots, kale and spinach are great add-ons.

For the sauce:
2-48 oz cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Fresh basil or 1 Tbsp dry
Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for 20 min. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Recipe-2

Avocado pesto pasta with chicken sausage
This is Rob Napolitano‘s favorite quarantine meal.
Add the following into a food processor: a few cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, basil, 2-3 avocados, a bit of parmesan and olive oil to make the sauce.
For the pasta, Rob uses tagliatelle or chickpea pasta. Saute 3-5 oz chicken sausage and combine with sauce. Finish up by shaking some red pepper flakes over it and serve up.

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Quick fried rice with veggies and tofu
Kyle Merber‘s go-to is homemade fried rice.
Makes for great leftovers, too! All ingredients are easy to find in local grocery stores, even during lock-down. Save time by using frozen Trader Joe’s chicken and frozen veggies. Leftover rice saves time and tastes great.
Click here for the recipe. Enjoy these great meal ideas from the pros…time to fly!