March 19, 2020
Looking for some running content to consume?
On Running’s Chasing Tokyo series may be just for you. The video series chronicled the nine athletes of the On ZAP Endurance professional running team (Tyler Pennel, Joe Stilin, Andrew Colley, Johnny Crain, Tristin Van Ord, Matt McClintock, Joanna Thompson, Josh Izewski, and Nicole DiMercurio) and their attempts to qualify for the 2020 US Olympic marathon team. The five-part series became a hit on social media, with 1.35 million views on YouTube, and more than 7.2 million views across all platforms according to On.
The On ZAP runners came up short of the Olympic goal.
If you want to watch the series without knowing how the On runners did, scroll to the videos embedded below. Otherwise keep reading.
However, they had two strong performances in the men’s race at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta. with Tyler Pennel (11th in 2:12:34) and Josh Izewski (17th in 2:14:15) both posting top-20 finishes. Pennel’s run showed just how strong the men’s race was; despite a PR on the tough Atlanta course, Pennel could not match his 5th-place finish from the 2016 Trials.
While the top 3 finishers in Atlanta got the most attention, the series captures why so many runners dedicate a significant portion of their lives training for and dreaming of the Olympics. Joe Stilin, who had an off day at the Trials and finished 107th, is in tears in the final episode talking about how much it meant to him to have his high school coach, his dad, his brother, and even fellow teammates encouraging him at the Trials.
“It’s what the sport’s about…Sometimes, it’s not about just crushing and being top 3 and all that. It’s why we run,” Stilin said (that clip is here).
The series is directed by Emmy-winning director, Andrew Hinton (“Man with the Halo”) and starts following the team in 2019 in episode 1, “Dudes in the Woods,” which explains what the On ZAP team — located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boone, N.C., — is all about. Episode 5 concludes with the Olympic Trials. There isn’t much footage from the Trials — only four minutes of the one-hour series comes from once they’re on the starting line in Atlanta — but the point isn’t to capture the race itself, but to show the buildup and struggles all Olympic dreamers go through.
Episode 1 is only five minutes, so give it a shot and see if you get hooked.
We’ve embedded all the episodes below. It’s also on the On ZAP Endurance team page.
And don’t feel too bad that the ZAP runners didn’t make it to Tokyo. They’re already dreaming of Paris 2024. “Of the nine athletes on the team, I think probably half of them are thinking about this race four years from now. Sometimes it’s the people who are just too stupid to quit who get things done and we’re probably in that category,” said On ZAP head coach Pete Rea in the final episode.
One final thing: is the On ZAP runners were allowed to wear the new Nike super shoes during the race. We are full of praise for On for allowing this: it shows they put their athletes first. On was founded by former world duathlon champion Olivier Bernhard, who knows a thing or two about performance (LRC’s Wejo went to Olivier’s house in Switzerland in 2012 or 2013). Olivier was a Nike-sponsored athlete back in the day, and when he got injured he tinkered with his shoes, and that led him to starting a shoe company once he stopped competing. Roger Federer is now working with On and an investor in the company. Athletes of that caliber know is it not right to force athletes to compete at a disadvantage, so they let the On ZAP runners wear the Nike shoes. We applaud them. None of the ZAP runners are forced to wonder “What if…”