In order to be the best in a conventional sport like running, sometimes it takes an unconventional method like runners training together instead of one-on-one with a coach.
“In the past, the sport revolved around this idea that you need to be selfish with blinders on,” said Danny Mackey, head coach of the Brooks Beasts Track Club. “Part of our team’s narrative is proving that a group of track athletes can function as a team and win global medals. It’s very different from other groups. It’s not just a group wearing the same jersey logo but practicing together to help each other become better.”
This idea of not just having a team to run with on race day, but to train with on a daily basis is still not very common in the professional running world.
“In high school and college, you have a team environment, but when you become a pro, there’s not many opportunities to score as a team, so it becomes really individualized,” said Katie Mackey, a Brooks Beast who specializes in the 1500m and 5K. “The Beasts team recreates that college atmosphere – living, training, and having fun together. If it wasn’t for the Beasts, I don’t think I’d still be running professionally.”
To Danny, the idea of training as a running team versus training individually is a no-brainer since it provides athletes with benefits they wouldn’t otherwise receive – the biggest one being the camaraderie they develop during training that carries over to race days.
The Beasts like to think of themselves as a wolf pack – individually strong but able to succeed in attacking larger targets when they work together. And succeed, they have. The Beasts compete at top events across the world, and just this past year, they set a world record for the men’s indoor 4xMile.
This success is due in part to a team atmosphere that provides the culture, challenges, and community the runners need in order to thrive.
A Culture To Succeed In
The culture of a team can be described as the unifying characteristics of the group. This is just as important as the individual athletes because without a unifying element, there is no team.
“We like to have fun, but when it comes to racing, we’re very serious and have huge goals,” Danny said.
Since the beginning, Danny’s tried to create a unique culture with a lively, uplifting, and competitive tone and to instill the importance of this into the Beasts.
“The culture is super important because when we hit rough patches, the team can get out of them quicker by helping each other rather than solely relying on me,” Danny said.
Like many organizations, the culture begins from the top and trickles down to affect every aspect of the team.
“It starts with me to a degree,” Danny said. “If you picture bumpers when a little kid is bowling, that’s kind of like my job – to keep the team in the lane, culture-wise. But if you have one person that’s not committed, it can eat away at the entire team culture, so credit also goes to the individual athletes.”
Through his coaching, Danny has ingrained the importance of that culture into his team.
“When we’re recruiting people, we look for somebody who fits the mold of our team,” said Henry Wynne, a Brooks Beast who specializes in the 1500m. “Obviously, we want someone who runs fast, but we also want somebody who works hard and isn’t selfish. Team is the most important thing to us.”
Marta Pen Freitas, who runs the 800m and 1500m for the Beasts, has only been with the team for six months, but even she clearly understands the importance of the team culture and doesn’t take it for granted.
“To have a good culture takes work from each person,” Marta said. “It doesn’t just happen. We have meetings to build that culture to try to be good teammates and support each other. It’s something that immediately attracted me to this group.”
Challenges To Grow From
Not only does the team provide a thriving culture for the Beasts, it also provides them with unique challenges that allow them to grow.
From a coaching perspective, having a team of runners allows Danny to train them together as opposed to creating separate workouts for individual athletes. Though the Beasts don’t always compete in the same event, Danny will often have the them run together during practice.
“I have them run together to imitate the pressure of championship races where the competitors are literally shoulder to shoulder while running,” Danny said. “I want them aware of their surroundings.”
“It brings the best out of everybody,” Henry said. “When you’re feeling tired and hear someone breathing on your shoulder, that competitive nature flares up — no way you’re going to let that person pass. Then, during a big championship race when someone comes up on your shoulder, you tell yourself, ‘I’ve done this a million times in practice.’ So, you dig in deep and don’t let him pass.”
From an athlete’s perspective, team training can be beneficial for runners because it gives them the opportunity to challenge, inspire, and encourage each other.
“Seeing your teammates out there ripping it up and running extremely fast times pushes you to become better,” said Josh Kerr, a 1500m Brooks Beast. “You say to yourself, ‘I can do that. I’ve been doing the same training as them.’”
“Living in Seattle, most of the time it’s raining, and some days it’s hard to get up early in the morning to run, but having people hold you accountable to train with them every single day makes it easier to get out the door,” Henry said. “Nobody lets you slack.”
But encouraging and challenging each other doesn’t just happen at practice. The Beasts constantly push each other to keep going and not give up.
“Everyone encourages each other and builds each other up, and that’s not something you can find in every team,” Katie said. “We’re with each other in the highs — like watching a teammate run a PR, but we’re also with each other in the lows — like my teammate sitting next to me when I missed making the U.S. team by one spot. We’re on this roller coaster together.”
“You’re not going to have a great day every day, no one does,” Marta said. “But being surrounded by a team helps. They help remind you why you’re here.”
A Community To Belong To
The running community is a special niche group of people who understand each other’s passion and can relate to both the highs and lows of being a runner.
The Beasts acknowledge the importance of this community and hope to be bright lights within it.
“What makes the Brooks Beasts unique is our mission to give back to the community,” Katie said. “In Seattle, we have an open environment for runners who come into the city for competitions or training camps, and at meets, athletes gravitate toward our team. They’ll hop in with us while we train, and it’s totally accepted.”
Besides being a part of this larger running community, the Beasts, with their unique culture, have integrated a family vibe. This tight bond is vital to the team’s success.
“If you look at special forces, there’s a reason why platoons are a certain size, because you want that family dynamic, that camaraderie,” Danny said.
The Beasts know that the team is more than just competing together on race days. It means having each other’s backs and knowing they’ll have yours.
“We compete for the same spots on the U.S. team and our jobs are on the line, but there’s enough room for us to be on the podium together,” Katie said. “We’re here to build each other up, be family, and compete against other top athletes.”
“At races everyone is fit and trained professionally, so it’s the little things that make the difference – being surrounded by a healthy environment, learning to take risks,” Marta said. “Having a team’s support gives me that extra step I need to be able to achieve something great. I’m in a prosperous environment. I can take risks and grow from them because my team is here to support me, not judge me. I cannot stress how important that is.”
“In one weekend, one person may be racing in China, while another races in Belgium, and somebody else is in LA,” Henry said. “It can get lonely traveling by yourself, but you know you have your team. When you finish a race, whether it went well or not, you have text messages from 12 people giving you support.”
Danny is more than willing to lend a listening ear if an athlete wants to talk, but he explains that having teammates allows them to empathize with each other and further build the team chemistry.
“It’s a different perspective when you talk to a teammate,” Danny said. “They’ve experienced what you’re going through and can encourage you to keep going.”
The Brooks Beasts are proof that training as a team is beneficial to all athletes. And as runners across the globe prepare to leave their mark on the world’s biggest stage in 2020, the Beasts are training together hoping to make it in the mix.