Garrett Corcoran overcomes burnout, conquers JFK50
By Henry Howard
Garrett Corcoran, who won the JFK50 earlier this month, is used to being at the front of the pack. As successful as he has been thus far, he needed to find something inside that motivated him to continue the sport after completing his career at Cal Berkeley. (Meet the women's JFK50 winner, Sarah Biehl.)
Now that Corcoran has found joy, community and purpose again, he’s in a good place and setting a solid pace.
His journey began in elementary school where he was competitive but didn’t want to focus on running. In middle school, he was winning races with a 5:09 mile. As a high school freshman, Corcoran ran 4:30 in the mile and 9:44 in the two-mile. That was when he fully transitioned from the standard team sports to focusing on running.
“I figured that was the place for me,” he says. “I enjoyed it a lot more once I was a part of a team, too. I felt like the team culture was a big divergence from what I had been used to in team sports, especially football and basketball, where people are just constantly yelling at you, and you're scared to mess up. There's nobody really yelling at you, at least in a mean way, in track. If people are screaming while you're out on the course, it's generally encouragement.”
Transition after college
At Berkeley, Corcoran ran a sub-4 minute mile and collected some victories in races in the mile and 1500 meter. In 2018, he finished fifth in the 1500 in the Pac-12 championships.
After college, he considered hanging up the running shoes.
“By the time I had gotten to the end of college, I was pretty burned out,” he admits. “It was increasingly hard to step on the line and perform the way that I knew that I should be performing. I'd run really well in workouts, be very fit, but something about the psychological aspect of racing. If I got passed by one person, I would just kind of curl up and let everybody else pass me, and just wasn't really enjoying the racing aspect anymore. It started becoming farther and farther between good races. I didn't see it as worth it. I was going to work a full-time job and also trying to be faster than I was before, without the amount of time and resources that I used to have.”
Corcoran’s senior season was marred by Achilles tendinitis.
“At that point, I wasn't sure if I was even going to be able to run anywhere as much as I had been able to in the past, since that injury could linger.”
Corcoran stared working for Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor, as an engineer in their Baltimore office in August 2019. At the same time, he realized running is his favorite social activity and joined a local running club.
“It's where I've met almost all of my best friends,” he says, noting the club was more fun than serious. “They had workouts every Tuesday. I was really enjoying just running with people and pacing other people through their workouts to help them get faster. I realized I wasn't having that Achilles pain anymore and was enjoying the running more, so I started signing up for races.”
However, the onset of the pandemic shut those races down. But Corcoran found joy in the run itself.
“I had kind of fallen back in love with running,” he says. “And rambling around the city was a great way to explore a new place with new friends and experience new things with them.”
In the spring of 2020, Corcoran did his “first ultra” with a friend from the running group. They ran from the Washington Monument in Baltimore to the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital, which was about 38 miles. “I had a lot of fun doing that and kind of fell in love with going a little farther during that time, because it was a fun way to explore. I guess that's also led me to where I am now.”
As races returned, Corcoran’s mindset had shifted once again.
“I wasn't really looking to race. I was more enjoying the process of running. I was enjoying races but didn't feel like I needed to go do them.”
In September 2020, Northrop Grumman moved him to Salt Lake City. He found a new running community that would change everything.
“My roommate and the guys next door introduced me to the whole scene out here,” he says. “I had a lot of people to run with. That was my main thing — never do a run alone but try to run every day. So I'd end up going on runs which were a little bit funny to me because we'd end up hiking for almost the entire time and then bomb a couple of downhills and call it a day, which was very different from the style of running I'd been used to up until then.”
The following summer — as runners do — his friends encouraged Corcoran to sign up for a race. It would turn out to be his official ultra debut, the Speedgoat 50K. There he would reunite with a former college competitor, Adam Peterman.
Enjoying the process
The 2021 Speedgoat 50K launched the ultra running career of Peterman, who has made a habit of not only winning but setting course records in ultras. At Speedgoat, Peterman set the record with a 5:04:31. After running up front with the eventual winner, Corcoran finished 16th overall and 13th male.
“I hadn't been running all that much and was very unprepared for it,” Corcoran admits. “I ran up in the front with Adam Peterman for the first few miles. We were kind of having a conversation for those first few miles, until I started to red line because I was running way too hard for where my fitness was at. I ended up fading way back, cramping for most of the second half of the race, just walking almost all of it. I came across the finish line and felt super proud of the fact that I had gotten through this run that I would've looked at as something that was impossible a couple years prior.”
From there, he revved up his training and has completed five trail races, including a top 10 finish at the Canyons 100K and a sixth-place at this year’s Speedgoat. “Each one of them has been a lot of fun, and I feel like I've learned something from each one and gotten a little better each time, which has been a fun process.”
Just like when he found a community on the high school track team, Corcoran has found his people in the trail and ultra world.
“There's even more community support in longer distances,” he says. “The community's a little bit smaller. But everybody who is out there is super supportive, not a negative attitude out there. I really appreciated that because it doesn't take much to take most people up when they're not doing that well, when they're deep in the pain cave toward the end in the second half of an ultra. A couple of kind words from somebody who happens to be on the trail definitely goes a long way in helping somebody turn the rest of the race around. The last couple of races I’ve been to, I've tried to stick around the finish line or somewhere else along the course and cheer people on because it's fun to see people out there pushing themselves.”
‘Running my race’
This year’s JFK had a very competitive men’s field. Corcoran took the lead for good a little bit over the halfway point. It represented lessons learned from his two Speedgoat races.
“I was running my race and trying not to be affected too much by the people around me,” he explains. “I've tried to take that approach in ultras this year because when I tried to run Speedgoat in 2021 I just blew up because I was running somebody else's race. That clearly wasn't the right approach. I ran Speedgoat again this year and did the same thing, got out too fast and kind of blew up in the second half. So just having had experiences like that, I wanted to make sure that I was running exactly how fast I wanted to go, which is both easy and hard at that distance. It's also really easy to look up in front of you and try and go run people down early in the race. It's a patient man's game.”
Corcoran was perhaps emboldened by his watch, which stopped working early in the race. That forced him to run by feel, not numbers on a watch face. He was right on pace, leaving the Appalachian Trail section at 1:49, “exactly where I had envisioned myself; I felt incredible as I got on the towpath.”
He kept pushing and soon found himself in third overall, trailing Matt Daniels and Matt Siedel.
After unknowingly passing Daniels during a bathroom break, Corcoran caught Siedel, who was starting to struggle.
“I just kind of floated away,” Corcoran says, who wore the Hoka Tecton Xs for the whole race. “That's not exactly where I had envisioned the race being, but it was where I wanted to be at the time because I felt good enough to maintain that effort the rest of the way. And if nobody was going to be able to go, then it was just going to be me by myself. That whole time I was in front, I was convinced that everybody was a lot closer to me than they actually were. I didn't want to look back and see where people were.”
It wasn't until mile 48 that he learned he had a seven-minute lead on second place.
“At that point, I stopped running quite so scared. I was definitely running scared for a couple of hours. I'm not sure I would've gone any faster anyway. In my mind, it was like I was still running my own race. If anybody went by me, I don't think I would've had any juice left to respond.”
Improving mental wellbeing
In addition to the physical training and race strategy, Corcoran has also been able to improve his mental wellness. Part of that is getting outside and enjoying time with friends, doing skimo in Utah.
And the winter has cooperated so far, as about 100 inches of snow have fallen already in the mountains.
“I spend most of my winter skiing out in the back country,” he says. “I wouldn't really consider myself a big skimo guy. I don't go very fast, but I enjoy being out there, and it's really fun to go on a long walk with friends and get to ski at the end of it.”
It’s a mind-shift change that started after college.
“As I've gotten more serious about running again, I don't want to feel like I'm making a lot of sacrifices just so I can perform well,” he explains. “If it consumes my whole identity, and I don't end up performing well, it has a huge negative effect on my mental health and my future performances. And I want to make sure that I'm still doing all the things that I enjoy.”
Now, he makes sure he is enjoying activities like skiing, going to concerts and spending time with friends. During his taper, he took three days to go skiing.
“It was nice to get my mind off the race and still stay active but not run myself into the ground,” he says. “I don't think it helped my performance at all per se, at least physically. It was something to do that was still active but not running. But I think it put me in a good mental spot just because I'm here. I'm taking my running seriously. I'm taking the race seriously. But I also don't need to make running that only thing, the only thing I do.”
With his victory at JFK, Corcoran joins a list that includes Peterman, Hayden Hawks, Jim Walmsley and other elite ultra runners.
“That race was a good stepping stone for me,” Corcoran says. “I'm kind of excited to see what I can do, the next time I step on the line. That said, I'm going to take a little break from racing for the winter here. I was training pretty hard all summer, and I need to, just for the sake of my longevity, need to take some time off running so much.”
At this point, Corcoran has not signed up for any races but the Team USA qualifiers for the 2023 World Mountain Running Championships has grabbed his attention. His focus will be on the shorter distances, the qualifications of which are detailed here.
“Those will be my next goal races. And it'd be really fun to sneak onto a U.S. team on one of those. I'm excited. Mostly my training over the winter is going to be lot uphill skiing and trying to get my legs stronger, maybe get in the weight room or ride the bike a little bit, run uphill a lot. It's exciting to change up training a lot.
“I am pretty excited to see what I can do the next time I step on the start line.”
And when Corcoran is on the start line again, he will likely be wearing his attention-grabbing shirt. On first glance, it looks like it says, “RUNNING SLUT.” But there is a comma after the “SL,” referencing Salt Lake (City) in Utah.
“That's another way that I remind myself not to take everything quite so seriously and remind myself that running's not my whole identity,” he says, adding he also shaves his beard into mutton chops for race day like at JFK. “Between that and wearing a funny shirt, those are kind of reminders to myself that I'm out here having fun.”
Name: Garrett Corcoran
Hometown: Now living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Born and raised in Villa Park, Calif.
Number of years running: “About 11. My high school freshman year track season was the first time I trained to run.”
How many miles a week do you typically run: “That can vary a lot depending on how much vert/trails I’m running vs. roads, but I usually run 80 to 90 miles a week on average when I’m in the middle of a training block.”
Point of pride: “I’ve found very good balance in my life in the few years since graduating from college. I always felt like I was sacrificing a lot to perform well while I was competing in the NCAA. I’d skip out on parties or other social events so I could sleep, avoid eating and drinking certain things, and stay completely uninvolved with any extracurricular activities within the College of Engineering so that I would have time to focus on performing well on the track. Then when I’d have a bad race (which happened quite frequently), it would really get into my self-worth and confidence. I was assigning too much of my identity to my athletic performance, and it would negatively impact my mental health pretty heavily if things weren’t going well or if I got injured. Since graduating, I’ve stopped trying to make those sacrifices and have indulged in the things enjoy, and it’s had a huge positive impact on my happiness and performance. I had an opportunity to get really good backcountry ski days in the days leading up to both JFK and Canyons 100K earlier this year, which is exactly the kind of thing I would have passed on for fear of it ruining my upcoming race in the past. These days I use it as a great excuse to have fun and get my mind off the upcoming race with the realization that as long as I don’t have a big crash, spending all day out in the mountains with some friends is not going to negatively impact my performance. I should go and do those other things I love when I feel the inclination. In college I’d very often underperform compared to my expectations, but in the races I’ve run since, I can almost always call my shot a couple of weeks out from an effort and run pretty close to my expected finishing time/place.”
Favorite race distance: The mile or 1500 meters. “Even though I’m probably never going to run a competitive race at that distance again, it’s where I learned to race and the distance I always felt the most competitive fire in.”
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Nothing like a good PBR!
Favorite piece of gear: “The TurboDry shirt I’ve run all my races in this year. It’s super light and comfortable. More importantly, I love sneaking into people’s race photos with a shirt that I hand wrote SL,UT on the front of. It stands for Salt Lake, Utah, get your mind out of the gutter!”
Who inspires you: “Jeremy Jones is one of the most inspirational figures who has my attention right now. I really admire the way he’s used his fame and his passion for being in the mountains as a professional snowboarder to promote climate activism to preserve the winters he loves so much for future generations. His organization, Protect Our Winters, has been doing some really cool stuff, and everyone should give them a look!”
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: “Whatever happens to be stuck in my head when the run starts. I’ve never been a fan of wearing headphones while running. It’s the one time of day when I put away the screens and distractions and just listen to my surroundings, and I enjoy being grounded and aware of what’s happening around me. That said, my favorite song at the moment is When You Know You Know by The Beths. They just came out with a new album a couple of months ago and I’ve been playing it nonstop at home. Everyone should give it a listen.”
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: “My college running teammates and I were full of sayings that no one else understood but I would latch on to and repeat until they were run into the ground. My current favorite (as of Nov. 21) is IBS, which stands for I Be Surging. Used in context, imagine you’re out for a post-work shlogger with your friends Kai and Liam. Liam decides he’s going to start pushing the pace and gets a few steps ahead of you and Kai, so you say, ‘Looks like Liam’s IBS is acting up!’”
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Strava: Garrett Corcoran
• Instagram: @garretttheparrot96