Olympic long-distance runner Alexi Pappas talks training, team spirit and how she came to love her sport—and inspires us to lace up our own running shoes.
By Tessa Trudeau
"Being part of a team gives me a larger purpose," says Greek-American Olympian Alexi Pappas. "Running appears to be an individual sport, but at its best it's a team sport where you're running for something bigger than yourself." In 2016, she competed on the ultimate team—one that most athletes only aspire to—racing at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. There, the now-29-year-old set the Greek national record in the 10,000 meters.
Currently based in Los Angeles, Pappas is part of another team, a small training group she started to empower people on their own running journeys. "It's really special to me because we all have different backgrounds and day lives," she says. Pappas tells us how she fuels her body, the fitness advice she lives by and what it was like to run at the Olympic level.
Have you always loved running?
I first began running competitively in middle school—I liked being good at something but in all honesty, I didn't love it quite yet. I found my true love for running in college when I discovered a coach and teammates that made running feel like a team sport.
What was the best part of being an Olympic athlete?
Feeling like my mind and my body were on the same page at the right time. I felt like I was achieving my potential exactly how I was meant to be. The Olympics is such a huge event, it's something that us athletes build up in our minds for years—possibly a lifetime. It can seem like it'll be impossible for it to live up to our expectations, but my Olympic experience surpassed my wildest dreams.
Champion is such a classic athletic brand. What do you love about it?
What I love most is how I feel when I wear it. I feel like I'm part of a tradition that inspires confidence and determination.
What is your current fitness routine like?
These days I do my main training run in the morning before the LA heat kicks in, along with some “prehab” bodywork to strengthen my intrinsics and prevent injury. Then I'll nap and do a secondary block of training in the afternoon—either a second run or cross-training like biking, swimming or aqua jogging.
How did your running group get started?
We met through mutual friends and, honestly, Instagram! Once people found out I moved to LA, they reached out and our group organically began to form.
What do you carry in your gym bag?
I'm a big believer in taking off sweaty clothing after a run is done, so I always have a comfy Champion sweatsuit, socks and slides to slip into after my workout, as well as my headphones and plenty of snacks.
What do you typically eat before and after a workout?
I fuel with a carbohydrate powder called GenUCAN and yogurt or oatmeal. If it's a race I always eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches and coffee. Post-workout, I have more GenUCAN and a smoothie. But it doesn't matter what you're eating as much as it matters that you fuel within 30 minutes of finishing a workout.
What is the best piece of health or fitness advice you've been given?
To be as kind to myself as I am hard on myself. What this means is that I'll give 100% of myself every day to my training, and I won’t beat myself up when my 100% on some days is less than my 100% on other days. One of my coaches called this the “33-33-33 rule,” which is that about one-third of the time you'll feel great in your workouts, one-third of the time you'll feel average, and one-third of the days you'll feel horrible, and that's okay. If you feel good all the time, you're not pushing yourself hard enough, but if you feel underwater too often then it's probably time to dial things back.
What is your favorite workout to do outside of running?
I love aqua jogging in the Pacific Ocean.