Creating Our Own Lives

John Cary

My Best Conversations with Men Happen While Running

Last Updated

June 10, 2016

Original Air Date

June 10, 2016

“You’re running often side-by-side, or one person in back of the other, rather than looking somebody in the eyes as you’re being vulnerable with them.” John Cary is an architect, a father, and a marathon runner. For him, running is a spiritual practice.


Image of John Cary

John Cary is a trained architect who thinks about human-centered design. He is also a strategist for the TED prize and the co-founder of FRESH Speakers.


JOHN CARY: I’m John Cary. I’m 38 years old. And I’m from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

My first memory of running is probably a lot more recent than in actuality. I’m sure that I chased my brother around and my other siblings around as a kid. But, I actually remember running between my dormitory at the University of Minnesota, and the rec center during my first year of college. And in particular, one day, when it was minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit and I remember running in these Converse All-Star shoes as my throat was burning, and yet being so incredibly happy to be kind of braving the weather. And quite proud of myself at the moment.

My ideal running is running with other people, running with a partner in particular. And I’m really lucky to have, like, the most amazing running partner. I’ve had several over the years, but one in particular at this moment in my life, is another young father. So we end up talking a lot about fatherhood, and work things, of course, and all that. And I typically do run with other men and I’ve found that some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in my life with other men have been while running. And, you know, I think part of it is you’re running often side-by-side, or one person in back of the other rather than having to deal with looking somebody in the eyes as you’re being vulnerable with them, or sharing a story, or whatever it might be. But I truly have had some of the best conversations. And my current running partner, Peter, is a big part of that these days.

I’m kind of a mid-distance runner. I do about one marathon a year. And, I love that distance, but I especially love, you know, the kind of 8-12 mile distance. And one of the things I hear from a lot of people when they start running is that they just hate those first few miles. Well, I generally don’t love those first few miles of a run, either. It takes me a little bit of time to kind of shed, whether it’s the thoughts that I have, or the aches in my bones and my muscles, and to kind of hit my stride.

But I especially find in those later miles including the miles right before I finish to just like truly get into a stride, get into a flow. And there are places on my favorite runs where I’m just flooded with a certain smell of eucalyptus trees, here in the Bay area — or other smells. There’s also little micro-climates that I run through at different times, and I can just feel that all over. And that has far less to do with the kind of physical motion that I’m in, and just more to do with passing through time and space.

My daughter has run with me for, I’d say, a third of the miles that I’ve logged since she was born. And, I mean, I try to run somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 miles a year. That’s about 30 miles a week. And about a third of that is with her. And so I’m literally pushing her. It started with this large running stroller, that we then put this contraption onto so you could place her large car seat in there. And it was kind of like pushing a shopping cart, which is one thing on an urban sidewalk, but another thing in some of the hills that we do in the Bay area. I would be pushing her to the top of this beautiful cemetery overlooking the Bay, and people would drive by in cars and clap or cheer us on or something like that. And of course she’s snoozing away, and I’m drenched in sweat. But I love those moments. I love running with her.

I especially love talking with her as I’m running. And I do any number of things from practicing animal sounds with her, to telling her all the people in the world that love her. And over the course of a run, I’m able to name, you know, like 50 or 60 people in her life. And she — you know, whether or not she’s processing it is another question. But I just love those times we have together.