Scroll to the bottom of the job openings page on Tracksmith’s website, and you’ll see a unique invitation:
Don’t see a job description for you? We’re always looking for smart, talented individuals who want to redefine the world of running. Send us your resume and describe the job you want and what you’d do the first three months on the job.
The offer is unconventional by most business standards, but it’s in that spirit that Tracksmith has just unveiled its newest athlete sponsorship deal unlike any in the industry.
The Boston-based company has just announced that track phenom Mary Cain and Olympic medalist Nick Willis have joined the team, in roles that will foster their athletic goals while making them full-time employees independent of any success or failures in their running careers.
At Tracksmith, Cain (formerly of Nike) and Willis (formerly of adidas) aren’t just wearing the brand’s logo in high-stakes races and churning out wins for pay. They are also full-time members of the marketing team who show up on all-staff Zoom calls. Instead of being asked to smile and wave at public events, they’ll be organizing and leading the events.
It’s a stark contrast from the mega-sponsors that both Cain and Wills are used to; as a relatively young brand, the athletes will undoubtedly elevate Tracksmith’s profile in the running community.
With these unique partnerships, Tracksmith hopes to take the emphasis off anxiety-inducing performance incentives– win or lose, the athlete’s income is secure. Make no mistake—Cain, 24, and Willis, 37, are both world-class competitors gunning for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. But they’re also contributing skills at Tracksmith that have nothing to do with speed.
Cain’s Tracksmith job title is New York Community Manager, making her a “personal touchstone” to the local running community. The goal is to make inroads in the Big Apple the same way Tracksmith has in Beantown. As Cain explains it, “My literal job isn’t to win races. My job is to expand the sport of running.”
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, Cain was coming off her first injury-free track season in three years and turning her attention to the 1500 meter distance at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, which have since been postponed until next year. Now, she’s keeping her mileage relatively lower (around 60 miles a week) to avoid injury and looking forward to adding in more speed in the fall.
Many contracts end in an Olympic year; this year’s postponement and the uncertainty surrounding it has been stressful for many athletes. However, Cain finds herself in a secure position where she can tend to her training while also performing the other half of her job– engaging with the running community. Of course, the personal engagement aspect is on a perpetual pause at the moment, but Cain is looking forward to the time when she can directly interact with the public again. It’s equally exciting for the broader running community– after all, who wouldn’t be excited to show up for a group run led by Mary Cain, an elite runner in the prime of her career?
Of course, Cain will also be spreading the gospel of Tracksmith– its classic and timeless styling that seems to resonate through decades of running, to a time when raw speed and guts was the only recipe for winning races.
The 24-year-old found out about Tracksmith a few years ago when her boyfriend brought home some of its apparel. “I thought, ‘This stuff is so cool, very New England preppy,’” Cain remembers.
However, at the time, Nike was really all that Mary Cain knew. She signed with the sport’s biggest sponsor at just 17 years old, training under coach Alberto Salazar as part of Nike’s Oregon Project. She broke multiple American middle-distance records on the junior and high school levels, won USA indoor 1500m and mile championships, then became the youngest woman ever to make the final of the 1500m at World Championships.
Cain left the Oregon Project three years ago after struggling with depression. This past November, she taped a New York Times op-ed video in which she alleged abuse by the Oregon Project’s coaching staff, centered around her weight. The video sent shockwaves through the running world and beyond. In it, she recounts the health problems, training injuries, and suicidal thoughts she experienced during her three years with the now-disbanded Nike program. The Times op-ed has been viewed more than 13.8 million times.
Cain says she didn’t expect the public expressions of support that poured in after the video was posted. She shared the experience as part of her own healing process, but discovered it resonated for a lot of other people.
Her new role at Tracksmith may be another part of the healing process for Cain, where she says she’s free to show her real self, “not just a sculpted, Photoshopped version of myself.” It’s especially important to Cain that the company “wants to work with Mary the person and not Mary the idea.”
She has big goals to make teams and compete at a high level, but mostly she wants to run her best. “Maybe I’ll be first a lot, maybe I’ll be fourth a lot, maybe I’ll be tenth a lot. My biggest hope is to run healthy and happy.”
It’s safe to say that Cain has seen the full spectrum of the running business in her short adult life, from the corporate behemoth of Nike to the upstart boutique brand of Tracksmith. For her, the beauty of the Tracksmith partnership is that even if she decides to walk away from competitive running tomorrow, her job would still be there. Her running career may have defined her before, but she now has the freedom to define it for herself, for her employer, and to the running community as a whole.
Want to learn more about Tracksmith? Check out our interview with founder Matt Taylor.