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Every day is nonstop for Athena Manolakos, the running social media star and face of the Run4PRs Instagram account. She wakes up at 4 A.M., runs, goes to her day job of teaching science to middle schoolers, then starts her afternoon job of reviewing training runs for the athletes she coaches, sending them notes of support or enthusiasm and adjusting their training plans.
On Saturdays, instead of resting, Manolakos again wakes up early, knocks out a long run of up to 20 miles, eats, showers, gets her camera ready, and picks out about 20 different running outfits. She then records herself in a series of videos about running jokes, coaching tips, and nutrition advice—each wearing different running gear. Those videos will run as Instagram and TikTok reels for the run coaching company Run4PRs during the next two weeks.
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Yes, she knows it’s a crazy schedule, but she likes to stay busy.
“I don’t have kids yet, I’m not married, so I get to just make my schedule how I want it, so I’m very lucky,” she says. “I’ve always been a bit of a morning person, so I enjoy getting up and challenging myself first thing in the morning with my run. I feel like it sets the tone for the day. I clear my head and I know that if I can get up and do something challenging, I know going into the rest of my day that everything is going to be pretty easy.”
The Art of the Viral Running Reel
The @Run4PRs account has almost 160,000 followers on Instagram and almost 28,000 likes on TikTok. The accounts refer runners to the Run4PRs coaching business, which serves 900 athletes with 19 coaches. The company offers different levels of coaching, with individualized training plans ranging from $90 to $270 a month.
But runners can also get plenty of advice just from the accounts. They offer posts like “Top Workouts for a 1:59 Half” or “When Should I Run Marathon Pace in Training?” Much of this advice comes from the founder, Victoria Phillippi, and the blog posts she wrote on training techniques when she first started the company in 2016.
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“I would write articles about a lot of common running questions that I would get from my athletes, because a lot of people ask the same types of questions, like, ‘how do I fuel on my run?’” she says. “So I thought, hey, what if I just wrote some articles? And that could be really useful for people who maybe can’t afford a coach or who just want to know the answer to the question without necessarily having a coach. I put a lot of these blog posts out on the Internet and then realized the blog maybe doesn’t get a ton of traffic. So we started to put them into Instagram so that we could get the content out there to more people and just share our knowledge base with other people and help runners with the common questions and advice that they get.”
But Phillippi doesn’t worry that people will just see her advice on social media and then not pay for the actual coaching. That’s because people don’t necessarily trust an online coaching company without a way to verify the coaching advice will be sound.
“You have to prove that you’re trustworthy. You have to make people see that you are there to help them,” she says. “Give out stuff for free and then you’re going to be the expert, the go-to in everyone’s mind when it comes to anything running. And then when they have something more specific, or they want to get a coach, they’re going to come to you. The word of mouth really spreads like wildfire.”
Another thing that helps their content spread like wildfire is Manolakos and her funny viral reels. She posts things like “What’s your ideal Friday night?” with a video of her camped out on the couch in a sweatshirt, or “When you’re working remote and someone calls a meeting in 15 minutes” with a video of her out running on the beach and then looking concerned, or “My toxic trait is to complain about how tired I am but wake up at 4:00 A.M. to run.”
Manolakos says a lot of the ideas come from memes or videos she sees on TikTok, and then she tries to think of something running-related to produce. She also comes up with ideas while she’s running, and makes videos poking fun at herself or other common runner behaviors.
“You have to prove that you’re trustworthy. You have to make people see that you are there to help them.”
“There’s one where I’m sitting in the car, eating my second breakfast because I got to the race like an hour and a half early and it’s only 6 A.M.,” she says. “I’m pretty Type A with that, so I have to be super early. And then you’re just sitting there and you have an hour and a half to kill because you thought there’d be traffic and no parking.” The video shows her hunkered down in the car while eating graham crackers. “The other one is just saying that you’ll never run another marathon again and then immediately signing up for another one,” she says. “That’s a popular ‘toxic trait’ as well.”
Manolakos actually started as a runner paying for a coaching plan from Phillippi. She was a soccer player in college, then developed a drinking problem, got sober, and found running. “I saw that (Phillippi) was selling some basic plans for training for a marathon,” Manolakos says.
She downloaded one, using her 5K time to set a goal marathon time, and ran it in 3:23:07.
“I was really pleased with how I did and just wanted to say thank you for writing such a great plan and shared my success with it, and I figured if I could feel that great with her basic plan, that I wanted to have her as my coach,” she says. “So I’ve been working with her since.”
Taking Her Own Advice
In 2021, Phillippi invited Manolakos to join Run4PRs as a coach. Manolakos had to build up her own base of runners, taking runners who sign up for a free seven-day trial and end up wanting to pay for a coach, or bringing in runners through social media or referrals. She now works with about 40 runners at a time.
It sounds like a lot, but Manolakos says she keeps track of them all with spreadsheets and the strict scheduling and organization she uses to manage the rest of her life.
“The most important thing for me, whether I’m teaching or working with an athlete, is to build a relationship with them, really get to know them as a whole person,” she says. “I keep pretty good spreadsheets with check-ins, and I’m a big data junkie. So I am very organized when I check in, and with who, and how I do that.”
She also is keeping her own personal goals—some day dreaming of running a sub-3:00 marathon. “We can speak it into existence,” she says. She recently ran 3:17 at the Boston Marathon this year, which was slightly slower than her Boston time last year.
“I want to take a step back and try taking my own advice and mix up my training a little bit, work on some speed to try to break that plateau,” she says.
As she does it, she’ll likely be making viral videos about every step along the way.