Here’s the thing about running: There’s no cheating. There’s no coasting on downhills. There’s no riding a current. Every step is a choice. Can you take another one? Can you pick up the pace?
The dictionary defines “bold” as showing an ability to take risks, or to be confident and courageous. When it comes to running, “it comes down to answering just one simple question: How good can I be?” says Ben Rosario, head coach and founder of the HOKA NAZ Elite team. It’s not about being defined by a specific time goal, podium spot, or any other limit, but about consistently trying to find out just how well you can perform.
It’s a fitting word for the NAZ Elite runners. Founded in 2014 to produce distance runners that can compete at the highest level of international athletics, the team’s athletes have produced eight top-ten finishes at World Marathon Majors, taken home five international medals, and won a total of 71 races—including the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, won by Aliphine Tuliamuk.
“The group we have right now is fearless in their pursuits,” confirms Rosario. What allows them to be so fearless is the team’s partnership with HOKA ONE ONE. “Without their financial support, we simply could not do what we do,” explains Rosario. The HOKA partnership allows us to sign the athletes necessary to create a world class team of distance runners via a world class group of people. Beyond the financial piece, the brand’s core values align with the NAZ Elite values in a way that allows us to work together to produce not only high-level performances but also to create quality content for our fans, and to work toward positive change in our sport.”
Having that kind of safety net in a partnership makes boldness and fearlessness easy traits to embrace, because you can’t get scared off by big dreams. “It’s about being confident in your ability and trusting in your training, even when your body is telling you ‘no,’” says long distance runner Alice Wright.
But it’s also about putting in the work to achieve those big dreams. “To be bold, you have to be strong—mentally and physically,” says long distance runner Julia Kohnen. “Then, when it comes to a race, you’re willing to go out there and fight as hard as you can.”
Finally, it’s about sticking with it, even when the going gets tough. “You have to really be grounded in your path, and remain persistent—maybe stubborn, in a way—even if the path is unlikely or against odds,” says distance runner Stephanie Bruce. “It’s about having resolution and resolve in whatever goals you’re setting out there.”
One of the reasons the NAZ Elite team has been so successful on and off the track or road is the fact that they also share the human side of their sport. Bruce, for example, isn’t one of the most recognizable figures in U.S. distance running just because of her speedy times, it’s because of her transparency and rawness on social media. “This morning I finished the US 10k champs in 5th place in 32:35,” she wrote on Instagram after the Atlanta Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2021. “I appreciate that people say congrats and it’s amazing. But at this point in my career I’m not interested in just showing up. I’m competing for the win.”
And then there’s Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the 2020 Olympic Trials Marathon in 2:27:23, becoming the team’s first Olympian. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Tokyo Olympics to be pushed back a year, she opted to use that time to start her family. In her first race back after giving birth to a baby girl, she took sixth place and said on Twitter that position was “way better than I could’ve imagined.” Now, she’s gearing up to compete on Team USA—with her daughter in tow.
It’s this realness that makes the NAZ Elite such an exciting group to watch. “Part of what we’re trying to do with all of that social media is share our journey in such a way as to have people feel a part of it,” says Rosario. “We’re trying to not only engage fans, but really and truly share our lives with them, because then they’re more invested in what we do.”
And it’s proof that runners of all levels can constantly push their boundaries without sacrificing in other areas of their life.
Keep reading for first-hand expertise from the NAZ Elite runners and coaching staff on everything from how to avoid injury and become a physically and mentally stronger runner to fostering your own supporting running community—so you can become a stronger, bolder runner, whatever your goals.