Long before Tommy Rivs was charging through world races as a long-distance runner, he became hooked on the sport as a kid in eastern Oregon.
What attracted me to running was the idea that it was really democratic,” Rivs said. “You could make up for lack of talent or lack of privilege or lack of resources just by simply working harder than other people. For me, growing up as a kid in the country, running was just simple.”
Rivs explains that to him, running always represented freedom as well as an opportunity to reach his full potential. Being able to quantify and track his own progress is something he says is hard to do with other sports, especially team sports. But as he got older and began to earn a living from running, Rivs said the sport became more about how to monetize and commodify the lifestyle than living it.
When he became sick in 2020, his priorities — and mindset — changed. He describes a sudden shift in his focus as he learned to separate between things he could control and things he could not. “In a way, it’s helped me just maintain some sense of balance and control when everything else around me was falling apart,” Rivs said.
A new mindset, a new runner
Rivs says there is no doubt that his mindset has evolved over the course of his life. When he was a younger, more goal-driven athlete, he set his goals using standardized benchmarks from professional elite running culture. That mindset didn’t encourage him to celebrate the little victories and daily wins that came with his hard work training. Rivs now sees the focus he spent on long-term, monumental goals as misguided and based on arbitrary standards. “I felt as though I really deferred the sense of happiness or satisfaction or achievement or accomplishment,” he said.
That all changed when he was faced with cancer. “After I got sick, I realized that I didn’t have the ability to even come close to those types of standards,” Rivs said. “I had to start over really at nothing. It brought me back to the pure essence of what I initially was drawn to, what initially drew me to running in the first place as a kid: that you could work hard and strive to reach your own greatest potential.”
Rivs says he’s happier now as a runner than he ever was before. He feels more joy and satisfaction now that he has returned to his desire to become the best version of himself.
Running with the pack
Rivs runs on the Craft Elite Run Team, an international team of 11 runners who compete in long-distance events around the world. The team is only a few years old, representing Craft Sportswear, a Swedish-heritage brand known for their design in performance-based footwear and apparel. The team, accordings to Rivs, is unified by a common mindset. “It’s the hustlers and the fighters and the rebels,” he said. “It really is a ragtag group that’s come together, rooted in this desire to be successful but not necessarily in following the conventional route. A lot of times, that’s not the most efficient route to success.”
He describes their motivation as one that comes from a struggle. “Everybody is hell-bent on being successful, and they’re willing to put in the work, and it’s something that comes from themselves,” Rivs said. “It’s something that you can’t coach and you can’t teach, but that each of the athletes really has. That’s something that you can’t take away, and that’s something that is going to last.”
It all boils down to one simple phrase
He writes the foreword in Craft Sportwear’s new book, “The Ultimate Guide to Running,” which is focused on one thing: the mindset of a runner. There is a message not to overcomplicate things and obsess over things like gel flavours or clothing fabric, polarized sunglasses or the combination of electrolytes in a protein shake. “Maybe it’s always been this way,” Rivs said. “But my perspective is that in the quote-unquote modern world of running, everybody’s looking for a shortcut. Everybody’s looking for a hack, a way to reach the goal without having to put in the actual effort. It shouldn’t be complicated. If you want to be good at running, you have to run. There’s no other way around it. You can’t reverse-engineer it.”
The book distills this exact message. Through pages of highly designed imagery and photographs, only one phrase is written throughout: left foot right foot. “Running does come down to just one foot after another, continually moving forward,” Rivs said. “The more time you spend doing that, the better you will be at that. I love that the book really comes down to that. It just is a reminder that it really isn’t any more complicated than that.”