Not everyone gets to compete at a high level for one of the top universities in the country as JT Sullivan did, and he does not take it for granted.
Sullivan competed for Stanford University beginning in 2008 and graduated with a degree in economics in 2011. During his time at Stanford, he rose to become one of the top steeplechasers in the country, clocking times in the 8:40 range—and later lowering his steeplechase time to 8:37.74. A three-time All-American, he has a 1,500 best of 3:45.53, a sizzling 7:57.04 for the 3,000 and a national-class 13:52.66 for 5,000-meters.
A former high-school miler who posted a 4:12 mile at Trabuco Hills in his home town of Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, Sullivan has lived in Austin since 2013. Ready-to Run caught up with Sullivan, 29, who reflected on his time at Stanford, post-collegiate running, his feelings for Austin, and what he’s up to now.
“Choosing to attend Stanford University was one of the best decisions I ever made,” said Sullivan. “My time on The Farm (as it’s affectionately known) was the greatest period of my life thus far and the friends and teammates I shared that time with helped me become the person I am today. I can remember multiple times during my first few years there where I would be riding my bike through the Quad and be in disbelief about how lucky I was to be a Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is arguably the greatest combination of athletic and academic excellence in the NCAA and I am extremely grateful to have been a part of that legacy.”
Sullivan has worked hard to stay in competitive shape, even though dealing with a chronic Achilles problem. He knocked out a 31:27 at the 2017 Statesman Capitol 10,000 and took second in last year’s Thundercloud Turkey Trot in a speedy 25:04.
“Over the past few years I have battled with a chronic Achilles injury that has really hampered my ability to train and race at an elite level, said Sullivan. “I can still manage to stay in shape enough to bust out a few 5:00-minunte miles and throw down a solid Cap 10K performance, but my days of rolling sub-60 quarters on the track are certainly over. These days I’m just looking to have fun in my training/racing and stay in good enough shape to hang on for some long runs and workouts with all of the legit distance runners training here in Austin.”
Sullivan recognizes that maintaining elite-level training in the real world for a post-collegiate distance runner is extremely difficult.
“Despite the enthusiasm here in Austin for running, the post-collegiate runner is not exactly setting the world on fire from a financial perspective. Elite-level training is exhaustingly time-consuming and requires a real sacrifice when it comes to your social life and professional advancement,” he said. “In the post-collegiate world, you don’t typically have the kinds of resources you did when you were in college in terms of gear, travel, and injury prevention. No one is there to hold your hand and tell you where to be and when. You have to figure out how to balance the full-time running lifestyle (which requires long days at the track and gym) with the reality that you need a job to pay for lunch the next day. And at the same time, you are faced with competing against the best runners in the country who do have the luxury of time and resources. It’s a hard gig that is not easy to excel in. You really have to love the sport and the competition to have a real chance at success post-collegiately.”
A senior appraiser with HCP Realty Advisors, (officially merging with a national firm, BBG, starting September 1), Sullivan works with banks, brokers, buyers, and sellers, to provide valuation services for commercial real estate throughout Austin and Texas as a whole.
“Fortunately for me, my work schedule, although busy, is very flexible and I am able to fit my training in where I need to,” said Sullivan. “My boss understands my passion for running and allows me tremendous opportunity to continue training and racing, as long as I continue to handle my day-to-day appraisal responsibilities.”
Though still very fast, Sullivan sees his running right now as more about having fun and spending time with friends than winning races or setting personal bests. His morning run on the trail is his main social activity for the day and gives him a chance to catch up and talk shop with the other local runners in town.
“I still like throwing down a hard effort every now and again but it’s a much more relaxed training environment these days,” he said.
“I like Austin more and more every day. There’s always something new and exciting to do here in town and wonderful people to do it with.”
Recently, Sullivan traveled to Portland Oregon and ran the Hood to Coast Relay.
“It’s a 200-mile, 12-person relay race that runs from the top of Mt. Hood to the Oregon Coast,” he said. “Typically, there are over 1,000 teams in the race. With the help of RunLab, I organized a group of runners from both Austin and San Antonio to head out there and try to win the whole thing. We fell short of our goal this year and placed third overall, but we’ll definitely be heading out there again next year. It was a blast! And, with the experience we gained this year, I know we’ll be in a position to bring home the title at next year’s race. Other than that, I’m looking forward to running on RunLab’s team at Zilker Relays on September 7 and, if all goes well, I’ll likely be targeting a few local races this fall and spring.
“Maybe I’ll take a short break after Zilker and then start getting ready for something local this Fall, like Run for the Water or Thundercloud Turkey Trot. Whatever is next, I can promise you that I’ll keep having fun with it and enjoying the process.”
Upcoming Races: Monday, September 3, at 7:30 a.m., Labor Day 5 Mile / 5K Whine Run at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, 1741 Herbelin Rd, New Braunfels, TX. Friday, September 7 at 6:30 p.m., Zilker Relays at Zilker Park, downtown Austin. Saturday, September 8, at 8:00 a.m., Gruene 5K/10K at Gruene Hall1281 Gruene Rd, New Braunfels, TX.