A few weeks ago I was feeling down about the Quaz.
I’ve been doing this thing for nearly seven years, and the week-after-week-after-week grind had taken its toll. I actually spoke with the wife about retiring the series, and took that idea to Twitter and Facebook. People were supportive (Maybe just some time off?), but I was torn. On the one hand, I really wanna hit 1,000. On the other hand, it can be a burden.
He was suggested by a friend, and after I asked, “Michal who?” he sent me material that had me both entertained and dazzled. I mean, here’s a guy who has devoted much of his life to running marathons … while juggling. That is so friggin’ Quaz, I couldn’t possibly let it pass.
Anyhow, here I am. Renewed and re-energized and back on the march toward 1,000. And here, by no mere coincidence, is Michal Kapral, aka “The Joggler.” His story is insane. His exploits are insane. And behind it all is a genuinely good dude who, as a boy, picked up a copy of the Guinness Book of World Records and said, “I want that.”
Michal Kapral, take a break. You’re the 342nd Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Michal, you’re “The Joggler”—meaning you run marathons while juggling. Which is quirky/funky/awesome/weird. So, basic first question, how did this happen?
MICHAL KAPRAL: You know how sometimes in life, a series of small decisions and events lead to strange and unexpected consequences? That’s how I became “The Joggler.” Growing up, I was mostly healthy and normal, but also felt different from my friends because I was allergic to almost every food. I also had severe eczema, and asthma that sent me to the hospital several times. I think this feeling of being different pushed me try offbeat feats. I already felt like a bit of an oddball, so why not embrace it?
My sister Moira and I used to flip through the Guinness Book of World Records to find records we could break. When I was about 12, I had just taught myself how to juggle three tennis balls, and found a record for the “joggling” marathon. Running while juggling for 26.2 miles—I was captivated! I couldn’t believe that someone did this, and went to the park the next day to try out this hilarious-sounding sport. To my amazement, the juggling actually fit perfectly with the running stride. Flash forward 20 years, and I was then a semi-competitive marathon runner. I had won the Toronto Marathon in a PR of 2:30:40 and had dreams of representing Canada in the Olympics. But my marathon times remained stuck in that 2:30 range and my life got too busy to train like an elite marathoner. I was working two jobs and shuttling our first daughter Annika to and from daycare in a Baby Jogger. At some point when I was doing a long run pushing Annika in the running stroller, I thought about running my next marathon pushing her, and wondered if there was a Guinness World Record for running a marathon pushing a stroller. Turned out there was. It was 3:05. So in 2004, I set my first Guinness World Record with Annika: fastest marathon pushing a stroller, in 2:49.
I was raising money for SickKids, the hospital that took care of me when I had those asthma attacks as a kid, and when the people from the charity asked me what I would do the next year, I blurted out: “I’m going to run the marathon while juggling!” I hadn’t tried joggling in 20 years, and had just committed to running an entire marathon. But my childhood dream was alight and I was excited to chase it. I ordered a set of juggling balls and started training every morning at sunrise so no one would see me struggling. I dropped the balls left, right and center. I swore into the morning air. But I kept at it, and got a little better every day. After a few months, I could go a mile without a drop. My arms got strong. In 2005 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, I set the record for fastest marathon joggling three objects, in 3:07. I saw kids point and cheer along the course who were the same age as me when I first read about this record, and felt there was something more to this than silliness. The juggling pattern mesmerized me. My arms, legs and brain were all working in perfect harmony. Making it across that finish line after more than three hours of running while juggling every step was one the hardest things I’ve ever done. Everything hurt, even my brain. But I had become “The Joggler.”
J.P.: You are in the Guinness Book of World Records for running a 2:50 marathon while juggling three objects. My PR is a 3:11—sans any objects. So what I wonder, as a running geek, is how you run so fast while not using your arms in a collaborative effort? Is arm usage somehow overrated in running?
M.K.: The cool thing about joggling is that the arm motion of running actually syncs up perfectly with the tosses in the three-ball cascade juggling pattern. After many years of practice, I can run while juggling at almost the same speed as I would just running. My marathon PR is 20 minutes faster than my joggling record, but I was probably in 2:35 or 2:40 marathon shape when I joggled the 2:50 record. The secret to efficient joggling is maintaining the same arm swing as when you’re running. This means you need to catch the ball, carry it in your hand as your arm swings back and then toss it as your arm swings forward. When it’s smooth, joggling is poetry in motion.
J.P.: Back in October you ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon and tried to set a new world record for fastest marathon while juggling five objects. You came up short, but still blogged about the experience as a victorious one. Why?
M.K.: I had been thinking about trying a five-ball joggling marathon for 10 years. It’s such a daunting prospect because the difficulty level is off the charts. Also, most people don’t even realize how hard it is. When I was joggling the five-ball marathon, a woman saw me and said: “You should just juggle three balls. No one will know the difference.” She had a good point. A lot of people can’t distinguish the three-ball pattern from four or five. I raised money for SickKids again, but the five-ball marathon attempt was much more of a personal challenge than the three-ball records. It turned out to be even more challenging than I expected, and I had to bail on the juggling after a little over 10 miles. But I considered it a success because it was such an amazing experience. I got to reconnect with my joggling rival and friend Zach Warren, who acted as my spotter during the race, people donated nearly $2,000 to SickKids, I made it to 17km while juggling five balls, which is the furthest five-ball joggling distance officially documented, and Zach convinced me to finish the rest of the marathon without the juggling, which we did with a negative split (running the second half faster than the first) of nearly two hours. I also got to experience what it’s like to be in dead last place in a marathon. Humbling! The five-ball joggling pattern is a beautiful thing, but trying to do it in a busy marathon was a lofty goal. I don’t think I’ll try it again (although I’ve said that before about other records!).
J.P.: I’m pretty sure people are born fast and others are born less fast, and while the less fast can become fast, they might never run a 2:20 marathon. My question is—are people born jugglers? Like, could a non-juggler like myself devote years to the craft and become a star? Or does it take a special something?
M.K.: I never really thought about that. I think there is some natural talent involved in becoming an advanced juggler. Since I took up joggling, I’ve watched videos of a bunch of the world’s best jugglers and the things they can do will blow your mind. Much like running, a huge amount of juggling skill can be acquired through hours and hours of practice, but like elite runners, I bet the top-level jugglers have some natural ability baked in there. But I do think that with patience and practice, anyone can become a really good juggler. I practiced for many hours for about six months to learn the five-ball pattern. It certainly didn’t come naturally. Once you get comfortable with the three-ball cascade, practice becomes a lot more fun because you can learn tricks, and then move up to four balls, five balls, and other props like rings and clubs. The possibilities for tricks and routines are virtually infinite, which is really cool. It’s not just clowning around. Juggling is a sport, an art, a science, a skill and brain-builder. It’s definitely worth the effort that you put into it. It’s really a shame that juggling is associated with being geeky and clownish in our current society, because it has so many benefits.
J.P.: Off-putting question, but how much of this is about attention? We all have egos. We all like to be noticed. So does that need feed you at all? Do you thrive off the news appearances, cheering fans, etc?
M.K.: I think of my joggling as similar to being a professional athlete (but without most of the money). I don’t do it for the attention, but it’s fun to put your best out there for the world to see, and to entertain people in the process. I used to do 99 percent of my joggling training alone through Toronto’s park system, and I do it for the same reasons runners run. I enjoy it. Nowadays, my joggling commute from work in downtown Toronto to our home in east end is sort of performance art in its own right, since I run past so many people. How many other sports are there where you get random people cheering you on while you train? So I get a real kick out my training now, seeing kids point me out to their moms and dads, and hearing all kinds of hilarious comments from people on the street. When I’m racing, it’s a huge thrill to hear the cheers and see the look of shock on some people’s faces, and the media interviews are fun and exciting, but it’s also a ton of hard work for no money.
I’m just trying to be best at my sport, which happens to be quirky enough to garner a lot of attention. If a running brand sponsored me, they would get millions and millions of dollars’ worth of PR value every year. My least favorite comment is when people yell “Show-off!” near the end of a joggling marathon, when every fiber of my being is screaming in agony from the effort. That’s when I get envious of Olympic athletes or of NBA players or tennis stars. No one yells “Show-off!” at LeBron James when he sinks a three-pointer. The greatest thing is just doing your absolute best, whatever it is you do. I’m very lucky joggling is a fun challenge for me and also entertaining for other people. I was in the 2009 documentary, “Breaking and Entering,” that follows the lives of several world-record breakers. The movie has the great tagline: “Fame. Fortune. Usually neither.” The record-breakers in the film had all kinds of different motivations for doing what they do. Fame and fortune were not typically high on the list, which is good because if they were the driving factors, there would be a lot of very disappointed record-breakers out there.
J.P.: Here’s the one that gets me—in 2012 you juggled the entire Trapline Marathon in Labrador—and won it with a 2:59. That’s beyond weird, because I imagine, for the other competitors, it must have been somewhat discouraging. What do you remember from the experience?
M.K.: Thinking of the Trapline Marathon in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador brings back so many great memories. It’s a beautiful point-to-point course along one rolling road in the wilderness of the Canadian north. It’s such a small race that the other runners didn’t care that a guy won it while juggling. I ran next to one guy for a few miles and then took off on my own for the rest. It was quite a surreal experience (one of many surreal joggling experiences) to be joggling all alone in such a remote area and winning a marathon. Serial marathoner Michael Wardian was supposed to run it that year but was injured. He cheered me on from a bike for part of the race. There was a moose on the course, and they served moose stew at race finish. I remember wondering if it was the same moose.
J.P.: In 2015 you were banned from running the New York City Marathon when your beanbags were prohibited for security reasons. What, exactly, happened? And how furious were you?
M.K.: I always ask for permission from the race director before joggling. It’s never been a problem before. I had signed up for the New York City Marathon assuming joggling would be allowed since it had a long tradition of permitting jogglers. Race founder Fred Lebow was a fan of joggling back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, the race instituted new security rules after the Boston Marathon bombings, which prohibited the use of “props” or “sporting equipment.” I sent the race a detailed email with my joggling resume and the specs on my 100-gram, millet-filled juggling beanbags, and they said sorry, the beanbags are not allowed because of security concerns. I tried to plead my case, but to no avail. I wasn’t angry, just super disappointed. With so many spectators, NYC is the perfect venue for joggling. Such a shame.
At least one other person joggled the race anyway, so they don’t even enforce it. The funny thing was the story ended up on the front page of the New York Times sports section on the day of the marathon with the awesome headline: “With Juggling Ban, Only Things Being Aired Are Grievances.” The article included some hilarious passages, like, “Reactions from the tightknit joggling community were swift and furious, with members expressing concern from as far as Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.” Incredibly, when I ran the race as a normal non-juggling runner, a ton of people still recognized me from the NYT piece, and because I was in a TV commercial for Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott. I’ve never had so much attention for not joggling.
J.P.: I’m gonna throw a random one at you, based solely on your running experience. My son is 11, and his middle school has a running club that trains sixth, seventh and eighth graders for a marathon. A full marathon. I find this unwise and crazy, and we’re only letting Emmett train for a half. What says you?
M.K.: I’ve heard of kids that age running marathons and I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s a lot of stress on growing bones. I’d stick to the half or 10K. My younger daughter Lauryn, who is 13, loves to run and goes five or six miles with me sometimes. I definitely wouldn’t want her to run a marathon at that age. What I think your son’s school really needs is a joggling club.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your sports career? Lowest?
M.K.: The greatest moment in my sports career was reclaiming the world record for the three-ball joggling marathon in 2007, finishing in 2:50:12 at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, and seeing my family at the finish line. I was so happy I literally jumped for joy at the finish line.
The lowest was probably the part of the five-ball joggling marathon attempt where the race video crew showed up after I had fallen apart and was trying to joggle with a torn muscle in my hand. At one point I was so done I lay down on my back – all captured on the live stream worldwide!
J.P.: It seems like there’s a fight for people to take joggling seriously. Like, you and your rivals clearly do. It’s not a joke, it’s a talent. And yet, from what I read there’s also a lot of snickering. Soooo … do you care? Do you get pissed when folks giggle, laugh, etc? Do you think folks misunderstand what you do?
M.K.: I don’t mind when people laugh or snicker. It’s a funny sport. As long as it makes people smile and laugh, that’s a good thing. But sure, lots of people don’t understand just how hard it is, and that we’re not just screwing around. It would be great if people recognized that it’s both difficult and funny. It’s a lot like stand-up comedy. It’ll never be serious, but it takes a lot of work to do it well.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAL KAPRAL
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Spice Girls, Amy Grant, Vancouver, “Trading Places,” chocolate covered almonds, Nebraska, Howie Long, New Year’s Eve parties, rifles, little puppies, Tim Horton’s: “Trading Places,” Vancouver, chocolate covered almonds, New Year’s Eve parties, little puppies, Howie Long, Tim Horton’s, Nebraska, Spice Girls, rifles, Amy Grant
• You’re Canadian. From afar, what do you think of Donald Trump thus far?: What do you say? Trump’s election is greatest threat to democracy I’ve seen in my lifetime. I’m sad and scared for my American neighbors, but still hopeful justice will be served to everyone who’s complicit in this mess. I happened to read Bill Browder’s “Red Notice” just before the U.S. election – a terrifying account of how deep the corruption runs in Putin’s regime. Every American should read it to get a sense of what you’re dealing with.
• Three things we need to know about your wife: 1. Apart from being smart, beautiful and great mom, Dianne is always up for adventure. We went backpacking in Ecuador for our honeymoon; 2. Dianne is a great runner, and ran her marathon PR of 3:24:17 in Chicago in 2014 at age 41; 3. Dianne hates, HATES being called “The Joggler’s wife,” even though she’s really the one who’s responsible for making me known as “The Joggler” by writing all the press releases and pitching my record attempts to media when I first started.
• I just read that Janet Jackson is back together with Jermaine Dupri. How you taking the news?: Tito, get me some tissue.
• Four all-time favorite jazz musicians?: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, but I prefer heavy metal.
• What are the three keys to successful juggling?: Get used to failure, stay calm, think of the whole pattern not the individual toss, learn in increments
Best memory from your senior prom?: I went to an American school in Rome for my senior year, so senior prom at a Roman villa was all one big amazing memory.
• Ever thought you were about to die? If so, what do you recall?: Several times from anaphylaxis after accidentally eating peanuts or other food allergens. Every time, my first thought was just “Not now!” I almost died from a rare virus a few years ago, but that time I was totally unaware of my near-death. I passed out, crumpling to the bathroom floor, smashing my head and tearing open my arm on the way down. I woke up what felt like one second later to find my wife and two daughters screaming and crying in front of me. It turned out I was unconscious for more than a minute, with my eyes open. Turned out to be a virus that used to have a 75% fatality rate before anti-viral medications came along. Thanks to some great doctors and Canadian health care, I was back marathon training a couple of weeks later.
• In exactly 16 words, make an argument for cornbread: Cornbread has the perfect texture and flavor to complement butter and chili. I want some now!
• What do your feet smell like after a race?: Surprisingly not too bad. I don’t sweat much and wear very thin, breathable socks. My wife might have another opinion about this.