Meet Neale Johantgen, Event Operations Manager. He’s the newest member of the Beyond Monumental staff. Neale comes from a background in Track and Field, but doesn’t consider himself “a runner”. That being said, he’s in the middle of training to run his first marathon at Grandma’s marathon on June 17, 2017 – which begs the question “why?”
You say you’re not a runner – what experience did you have before working here?
I worked at USATF (USA Track & Field), the National Governing Body for the sport that is also based in Indianapolis, for almost seven years. I interned there after graduating from IU and just never left! I worked in multiple areas over the years. I updated the website, then moved on to general IT, and then to events. And I assisted with some office operations throughout all of that. I traveled quite a bit, working 7 Outdoor National Championships, 4 Indoor National Championships, 3 Olympic Trials, and 1 World Championships, along with various other major events.
Describe your relationship with running:
I joined my schools track team in eighth grade. I ran the 800m and threw Shot Put, because those seemed like a logical combination. I placed seventh in the city wide meet in Shot Put. I’m fairly certain only nine people competed. But I got a ribbon!
I didn’t start running until after I graduated college. I had a few friends who were training for a half marathon and I was working with several former collegiate runners at USATF, so it was more peer pressure that pulled me in than anything else. I’d go running with my friends and I’d always finish several minutes behind them. Demoralizing? Sure, but I got used to it and just ran at my own pace, running just fast enough to not get lost. It worked out in the end!
Ever since then, I’ve run to maintain a reasonable fitness level. I can’t say I’m always successful at it, but my habits have gotten better over the years. I’m a competitive person, but I know my limits. Like everything else in life, it’s about finding the right balance for yourself. For me, that means getting out to run more often than not, but knowing I won’t be winning races anytime soon. I’m ok with that.
Why are you running a marathon?
When I interviewed for this job – which I didn’t know was an interview at the time – I was asked if I would ever consider running a marathon. “Ha! That’s hilarious! Why would I do that to myself?” It was a hard no for me. But when the job was offered, I knew I wanted it. And Blake Boldon, our former Executive Director, told me he thought it was important for me to pick a marathon to run in my first year working here. The joke is “I’m running a marathon because Blake told me to.” But his reasoning, why he thought this was so important, is part of what sold me on working here. You can’t ask someone to run your race if you wouldn’t run it yourself. I wanted a job where I would be doing something I enjoy, at a company that supports the community, with a product or service that I genuinely believe in. For that to be true, I better be willing to run 26.2 miles.
So, I had to ask myself: am I willing to run 26.2 miles? I have close friends who have run several. Like I said, I’m a competitive person. If they can do it, I can do it. On top of that, some people laugh when I tell them I’m running. I get a very deep John Locke from Lost attitude – “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” I just turned 30 and it feels like a good milestone to reach for at this age. I have friends in the industry and I’ve worked multiple marathons. I see how much work goes into it, and I’ve always appreciated the time and effort. I’d like to experience what it’s like to run one of their events and see it from the other side. And finally, I try to say yes as much as possible. I didn’t have a good reason to say no. So why not?
What did your first year at the Beyond Monumental teach you about marathons?
First, it’s a lot more work than you would think. You think “how do you spend all year on one event?” There are internal tasks like marketing, warehouse cleaning and organization, volunteer coordination, sponsorship outreach – these all require year round planning and communication. Then there are tasks with outside vendors and organizations – medal and shirt design, printing signage, ordering awards, working with registration platforms and timing companies. Not only are they vital activities with year-long timelines, they are relationships that you must work every day to build and maintain. Each member of our staff – and on most marathon staffs, I imagine – wears a lot of hats and has a lot of responsibilities. We have a point person for each area, but we all back each other up. I enjoy these types of roles and I think they produce the best, most well rounded events.
Second, you can’t do any of this alone. I mentioned volunteers – and I cannot overstate how vital they are. I started at Beyond Monumental right in the middle of crunch time, and I didn’t get my feet under me until after the event was over in November. There are multiple volunteers who taught me how to do things along the way and were telling me what was next, simply because this was their second, third, fourth, or whatever year with the event. That kind of experience is key, and it doesn’t just make our jobs easier. It makes the event possible.
What has training for your first full marathon taught you?
Do you have any goals the race?
To finish. To actually eat breakfast before I run for once. And to jump into Lake Superior once I finish.
What is the best thing about Indianapolis?
There is no single “best” thing about Indianapolis. I like being able to walk everywhere if I want to. I hope people appreciate all the monuments the Cultural Trail, and the Canal Walk – they’re truly great pieces of our city. I love eating lunch at the City Market. I love movie nights with Indy Film Fest. I’ve always been a huge sports fan, so it has everything that I could hope for in that area. We put on world class events, year after year. And the food. Oh, the food. Rook, Milktooth, Nick’s Chili Parlor, Fat Dan’s Deli: they all own a piece of my heart, and most of my wallet. And the drinks! There’s too many breweries to name, but there’s always a special place on my shelf for Central State, Tax Man, and Black Acre. And my treat after my long runs? A daiquiri from Black Market. It’s glorious. Take a nap first though, or it will knock you out.