Swankyvision with Iman Smith
Being a runner from NYC you very easily run across various types of runners. Some you tend to cross on a whim, some you get your miles in with, and then there are runners that can bring you a wealth of information that can essentially transform you physically as a runner. BUT there are very few that can and know how to help you break that mental barrier come race day. I can personally say that I’ve run five marathons and the first three were all sub-4 attempts. My first attempt was pure inexperience, my second was not enough training, third was enough training but not knowing how to pass the mental barrier. Knowing how to break through that wall. Back in 2019 as I was getting ready to travel to Berlin, tapering down from an intense 8-week cycle but deep down my biggest concern was breaking through that mental wall come marathon race day. It all boiled down to a conversation Iman and I had a week before Berlin where he uttered four simple words “RUN STRONG, BREATHE EASY.” As we went deeper into that conversation it became clear what the mission was and to focus solely on that and not my surroundings come race day. Iman ‘So Swanky” Smith is one of those runners that brings a wealth of knowledge to the run game and when he pours that information into you it would be in your best interest to listen.
MSM: When we launched this magazine I kept a shortlist of runners that were a must to get into the magazine. You were on that list as you are a person with solid insight as a runner. Obviously, that insight is not something that is built overnight but more so through experience. As runners, people we usually meet very rarely get to know our early run journeys, the struggles that led to the successes. What was it that drew Swanky into the run game?
Swanky: What drew me to the run game? Challenge and Success. What was the beginning like for me? Character building. I ran a lot…I mean every day. I obsessed over the action. I had to get my confidence up. I didn’t know about run crews, the right shoes, proper hydration, none of that! I was just running.
MSM: As runners people we usually meet very rarely get to know our early run journeys, the struggles that led to the successes. What was the beginning like for you?
Swanky: Running was always in my life. As a kid in North Carolina, we would always use racing as a decision breaker. I ran track in high school. I was in the Army, you run everywhere, lol. Running has always been in my life. I never knew it would have made such an impact in my life back then.
MSM: You’re part of the Black Roses crew. We were blessed with Vexy’s presence a few months back. One thing I picked up was the very strong mental wherewithal with the group as you all push your mental barriers, which seems like it’s one of the main staples of the group. Give us some examples of how you all prepare mentally?
Swanky: I mean we are all different in that respect. Mad love to the ROSES. We train a very certain way. I can only speak to my mental preparedness. For me it was meditation coupled with our training practices. Our sessions (training/workouts) are designed to push you mentally. So coming into practice you already have to be in a certain place mentally. I could talk about it all day. I’ll say this, “we PB 5k’s at our 3 x 5k session”- it’s practice though!!! Like who runs their fastest 5k at practice?? Our fearless leader and coach sets the tone before we start each session, [and] with that, we move accordingly. So, to answer the question, some of us meditate, while others focus on the session, some listen to music, one thing for sure knowing that your teammates are showing up to get their ass kicked too, always helps mentally.
MSM: Throughout my run journey one of my biggest struggles was not being able to focus on race day which is something I still struggle with at times. I have a habit of dipping in and out of focus while running. Back in 2019, we had a conversation two weeks before Berlin where I heard you utter the words “RUN STRONG, BREATHE EASY.” From that conversation, Berlin essentially turned into a breeze as I finally obtained my sub-4. If you were to ask me about the course or what I saw, I honestly can’t tell you. That’s how laser-focused I was…essentially I felt like I was in a trance. When did you build that habit as a runner? What was that race where it all clicked for you where running strong and breathing easy essentially became second nature?
Swanky: I’d have to say “Run Strong Breathe Easy” was birthed during my first marathon. The Brooklyn Marathon 2016 by NYC RUNS where I was hurting, so I said it to myself “You know how people look when they are beat up from the run? YOU’RE NOT GONNA LOOK LIKE THAT! RUN STRONG BREATHE EASY.” This mantra was my way of not looking beat up. It became second nature when Knox said to me before my first NYCM in 2017, “You’re a strong runner, you don’t have to run on emotion.” From that day it was all about looking and feeling strong as I ran. So anytime the run got tough, I’d say “Run Strong Breathe Easy.” I started hash-tagging it, I’d tell my clients as well during sessions if I saw them struggling. It became more than words, it’s become an action, a way to move.
“Always remember you are bigger than you think. Thoughts are things. It’s imperative you keep a positive self-image. Smile, laugh, cry, dance, live. We only get one shot at this…DO YOU AND BE HAPPY”
MSM: The training cycles are very important from a physical standpoint as we need it to gain strength to run the miles. But I do feel as runners we tend to not focus on the most important thing which is the mental part of the race, essentially training our minds to be as strong as can be. Take us through some of the preparedness of Iman. How do you prepare to mentally tune in on race day?
Swanky: Most of my long runs are treated like race day scenarios in my mind. I’m visualizing the run and the effort for that day. I see me running the time. I see it on my watch as I cross the finish line. How do I know what time I will run? I don’t. I have a range based on training runs, what the day could hold. So I focus on the best effort and desired result.
MSM: This kind of leads into my next thought of preparedness, so let’s go back to the Sir Chinmoy Marathon. For our readers, this is a place runners go to chase and qualify to capture that ‘unicorn’. A few years ago you caught it with time to spare as you ran a 2:58. You mentioned where you were focused throughout the race but you cracked. How did you crack or what was it that caused you to break character? 2:58 is an awesome time but I’m sure you thought afterward of how to improve.
Swanky: That was a magical day. The day went as we planned and trained for as any coach and athlete looking for a desired result. The goal was to come in under 3, smooth and with something left in the tank, not exhausted. That’s what I did. However, I did “crack” as I described, I had a break in mental focus. I mean it happens. For me it was more about knowing I had finally unlocked the code in the race and how to achieve a desired result. It played over in my mind all my training runs, all sessions with ROSES, everything me and Knox talked about in regards to running and racing. It all came down on me, like a wave of emotions, while in the last mile of the race in the midst of my calves cramping. It seemed like what felt like forever as I was moving towards the finish line. All of sudden I came back to the race. I was looking at the greenway and the clock ticking down…I crossed at 2:58:51, a Personal Best.
I fell to the ground and prayed as I always do, only this time with tears in my eyes. I remember Knox coming to me, he asked “You good?” I looked up and said, “Yeah Sensei, thank you, it could have been faster.” We laughed, then he replied, “ You can’t be mad at your fastest time to date, even if it is a soft PR.” I finished 16th overall. The year before I DNF’d the same race. I didn’t follow the plan we made the eventual plan we followed for this race. So I felt proud, even though I felt like I cracked looking back, I was being human. I ran a smooth sub-3 and learned how to do it again and help folks do it as well.
MSM: What I find super appreciative of you is you hold a wealth of knowledge and information and you’re very big on paying that information forward. You’re also a run coach. Take us through some of the practices that you put towards your run clients?
Swanky: It’s simple. WE are all TRAINING. Therefore, my clients get a program similar to the one I use. The exception is only based on skill. I meet you where you are and we work from there. So, to answer the question, mindfulness, strength and endurance building are my core practices.
MSM: For our readers, and runners in the city that may be looking for their next run coach, where can they connect with Iman?
MSM: Now we cant continue this interview without acknowledging the fly gear you’ve been putting out these past few years. You’re a designer, clothier and a man of fashion. Which also means staying on top of the trends and setting THE TREND. Take us through some of the dope gear you put out and some of the work behind it?
Swanky: Man……let’s see…I’m currently working on a new collection of hats and tees based on the Champagne region of France. I’m not a big drinker but when I do drink….it’s champagne. My goal with all my clothing is to provoke thought. Clothing is art in my opinion. So this collection will explore that region with graphics and artwork derived from research on Champagne the drink and its importance to culture.
MSM: Take us through some of your fashion background.
Swanky: I started making clothing back in 2005 I worked with a brand called Stacks & Bundles. I did marketing and assisted the head graphic designer with ideas. From there I learned how to sew on my own and started making bags etc. SOSWANKY is a culmination of years of working for and with other brands in street wear.
MSM: As a runner I have to ask what the chances are that we’ll see some run gear from So Swanky. We wouldn’t mind representing on race day whenever it returns.
Swanky: SWNKYVSN RUNNING WORLDWIDE SUMMER 21..stay tuned!
MSM: Covid life hit the running community pretty hard, what have you been doing to keep yourself occupied as a runner?
Swanky: I started creating versus lamenting about what once was. I took time off from running and I didn’t feel bad about it. I needed a break. We don’t know when to stop until our body makes us. That’s not the right idea. I decided it was okay to not run and create, so I did. It felt great. We are multidimensional beings. We should always act as such. We often put on blinders and that could lead to burnout in certain areas of life. So I chose to create.
MSM: From us here at Mid Strike, it’s been a pleasure and we hope to link up with you on the pavement soon!
Swanky: Yes!! I’d love that. Training season is upon us…LINK UP!!
MSM: Any last words you’d like to share with our readers.
Swanky: Always remember you are bigger than you think. Thoughts are things. It’s imperative you keep a positive self-image. Smile, laugh, cry, dance, live. We only get one shot at this…DO YOU AND BE HAPPY!
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