On Monday, April 21, more than 35,000 people will participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon, including 5,633 runners who were stopped before they could reach the finish line in 2013, as well as others who have pledged to run as a gesture of resilience after last year’s finish line bombing. One of those will be Mike Burnstein (pictured above, on left), a Washington University graduate and co-founder of the charitable running-apparel company Janji, who placed 68th in the 2013 Boston Marathon. We recently caught up with Burnstein to ask him about running in St. Louis, about his company (which he created with fellow Wash U runner Dave Spandorfer; pictured above, on right) and returning to the Boston Marathon.
As you know, we’re a St. Louis-based outdoor sports publication, so let’s start with your connection to the Gateway City. Are you from here or have family here?
I came to St. Louis to attend college at Wash U and absolutely loved my time there.
We spoke with Dave at the recent GO! St. Louis Expo, and he said you were both on the cross country team. Is that how you met?
Dave was actually the one who recruited me, eventually convincing me to join him at Wash U. I guess I knew Dave was a good salesmen well before we ever talked about starting a business!
Once I joined him on the Wash U cross country team, we became really good friends as well as training partners.
Tell us about your experience on the cross country team. Do you have any favorite memories?
We had some amazing times. One season in particular stands out, which was my sophomore year. The team had just come off a really brutal season where we were one of the worst teams in our conference.
On paper, the returning team shouldn’t have gotten much better, but things just sort of clicked for us that year. A bunch of guys who were perennially injured somehow managed to stay healthy. I got pneumonia midway through the season, but managed to come back strong at the end.
We ended up qualifying for nationals for the first time in a while as a team, and ended up running tough on a muddy course to finish a then school best seventh in the country. The results were impressive, but more than anything, the season just had a magical feeling to it unlike any I’ve ever experienced.
How would you describe the running conditions in St. Louis? Did you have any favorite places to run?
Running in St. Louis was great. Wash U is located right on Forest Park, which is the country’s largest metropolitan park…or at least it’s up there.
My favorite memories of running in St. Louis come from summer long runs at Castlewood State Park, where we could run on seemingly endless trails. Then, after running, we always capped it off with an ice bath in a cold stream followed by a bunch of junk food from a nearby Quick Trip gas station. Dang, I’m getting all nostalgic just thinking about it.
The only downside to St. Louis running was the miserable summer humidity, but in the end, I think forcing myself to get up before the unbearable heat helped build discipline.
We hear that St. Louis has a warm and tight-knit running community. Would you agree? How would you compare it to the running community in Boston?
The running communities are very different, and both have been great to be a part of. St. Louis was a much smaller pond, which was really nice. It was easy to get to know all the familiar faces at road races or along the path at Forest Park. It was also really cool seeing the running community grow over my short time there.
Boston has a much larger scene that can sometimes feel overwhelming. There are a ton of very strong running clubs, along with a booming casual jogging scene. Over time, the running scene here starts to feel smaller and more manageable. Its awesome, because there are a ton of really fast, serious post-grad runners all living within a small range, so its easy to meet people for runs without having to drive.
Speaking of Boston, we understand you finished 68th overall in the Boston Marathon last year. It must have been an exciting yet terrible race for you. Can you tell us your feelings about the event looking back a year later?
Yeah, I’ve never felt such a drastic switch of emotion—from complete elation, combined with exhaustion, to fear and panic. It was a really scary day.
And what are your feelings looking forward to this year’s event? It has to be a mixed bag of emotions.
I’m really trying to see this year’s race as an opportunity to celebrate in a way that wasn’t possible last year. The Boston Marathon should always be seen as a celebration of our sport. Yes, this year’s race will have somewhat of a somber tone, as it should when remembering last year’s tragedy, but at the same time I think it’s important to try and make it a really happy day for the city.
I’m sure you will be representing Janji at the marathon as well as yourself. Tell us how and when your company got started.
Janji was a company I started in college with my teammate Dave. We’re a running-apparel brand dedicated to helping people around the world with nutrition and access to clean water.
How does the philanthropic part of Janji work and who does it benefit?
Every piece of Janji apparel is inspired by a different country around the globe, including Haiti, Kenya, Peru, the U.S. and more. Ten percent of the revenue from each piece we sell gets donated to a partnering organization that we’ve handpicked in each country, as they are the best at providing innovative solutions related to nutrition or clean water. You can learn more about each partnering organization on our website, runjanji.com.
Where can runners get Janji gear, and what’s new and exciting on the product front right now.
You can find our full line at RunJanji.com We just released a new Boston tee, which features a distinctive letter-press design.
Each shirt helps provide eight meals to a Boston-based family through the Greater Boston Food Bank.
It seems the reaction to Janji has been outstanding. How gratifying is that to you and Dave?
It’s always amazing when we meet runners who are passionate about what we do. There are a lot of runners who, like us, see running as a way to change the world.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment with regard to Janji or running?
Just getting Janji off the ground with no real funding or experience…I’m really proud of that.
Do you get back to St. Louis any more? What do you enjoy doing when you’re back?
I’ll be back for some weddings this summer, which will be fun. I like to visit old friends and professors, as well as eat at my old favorite spots. Also, definitely a long run at Castlewood!
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor of Terrain magazine.
Images: Courtesy of Janji, www.runjanji.com