On The Podium: Robert and Josi
By Denise Sechelski
Six world major marathons—Berlin, Chicago, New York, Tokyo, Boston, London—in 19 months.
“Actually, no, it was eight marathons. We did Santa Rosa and CIM [California International Marathon], too,” Robert Canik said, adjusting the total race count.
Then as he contemplated doing a marathon roughly every seven weeks, he concluded, “That’s just dumb!”
Yet that is what Robert Canik and Josi Zhou did from 2016 to 2018 when they completed the Abbott World Marathon Majors.
Robert and Josi have logged thousands of miles together—in the air as well as on the trail. They met when they both worked for National Instruments: Josi lived and worked in Shanghai, and Robert traveled there often from Austin. When Josi began running four years ago, Robert (a runner for a decade with a marathon PR of 3:17) ran with her when he was in China and then coached her remotely from Austin. Josi moved to Austin in 2015, and they have been running together, now in the same place at the same time, ever since.
But while there are lots of running buddies, not many put the six world major marathons on their runner’s bucket list. Robert ran his first marathon in 2010 (Austin) and joined Gazelles a few years later. Josi made her first effort at 26.2 in Southern California in 2016 at the Mountains to Beach Marathon—and qualified for Boston. Robert paced Josi in that race, but she finished alone since Robert had just run Boston a few weeks before. They started logging marathon races together and realized in 2017 that they had already run three of the world majors: Boston, Berlin, and New York. “So we thought, let’s do this. Let’s do the other three,” Robert said.
Completing such a rigorous training and racing schedule presents a list of challenges.
"The biggest issue is often jet lag," said Robert.
"But we love to travel," Josi added matter-of-factly, “and we travel a lot, so you get used to it." Robert, especially, is an elite at managing the demands of long-distance trips, having traveled extensively for work until he retired two years ago.
Although the travel can be daunting, it also has a tremendous upside. "There's great sightseeing on the courses!” Robert explained. “Many of the marathons are right through the city centers past the big landmarks. Berlin is like that, and London and Tokyo. It makes the race go faster."
Josi chimes in, “And we like to try all the food. Tokyo was a favorite of mine because of the food and drink they had on the course! I had heard there would be miso soup, and I was going to get that soup! It was so good, because the weather was so cold there in February."
But not every marathon is a victory lap together through spectacular urban landscapes. That Tokyo Marathon with the delicious miso soup? Robert was very sick and had to dig deep to cross the finish line ("It's expensive to get to these races, so you don't want a DNF [Did Not Finish]!") But Josi? She hit her marathon PR of 3:30. "No matter how hard you train, you never know how the day is going to go. So you have to be prepared to change your plan,” Josi said.
Their overall plan when the schedule is stacked with marathons is to pace themselves, not just in the race but also between races. Josi explains, “You can't push your time for each race. You have to be patient. We race one, then we run one just for fun. And you still have to adjust, because you never know about race day."
Gilbert and the Gazelles family provide crucial support, especially on days when it’s a struggle to meet their 5:30am group on Far West. The organized training—especially Yassos, their favorite workout—also translates into more confidence on race day. Robert and Josi’s experience has taught them the truth of Coach’s wisdom: "Trust your training. You're ready."
Together they nurture the drive that sent them all over the world running lots and lots and lots of miles. For Josi, motivation is creative: She giggles, "The selfie! It's all about getting the good selfie!" Robert finds motivation through commitment: “Once the race is on the calendar, it's real."
When asked to imagine with whom they would choose to run if they could choose anyone in all of history, they both laugh.
"Not Robert!" Josi exclaims. "Not Josi!" Robert fires back.
But their answers are a joke, of course. The next run together is never too far in the future for these two friends.
Interested in reading more about the Abbott World Marathon Majors? click here.