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Why Matt Hughes left the Bowerman Track Club

Why Hughes left Portland and what his plans are back home

Matt Hughes, the Canadian 3,000m steeplechase record-holder, has decided to leave the Bowerman Track Club. The runner trained with the club, which is located in Portland, Oregon for four years, but he announced his decision to leave last Tuesday via Instagram.


Hughes wrote, “For the past year, the sport that has given me so much joy over my lifetime, the sport I am lucky enough to call my “job,” had simply become that: a job, a chore. I found myself going through the motions instead of approaching training with passion. Simply, I’ve realized after a lot of reflection, I fell out of love with running, losing the fire to compete. I found myself seeking happiness through performances, thinking that running fast or winning a certain race would ultimately make me happy, but I’ve learned that’s not the way it works. In running and in life, you need to find happiness in the daily process, whether that’s training or just living, before you can enjoy the end result.”

Matt Hughes (centre) and Alex Genest on the podium after finishing first and second in the 3,000m steeplechase.
Matt Hughes (centre) and Alex Genest on the podium after finishing first and second in the 3,000m steeplechase at Pan Am Games in 2015.

Hughes competed in Montreal last weekend, successfully defending his national steeplechase title and booking his ticket to the World Championships.

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Why he left

The runner says he hasn’t been feeling like himself for some time. “I think I felt for the past year and a half that I’ve been spinning my wheels in the mud. For some reason I wasn’t having the success I thought I could be having. I wasn’t mentally in races. I would get to the start line of races thinking that there were places I’d rather be.”

A lot of that had to do with Madie [Hughes’s fiancée] leaving Portland, where they were living together. Hughes explains, “She had to leave the States last year, which meant that we weren’t seeing each other much.” Runners travel for about eight months of the year. Between altitude camps and races, they’re almost always on the road, so if you’re traveling all the time and you also don’t live in the same place as your partner, it can be tough. But Hughes says it wasn’t just the distance from his fiancée, it was also that his mindset towards running had shifted. “I wasn’t enjoying the process of running or training any more. I was purely seeking validation through performances. But even if races went well, I wasn’t happy.”

Hughes says there needed to be changes in his life, and leaving Bowerman was step one in that process. “I need more of a balance. I still don’t know exactly what that balance looks like or what I’m searching for, but I know that I want to enjoy the day-to-day aspects of training again. The last two years, running has felt like a job, which it didn’t used to.”

If Hughes looks back on his 2016 Olympic experience, he believes that his difficulties with running started there. “I’d heard and read about the Olympic hangover, and I think I was in a bit of a depression post-Olympics, which I didn’t realize at the time. Rio wasn’t really what I thought it was going to be. Several things went wrong for me, and because it [the Olympics] didn’t live up to my expectations, I wasn’t happy after it was over.” Hughes finished 10th at the games.


Future plans

Going forward, Hughes is going to live and train in Toronto. He says he will be advised by Dave Reid, someone he has a longstanding relationship with. “In 2015 I started to develop a relationship with Dave. Him and Eddy [Raposo] would come out to a lot of my workouts when I was in Toronto. They’ve almost been two cheerleaders for me. In the immediate future I will bounce training ideas off of Dave and ask for his input. I know he’s going to be honest with me and help me through training.”

The Bowerman Track Club is one of the most accomplished track clubs in the world, with members ranging from world champions to world major marathon winners. Hughes says with a group that talented, it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. “The group is so big and successful that you could start to feel a little disconnected. It’ll be nice to have Dave’s full attention going forward, so that he can help me be successful and I can start enjoying the process again.”


Feeling better

Last week Hughes officially left one of the most successful groups in track and field and made the World Championship team. That’s a lot to process in one week, but he says he feels like there’s been a huge weight lifted off of his shoulders. “My old situation wasn’t fair to lots of people. It wasn’t fair to myself because I wasn’t happy, it wasn’t fair to Madie, and it wasn’t fair to the group [Bowerman] to not be fully invested.”

Hughes said he woke up the morning of his race at nationals and for the first time in a long time, really enjoyed running. “I found this really nice long trail along the river and went for my shakeout there. It was just supposed to be a short shakeout but I ended up going for five or six miles because I was really enjoying myself. That was the first time in a long time that I enjoyed a training run for what it was.”