Natural Born Runners: An Interview with Knox Robinson

Knox Robinson is a runner, writer and coach based in New York. He is co-founder of Black Roses a NYC running collective. His writing has inspired many people throughout the globe to adapt running to their every day life. Aire Libre had the opportunity to talk to him as he was invited to its first expedition in running through the Sonora desert and meeting with the Seri community.

Human beings we are born runners. We don’t have a choice or a say in it. It has been in our nature ever since the beginning of our history. We have been running to seek refuge, for transportation, to hunt. Running is embedded in our instinct.   

As time passed by, however, running stopped being a necessity. Hence, we forgot that it was part of our faculties as human beings. It became an exercise; a competition; a training; a life style only for those who chose to take it. We forgot that every person with moving legs has the ability to run. 

Knox Robinson, the New York runner is a firm believer that running is not about competition and excellence, but a meditation that brings together the emotional and physical; it is a way to solve problems and become more tolerant towards life obstacles.

He grew up in Southern California where he saw his father run marathons every Sunday. “I cried every time my dad lost”, says Knox laughing. “Then some silly kid would come up to me and say something like: “my dad beat your dad” and I would cry even harder”. To Knox, however, more than a competition, running was something one did without questioning why, “to me it was pretty obvious: you go to work and once you’re out you meet your friends to go for a run and then do marathons on Sundays”, he says. As opposed to many, Knox grew up knowing that every human being is born a runner.

- Knox contemplating Isla Tiburon in a small virgin beach, during a quick rest after running 42km. 

- Knox contemplating Isla Tiburon in a small virgin beach, during a quick rest after running 42km. 

When asked when he realized he was a good runner, Knox replies immediately: “I’m got a good runner. Actually I have always been surrounded by the best and I am far from being one of them. I was part of the track team in high school and university and the guys there were truly the best runners in the world, like part of the American Olympic team. This is why I have developed a relationship with running where it is more about understanding the philosophy of it than being the best, if we are talking excellency there are plenty of guys out there much better than I am”.

Occidental culture has mostly grown accustomed to mask pain, believing both physical and mental problems can be controlled with medication. Pills are prescribed in order to help ease aching until eventually none is felt. According to Knox, pain should not be suppressed but rather understood and worked on. “Running is a great way to solve problems because it involves both a physical and emotional effort. For example, if you have a problem and an hour run ahead of you, you can probably solve that problem within the first ten minutes of the run. The problem then is what to do with the remaining 50 minutes”. While running one begins to understand the different ways and levels in which pain manifests by developing a deep relationship between will and conscience: one can control what is in one’s power.

In order to understand the mechanisms to solve our own problems it is crucial to leave the comfort zone. Aire Libre aims to solve them outdoors: “When I heard about Aire Libre what captured me the most was the fact that these guys came from a creative background in Mexico City and wished to leave their comfort zone to understand other backgrounds, people and places. They were not afraid to expose their vulnerability and that is a quality very hard to find”, says Knox.  

While arriving in the Sonora desert, Knox remembered his childhood. He remembered camping with his family and - to a certain extent - it was like coming back to a place that had been trapped in his memory.

Knox arrived with no expectations. He knew he would run 90 kilometers and that he would visit the Seri community. Nonetheless, his intention was never to understand this experience through an anthropological analysis, but to make a connection from human to human. On this matter Knox remarks, “It’s weird because I read all I could about the Seris before the trip, but once you’re there the experience is entirely different, there is nothing like actual contact. For me it was really impressive to see that even though time has passed, their gene pool is still really strong and so is their culture. For example, they say the Seris are linguistic isolates, their language doesn’t relate to any other, I have read that the only people they feel a connection to are the Apaches in North America and even though they have been growing very few people remain having that knowledge and that is a privilege”.

Aire Libre aims to bring an experience created through a connection; understanding ourselves in the environment that we are exposed to. Knox concludes by saying: “We often forget that when we run we are vulnerable; all we have are our running shoes and clothes, therefore you get exposed to your surroundings: buildings, people, cars, mountains, rocks…That’s the beauty of it: to understand who you are in the immensity of it all”.

Interview by Sofia Cerda

Photos by: Daniel Almazán Klinckwort