Jacqueline Sloves on Running, Philosophy, and the Cadence of Purpose
In a January 30th Breakfast Club newsletter, I interviewed Jaqueline Sloves, a runner based in Oakland and a software engineer for ClassDojo. A native of Fremont, California, Jacqui sports a 3:09 marathon best, served in Ukraine with the Peace Corp, and she wrestled competitively during high school.
Breakfast Club: “You are the second person we've interviewed who wrestled in high school! Was there a women's wrestling team at your school?"
Jacqueline Sloves: "Technically yes, but I was one of two women on the team. I was on the cusp of 98-103-pound weight class. And I ended up wrestling 103, and often wrestled boys. I grew up in Fremont and went to Washington High School. The impetus for joining the wrestling team is I wanted to win a "White Sweater Award."
BC: What is the White Sweater Award?
JS: It is a coveted award at my high school: a white sweater—it's a hideous garment actually—which you earned if you competed in varsity sports from sophomore through senior year for eight of the nine seasons (fall, winter, spring). My freshman year, I only played softball. So I was the small scrappy one on the team. I played mainly second base. But by the time I reached high school, everyone had grown larger and I was not enjoying it as much. So when I quit, I needed to make it up with another sport. I chose wrestling.
"Wrestling guys was uncomfortable. Everyone is so awkward at that age, but then to be literally wrestling a boy is just... uncomfortable. As a girl, if you win a match against a guy, people react: "Woah! Take it easy, girl. That's a bit too intense!" And then people rag the guy: "Well, you just lost to a girl." Conversely, if you lose as a girl, people said, "Well, you're just a girl," and that's insulting, also. It's sorta lose-lose."
BC: "Yeah, there's all this cultural baggage on top of the physical differences of sex. Are there overlaps between wrestling and running? From my outside perspective, watching a hard-fought match looks similar to the carnage of a finish line. How does wrestling compare to a running race?"
JS: "The similarities are in the mental aspects. Wrestling matches are split into three 20-minute rounds. It only lasts six minutes, but it is an intense effort. By the end of it, you are so exhausted. In running it is just you, your body, and your mind. In wrestling, it is you and your body, but your body is literally shoved up against another body, that's trying to beat you.
"Running just has a flexibly individual physical aspect: you can do it socially, you can do it competitively, or you can just do it for your self."
BC: So you ran track and cross country in high school, but then studied at Berkeley for undergrad. Did you have any aspirations to run in college?
JS: "I did track and cross country in high school. On the track, I ran the 800, 1600, two-mile, and the 4x400. My senior year I actually played around a little bit on the pole vault. I spoke with a few D3 coaches. If I had run in college, I probably would have ended up at Pomona... in which case, maybe I would have become friends with all these That's Fine Track Club people! But, my parents didn't run, no one in my family ran. So I didn't grow up with it or have a sense of what the trajectory could be. And when I got into Berkeley, I was just excited about the school. I focused on life and classes; I studied philosophy and environmental economics.
BC: "What drew you to philosophy? Did you take an intro course?"
JS: "I took an intro course and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to do philosophy and psychology, but with the encouragement of my father <laughs>. He thought maybe I should study a little bit of a 'harder' science."
BC: "Were there philosophers you were drawn to?"
JS: "I was really into Hume. I took a seminar on him. I also took a seminar comparing Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer was really pessimistic about human life. But I ended up reading a few pieces he wrote on human compassion that were enjoyable and stand out in my memory. And Nietzsche was so poetic in his writing. Thus Spoke Zarathustra was just cool. But in general I liked reading short essays on personal identity, you know, "What is the self?" The analytical stuff deconstructing language and logic was neat, but I would say it is tough to answer the question, 'Who is your favorite philosopher?'"
BC: "Yeah, fair enough. And, for me at least, that stuff has a bit of a half-life, especially the debates and the stakes of the conversation. How did you get back into running?
JS: "I was uninvolved in running until I did a summer forestry program in 2009, where I joined thirty other Berkeley college students for classes in a research station that Berkeley owns up in the Sierras. A few students were training for a marathon in Tahoe. I started running with them that summer. By the end of the term, I had done all these long runs of sixteen to twenty miles, longer than I had ever run before. These folks said, 'Jacquie, you trained with us all summer... you should run the marathon with us.' So I was in and raced it!"
"I was on 3:20 pace for the first ten miles. I was excited and I had no idea how to pace myself. I felt good. So in sum: really fast first half... reallllyyy slow second half. I ended up finishing in 3:50, but it made me love running.
"A year after that first race I did my next marathon, the 2010 Nike Women's Marathon in SF. I met someone who training more seriously. She thought I had a good shot at qualifying for Boston: "If you ran 3:50 without knowing what you were doing, I think you can qualify for Boston if you train with a bit more intention." So that became my goal. I qualified and hit Boston. And since then it's been one or two marathons a year. Except for a break when I was in Ukraine for the Peace Corps."
BC: "That's right you served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. Was this before the war started?"
JS: "Yeah. I lived in a small farming village, where people were harvesting potatoes for exercise. Running was just not part of the culture. People would yell at me, "Jaqueline! Why are you running when you could be helping us chop wood?" I joined the Peace Corps because I was disillusioned with work. You know, being a philosophy major I didn't really have a clear transition into a career."
BC: "Yeah, disillusionment comes free with a philosophy major."
JS: "Hah. I was in the center of Ukraine, a lot of Soviet influence was still around. The further west you go, the more European it feels. The further east, the more people identify with Russia. I didn't know Ukrainian, but Peace Corps has really phenomenal language training program. The first ten weeks when you are sent to a country, they teach you about that country's culture and education system. You are also put in these small groups with a family for an immersive experience in a tiny village. And then you get four hours of language instruction everyday. It's really grueling. I was so tired everyday because my brain was working so hard to learn a new language.
"I picked eastern Europe as my preference for service because most of my ancestry is from there. I thought it was interesting and, being closer to Europe, I thought, 'Hey eastern Europe... what could possibly go wrong?' Yeah, whoops."
BC: "You were there when the geo-political turmoil that began began?"
JS: "I was there when Euromaidan began at the Independence Square in Kiev. I was supposed to be there for two year, but they sent us back after one year when the violence began. Eventually I ended up back here, and eventually settled back into the running routine."
BC: "What's the allure of running for you? What are your motivations?"
JS: "The running community is a huge part of it. I used to just run alone, which is fine. It was my meditative space; I've always intrinsically loved getting out there and clearing the mind. But it also feels really good to be working toward something. I like the cadence of having something you are training for and then cooling off from. It really grounds me in all the other aspects of my life. If I'm waking up and going running, I feel better about my day, my job, and my relationships."
BC: "Ok, so you are a NorCal native. Where is your favorite place to run in the East Bay?"
JS: "There is something about the Berkeley fire trail behind campus. It feels so good once you get past the steep incline and reach the bench. There is this huge view of the Bay; it's so nice. I also have a soft spot for the fire trail because I'm very routine with my runs. I pick a route and I could do that everyday. If it weren't for other people, I'd probably run the same route everyday. So that was my general route in college: up to the bench and back down.
"More recently, I love running Lake Merritt. I could just do laps all day. I like the busyness, I like the people watching, I like the bird watching. And I think it has the most beautiful sunrise views; I love the feeling of a city waking up with my being out there with it."
BC: "You've been here your entire life. You grew up in Fremont, which is a more suburban area, but now live here. Do you have some sense of how the region has changed?"
JS: "My dad is a program manager for large tech companies, but it never felt like that was the primary industry here. But since getting into tech myself, it is all I see. That has pros and cons. Everything seems like it has gotten more trendy. There's such an emphasis on different one-off fusion restaurants and cafes that are cooperatively owned. I love that, but it's such an interesting tension between these big tech companies rooted here, but then individually or family-owned bakery, restaurants, and studios."
BC: "Imagine you've got a rather hard, long run ahead of you and you need to wear some reliable shoes that will work for you. Do you have a pair of shoes that are your "go to" shoes?"
JS: "I've only ran in one shoe since high school. I was fitted for a pair of shoes in high school cross country at Fleet Feet in Pleasanton. I was fitted for a pair of Mizuno Wave Riders and I've never wavered since."
BC: Any upcoming races? JS: Kaiser Half-Marathon... but I'm just running for brunch.
BC: "Yeah, me too. Thanks so much for chatting!"
JS: "I'm honored. Thanks!"