Olympic Dreams: Populous Designer, International Athlete
April 9, 2020
Populous product designer Nick Caprario is an elite marathon runner with dreams of one day making the US Olympic team. Here he explains how running has given him an edge in the design world.
Nick Caprario is among the fastest marathon runners in the United States. In February 2020 he competed in the US Olympic marathon trials, posting a very impressive time of two hours, 22 minutes, 59 seconds – just 21 minutes behind Eliud Kipchoge’s world record. Nick’s personal best is two hours, 16 minutes, one second.
To maintain this speed at long-distance running, he trains daily – sometimes twice a day – logging between 85 and 90 miles a week in the lead-up to a race. And he does all this while juggling a full-time job as a product designer in Populous’s Kansas City office.
It was Nick’s mother who sparked his interest in the sport. Even as a kid, he would accompany her to the local athletics track where they ran laps together and competed over short distances. “I think she was just trying to get me active,” he remembers. “We’d run a lap, and she’d let me win. We would often do that as I was growing up. By the end of it, she was the one trying to keep up.”
Nick never possessed the fast-twitch muscles of a sprinter. But long-distance running came naturally. He excelled at both cross-country and middle-distance athletics throughout middle school and went on to join the track and field team in his freshman year at high school. It was at this point that things “became more serious”. His training intensified and, in his senior year, he was runner-up in the state-wide cross-country, two-mile and one-mile races.
Not surprisingly, his prowess on the track attracted scholarship offers from a number of universities. But only one, the University of Kansas, allowed him to combine competitive running with his other great passion in life: design. “They had the right mix for me,” Nick explains. “They had an industrial design programme, which isn’t offered at a lot of public universities in America; usually it’s just at art schools. And I really wanted to run at the highest level for collegiate sport.”
Now 31 years old, Nick has forged a successful career in the design world, working briefly for an agency in Kansas City before joining Populous’s in-house brand activation team five years ago. His work for the firm includes conceptual designs for the Fiserv Forum arena (home of NBA team Milwaukee Bucks) and, more recently, a custom-designed stage for Esports Stadium Arlington, America’s largest purpose-built e-sports facility.
For most, the gruelling and intensive training schedule of an elite marathon runner would be impossible alongside full-time work. But Nick sees the two disciplines complementing each other perfectly. Distance running, he explains, strips you down to your core, taking you to a place where there is no one to rely on but yourself. And in that sense, it’s akin to the vulnerability felt in design work. The more that Nick achieves in his running, the more confidence he gains in his professional life, proving to himself there is nothing he can’t achieve if he puts his mind to it.
He is also a firm believer in the benefits of running as a mindfulness exercise. “To me it’s a perfect distraction from my day-to-day routine of working life,” he says. “It’s like a mini-vacation every day. It breaks you out of your head and re-centres you. A lot of the time during runs I’m figuring out little things about certain designs. That helps me work through those problems more quickly when I come back to them.”
So what does he think of his performance in the US Olympic trials? “I hate to be super negative about it, but you have to look at the numbers and realise there are a lot of guys who are doing this full time. I think I could eventually get to a point where I’m running with those guys but it’s just going to take me a little longer.
“I joke that just getting to the trials is my Olympics. I’m super humbled. I’ve got to remind myself that, for me, that’s one of my greater running achievements.”