The act of running is deceptively simple and the great runners make it look effortless, even when they are pushing as hard as they can. It’s all about form and efficiency. And when a runner really gets going, for an instant, neither of their feet is touching the ground. It’s as if they are flying.
So, here’s Noah Droddy, back in his hometown of Indianapolis, sitting in the lobby of the new Hampton Inn on the corner of West Street and Vermont. It’s the night before the Indy Mini, a 13.1-mile run that starts in front of the Indiana State Museum and rolls out to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where it does a lap around the iconic track, and then comes back to finish near Military Park. For many this is the start of the “Month of May,” when Hoosiers start thinking about racing every weekend.
The past year has been a bit up and down for Droddy. Without question, he’s one of the very best long-distance runners to come out of Indianapolis, and a guy with a unique look—at most start lines you’ll find him with a beefy mustache, hat on backward, sunglasses, and (until recently) rock-star-looking long hair.
For most runners, the Indy Mini is a test of will and a personal challenge, but for Droddy and the other 30 elite runners lined up, this race is part of the USA Track and Field Championships. It’s a chance for Droddy to get his groove back racing. Here’s a brief conversation with Droddy:
Richard McCoy: Welcome back to Indy and good luck in the race!
Noah Droddy: Thanks! The race just popped up a couple of weeks ago, and so I wasn’t planning on doing the USATF Half Marathon Championship until they announced the location, so it was kind of a no-brainer. I don’t know that this has ever been part of the Indy Mini, so it’s really cool. It’s my first race of the year, and the start of what I hope is a much busier racing calendar now that we’re out of the pandemic.
RM: How are you feeling?
ND: Good! I had an injury over the winter, but recently I’ve had enough solid training to feel optimistic, I guess. But physically the saying is to never really judge how you’re feeling on a run until you’re two miles into it, and then that’s when you decide how you feel. The night before is really just about calming the nerves and mental prep. Tomorrow, I just have to let the race play out the way it’s going to play out.
RM: You’re racing others, but in another way, you’re just competing against yourself, right?
ND: Yeah, that’s the beauty of the sport and why it’s accessible to everyone. Not everyone will be competing to win the race—there are tens of thousands of people out there who are fighting their own internal battle and racing their own, personal championship. This is what makes it a relatable sport. What makes the racing community so cool is that we’re all on the same course. At Lucas Oil, you don’t get to go in the huddle and be with the players, but here you can run behind the elite runners. And we’re pretty accessible to fans after the race, which makes it all a cool environment.
RM: But you all make it look so effortless, while it feels like the rest of us are really struggling! Does it feel that effortless to you?
ND: No! It usually feels like hell. I’ve been training at a high level for a long time and so there’s a natural ability that I have. I’m a runner and I can appear fluid and smooth, but the point of racing is to always be on the limit of what you can do. And when you’re on the limit, it’s never comfortable. You just hope you can endure it as long as possible and then maybe have a little something at the end. People that have followed my career have seen me puke on just about every finish line I’ve ever crossed. It may look effortless at the start but I’m usually coming apart at the seams by the end. So, if you want to see that, just hang out at the end of the race.
RM: Some big changes for you over the past few years?
ND: A lot of changes over the last couple of years. I got married to fellow runner Emma Kertesz, which has been awesome. And it was time for the long hair to go. I left the band Bury Mia because I really didn’t have time to commit to it. I grew up in Irvington playing in bands, so it was nice to revisit that experience for a while, though.
RM: What were some of your Indianapolis bands?
ND: I played in a band called “Pleasant Run” and another called “Where’s the Cake,” which we actually traveled a bit with. We would load up my mom’s van and head to Ohio for a night. In Indy we played the Irving, the Emerson, and a couple of all-ages clubs that aren’t around anymore.
RM: Do you have childhood memories of the Indianapolis 500?
ND: My family isn’t huge race fans, but we would jump on the bandwagon, and I have been to the race a few times. It always rained which is a brutal time at the 500. Other years we’d put it on the radio in our living room and you could hear the cars from our backyard. I don’t think I ever cared who won, but it was pretty cool.
RM: Have you done the Mini before and run around the track?
ND: No! And here people just call it the “Mini,” and every other race outside of Indy is known as a Half Marathon. I’m not sure people even know or care that it’s a half marathon. Here it’s just the Mini. People used to ask me if I’ve run a Mini anywhere else, thinking it’s a ubiquitous term. When I was in college I had pretty good 5k and 10k times, but people only wanted to know my Mini times. And when I would tell people I hadn’t run the Mini people wouldn’t take me as seriously. I’m looking forward to the experience of running around the track tomorrow. This is actually my first professional race in my hometown. Without the USATF Championship being here, I don’t know that I would have run this race until I retired from professional racing.
RM: The month of May in Indianapolis is all about traditions. Do you have anything special that you’re going to do before the race?
ND: I don’t think so. I’ve done this so many times and the race starts at 7:35 am so I don’t have a lot of time for morning rituals. Tonight I’ll look back through my training log, which I’ve kept since 2008, which will give me the confidence to see that I’ve done things that were hard. I can see that I ran all of those miles and that those miles are in my legs. Tomorrow it will be difficult to race, but I’m capable, right. Tomorrow morning will be about building confidence and settling my mind.
RM: How about any advice for us more casual runners?
ND: What’s interesting is that what a lot of professional or elite runners do is applicable to everybody. I like to make positive, reassuring statements to myself during the race. I’ll talk out loud to myself. Running is hard, especially knowing that you have a long way to go. I’ll usually just have a couple of one-liners for myself, like “you can do this,” or “this is easy.” There’s just something reassuring about hearing it out loud. I think most runners have some kind of mantra, and for me, it can break a negative thought spiral to say it out loud. Another thing you can do is avoid getting so narrowly focused on what’s happening within you, turn your attention outwards, and look around. One of the beauties of this race is that you get to run around the track. So take in the experience around you.
The next morning Droddy finished in 6th Place at the USATF Championship at the Mini. He has a Mini time, and even led the race heading onto the track. He said on Instagram that this was a good result for him given his fitness level after an injury last year.