01: Kevin Duquette

The Topshelf Records label head talks about accidentally running half-marathons and starting slow.

I’m Arielle Gordon, a music journalist and (very) amateur runner. Running Up That Hill is a newsletter in which I try to connect those two things by interviewing folks in the broader music world about their running habits, tips, and tricks.

I’m thrilled to interview Kevin Duquette—musician, runner, and Topshelf Records head—to kick off the series. Duquette recently started the Topshelf Running Club, connecting fans through merch and perks like a private Strava group. The club was inspired by a running club he joined in Kyoto, Japan, run by a miniatures purveyor named Mayuka. “The feeling of connectedness you experience when you travel and meet other people, and intertwining your own experience with theirs is, I think, something that is fundamentally lacking in our current time,” he said. “I hope people use the club to connect and meet other people interested in niche music communities and running, and build from there. I really have no idea what I’m doing with it but I figure if a boutique miniature food shop can start one, why can’t a niche record label? So I hope it can help motivate and connect people and just, make people feel good and part of something.”

When did you get into running?

I signed up to play for our hockey team in high school. I had only played pick up games on frozen ponds and tennis courts and didn’t even really know the rules, but I had some friends who played and the team was pretty thin so I made the cut despite barely being able to ever even put a shot on net. I sucked, so bad. The coach had us do off-ice training and conditioning before the season started. A lot of this was basically cross-country—just trail running as a team around the paths in the park and woods around the school. That’s when I realized I loved running—more specifically, I LOVED going faster than everyone else around me. I was gonna absolutely get wrecked on the ice, but while we were running in the woods, I set the pace. It’s probably just the distorting fog of nostalgia, but I think back fondly about these runs a lot.

What’s a typical running schedule for you in a given week? 

Routines are hard for me, for whatever reason. According to my Strava stats, I run 2.7x a week on average. And I guess that feels right to me. I’m usually an evening runner, but I have been more recently starting my day with it. I guess a night time run feels more open ended to me—go as long as you want to, whereas a morning run will inevitably cede it’s time to the scheduled events of the day. When I’m on it, I will go 4-5 days in a row, but sometimes a whole week will go by where I don’t even attempt it. I don’t think about it too much, but I know I always am rejuvenated when I come back to it after a break. It’s more mental than physical as to when I do or don’t.

Do you try to run on tour? What’s that like? 

Yes! It’s my favorite thing. I try to run every day on tour. I do my best to be mindful of the rigors and responsibilities of the road, and so only can do it when whatever I have on my plate is sorted, but I’ve learned to try and prioritize it. 

I feel like it’s a really common thing amongst the touring community to be in a new city and not get to experience anything within it beyond the like, five-block radius around the venue. Sometimes that’s unavoidable because of scheduling and whatnot, but yeah, whenever I can I try and get in a run on tour. I’ve run in almost every state, and dozens of countries around the world. The different sounds, smells, people, scenery—it’s all super exciting. I usually will record a voice memo of the run as well just to have a little capsule of this ephemeral experience that I can play back later. It’s just the audio, but hearing these foreign sounds—voices, music, singing, birds, traffic, my steps—it’s surprising how vividly my brain recreates the setting for me. In the moment, it feels like the whole of it exists for you, like the city is telling only you a secret.

The main hurdles are showering after and cleaning your stinky running stuff but I’m personally not above and have made plenty of ummm, questionable hygiene and laundering decisions.

What’s the longest distance you’ve run? 

16.54 miles while visiting Portland, OR before I moved here a few years ago. It was almost a hundred degrees, I have no idea what I was doing lol. I want to learn to run longer!

What’s the run you’re proudest of? 

Like a week ago, I set out in the rain to run what I figured would be a quick 5k. Once you’ve run around an area enough, you begin to have set boundaries and checkpoints for yourself (“if I turn around here, that will be a 10k”, “if I cross that bridge and then cross back from that other bridge, that will be X”, etc.). They’re useful and helpful, but I see them as mental barriers as well, potentially placing unwitting constraints on your present action. They can also be powerful motivators too though, when you reach them, and blow past them, continually, without a second thought about it, like I did on this particular run earlier this month.

I’m 35 years old now, which I’m not dumb enough to call old. But it’s also an age I no longer really feel like physically in my true prime anymore. Like, things hurt and stuff now lol. And so I have often wondered like, “can I do this or that or the other thing anymore?”. So it was really something to check in with myself ⅔ through this run, knowing I’m feeling pretty great, but not really sure to what extent, and realizing I was on pace to run my fastest ever half marathon (which I did). I like allowing those kinds of things to just, happen. Like, completely did not think I was racing the Mario Kart time trials ghost version of my 22-year-old self in waterlogged shoes and actually winning when I took my first step, but hey. It was really satisfying!

What, if anything, do you listen to when you run? 

I’d say the vast majority of my runs I am not listening to anything. It started out as me not being able to control my pacing and letting the music override my breathing and stride, but now it’s just a preference. Sometimes I call my mom or dad and catch up with them. In the rare event I listen to music, it’s usually toe, M83, the Earthbound soundtrack, or I use it as time to go through the music submissions the label gets.

What, if anything, do you think about while you run? 

FUCKING E V E R Y T H I N G. Sad shit, happy shit, future shit, past shit, life without my parents. Will I ever own a home? Do I want to own a home? I should be closer with my family. I should reconnect with so-and-so. Who have I hurt? Who has hurt me? Have I healed from It? Have they? Should I move to the desert and make a dome home out of paper-mâché and coat hangers? Empathy, forgiveness, understanding, recognizing differing perspectives and how people can come to justifiably have them within their own context; perception of time, perception of time across a lifetime, ego suppression, “but, and also what will be my mark?”, contradictions of self, quantum states, the truths we accept, and how experiences guide and shape them. “How much longer can I hold this dump that is forming inside my asshole???”

Why do you run?

I guess this is especially true in these quarantine times, but it really just comes down to craving some physical outlet. So much of my life is sitting on my ass so it makes me connect with this physical side that, the older I get, the less I feel in touch with due to the demands, complexities, and responsibilities of being just, a person with emails. So that’s what gets me out the door. The mental is what keeps me going though. It is incredibly decompressing, relaxing, motivating, and downright therapeutic. I feel reinvigorated after a good run.

Gearslutz corner: If you could recommend one piece of running gear/equipment to other runners, what would it be? 

I’m big on simplicity. Every time I splurge for a thing (bluetooth headphones, arm band, waist pack thing, whatever) I end up not enjoying it and returning it or giving it to someone else. So for me, it’s just shorts with nice little secret, secure pockets for things. I wanna be as unencumbered as possible. Tbh, I loathe that I carry my phone while running, and would love to just run without it, but the pull to know how far I’ve gone, what my times, etc. are is too strong and I end up taking it with me, every time. The answer is probably to get some kinda fitness watch thing, but I already hate myself for most everything I’ve typed in this paragraph already so far so I’m just not gonna do that. The enemy is things jostling around, y’know? Haaaate jostling stuff!!!  Simply cannot focus while all that stuff is jostling around. So, I haven’t found good shorts that can hold my phone without it jostling around yet. For now I’ve just resorted to stitching in a pocket on the inseam of the liner of mine, but wow if anyone knows any good shorts with no-jostle-phone-pocket-technology I’d love to hear about them!

What tips would you give to new runners or folks who are nervous to start?

Running is goofy as hell so don’t worry what you look like. I think it’s sick that we all get our goofy asses out to go do this objectively goofy ass thing. You’re not even late to a thing or chasing a thing lol. So yeah, go at your pace and figure out what works for you and you’ll get what you want and need out of it. Also, start slower. You’re probably starting too fast.

Follow Kevin Duquette on Twitter.