Trackstaa got the unique opportunity to sit down with a member of one of the most talked about professional running teams in the world right now, Tinman Elite. Jamaine Coleman, former Junior National Champion in the UK and runner-up in the 2018 NCAA Steeplechase, opens up in this revealing and honest account of his journey from Preston, England to the Mecca of running, Boulder, Colorado.
The mystique surrounding the men who comprise the Tinman Elite professional running team is inescapable. Perhaps it’s the slick branding, the emotive action-shot images captured by their media team. Or that they’re invariably training in the most beautiful and picturesque of back-drops.
Inevitably, this charm permeates their runners too and before speaking to Jamaine, unusually for me, I was nervous. That feeling of butterflies you get before an important race was quite overwhelming. Not helped by the fact that I was staring at myself through the grainy Zoom screen. Happily, as soon as Jamaine’s face appeared, he immediately broke the ice. “I’m liking the top, is that the Tinman quarter zip?” he asked, grinning. I immediately realised why I was nervous; even in attempting to conduct a serious interview, I was, quintessentially, a fan.
I felt that was a good time to confess that I was wearing the Tinman running cap too. “You’ve got more gear than me!”, came the reply. With my credibility shot, mercifully, within 30 seconds of starting the interview, we were both laughing and my nerves had dissipated.
Jamaine Coleman – Life in Preston
The eldest of 9 children, six sisters and two brothers, I was intrigued to know what life had been like for Jamaine back home in Preston. “Manic! Lively, noisy, honestly what you’d expect. In hindsight, I hated having this crazy house, showing up to races, with all my sisters there, doing my head in. Now, it’s wicked”, Jamaine explains. The sense of pride when he’s talking about it is obvious; it was clearly house full of fun, joy and love.
“As I was the eldest”, he adds, “as I got older and taking the races way more serious, I was not always in the house. I had a part-time job, I had college, I’d see mates or be at meets and stuff. So, when it really started to get serious, it wasn’t too big of a deal”.
Hearing him talk about Preston, a place I know reasonably well, I couldn’t be more aware of the difference between there and the serene, runners’ paradise that is Boulder, Colorado. I decided it was probably a good moment to ask him directly, “do you miss it?”
“Yeah, I do, you can’t beat home. No matter how crappy Preston is, it doesn’t matter, it’s where you’ve spent 18 years of your life and you can’t look past that. Whenever I go home I always try and run the same run that I did every single day, you know the nostalgia, all my friends are there, my family is there, so when I go home, I genuinely love it.”
From footballer to runner (The real football)
Like many elite runners, Jamaine started out as a footballer and it became clear that unlike most, he genuinely could have made it “Year 7 [11 years old] was when I signed for Bury [who were in League 1 at the time], you know, not a premiership player at that stage but definitely, like, better than most, I guess…I was at Bury for 3 years and I was captain for the last year and top goal-scorer. We weren’t a great team and so in the end I quit, I was sick of getting beat. I think we won 3 games the whole season”, he explains through a wistful laugh.
That wasn’t the end of his footballing story. “I then went on trial at Preston North End, who were in the championship at the time. It was definitely a big step up. I was there for about 12 weeks but a new coach came in and sort of pushed me out really. Don’t really know what happened because I was banging the goals in, scored a hattrick on my debut. Weirdly, it was against the Northern Ireland national team, in like a pre-season friendly”. As he is telling me this story, I cannot help but notice the inner competitor. It’s not like he’s bitter that it didn’t work out, but you can just sense that Jamaine really doesn’t do losing or failure.
“It was a big knock to my confidence, I was a cocky 15-year old but it just so happened that, that year I ran in the Lancashire 1500m champs. I rocked up and got second and the coach just said that I should go down to a track night.” In the first of many honest statements he makes during the course of our conversation, he admits it was not the running that made him keep coming back to athletics. “There was a bunch of girls, that’s always a plus to a teenage boy,” he confesses through a self-conscious laugh. “It was in the summer and there was a bunch of girls in short shorts. I was just thinking to myself, I’m stayin’ ‘ere! Forget about footy!” he adds, in that unmistakeable Lancastrian accent.
Girls aside, Jamaine’s destiny was very clearly as an elite runner, his talent as a junior was undeniable and, he said himself, “I just quit football altogether, stopped playing for the school and went all in on it.”
Everyone runs for different reasons and Jamaine was clear about why he gave up football to become a runner. “It’s me, I step on the starting line. How hard have I worked? How prepared am I to win this race, you know, there’s no reliance on anyone else and if you fail it’s down to you. You have to be willing to outwork
other people and that motivates me every single day”. In one short segment, he reveals what it means to be an elite competitor.
There’s something about Jamaine and his story that truly intrigues me. I could listen to him for hours, without getting the least bit bored. He’s engaging, confident, funny and honest. But, because we’ve not yet upgraded to the corporate Zoom package at Trackstaa. I am acutely aware that the call disconnects after 40 minutes so I press on talking about the NCAA.
It’s a topic we talk about regularly at Trackstaa. Specifically how athletes from UK should think long and hard before going to America and joining the NCAA. He could not have been more enthusiastic in his disagreement. “I really don’t think it is [a big decision]”, he interjects. “I don’t think it is a big choice, you’ve got nothing to lose. You can come back after 5 months if you don’t like it. You can defer for 2 years, like I did”. He’s keen to qualify it though and adds. “Obviously a long way from your family and you’ve got to take that into account but I genuinely think you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Given his success, perhaps Jamaine taking this view is not surprising. I asked whether he genuinely felt that going to America would make him the best runner he could be. “Yes”, he replied. “I mean you can see it. Look at the people who win the NCAA, it’s like a stepping stone to competing in the Olympics. Where else in the world has that, has the resources, has the competition. I mean it’s as good as the pro circuit. Being an NCAA athlete you’re a professional runner who just has to go to school as well”.
In his Tin Talk, his interview on joining Tinman Elite, Jamaine talked about his early years at East Kentucky University (EKU). He was honest about not being up to the mark and drinking and partying too much. He describes coming 109th at South East Regional XC as his low point; putting the transformation down too “maturation”. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, knowing that everyone was right and you were wrong. Obviously, I was in the wrong at the time because when I changed things round I succeeded. Those last 2 seasons were above and beyond what I would have expected and I think that gave me that perspective to look back and be honest about where I was”.
This all sounds very philosophical and I was keen to understand what the actual difference was in the new Jamaine. He laughs, before admitting, “I actually ran. I did the runs that were set. What you’d expect an athlete to do.. I started to eat right and stopped eating Wendy’s and KFC every night. I paid attention to the little things and listened to the coaches.”
He’s in full flow now and continues, “the way I am, I’m just so greedy for success. That’s kind of where the change came from. I think I won an indoor championship in the mile, I ran 4:06, not even that impressive in the grand scheme of things [Narrator: it’s very impressive!] but that was just the catapult”.
These days, Jamaine is a member of the professional running team Tinman Elite, the turbulence of his early days at EKU well behind him. To my disappointment, however, there’s no online application form to join the team. “Even I don’t know what the protocol is for getting on the team”, he explains. “I had just left Furman Elite and I needed to do an altitude camp but if you don’t know anybody, it can cost like 2 grand (£2000). I was friends with Aaron Templeton [another Tinman Elite member] and he said that they had a mattress in the basement if I wanted to go and crash there. Jumped at it, cost me like $200. I went out to Boulder with no intention of joining Tinman, I just wanted to train.
I got there, I’m spending a lot of time with the guys and I just saw first-hand their team dynamic and this support system and to be honest, I just got a little bit jealous”.
He goes on to explain that as covid struck, it gave him a little bit more time to reflect on his situation. Concluding that he was not doing as much as he could to break into the GB Olympic Team. “Yes, I worked out hard and I trained really good. But, I wasn’t getting massages, I wasn’t getting pushed by team-mates. I wasn’t making a difference in the sport. So, I just reached out to Drew and Sam; the Brain Trust; the Founding Fathers.”
Even then, he wasn’t accepted immediately. “It took a long time. I didn’t hear much back but you know I guess the guys discussed me and discussed my credentials and yeah eventually accepted me onto the team”.
From the outside, as I’ve alluded to, there is an understated attraction to the ‘Tinmen’, a quality you don’t see reflected in other running teams. “I don’t want to talk bad about other teams, but what’s unique to us, I genuinely believe, is we’re a family. We have multiple times a week where we just meet up and ‘shoot-the-shit’ or have a barbecue. Everyone cares so much about what we do and the brand and everyone wants to elevate themselves, each other and the sport.” As if to emphasise the point, he pauses and adds, “you know, we’d take a bullet for each other. That ethos plus the creative minds that we have adds up to something really special”.
Unprompted by me, he launched a staunch and emotional defence of the Tinman model. “We have some haters but we don’t just turn up and think right let’s just make a video or take a few photos. People don’t see how hard we’re working on and off the track. We work fucking hard. But, we do it in a way that helps others. I
get messages on a daily basis about how we’re inspiring others. You know, most of us came from humble beginnings in the sport and we have this blue-collar approach and we get it done on and off the track”.
They say the best interviewers let the interviewee do the talking so maybe I’m getting the hang of it because I’ve not said anything for about two minutes. Jamaine’s passion is clear as day. He goes on, “I like to think we’re relatable, we’ve got people who have not even made it in the NCAA but are out here running for Adidas and Tinman Elite. We’re not the Bowerman Track Club, we’re not ten-time ‘All-Americans’, for the most part we’re guys who went under the radar and are just trying to make a huge jump in the sport, in a fun way.”
The Tinman team-ethic and all this talk of family and friendship is great, but it was clear that his main goal for joining the team was to be the best version of himself and so I wanted to know if, so far, it was working. “It definitely takes time, the first month or so, was rough. I didn’t come in the greatest of shape. In the last month and a half I’ve been able to see huge leaps in my fitness. I’m getting fitter and stronger. I’m able to do things now, pace-wise, that I couldn’t do at sea level and I’m at altitude”.
He reserved the highest praise for the Tinman coaches, “Chris Lee [strength and conditioning coach] is great, he is constantly helping me improve and working on areas of weakness. Like now, I can touch my toes, I’ve never been able to do it. Tinman Elite doesn’t have this super-secret, crazy training, it’s just all the little things coming together.”
On Coach Tom Schwarz, the verdict is unambiguous, “he’s a genius, there’s no two ways about it. That’s not to knock my other coaches, they’ve been great but it’s just different with Coach Tom. He’s a wizard”.
I suggested that he might be a good person for Trackstaa to interview but Jamaine was quick to warn me, whilst roaring with laughter, about the likely outcome, “he’d be interviewing you. He would talk like the whole time. All these things just come out of his brain and you’re like I don’t know what he just said, but it sounds good”.
Jamaine Coleman Goals for 2021
In wrapping up the interview, I wanted to know what his goals were for the forthcoming year. In a style typical of how he’s been throughout interview, he answered forthrightly and confidently. “There’s a steeple on December 5th and I want to get the Olympic standard there. This year is all about the Olympics.”
With a previous steeple best of 8:30, he’ll need an eight second PB to qualify for GB in Tokyo next year, a realistic and achievable target. “It’s going to require a big jump but I’ve put myself in a good place to make it”.
Despite enjoying the obvious perks of the lifestyle of a professional runner, there are some things that are just bigger than all of it. “For me, putting the GB vest on is the best feeling in the sport. The more times I can run for Great Britain the better.” As we come to a close, his inner competitor creeps back out as it has throughout the 40 or so minutes we’ve been talking, “I’ve not won a major since being in juniors to be honest and frankly, I’m sick of it” he declares.
On that note, fittingly, we finish the interview. My conclusion is that anyone racing in 2021 better watch-out; Jamaine is hungry to prove the doubters wrong and to start winning major events again. With his ferocious competitiveness and the backing of the ‘Men of Tin’, you wouldn’t bet against him.