by Ellen Shaughnessy 2.4.2021
Hearst publishers just moved three major magazines; their Enthusiast Group to their new HQ – a fresh re-invented space in historic downtown Easton PA. I had the chance to catch up on a socially-distanced phone call with brand new Eastonian + Runners’ World Magazine ‘Runner-in-Chief’ Jeff Dengate. Jeff moved his family earlier this winter from Jersey City to the Lehigh Valley.
E: Now that you got an excellent cardio workout by shoveling out 2′ of snow on all your new-to-you sidewalks in the west ward, how are you liking Easton so far?
JD: We really enjoyed the outdoor holiday markets this season in Easton’s center square area. Our fist experiences here are during the pandemic of course – so it has been limited but that was a nice way to safely enjoy the community and get into the spirit. It’s a more relaxed pace than the big city. I was doing a reverse commute for some time, when we were based out of Center Valley for a couple years – heading west from Jersey City wasn’t too bad but I do really appreciate living so close to work now. I’m enjoying exploring my new city on a new running path each day, and there are so many great trails nearby. Now that we are moved in and settled it’s really a nice sane life here.
E: I saw on linkedIn that you had been with ‘Men’s Journal’ for some time; how did you land with ‘Runners’ World’?
JD: I actually started with Runners’ World at Rodale over a decade ago, and left for an excellent opportunity to be the ‘Men’s Journal’ editor – it was a new perspective for me after the topics we would cover from a runners’ angle. I went back to Runners’ World but then there was some uncertainty with what would happen there. So I left a second time and then I caught up with Bill Strickland who is the Editorial Director of the Enthusiast Group at Hearst Magazines. Hearst purchased Runners’ World, and Bill who was also formerly with Rodale had a new strategy for the magazine. I really liked the new direction and joined as the ‘Runner-in-Chief’. I was reverse-commuting from Jersey City to Center Valley for like 2 years but I would also still pop into NYC to Hearst Tower for meetings there as well.
E: So what made you finally move to the Lehigh Valley?
JD: We thought maybe in a year or so we would move but then this fall my wife was scrolling around on the mls and a really cool house popped up in October. We were excited about it, and compared to Jersey City it was such a great price for so much space and character – we immediately set up a showing and zipped out to see it. It was a little sooner than we thought, but in a competitive real estate market we decided to go for it. It’s just over an hour to get to NYC or Philly if you need a big city experience. I didn’t realize how much background noise there was in Jersey City until I moved here… the quietness of this city is really nice. I’m not hearing as many sirens or big rumbling noises of loud garbage trucks every morning – I didn’t notice the level of noise we had in our lives until living here.
E: Anything you miss about ‘the big city’?
JD: Well the restaurants here are great and we’ve really been enjoying the take-out, but kitchens seem to close much earlier. Maybe it’s the pandemic effect but it’s hard to find any kitchens open after 9pm.
E: I heard one of the reasons Hearst chose to bring Runners’ World, Popular Mechanics, and Bicycling magazines to this area is the many miles of excellent trails and recreational hikes and waterways we have here.
JD: Yes, and it’s been so fun to explore my new hometown as I try a new course each time… I missed the days when we were working at Rodale and a bunch of us would take a 30-45 minute run together over lunch. It was a nice sense of teamwork and community and now I can enjoy a quick lunchtime run working from home or zipping to the new office. I look forward to more group runs again once vaccines are distributed and things are safer. With all the big races being cancelled or postponed, I have no race or timing goals at the moment – it’s just about enjoying the new scenery and the run. I’m currently trying to run every street in Easton. I’m more than halfway done, so keep an eye out for me on the South Side and College Hill. So far, my favorite places to run have been along the Karl Stirner Arts Trail and the canal paths—though I’ll have to wait for the snow to melt before I’m back there!
We just wrapped a big issue for this spring. Part of our new Runner’s World strategy is to really involve the community more. For our March/April issue we literally tested out 100 new models of running shoes. I have around 300 local runners that have been helping us to test the shoes. There’s a pre-olympian runner from Bethlehem and another local medal-decorated runner, plus there’s a group of Reading PA trail runners that come up to test some of these shoes. Our running testers run in the shoes for about a month; around 25 miles/ week. Based on all our tests we reveal in this issue the top 25 running shoes for 2021.
E: Were there any surprises?
JD: Yes! Sometimes there is a manufacturer that is known more for design or style vs. running performance. In the past we were surprised by a great running shoe when Sketchers switched up their manufacturing direction to launch a very high-performing running shoe. Last year Reebok came out with a really nice performance running shoe. This year’s surprise for me is by Puma – and that’s all I’m going to say.
E: Has the pandemic affected Runners’ World readership at all — is there much more than the print magazine these days?
JD: Our magazine readership has remained quite steady but we noticed an enormous spike in our online readership and social media channels. Many running shoe venders have also noticed a big spike in interest and sales. With gyms closing and indoor sports limitations due to the pandemic, more folks decided to get back into jogging and running since it’s so easy to do outdoors and whenever you want. In March 2020 some thought it would be a few weeks… we saw a huge spike in running and now it’s been a year and people have shifted their mentality. They are still running. I hope they stick with it after the pandemic is under control.
Our readers are not like normal magazine readers – it’s really more like a club. Our Runners’ World community is really strong; we call them our ‘bosses’. Runners’ World is about helping our members to find their ‘happy moment’ in this sport. We were on a team run on a beautiful spring day once and passed by a teacher walking with her elementary school students on the trail. I heard her tell them that if they didn’t behave she would punish them with running like us. This stuck with me – running is NOT a punishment; it is to be enjoyed. Runners’ World is there to help you get enjoyment out of the sport and stick with it.
E: The new building looks so cool! How are you liking your new offices — even though it’s still mostly ‘work from home’ mode?
JD: With the March/April issue a team of photographers was just out recently. The shoots were very safe with everyone wearing masks and social distancing. The team shot a few tic-toks in the building and they also got a fantastic cover-shot for the March/April Runners’ World issue. It was exciting to see the creative team here in the new building and you could really feel the energy. Our Enthusiast group plans to engage much more with the community once it’s safe. There’s a bike mechanics shop in the front of the building. You might see us working on projects through the windows or spot us trying out new running shoes on a treadmill in there. Hopefully by this fall we will be able to open up for some events. We have some exciting ideas on tap, to also leverage the shoe-lab that we have in the back of the building. For this Runners’ World spring issue we needed to have safe pick-ups of 300 running shoes by all our test runners, but someday soon we hope to make this a much bigger live event.
Many of the big races have been cancelled or postponed, but I see that there is now a date on the 2021 fall calendar for the Boston Marathon and NY Marathon. I’m hopeful that by this fall we can engage more in group runs, and more sports activities with our local community.
E: So how many running shoes to you have, and are there favorites?
I currently have only 44 pairs of running shoes in my closet. But I test and run in more than 100 pairs each year. Back in 2017, I ran in 285 pairs.
My all-time favorite pair of shoes has been discontinued! (Ask any runner and they’ll likely tell you the same thing.) But, there are so many great shoes available today. I don’t have any true favorites now because I wear so many different shoes for our testing process. That testing, however, helps runners find pairs that will work for them, via reviews on RunnersWorld.com
E: I confess, I’m one of those that quit the gym and I’m now trying to ramp up my long-lost ‘running’ or more like jogging again, since it’s a nice easy outdoor sport – but it’s going slow.
JD: Running isn’t about getting a best time or how many miles – especially when you are starting out. It’s what you get out of it. Even if you are jogging or jog-walking, or walking fast, at least you are out there moving a few times a week. It can be a mix, and it can be fun. Stick with it. Running is a fantastic activity, not only for its obvious physical benefits but also because it allows you the freedom to think, to escape life’s hassles and distractions, and even to join up with other runners for the social benefits. But it can be intimidating and hard to start. We have an excellent plan that can take you from a complete beginner and have you running for 30 minutes in 12 weeks. It just takes a commitment of 30 minutes—start by walking that at first—and you’ll gradually progress to running more frequently during your 30-minute outings. You can get the whole plan here: https://www.runnersworld.com/beginner/a31707889/best-beginner-running-plan/
Follow Runners’ World: insta: @runnersworld on insta also check out the cool new communitybikeworks.com ‘build a bike – earn a bike’ program that Bicycling Mag is supporting here in the local community!
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