Team competition is a luxury you don’t realize you miss in running until it’s gone. After those middle school to college years, those opportunities dwindle for many, save for the those who go on to careers at a professional level.
Running at school, whether it is cross-country or track, offers the chance for people to join a team, compete, and push one another to best of your ability. But when a degree is placed in your hand, options to find that true “team” element are limited outside of a social running club or individual pursuits.
There is one group that wanted to fight this feeling, and it all started in a hot tub in Bend, Oregon, the night before the 2014 USATF National Club Cross Country Championships. Scott Olberding was a runner at the University of Portland. After graduation, he wanted to keep running, and not just for fun. It was a sentiment he shared with his teammates and other post-collegiate runners looking to milk every last bit of their legs’ abilities.
Without an outlet for such competition, he technically attended races unaffiliated, under the name the “Jacuzzi Boys.”
The name is fitting. Here was the place for athletes who were serious about being unserious at a high level. A running group for anyone who wanted to push the boundaries of their athleticism while they still could. Starting in Portland, the group gained many of Olberding’s fellow alumni and grew to include other Portland runners.
“We are still good runners,” says Jacuzzi Boy member Nick Rioche. “Not to be egocentric, but we don’t take it super serious. We’re still trying to get personal bests and send people to the 10K and half trials. But on a Friday night, we’ll go to get beers, stay out late, and do karaoke.”
The group consists of teachers, apparel company employees, and any other odd jobs you can think of. There are no official meetups. They simply operate with a massive group text where it is difficult not to find a running buddy for track workouts or long runs. And with a team, the results seem to be come naturally.
“We have some men and women who are really still very talented runners, and it’s cool to see that when they have great day, they are right up there with really good runners and running in the low 2:20s in the marathon, especially for someone with a full-time job and can’t live at altitude,” Olberding says. “It’s fun to watch that and watch them tear off a good one, and it’s nice to see Jacuzzi Boys got them there.”
Though most compete for individual bests, the team also competes together. You can see their singlets on both men and women at races of all kinds from local 5Ks to the Berlin Marathon. But they also hold true to cross-country traditions. Each fall, they pile into cars and compete at roughly four to five races across the Northwest, including their annual trip to USATF National Club Cross Country Championships, where they take on some professional teams.
The idea is also spreading. Jacuzzi Boys pods have popped up in Flagstaff, Arizona, Bloomington, Indiana, Seattle, and Las Vegas. All wear the same singlets and thrive at the highest level they can, a dream that was once thought to be lost.
For anyone who once lived out their days with an athletic component that you long for, let the Jacuzzi Boys be your guide. You may not be done just yet.
“Since I first became interested in urban running culture, I’ve known about the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club (JBAC). I thought they were yet another urban running crew who are just serious enough for marathons, but also get hammered at any given time. Working with them changed my perspective. They are sincere about running, but not serious. They aren’t shy about being running nerds. I love how genuine their passion for running is; that is really admirable.
“I had a day to shoot the JBAC, and I wanted to create a series that sort of mirrored ‘24 hours with...’ The first set of images were taken at the Leif Erickson Trail, a famous trail beloved by all runners in Portland. It was the day before their cross country race so they were doing a shakeout run.” - David Jaewon Oh
“McMenamins Tavern & Pool is one of their main postrun hangouts. This is where we talked about their foundations and how they came about. Pretty much all of the runners from JBAC ran in NCAA D1-D2 track & field. They talked about how they came up with their name to how they fell in love with running again after almost being forced to let it go after their college career was over. They all have regular jobs, so they don’t have to run but they want to run. Something about that really resonated with me. It’s a sweet, coming-of-age story about how to rekindle your passion, and how to continue running when it doesn't count as much as it used to (i.e. scholarship).” - DJO
“I did not know coming into it that adult club cross country is huge in Portland. Former collegiate, recently graduated high school runners, and enthusiasts run together. I photographed part of the Stumptown XC series, a cross-country race series that runs from September to November. Most cross-country races take place on a golf course. But these are around parks. I’ve seen bike crits and cross-country bicycle races in Seattle, but never have I’ve seen adult cross country races. That was really fun. One of the main guys that gets lot of attention is Andrew Lemoncello. He competed in the 2008 Olympics for Great Britain (3,000-meter steeplechase). I believe Matt Welch actually won the race that day when I was photographing them.” - DJO
David Jaewon Oh is a Seattle-based photographer and runner. He is a cofounder of Club Seattle Runners Division, which recently celebrated its two-year club anniversary.
“Our crew is completely different than JBAC-a lot slower. We have fast people but not like JBAC-fast-but we are creating something that’s very unique to the city. We are super diverse. Our initial founders were myself and two women, one of whom is biracial and another who’s African American. We’re all-inclusive; no egos. We’re also nerds. Haha.” - DJO
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