Running has always been central to the PowerBar story. Founders of the original energy bar, Jennifer and Brian Maxwell pioneered the category to prevent runners from fatiguing in their races. Thirty years later, there’s a new generation of Maxwells embarking on their own athletic journeys. Chris Maxwell, son of Jennifer and Brian, sat down with us to talk about running, family and how they connect together. One of the six Maxwell children, Chris recently graduated from Boston College. Despite the legacy of his last name, running was not always his premier sport. It took a little family nudge and 3,000 miles for Chris to connect with the one thing that reminds him of home.
You come from a very athletic family, can you describe your relationship with athletics from an early age?
Athletics, and running specifically, has always been a large part of our family culture. We had most of the PowerBar sponsored athletes over for dinner, so we were introduced to a lot of elite-level runners and triathletes at an early age. I remember one time specifically, we had Steve Young over and I was just in awe- I was four or five at the time and he was just larger than life. These athletes set the standard on how to present yourself and to take pride in what you do in and out of the sporting arena.
Our family really connected, and we still do, through athletics. When I was younger, my mom and dad would take us on their runs on Saturdays and Sundays in Marin (Northern California). They used to put us in jogging strollers; my dad would take two of us and my mom the other two, and they would just push us up the trails as they ran. Something about going out into nature instilled in me a sense of appreciation. As we got older we would go on Sunday runs as a family. Whenever I’m in town or back home over winter break, my sister and brothers will come over (to my mom’s house) and we’ll all run together.
What role has running played within your family dynamic? Does it bring you all together or is it a competitive topic at the dinner table?
Running really brings all of us together. When we’re home, talking at dinner, the question that starts the conversation is usually “Where did you run today?” and then we’re off and talking for the rest of the evening. We also follow the sport as fans; we talk a lot about what major track meets are happening. Recently, Julia (Chris’s sister who currently runs for Stanford) and I have been talking a lot about the Olympics, which we always enjoy watching. Sports have a way of transcending separation and indifference. It can be a platform for people to come together that would not have met otherwise. That’s why the Olympics are so special; they have a way of uniting the world in times when we need it most.
Your Dad coached the Cal Track Team, was he a coach at home as well? Did he give you and your siblings running tips or was he more hands off on your athletic journey?
I remember my dad coaching my older brother. I think my dad saw something in him and wanted to encourage him. He ran in high school for Marin Catholic and I remember they would go down to the track and work on short wind-sprints. My brother still runs now, not competitively, just for the joy of it.
My dad passed away when I was in the 4th grade, so I don’t have distinct memories of him coaching me running as I didn’t start running until high school. Once I started getting more competitive and serious about my training, my Dad’s legacy on the sport was a huge inspiration for me and something that I carry with me every single day. My own running really evolved because of the encouragement of my mom. She was the main coach for Julia and was really the one who got her into running. When Julia was 11 or 12 our Mom took her on runs, it sort of sparked a flame in her. She still gives her advice now.
We know you are avid runner now, running Boston and competing in multiple marathon events. It seems you took to the sport later in high school than we would have expected coming from your family background. Can you explain how your relationship with running has evolved?
Despite my family background, I was not a super great runner at first. I ran in middle school and my freshman year of high school but I didn’t really like races. I enjoyed being on the team and practicing but I didn’t like the meets for some reason. I just thought something as relaxing as running shouldn’t involve having the stress of competition. I really didn’t want to be stressed about my performance, so I switched to basketball for my sophomore and junior years (started on JV then played Varsity). In my senior year, Julia was a freshman, and my mom and Julia thought it would be nice to have both of us on the same team.
When I started running competitively again, I was more focused on improving from race to race and that helped me become more interested in running as a whole. The more you run, the better you feel, the faster you are. As a senior, I didn’t run in the state championships or regionals, I just ran for my team in the local meets. During my freshman year at Boston College, I was lonely and homesick, and running really reminded me of home and of my family. If you’re worried or stressed about whatever is going on in your life, going for a run makes you feel way better about your day. So I started running five to six days a week. My sophomore year, I started running competitively in local races in Boston. In October, I ran my first marathon and had no idea what I was doing. I just decided to go for it. That’s when my competitive streak started.
A lot of people talk about the “Runner’s High” or a feeling of happiness that comes over them when they run. Can you talk about your runner’s high?
I recently was in Italy for a couple of weeks and had the opportunity to run in the mountains there. Experiencing the views gave me a sense of euphoria. It made me recognize how lucky I am to be able to run and to challenge my preconceived limits. I really appreciate being able to maximize my physical abilities. Despite being in pain, there is no other sport where you push yourself to the brink of exhaustion. It’s a pure and unfiltered way to exercise. I don’t think that being able to push yourself should be taken for granted. For example, I collapsed half a mile from the finish line at the Boston Marathon. That was obviously disappointing but to be able to challenge myself to get to that point was an eye-opening experience. Yeah I was spent and it was painful and I bonked but it was cool to draw on my training experiences to see how far I could push my body. It wasn’t necessarily the outcome I wanted but it was a great learning experience.
That euphoric feeling of the runner’s high, for me that comes from running on the trails and being out in nature. Running by yourself or with friends is different than running in a race. A race is focused on splits, where you are in terms of pace, it’s distracting with all the people that are surrounding you. Races are more outward facing, focusing on yourself in relation to other people. In training you can leave it all out there; it is inward focused. Its been ingrained in me that the importance of exercise is not only for your body, but also for your mind and spirit. For that reason, I get the runner’s high every time I go for a run.
Your parents were both pioneers in the Energy Bar category. Does this give you confidence you to pave your own path or do you want to follow in their legacy?
I think there is sort of an osmosis being around my parents and their entrepreneurial spirit. Even in everyday things- always push yourself in running, no days off. When I’m tired and don’t feel like running that day, I feel the need to push myself and continue my dad’s spirit. They trail blazed their own path because they believed what they were doing would help their friends and other athletes. They saw a need and they built PowerBar in order to fill it. I want to continue the legacy; to make an impact on the world that goes beyond myself. That’s the main reason why I moved to Portland to pursue a job at Nike. I’m following something I’ve wanted to accomplish for a long time. At an early age, it was impressed upon me to follow my dreams. I’ve wanted to work for Nike since I was 10 or 11. I don’t want to work in an environment where I’m mindlessly going about my day. I want to be passionate about what I’m doing. A lot of recent college graduates just want to get a job so they have the stability. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just want to be doing something I’m passionate about. It’s definitely stressful at times, but as running has taught me, I need to remain patient. I have faith and believe it will all work out.