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From Running Back to Running Marathons, Tiki Barber is Still Going the Extra Yard

Boardroom speaks with the New York Giants great about racing for a cause, training for football versus distance running, and growing as a media personality and investor.

Tiki Barber is forever a running back in the eyes of New York sports fans, but true Giants devotees will additionally acknowledge that the former halfback in the No. 21 jersey traded in his iconic Reebok football cleats for a pair of tightly-laced fresh foam New Balance kicks — all the better to help him support Team for Kids, most recently at the 2023 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon on March 19.

Barber has raced in over 15 full and half marathons from the Five Boroughs to Big Sur, Chicago, New Jersey, Boston, and beyond. With a passion for picturesque dashes through Tokyo, Berlin, and London, Tiki Barber has utilized running as an incentive to travel globally. But more notably, Barber’s ambassadorial role for Team for Kids, a group of devoted runners who commit to fundraising for the New York Road Runners organization’s youth and community development efforts, has given his latest passion a special kind of focus.

Over the last 21 years, the organization has raised over $100 million, pairing with Barber to bring complementary running and fitness programs to students nationwide. Funds raised through the program aid in purchasing supplies and essential training for teachers who’ve committed their livelihoods to battle childhood obesity and further health issues.

Despite an adolescent running history, the retired New York Giants legend would’ve never considered distance running without the assistance of another New York sports superstar — a call from Yankees great CC Sabathia and his wife, sports agent Amber Sabathia, fueled the fire for Barber to start his running journey. After CC constructed a running team for his PitCCh In Foundation, Barber transitioned from a gridiron star to a distance running dynamo.

Speaking to Boardroom in an exclusive interview, Tiki Barber unveiled the origins of his passion for running, training secrets, and how it differs distinctly from the damends his 10-year NFL career. As a prolific media personality and entrepreneur, the three-time Pro Bowler and career 10,000-yard rusher also opened up about the early hardships of his media career, his growing portfolio as a businessman, and how he chooses investment opportunities.

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Tiki Barber’s Second Act as a Marathon Runner

RORY ROBINSON: Do you have a history with track and field? Where did your love for running begin?

TIKI BARBER: You nailed it. Growing up, I did many different things, but in middle and high school, it was wrestling and track running right before football.

I played football, but track and field is where I learned how to run, and I think I’ve been fortunate because I’ve had outstanding coaches who taught me fundamentals. It wasn’t just about being fast; it was learning the fundamentals. That continued when I attended UVA [University of Virginia] for college. I had this great track coach — his name was Randy Bungard — and all he cared about was stepping over and striking correctly and running on the forefront of your feet and recovery. I learned the fundamentals of being a runner at an early age.

RR: How does that long history with track & field differ from distance running?

TB: Marathons are a completely different mindset, but I think the fundamentals still apply. The reason I love running is that I grew up running. I got into marathon running because of CC Sabathia; about eight years ago, CC was assembling a marathon team for his foundation, the PitCCh In Foundation. He and his wife, Amber, asked me to run. I was like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’ll do that.’ I had never run distance other than the mile run, maybe the 800 [meters] in high school, not realizing how hard it would be. It crushed me, dude.

But I’m a competitor, and there’s no way I’ll let that be my only marathon, so I just kept doing them.

Eight years later, I’ve done 15 marathons. I do many of these New York Road Runner five-borough events, including the United NYC Half [on Sunday, March 19]. And I love to be a part of their programs. I’ve been on their team of kids ambassadors for about five years. It’s been fun, and it’s been very fulfilling.

RR: What’s the difference in preparation for this upcoming marathon versus the previous ones for which you had less experience?

TB: The beauty of this one is that it’s only 13.1 miles. It’s a half marathon as opposed to a full marathon. My body is more welcoming to half; the full marathon wears me out. But it’s interesting because I’m about to turn 48 and my body has changed. When I started to run marathons eight years ago or so, I still felt young. I still felt like I could pound the work and do 40 miles a week. I really can’t do that anymore. My knees won’t hold up, so my marathon training changed in the last year.

I’ve put much more emphasis on cross-training and trying to lift to be stronger and push through some challenging moments in any long race. The half marathon won’t [call for] it. I probably won’t be affected by [those challenges], but the full marathon, that’s when my body starts to quit around mile 18 or 19. So, I’ve just started to try and get a little bit stronger. Not entirely like I was when I was an NFL football player, but stronger than I have been in the last couple of years.

RR: What’s the difference in your mentality towards your training regimen compared to the height of your NFL career?

TB: I’d work out in an offseason and be in the gym for two and a half hours, but it was intense. It was heavy weights, but also short reps and intensity to make you feel the pressure of pulling a heavy lift. It’s just like trying to get a 3rd & 1, so you try to simulate an exertion in real-time mentally.

The difference is [in] training for a marathon, I need to be calm. I must pull inside myself, be cerebral, and focus on breathing and posture, bcause if I don’t, parts of my muscles start to get extra strain, my body starts to break down, and I’m not fueling correctly. So, the timing is about the same, but the intensity changes for running. I’ve found I have to be inside myself instead of exerting like I did when lifting.

RR: What sort of flair do you bring to the race track in terms of footwear?

TB: I love New Balance. I’ve been running in New Balance for six years because my feet are flat. If I don’t have wide shoes, my feet crunch and I get pain in my arch. The New Balance Fresh Foam is the pair I’m wearing now, and they’ve been fantastic over the last couple of years. Cushioning is just right but not too thick, so I don’t feel like floating on the road.

The greatest part about finding the right shoe is that it changes your mindset. In my first couple of marathons, I ran in bad shoes and felt like I couldn’t walk for a month.

RR: How about music?

As for a playlist, I used to listen to hip-hop because I grew up in the 80s and 90s. Tupac and all those guys were my jam, but I found that I get caught up in the music and mess up my cadence, and so I’ve started listening to podcasts on my long runs. Neil deGrasse Tyson, everybody’s astrophysicist, has become my latest obsession, and I started listening to a new podcast called “Cautionary Tales” about things that go wrong.

Running a Media & Business Career

RR: Your NFL career ended before a wide range of alternative broadcasts and streams of live sporting events became the norm. How do you assess the growth of those programs, and is that something you wish was around back when you retired?

TB: Definitely. I wasn’t a media major and didn’t study broadcasting or communications in college; I was a computer geek in database design and programming. The only way I could get in was to take that long, challenging route of getting up at night and working at WFAN — this was while I was playing. Doing non-paid work on WCBS eventually led to the YES Network and Fox News. By the time I retired, I could step right into a role on the Today Show on NBC, which created an opening to start a new career in media. Now, I’m on WFAN doing my show “Tiki & Tierney” every day.

It started with a grind. Now, you can create your show if you can talk and communicate. It’s incredible how podcasting has exploded, and you can even stream to a Twitch channel. There are many ways to get your voice out there if you’re good, popular, and promoted on the right track with social media, which also didn’t exist back then.

RR: Can you tell us what’s in your business portfolio and what you look for in a new investment opportunity?

TB: I’m a big opportunist. People must be correct, but the opportunity must also be timed correctly. I’ll give you two examples — one that was unsuccessful and one that was successful.

When I retired, I got into an affordable housing deal with Steve Ross of The Related Companies. He’s also the owner of the Miami Dolphins. A big part of his portfolio is affordable housing, and it made a lot of sense because he was looking to purchase a portfolio from my hometown in Roanoke, Virginia. I knew the director of the portfolio. His name was Hayward Fralin, and he was on the board at the University of Virginia, my alma mater, so it just made sense to partner with Steve Ross.

I started to learn about all these methods to finance these rehabs, including tax credits, equities, Mitchell-Lamas, and things of that nature. It was amazing because you’re doing good things, right? You’re creating affordable housing and neighborhoods so that people can feel proud about where they live. The problem was we did this in 2008, so while the person was perfect for partnering with, the timing was terrible because of the market correction, as they like to call it. So, it was a great business opportunity for me, but the timing was wrong.

Fast forward about six later, I ended up starting a company with a friend of mine, Mark Gerson, called Thuzio, doing events and helping brands associate with athletes. That was the perfect timing, and we went right back to Steve Ross, with whom I had a so-called failure, but he was our seed investor.

The relationship mattered, creating an opportunity to start this new business. We exited about a year ago to Triller. It’s, it’s been very successful, and it was organic to me. It was a way to get this entrepreneurial bend that a lot of former athletes who have done well playing, a chance to get into that business world. I loved it. We’re excited about what’s coming next.

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