September 19, 2018

What do you like to do on your summer Saturdays? On Aug. 18, Roque Venzor, general manager of the Athleta store at the Promenade Shops Briargate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, ran a hundred-mile race in the Rockies (and finished in just over 22 hours, despite cold, rain and back spasms). He’s a dedicated ultramarathoner who lives and breathes the part of Athleta’s mission that talks about realizing limitless potential — for himself, and for his customers.

We sat down with him to get inspired (because he's truly inspirational!). Here's what he had to say about what it takes to run ultramarathons, and about how he stays motivated, on and off the trails:
We have to start by talking about this race you just ran, the Leadville Trail 100. Tell us more about it. 
It had been a year since my last hundred-miler and I was pretty nervous. The beginning of the race went really well … and then it started to rain at mile 30 and things got a little more mentally challenging. In the middle of the race, my back spasmed after somebody patted me on the back. Then I tripped on a rock and fell, and I thought, “I am never doing this again.” Around mile 85 I started feeling like I just wanted to stop.
Four miles from the finish, I saw two headlamps behind me and my competitive side kicked in: I passed four people in the last two miles to finish 30th overall out of 700 starters (400 of whom finished the race). And the next day I started to think about doing another race before the end of the year.
How did you get into ultramarathoning?
When I was in high school, I was really overweight, and finding something positive to do for my health was a big thing for me. I started hiking and became a pretty fit hiker. About 10 years ago, my manager at Gap said I should try running, so I went online and signed up for a half-marathon without ever training as a runner. Actually, I didn’t even know how long a half-marathon was (I asked somebody at mile 10). And it clicked immediately while I was running that I enjoyed it.
I made it a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and as I ran qualifying marathons I realized I could keep on running when the race was done. I did a 50-miler and got faster as I went longer distances. Every time I did a new distance, I wondered, “how much more can I run?” That question, and challenging myself, kept pushing me to go farther.
So you’re clearly into the “active, healthy” part of Athleta’s mission! What else about Athleta’s mission speaks to you?
I was working at Gap as a visual manager, supporting two stores. When my general manager there moved over to Athleta, I visited her store and was so inspired by the mission and the culture that I joined the brand about five years ago. Helping empower women and girls to reach their limitless potential is really important to me. My biggest idol is my grandmother, who was a strong, independent, successful woman. When I’m helping women succeed and feel strong, she’s the inspiration.
Sometimes customers come in here and feel self-conscious; it’s nice to help them feel positive about what they can achieve, or help motivate them to do something they’re wanting to try. A co-worker’s mom came in to ask me about the Leadville Trail 100 and now she wants to do it. I love that I get to share my experiences with our customers, and inspire them, and vice versa! 
It sounds like moving from Gap to Athleta was a huge step in realizing your own potential at work. Are there other ways you’re focusing on that?
I’m part of ASCEND at Gap Inc., which is a program created to help build a more diverse leadership team in the company. I’ve really learned a lot about hiring, training, quarterly planning and other things that affect our business. My former district manager nominated me — she has always been great about giving me opportunities to move forward.
You are not a person who shies away from a challenge, clearly. Is that something that distance running has taught you?
Being a runner has definitely made me stronger mentally. You have to get used to pushing through the tough stuff when you're running. Challenges don't scare me anymore. I just go for it.
You were a brand-new runner once. What advice do you have for somebody who’s just starting to run? Or just starting anything new for that matter? 
Don’t be disappointed when you fail! You learn from your mistakes, so make mental notes on what you could have done differently. Do the things that work, and change the things that don’t work. You can always try again. That’s good advice to use at work, too: You try things, and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but you don’t know until you try it.
If joining a company that’s devoted to limitless potential — for customers and employees alike — appeals to you, click here to check out open jobs at Athleta. And follow Gap Inc. on LinkedIn for news and more opportunities all over the company.