Alexi Pappas is a multi-caesura: Greek-American Olympic runner, writer, filmmaker and actor. She is the Greek national record holder in the 10,000 meters (31:36), which she set while competing at the 2016 Rio Games. Prior to that, Pappas was an All-American runner at Dartmouth, from which she obtained graduated magna cum laude, then completed NCAA eligibility in Oregon while pursuing a graduate degree, helping the Ducks win national titles on indoor and outdoor track.
Now focused on the marathon – she recently ran Boston and London as a guide for visually impaired runner Lisa Thompson – Pappas aspires to set the Greek national record. Her personal best is a 2:34:26, set in 2020 at the Houston Marathon, less than a minute shy of Maria Polyzou’s national mark of 2:33:40.
Pappas, 32, is an ambassador for several sports and wellness brands, such as Oura, Champion, Altra and Monarch, and is a mental health advocate. She has been candid about her own struggles with depression, writing about it in detail in her 2021 memoir, Brave. Pappas has acted, written and directed several films, including Big like the baobab, Speed glasses, Olympic dreams, trackville and the next Not an artist.
On his introduction to Oura . . .
I used to train in Oregon with a very closed professional group where everything was quite micromanaged by a coach. There was a lot of guidance and support, which I think a lot of athletes need, especially at the start of their career.
I was exposed to Oura once I moved to LA and started training in different environments and not in the context of one of those Olympic training groups. Because in these groups [like Oregon], you have a coach who has eyes on you, and he can sometimes see what you can’t see on your own, especially because my coach was an Olympian himself. He could see the fatigue where I couldn’t.
But once I moved to LA, there weren’t always constant eyes on me. So I had to keep a better eye on myself. And I heard about Oura from a friend of mine named Blue. He wore it and I met him at the Chicago Marathon. And so I just started learning about it and how it was different from the watch I was wearing, which wasn’t as accurate for recovery data.
On the measures that she finds the most significant. . .
The readiness and sleep scores are more useful to me than anything, as well as obviously the period tracker. To be perfectly honest, the Sleep Score helped me figure out which of my habits would lead to the most restful sleep. I think sleep score is something I interact with more dynamically – if I had, you know, red meat for dinner, or if I ate at that time, or if I ate at a restaurant rather than cooking at home, or if I went to bed at that time, or if I have different habits. So sleep score helps me sleep better, because that data is pretty consistent and my life is changing, if that makes sense. Then the readiness score is something I use to adjust my actual training and activity for that day.
On how Oura’s data helps her make decisions. . .
It really helped me because I live a multi-faceted life that I am passionate about. I tried to see everything in my life as a choice rather than a sacrifice. For example, if I make the choice to drink, I now have a better understanding of what it will do to me, and therefore I make more informed choices.
And I’m someone who really values my time. So if I’m going to do something, whether it’s training or socially, I want to understand why and what I’m doing. I tweaked the details of my routine and was very amused and interested in how it affects my sleep. And it’s not always how the articles I read reflect it because everyone is so different. What affects my sleep may be different from what affects someone else’s sleep. But it allowed me to make adjustments in my life and to be better educated.
The whole thing is that it is information. What you choose to do with it is up to you, but not knowing it at all is really disempowering. I’m a creative person – I make films and I write – and I sometimes like to consider reviews or comments with my creative work as data that you can choose to pay attention to or not. Just because I don’t ask my editors for feedback on my book doesn’t mean my book is good or communicative, it just means I refuse to watch or ask them questions. And I think that’s how it is with blood work or with Oura data where, it’s not because you don’t want to know it’s not true. So, I just found the information empowering, and I keep it balanced with, too, how am I really feeling? It’s not the only information I use, but it’s additional information that I didn’t have before.
About his current career plan and goals. . .
I may go to New York [for the marathon], but I think from a competition point of view, I’m looking at a race in January. What I try to do in my life is generally go with whatever supports everything else.
I would like to break the Greek marathon record as a general goal. I think it’s like ‘should be broken, can be broken.’ It is in the low 2h30. And I haven’t had the opportunity to run a full marathon yet because I had this post-Olympic depression and didn’t realize the toll it took on my body.
For me, I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else. I’m very happy with my career, but I have a curiosity and a fascination for the marathon that I think hasn’t fully expressed as it did in the 10K. So yeah, I think a winter marathon would be fun. I am thinking of Houston, which is a very good race, but we will see.
On the balance between running and life. . .
I think this sport is evolving. If I’m being really honest with you where pre-Covid I think the world wanted this strong, hard motivation to get out there and grind, the world just got a little worn down by Covid. Generally in sports, but in running in particular, the energy has shifted to just enjoying your sport and doing your sport. And I think that’s something that I see myself playing more and more of in the eyes of others and giving them permission to appreciate and reflect on the shape that sport takes for them.
Girls drop out of sport twice as often as boys at age 14. I’m very aware that that number I think is because when they see adult female athletes I don’t think they see themselves as much as it’s more common to see men doing sports in adulthood and take up tennis and basketball. I think part of my privilege in this world is to be someone who shows that you can have a full life and still play your sport as a woman. That’s not why I do it, but I see it affecting people that way. I think that number could change if girls saw more women in sport leading full lives and continuing to play sports.
It’s not that I need these things for myself. It’s just that I love running, and I want to keep doing that. And it can take different forms – guiding, flying like a fairy, running, occasionally trying trails – but most of all, I really love this sport. In my creative career, a lot of the projects I do are actually sports in nature. I’m really embracing my identity as an athlete in Hollywood, and realizing that I don’t need to hang up my shoes like I thought. I can be an athlete and be a creative person. And that’s a strength, not a weakness. I just didn’t fall in love with the sport, and I don’t think I ever will.
On the potential of well-being data to benefit young women. . .
Men and women obviously have different development timelines. And I think what’s been really difficult is when a young girl going through puberty, for example, isn’t able to see the word “development” as a really positive step in a really healthy life. I think the word “development” is something that we generally don’t accept. In those years, for example, it’s probably wise to have a different perspective on your health in addition to what a trainer might say and also what social media might tell you.
It’s because as athletes, we’re really hard on ourselves and, to be allowed to be as nice to ourselves as we are hard on ourselves, that’s what we have need. It may come from a coach and it may come from a book, but if it comes from data specific to our body, I think we are more likely to allow ourselves to recover and therefore grow during those developmental years.
For me, personally, I didn’t run during those puberty years. It’s because I had a coach in high school who wanted us to specialize only in running. And I was playing football and doing theater and student government. And that was before social media. So I couldn’t say, ‘Is this screwed up?’ I just thought I was de facto not allowed to run unless I was just running. And I didn’t run because I wanted to have a well-balanced life. What was the result, I went through puberty very normally during the years when some people were overtraining.
For someone who isn’t kicked off their race team and is therefore developing normally, they should still be given data that shows they are in good health at a time when they might be hampered by a body in evolution. This Oura data can therefore give you confidence. And it can relieve you where this time of life is so difficult.
Why she loves Oura’s customizable dashboard. . .
There is a new feature that you can remove the calorie [expenditure]. Here’s a more metaphorical way to put it: everyone receives information and inspiration differently. You might say to a child “enjoy the trip” and it might not resonate with them. But maybe if they hear it from the right person or if they hear it in a different way, it resonates. And I think the fact that you can toggle and change how the data speaks to you also recognizes that people receive information differently. What is useful to everyone is unique, so I have always learned to focus on what is useful. And something that might be useful to me might not be useful to you.