John Wicks, drummer for Fitz and the Tantrums, has always been an active guy. He has to be to keep up with the band. “We have a super high energy set that’s a non-stop dance party from beginning to end,” Wicks says. “The drumming itself is a cardio workout.” Even so, around the time they released their first album, “Picking up the Pieces,” he was starting to feeling the toll of life on the road – countless hours on the bus, late nights, and a fast food addiction. So he started running.
“I started because my kids were born and my blood pressure was really high and I was going to Jack in the Box at 2 am after gigs – I was getting short fused and irritable. And I made it my goal to run a marathon. That was the beginning of it.” But it was far from the end.
Wicks finished his first marathon and felt wholly renewed. “I crossed the finish and my body was like, I want to do that again.” So he did. He has since run three marathons, moved to Missoula, Montana and is making good with the ultra community there. Last year, he started crossing over to ultra distances, finishing a 50-miler as well as The Rut, a 50K trail run in Montana that gains and loses some 20,000 feet in elevation (“it’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done”). This year, on top of taking on the Pengelly Doup Dip, the Blue Mountain 30K, and pacing a friend in the last half of the Wasatch 100, he’s planning on running his first 100-miler at the Cascade Crest 100.
His conversion didn’t happen overnight, of course. It took a major change in diet as well as a mile-heavy running routine. After Wicks started running, he lost a little weight but was still eating poorly and feeling sluggish. A friend recommended Finding Ultra by vegan ultramarathoner Rich Roll. He immediately connected with Roll’s story. “Here’s a guy who was exactly in the same position as I was – addicted to burgers, breathing hard up the stairs, and he hated vegetables, just like me.” Wicks bought a Vitamix and started acclimating himself to vegetables by putting them in smoothies. “If you feed yourself vegetables enough, you start to crave it,” he says. “I ate less, better food. Then I started to notice the weight really drop off.”
It was at that time that “More Than Just a Dream” came out “and the band started to get wind in its sails and we started to tour more,” says Wicks. This time, thanks to his new running routine and mostly vegan diet, the touring didn’t take its toll. “After six weeks out on the road in close quarters, you’re ready to just go off. And running provides a calming effect, an escape.” While touring, Wicks now gets up every day at a most un-rock ‘n’ roll hour – 6:30 am – and heads out for it run.
More often than not, the rest of the band is getting up early ready to work too. “This band is kind of nerdy that way,” says Wicks. “We work hard and do lot of radio promo and meet-and-greets and social things that I think most bands don’t want to be bothered with. As a result no one can really go out and tie it on every night.”
Wicks now lives in Missoula, Montana where he runs up Mount Sentinel (the 5,158-foot mountain inside the city limits) most days, even in the winter when the snow is up to his thighs. He has ultra aspirations, but for now he is able to up the ante on his high-energy drumming set: “I’m not breathing hard anymore. When we first started, I was really hurting and feeling it during a set. I didn’t know just how much it would effect me.”