Production: Tenfold Production; Photography: Jason Dam; Photo Assistant: Mori Arany; First AD: Justin Manabat; DP: Zachary Guy; Gimbal OP & Editor: Adrian Anvari; Gaffar: Jordan Westcott

Canadian distance runner, Ben Flanagan, knows all too well about the inevitable turbulence that comes with performing as a professional athlete. The same month that Flanagan signed with On – the Swiss sportswear company currently sweeping the running world off its feet – he broke his foot training for the Houston Half-Marathon. At the time, the Kitchener, Ontario-native was hoping to break the Canadian half-marathon record, a daunting feat even with 10 toes intact. As you might suspect, Flanagan fell short of the record. And yet, determined to still run his first race representing On, Flanagan not only managed to finish the race but fell a mere 30 seconds shy of breaking the record, despite a broken bone.

You might then expect an athlete as resilient as Flanagan to adopt the hard-nosed “Chop Wood, Carry Water” attitude so often espoused by fitness podcasters and running influencers marketing a militant approach to fitness. Instead, Flanagan’s 2022 season – and his running career at large – has been fuelled by an unshakeable joy for running. It’s an attitude that not only defines his dynamic with his teammates – an eclectic group of elite professionals who have appropriately dubbed themselves “Very Nice Track Club” – and his relationship with On, but also his everyday life.

“At the end of the day, even through the injuries and setbacks that come with the sport, it’s hard to be anything but thankful,” he says. “I get paid to run fast. I get to test out the best shoes on earth. I get to race in front of family and friends. Yes, I want to break records and win big events, but I’ve already won the lottery. Everything else is just extra.”

Ben Flanagan wearing On Cloudventure x LOEWE collaboration, hybrid shorts, and crewneck.
Cover star Ben Flanagan wearing On Cloudventure x LOEWE collaboration, hybrid shorts, and crewneck.
Ben Flanagan warms up in the On Zero Jacket, track pants, and Cloudmonsters.
Ben Flanagan wearing the On Zero Jacket, track pants, and Cloudmonsters.

As Ben’s teammates would attest, his joy for running quickly is contagious to everyone around him. On the day of our photoshoot, the distance runner comes strolling into our studio, talking excitedly to the On representative, Ana, who has come to support her athlete. Ana and Ben laugh and talk about the year ahead, recap a few races from fellow On athletes, and share some friendly banter before he makes his way around the room greeting each member of our production team.

As the team gets Flanagan ready for his shoot, I ask Ana, “So, how long have you known Ben?”

“We met about five minutes ago,” she responds.

As he chats with the rest of our team, I realize that this is simply everyday life for Ben Flanagan. It’s what helps him love not only the gruelling training that comes with being one of the fastest distance runners in Canadian history but his role as a community ambassador for On.

“Obviously, a large part of my job is running fast while wearing On,” he explains. “I’m here to showcase that I can be a great athlete in the equipment, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s also about being a part of the running community. Anyone who’s showing interest in what we do, I want to show interest back. So, for On to give me opportunities to do community initiatives and get involved with that side of the sport, that’s really special.”

Canadian long-distance Ben Flanagan wears On apparel.
Ben Flanagan wearing On's Swift Jacket in black.

But don’t let his sunny disposition fool you. This is, after all, the same man who ran a 1:01:38 half-marathon on a broken toe. It’s also the same man who – just 10 months later – redeemed himself by breaking the national record with a time of 1:01:00 in Valencia as well as the national 10km record in 28:11 just four months prior. In a year of professional milestones, these two records usher Ben Flanagan into the highest echelon of Canadian running excellence.

“It has to be breaking the Canadian half-marathon record,” says Ben when reflecting on the greatest professional highlight of his career. “That’s how I ended my season and obviously grabbing that record was a huge goal of mine but it was also kind of a cyclical ending to one of my worst moments in the sport after Houston. […] But, like I said, On just continued to support me and I was so happy when I was able to represent them 10 months later in the way I wanted to. Walking away from this season securing the goal that I started it with, yeah, that’s pretty cool, man.”

Still, in a sport where world rankings and qualifiers come down to raw numbers and the difference between an athlete’s highest and lowest moments can be determined by a mere 38 seconds, maintaining the joy of running oftentimes relies on the little things. For Ben, that joy lies in a 7.0-mile stretch of road on Cape Cod.

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Flanagan has now won the Falmouth Road Race for three years running. To most, it’s a charming yet slightly unassuming race in a cosy little Massachusetts town. While well known in the running world, it doesn’t quite hold the same weight to outsiders as races like Houston or Ottawa. But for Ben, the joy offered by such a race isn’t something that can be measured by course records or first-place finishes.

“The first time I went there in 2018 was one of my first pro races and I really didn’t know what to expect,” he reminisces. “Falmouth is a very tight-knit community and, for pro athletes, they do host families.”

 Instead of hotels, Falmouth asks its locals to host the athletes in their own homes.

“It gives a sense of the community. But what happened is, my host family never showed up for me. Apparently, they had a flat tire,” recalls Flanagan. “So, the President of the race invited me to stay with his family. I found out his daughter was also going to Michigan at the same time as me. We got to know each other that weekend and, well, fast forward three years and she’s my fiancé and her dad – the President at the time – is my future father-in-law. Now that place has become a second home to me. […] Quantitatively, that race isn’t going to mean as much as others when it comes to my Olympic odds. It’s not going to turn heads in the same way as those in major cities. But it means so much more than what I can put into numbers.”

If I hadn’t heard the story directly from the source, I would’ve assumed it was a plot ripped straight out of a Netflix rom-com. But this penchant for turning lemons into lemonade is part of what makes Ben Flanagan so unique. It’s how he went from falling short in his first race with On to breaking the national record in less than a year. More importantly, it’s how he went from being stranded at an airport to meeting his future wife.

“The only downside is that I’ve set the bar pretty high,” he laughs. “Now, I’ve won it three years in a row, so my in-laws think, ‘Oh wow, he’s going to win again!’ All I can think is, ‘Well, hold on, it was pretty hard to win the first few.’

Canadian long-distance runner Ben Flanagan wears On CloudMonsters in front of a white and blue backdrop.
Ben Flanagan wearing On's CloudMonster in frost & cobalt, hybrid shorts, and crewneck.
Close-up shot of the On CloudMonster in frost & cobalt.
Ben Flanagan wears the On CloudMonster in frost & cobalt.

Even his signature celebration as he crosses each finish line following a win reflects the unfettered joy that defines his relationship with running, jumping high in the air and snatching the ribbon mid-leap. Most runners struggle to maintain such energy through a gruelling season. Running is unique to most sports in that runners are almost forced to act simultaneously as both athletes and entrepreneurs. In an individual sport, securing partnerships is necessary to keep the dream alive. But for Ben, his relationship with On has proven integral to maintaining joy in such a turbulent sport.

“Having the right sponsors in this sport is so important. There can be so much pressure day-to-day, race-to-race, it becomes really crucial to be able to trust the partners supporting you and On has always been that way. From the moment they signed me, they made a really concerted effort to bring me into a community,” he explains.

“I remember when I hurt my foot last year, Steve DeKoker – who manages On Athletics Club – emailed me directly. He told me that he was so excited for me to wear the next iteration of the shoes and that he knew I’d set the record next time. He didn’t have to do that. The brand didn’t have to go out of their way to bring me into the fold. They were already supporting me financially. But to go out of their way to make sure I was optimistic about our future and make me feel so embraced, not every runner gets to experience that.”

Canadian distance runner Ben Flanagan poses in an On windbreaker.
Ben Flanagan wearing On's Zero Jacket in white & meadow.
Canadian long-distance Ben Flanagan wears On apparel.
Ben Flanagan wearing On's Swift Jacket in black.

And after making good on his word this year by securing a pair of Canadian records, the final items on Flanagan’s career bucket list are clear.

“It’s simple: make the World Championship and Olympic teams,” he says without hesitation. “We have World’s [this] year and the 2024 Olympics in Paris. I’m really proud of everything that I’ve accomplished to this point, but I still haven’t represented Canada on either of those stages. Both of those benchmarks are really important to me. The challenge is picking the right distance to get me there. I’m at a bit of a fork in the road. Am I gonna be a better 5km or 10km athlete or a marathoner? Those are drastically different events that require drastically different training. But whatever I choose, my entire season will be geared towards those goals.”

Still, amplified by one of the most prominent brands in running, Ben Flanagan’s legacy is one that will likely transcend wins, records, or even Olympic medals. Instead, he hopes his legacy in Canadian running culture will be defined by the joy and inspiration he’s able to spread throughout the sport.

“Legacy is something I’ve started thinking about more and more as I’ve gotten older,” he says. “I want to inspire other people, really. And I’m learning that there are more ways to do that than just running fast. It’s about community. It’s about spreading the feeling of freedom that I felt when I first started. The joy of running, you know? Right now, it’s still about running fast. But I want to show people that it’s about the journey. I wasn’t always a record-holder. I never thought I’d be a professional. I just kept on enjoying the work and my time with those around me. […] I hope my legacy isn’t just a time on a clock. If I can make people feel like they can belong to this community and find joy in it, then I had a good career.”

He pauses for a second before laughing and adding one last aside.

“But don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to be fast.”

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