Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey said that his past life as a professional runner served as ideal training for his role as a public servant.

Having grown up in northern Virginia, Frey discovered Minneapolis via the Twin Cities Marathon. It was at that race that he punched his ticket to Rio de Janeiro, where he would run a 2:16:44 marathon and finish fourth representing the United States at the 2007 Pan American Games.

He ended up settling in the Twin Cities in 2009 after graduating from law school at Villanova and taking a job at Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels), where he had previously served as a summer associate.

Although he was no longer racing competitively, which included 150-mile weeks in law school, Frey wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. Aside from his law career, Frey, 34, quickly established himself as a community organizer in Minneapolis and, in 2013, was elected to represent the city’s new Third Ward.

While running has taken a back seat to politics, Frey said it remains one of the most important ways he experiences the city. Running also is something that influences the way he thinks about the importance of green space and development in Minneapolis — about 65 percent of which is happening within his ward.

In a recent interview, Frey shared a bit about the role running plays in his life, as well as his ideas on fostering and maintaining outdoor spaces within a growing urban area.

On making the transition from competitive to recreational running

It took me five years. My last year and a half of competitive running, I ran the Pan American Games marathon (2007), which was probably the best marathon of my life, followed by the Olympic Trials (2008), followed by the Austin Marathon (2008, first place), followed by the New York City Marathon (2008), which was my final race.

At the end of that string, after accomplishing my goal of getting the USA jersey, it was very much, what’s next? I had no interest in running for years, but now I’m appreciating it for the activity in and of itself rather than competition. There’s nothing I love more now than going for a run with a few buddies and grabbing a drink afterwards.

On getting around the city

I almost never step foot in the car for the warmer half of the year. When you’re out running or biking or walking, there’s an increased contact with the people around you that you just can’t get in the car. That’s the goal, to become that happy city that facilitates engagement through the public realm itself.

On the importance of outdoor spaces in Minneapolis

They are critical. If you look at studies of the happiest cities in the world, people have jobs they value in proximity to their homes so they can walk or bike; they are very near to nature, woods, even a lake or river; they have a beautiful park system; and they live amongst a lot of people.

On development in Minneapolis

The two concepts of an urban happening lifestyle and nature are not mutually exclusive. But when you incorporate them into a city together, they are key ingredients to success. Minneapolis has the potential to create a [diversity] of tall buildings, exciting public realms, happening urban areas, and nature and the environment. I think we have the potential to do that more than any other city in the country because we still have space.

On the Mississippi River as a destination

With the river, we are looking at a linear park space. We are trying to ensure that the property abutting the river has public access all the way down so it’s a fully connected riverfront trail, not just for a mile or two, but all the way. That takes a lot of negotiation and talking. There are reasons why there has been industry located along the river for transportation, commerce, shipping of merchandise, but now we are trying to earn back this public realm through easements or the acquisition of property. That’s the long- and short-term goal.

On the connection between distance running and his political career

When you’re at mile 23 of a marathon, success and failure is up to you. But in order to make it to that point, you have to do the legwork for months and months in advance. The formation of that work ethic can transition beautifully into anything else. You also learn to siphon the positives off any day. Maybe I didn’t feel great but, hey, I got my 20 miles in. Maybe I didn’t hit my times, but I’m at a point in the training cycle when times don’t matter as much and it’ll come around.

The same applies to pushing for any initiative or project for the city. There are good days and bad days, but as long as the [project] is in the right direction for the community, you feel good.

On a good night in Minneapolis

I’d start at my apartment, run down to the river, across the Stone Arch Bridge, go up the west side of the river, down through that trail that wraps around over by North Loop, and then continue to Broadway, cross Broadway, and go back down through Boom Island and Nicollet [and] home.

Afterwards, I’d maybe go to either Dangerous Man or Pizza Nea. There’s nothing better than that.


Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance writer. She lives in Minneapolis.