Athlete Spotlight – Jeff & Shawn Barnett


We recently got this email from our awesome leader – Michelle “Guys…. meet Jeff Barnett. He was my first running coach and then coaching partner for years with Austin Fit. His son Shawn just ran his first marathon this past weekend in Vegas. I have had the honor of watching Shawn grow into an amazing young man and athlete over the years.” 

So obviously, we found it to be a great opportunity to pry into the lives of a father/son duo who is taking on the running world together. Here is a little bit more about how they have grown as running partners, and where they plan to take their sport: 


1. First – Tell us about both of your backgrounds in running. When did you both begin running?  

JEFF (dad) – I casually ran from high school through college, but never on a school team or competitively. I always had the dream that someday I would run a marathon. After Shawn was born, I found Austin Fit, and I trained with them for my first marathon in February 2000.  The next year, I became an Assistant Coach with Austin Fit, and I have been an Assistant Coach, Head Coach, and even Director of Austin Fit for more than 17 out of the last 20 years. I have also coached and trained with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training during the years I was not with Austin Fit.  When Shawn was very young, I pushed him in a baby jogger during our training with Austin Fit. Sometimes other coaches (like Michelle Hittner) or members would help out. When Shawn was about 4 years old, he began riding along with me on shorter runs on his bike with training wheels.

SHAWN (son) – When I began running it was back when I was around four or five years old when I went with my dad to his running group (Austin Fit). When I was this old I didn’t actually run but instead would ride my bike as my dad ran and trained for his marathons. When I was 7 years old, I asked my dad if I could train for the Cap10K with him and Austin Fit during their training program, he said yes and I did my first 10k when I was 7 years old. The next year, I asked my dad and mom if I could train for a half marathon, and after we got my doctor’s clearance, I trained with Austin Fit and completed my first half marathon when I was 8 years old. I did 5 total half marathons between the age of 8 and 12 years old.


2. How often do you run together and how is training with your dad / son? 

JEFF – I had previously told Shawn that when he turned 21, I would take him to Las Vegas. This past year, Shawn turned 21, and I asked him if he would like to train for and run the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon for his Vegas trip, and he agreed.  For the last 6 months of his training, he actually helped out as an Assistant Coach with Austin Fit.  We have run together most Saturdays (long runs for the week) for the past 9-10 months.

SHAWN – I love training with my dad! I have always enjoyed being able to spend that time with him to catch up and tell him what’s going on in school, with my friends, and what I am going through. It’s a good chance for him to be a mentor and a coach for me not only on the trails but also as a dad and my life coach. When I was younger (during my half marathon trainings), we ran 3 times a week, usually on Tuesdays at Pflugerville Lake, and Thursdays as a hill run around Balcones Woods. When I was younger, he often had to do a little more coaching because I loved to run fast and I was always faster than he was so he would have to hold me back and make sure I didn’t go out too fast and had some energy left in the tank.


3. Shawn – Tell us about your first full marathon. And Jeff, how was it running alongside your son for his first full marathon?

JEFF – Shawn actually trained and helped coach at a faster pace than I trained, so we weren’t always together for all of the runs.  But I have enjoyed seeing him get stronger, more fit, and healthier in recent times.  I am very proud of him and I expect him to far exceed my own accomplishments as a runner in coming years.

SHAWN – Prior to this past year, I had taken about 8 years off between 12-20 years old. Growing up, my dad told me that when I turned 21, he would take me to Las Vegas. However, what he didn’t tell me was that he wanted to go to Vegas and run a marathon together. This past year, I turned 21, and about a year ago, my dad asked me if I would want to train for and run the Las Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon for his Vegas trip, and at first I was very hesitant and I actually told him probably not, but I would think about it. I called him back about a month later and I said “lets do it!” My training season wasn’t the best in my first year back. In early August I was going for a training run when I struck my heel down while running on the side of the road and I had this shooting very sharp pain in my heel causing me to stop right there and I had to actually limp a mile and a half back to the car because I couldn’t put much pressure on my heel. I went to the doctor a week later because it hadn’t gotten any better and I found out that I had a stress fracture in my heel. Unfortunately, the doctor said I would be out 2-3 weeks and this is about midway through the training for my race so this was some of the biggest runs that I needed to be doing to improve myself during training. I ended up being out about 6 weeks with no running, I did a lot of cycling and some yoga (things I didn’t have to put a lot of weight down on my left heel) during this time to try and add strength and stay up with my cardio. I also swam a couple of times especially towards the end of the 6 weeks so I could make sure my cardio was okay once I got back. When I got back, I actually ran twice before I wound up re-injuring myself, and was once again out for 2-3 weeks with nothing to do except cycle and swim a couple times a week. I came back to training with only 7-8 weeks left, and to this point my longest run was just 9 miles. I was scared to say the least.

4. Can you tell us what your first race together was? And how was that experience for you both? 

JEFF – Back when Shawn was 7, he trained for the Cap10K as his first real race.  He trained with me and ran my pace during training and during the race itself.  I remember being very proud that he wanted to run “Just like Dad” and that he was literally following in my footsteps.  In his first couple of years training for his 5 half marathons, he trained slower than me.  But after that, he became faster than me (of course, I was going somewhat slower due to training for full marathons).  For the most part, he has remained faster than me through the years, and I love to see him run and reach for higher goals.

SHAWN – Back when I was 7, I trained for the Cap10K as my first real race. I trained with my dads running group and he was my coach during the training and race. I really enjoyed that time with my dad because it was time that I had with him basically alone because my mom and sister both didn’t run so I saw it as a time when it was something special that me and my dad had. Growing up, and even today I always thought I wanted to be just like my Dad and that I want to follow in his footsteps, but be what I foresee as an even better version of him. In my first years of training for my first couple of half marathons, I trained as fast or a little slower than my dad. But after a few of them, I became faster than my dad because I was getting older, my stride was getting bigger, and I was now more experienced. In my most recent training season and first marathon, I ran my training about a minute and a half faster per mile than him and I ended up running the race faster than any of his marathons to this point. I enjoy challenging my dad to be the best he can be on and off the trail.


5. How do you incorporate bodywork into your training, if at all? And what do you feel it does for your training? 

JEFF – I have always been a big believer in the therapeutic and relaxation benefits of massage.  I have always bragged on Michelle Hittner as having “the best hands in Austin, Texas, and I still believe that today. Pre- and post-race massage and occasional massages during a training season (even if not injured or having specific issues) is very important. I have also always emphasized stretching, both before and after runs. I think the stretching and massage helps prevent injuries and keeps me running well.  In the past couple of years, I have also gotten more into rolling and related bodywork, and that helps as well.

SHAWN – Because this was my first training season back, I knew I would need to do more than just running if I wanted to be able to compete the race. When my dad first called me a little over a year ago, asking if I wanted to go to Las Vegas to run my first marathon, I was about 20 pounds heavier than I am right now and I never thought I would be where I am. From about December until about May, I worked out 2-3 times in the gym, lifting weights and I was still running 1-2 times every week to start training outside of the running group. Sometime around early March, I got dragged by my roommate to try yoga for the first time over at Black Swan Yoga and I really enjoyed it so I went a couple more times and ended up buying a membership over the summer so I could use it more to help with my training. During the summer time I went to yoga 7 or 8 times every week. I really enjoyed doing this to help with my strength while I couldn’t be in the gym because the school gyms were locked. I also used a lot of indoor cycling and some minor swim work to keep my cardio up to a steady level while I was out with an injury this season.


6. What is up next for the both of you race wise? 

JEFF – I always do 2-3 full marathons each year, and a few other shorter race distances too.  I have just completed Marathon2Marathon (Oct 26) and Last Vegas Rock N Roll Marathon (Nov 17), and I have not figured out yet what my 2020 races will be.  But I definitely will be doing my typical 2-3 marathons, so “stay tuned.”

SHAWN – Up next, I want to keep moving up. I want to do either the Austin Full marathon on February 15th or the Big Bend Ultra Marathon (50K race) that same weekend. I am going to the doctor this week to check on my heel and make sure that nothing is actually wrong with it before I move forward with training and racing. I am super exciting to get back and run my next one!


7. Is there anything else you would like to add? 

JEFF – I have always appreciated how Michelle Hittner and Austin Massage Company has been there to help and support the Austin running (and athletic) community.  As I said, she has the best hands in Austin, and I know she only hires the best also.  Thank you for so many great years!

SHAWN – I have always loved running and being friends with Michelle Hittner. I have yet to go to Austin Massage Company however, they have always been there to help and support the Austin running (and athletic) community as well as my dad, Jeff. I definitely need to get in soon so Michelle can work my body out, as it is sill pretty tight, and get me ready for my next race!

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