MN Timberwolves & Lynx’s John Focke on Radio & Running
For Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx fans, the name—and voice—of John Focke is fondly familiar. Currently serving as Executive Producer & Studio Host for the Timberwolves/Lynx radio network, Focke has been a voice of the organization for just over seven years.
Focke has always been passionate about basketball, knowing from an early age that he wanted to be a play-by-play announcer for the NBA. He remembers being eight or nine years old, watching the Pistons and Bulls compete in the Eastern Conference Finals, and one thing stood out to him – watching Marv Albert open the show and interact on television. Every big game, every highlight play, Marv was there. “I was young enough that you still think you could play in the NBA,” laughed Focke, “but that was the moment I remember thinking, ‘That is what I want to do.’”
At only 13 years old, Focke’s natural “on-air” voice was noticed. He tried his hand at acting when he auditioned for a Gatorade commercial. The acting part didn’t pan out – but when he was given the script, he read it like he heard TV and radio announcers speak. The talent agency affirmed his speaking skills, and the rest is history.
From that point on, Focke seized every opportunity he could – hosting high school events, announcing baseball games, and eventually majoring in video production at Ohio University. “Every chance I got, I was in front of a microphone.”
Focke nabbed an internship with KFAN in 2001-2002, and it was that position that finalized his career goal. Although previously considering a television sportscaster, he much preferred the challenge and on-air time of a radio personality.
“I [worked] on the PA Show or the PowerTrip when it first got started, and we had three hours of content we had to fill,” explained Focke. “That was way more enticing than spending all day for two minutes of television time.”
Focke landed his first job in Albert Lea, where he covered high school sports and gathered additional experience. Following that gig, he went to Northern Michigan University, where he covered play-by-play for the Division I hockey team.
It was from NMU that Focke moved directly into the Timberwolves & Lynx job in 2007. In addition to his duties as studio host for both the Wolves and Lynx, Focke serves as the radio play-by-play voice for the Lynx during road games. Fans will also recognize him as the voice of the popular “Wolves Minute” audio bits during the NBA season.
Alan Horton, Timberolves play-by-play announcer, weighed in: “[Focke]‘s been an integral part of everything we’ve done over the last 7 seasons. His ability to handle all the things that go on behind-the-scenes as well as focus on his studio hosting and play-by-play roles is what makes him so valuable, and he is a big reason why I think we have one of the best broadcasts in the NBA & WNBA.”
Most Timberwolves fans are well-acquainted with Focke’s colorful commentary and deep knowledge of basketball. What many may not know, however, is the man behind the microphone.
Meet John Focke, the runner.
And when I say runner, I mean runner. Not only has Focke competed in numerous marathons, but he is now an avid ultra runner. The standard definition of an “ultra run” is anything past the marathon, or 26.2 miles. However, the shortest standard distance that is considered an ultra is the 50 kilometer distance, or 31.07 miles. Ultra courses Focke has completed over the past couple years include the Voyageur 50, the Mount Hood 50-mile race in Oregon (twice!), a self-supported run around the Grand Canyon, and the Patagonia 63K.
How did he get here? Eight years ago, Focke ran his first marathon.
And although he had always been an athlete, a lover of sports, it wasn’t until 2006 that Focke took up endurance running.
“I always said I could [run a marathon],” he said. “Even when there was no way I could even run a mile […] and then one day, I decided to do it.”
Focke planned to run the 2006 Twin Cities Marathon, but landing the job in Michigan changed those plans and extended his training period—something that, in hindsight, proved beneficial. “It was almost a blessing in disguise. I had never run like that before, and I didn’t know what I was doing.” Focke laughs now at his rudimentary attempt at preparing for the race, training inconsistently and eating loaves of crazy bread from Little Caesar’s on his way up to Duluth – “you know, carb loading.”
Focke ran Grandma’s Marathon with his brother Alex; according to John, the race went terribly. He said the following:
“We killed the first 18 miles. We were flying. And then the wheels came off. For both of us. We weren’t running together when they came off, but they came off [...] it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. You can read all the books, read all the training stuff, but there’s no way you can actually wrap your mind around it.”
Whereas many people might have found the experience overwhelming and called it their first and last marathon, Focke had other ideas. “I made the decision that I could do it, and it was through the failure that caused me to wonder what I did wrong.” Determined, he continued to train and improve, all the while learning to enjoy the running experience as a whole. Focke enjoyed having an outlet to both exercise and enjoy time to himself after a busy work schedule that often began at 4 a.m. but allowed him a whole afternoon free.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s a break in the day. My job is listening to people talk and talking myself, so for me it’s time to put on music or just be silent and go out for an hour, two hours, three hours—and just be.”
Focke’s original motivation was to increase speed, get the numbers. “I thought I could run fast. I thought if I trained right I would be able to qualify for Boston [Marathon].” Soon, however, running became less of a goal and more of a passion.
And although he enjoyed completing marathons, it was the trail running and ultra running that truly proved rewarding for Focke:
“I love the woods. I love running. Now I can do them both together,” he said. “It pushes that line even farther to see what you’re actually capable of. There’s a physical side to it; there’s a mental side to it. It becomes a lifestyle … an holistic thing.”
Thus far, the Patagonia 63K—in which he competed in September 2013—proves one of the most memorable races for Focke. The international competition took place in Chile, and it was Focke’s first time out of the country. “The biggest challenge was that I didn’t speak Spanish,” he acknowledged. Focke traveled on his own, and he fortunately connected with three young runners who spoke English and were able to translate all of the details and race information for Focke prior to the run. He explained both the challenge and rewarding experience of preparing for the event:
“My alarm went off at 3:30 a.m., but we didn’t start running until 8:00. It was an hour-and-a-half drive, and because they were shutting down the road [for the race], the bus had to get us there two hours early. We get there – it’s dark, and we’ve already been up for several hours. We just had to sit and wait around, and it was freezing […]. But when the sun came up and we saw where we were, it was absolutely unbelievable.”
The Patagonia event is unique in that it is completely waste free. Typically in marathons or ultra runs, aid stations will be set up along the route to provide runners with cups of water. Because this area of Chile is known to be one of the windiest places in the world, however, the organizers of the event are intentional to keep the beautiful landscape and park free from trash.
The experience was certainly a new one for Focke, but one he found entirely rewarding. An excerpt from his blog reads, “the first 20K was relatively flat, and the views were breathtaking. We headed out away from Lago Grey only to wrap around and see the mountain range that helped contribute to that glacial runoff; the snow-covered peaks seemed to just go on and on and on, no end in sight.”
For Focke, there is also no end in sight to running and the new challenges it brings with it. His next planned run is the Voyageur Half, a marathon that will take place in Duluth in July.
And after that?
“My goal is to run a 103-mile race up on the Superior Hiking Trail,” said Focke.
The task seems impossible to most people. But for an ultra-runner, it’s just another stop on the map.
 The Grand Canyon run was not a race, but Focke and two friends completed the “rim to rim to rim” trek as a self-supported run – meaning there were no aid stations, and they carried everything on their back.
 To read more about the Patagonia 63K and Focke’s other running adventures, follow his blog at http://talesfromthefoke.blogspot.com/2013/10/patagonia.html
*all photos used with permission