in conversation with Aric Van Halen
For this week’s Possessed Magazine I had the pleasure of sitting down with runner and all around exceptional human being, Aric Van Halen. We rapped about rediscovering a love for running after competition, his thoughts on his hometown Los Angeles, pushing the human body by running through Death Valley in the middle of the night on no sleep, training for the LA Marathon, what all is on his bucket list, making art and what it was like to grow up in one of the most famous families in the history of rock n’ roll. Ladies and gentlemen…. I’m proud to introduce you to The Float God!
So, how's it going?
Pretty good, just hanging out.
Ok, let's start with an easy one first. Who are you?
I am Aric Van Halen.
How old are you?
Where did you grow up?
In the valley. Encino and Calabasas. I would split time between the two.
And where do you live now?
Now I’m in Pasadena.
What do you like about the city of Los Angeles?
Ummm, what I like is a much harder question than what I don’t like.
Let's talk about that then! What don’t you like about LA?
It has everything for the most part. I guess my biggest problem with LA is there’s just too many people. It's clear why there's so many people here because it's such a great place - landscape wise, what you can get to, and the things you can do. But there's just too many people so it doesn't really allow you to enjoy most of that. I mean, I love the beach. I love the mountains. I love the food. I love it all. But getting from point A to point to point B is just nearly impossible. And that's kind of why I lived in Colorado for ten years and I never really wanted to come back. Because it was just such a hassle every time I came back, I got crazy anxiety sitting on the freeway and stuff.
That’s a much different pace. You were in Boulder, right? How did you adapt to life there?
Yeah. It took a little bit of time cuz I had a lot of that California kid in me still. And I was a bit of an asshole. So it took a few years for me to calm down and become a little more Colorado, a little more relaxed — enjoy the nature and just how much slower it is out there. Which is ironic because it's far more active of a state than California, as a majority.
Do you have any races coming up?
I don’t have anything until the LA Marathon in November. That's on my calendar and that's the only thing I have right now. I mean, I sort of stopped being competitive a few years ago. And then when COVID happened, I just felt really sort of crappy about my lifestyle and my health, and just not getting out and doing enough. And so I just decided to sign up for the marathon in January and I was like You know what? I got eleven months. We'll get ready for it! And I haven't really been that consistent with my training but I'm definitely getting a good chunk of miles in here and there.
Will this be your first marathon? And how do you prepare leading up to something like that?
Yeah, I've never run a marathon before. My longest training run was like twenty miles when I was competitive. At this point I think I'm just going to ride my talent and put as many miles on my legs at a nice pace as possible. I don't need to go that fast anymore, I try to get good heart rate miles in. Keeping my heart rate below like 150 for as long as possible and just getting aerobically fit. And then as it gets closer, I'll start doing some more specific long runs, some fartleks and some threshold stuff. But right now I just want to have fun with it.
I was really nervous going into The Speed Project stuff. And I think the one thing I took away most was that I still really like running a lot. It had been a while since I'd run. I mean, I’ve never run that many miles in two days before but it had been a long time since I've really sort of pushed my body and I was like Yeah, I remember why I like this so much!
Do you have any certain diet that you stick to leading up to a race?
Not really. I’ve always been pretty good. I’m not the world’s healthiest person but I’m also not unhealthy, I eat a pretty solid combination of protein and carbs and veggies and stuff. I make a pretty mean spicy spaghetti bolognese that used to fuel a lot of my training. I would make a big pot of it and just eat it all week. But you’ve seen me, I’m not a huge human being. And I’ve got a pretty fast metabolism still — who knows if it’ll ever catch up. So I don’t mind indulging myself and eating a dessert here and there. All in moderation of course. I always used to be big on, the night before a race everyone would be too afraid to even look at the dessert menu and I would order a slice of cheesecake.
Ha, that’s the fuel of champions. So, what initially attracted you to running?
I was just good at it. That was about it. I grew up playing baseball and in the eighth grade we had a fitness mile. I went to the same elementary school, middle school and high school so I had the same group of people I knew for the longest time. So growing up, there were the same five people that you didn’t want to be “it” during tag because they were totally going to get you. And one of those kids was this girl that when we had our fitness mile she just took off and I was like, She’s really good. I know she’s really fast. She always tags me when we play tag. I’m just going to chase after her. And I end up dropping her half way at about 800 meters. I ran a 5:10 mile as an eighth grader. And I had no idea if that was fast or slow, I just knew I was the fastest in my grade. But that didn’t even mean a lot because we only had like 80 kids in our class. So I was like, Who knows what that even means? But our gym teacher would be my future cross country coach, and he was like, You know what, you should come out for cross-country next year. And I told him, Okay, why not?
And then how did you end up deciding on running the steeplechase?
I think my background playing baseball and other sports helped with that. Not all runners are that athletic and I think it takes a pretty athletic person to be competitive at the steeplechase. I had mentioned to my college coach when I got there that I was interested in it, and when track season rolled around he just started having us going over barriers. And it just sorta stuck with me, so I just kept going. I really liked it.
Have you ever taken any nasty spills?
Yeah, I fell. Let's see, I ran into the water jump sophomore year in practice and I tore my quad in half. I fell with 400 meters to go at Stanford my senior year at the Payton Jordan Invite. Uhhh, that sucked. I was about to PR and I just ate shit. When I get tired I do the little Kenyan two legs to one side hurdle, my leg just dipped too far low when I hurdled like that and I caught my knee and I just completely face planted. There’s a pretty funny picture of it that you can find on the internet. My friend Kyle photoshopped me out of it and put me into all these funny scenes where I was breakdancing, skateboarding and getting picked up by a hawk. Yeah, I’ve fallen quite a few times.
After a race how do you usually recover or combat those post-race blues?
If it’s a bad one you just gotta put it away. I mean, bad ones happen. I remember in 2016 when I was running the steeplechase, I hadn’t raced in like 16 months because in 2015 I’d been hurt. And I went out to Payton Jordan again and I raced the steeple. I ran 8:45, which is fine. But I definitely thought I was in PR shape at the time. My parents had driven up from LA and when I saw them I cried afterwards and was like, This is stupid! Why am I still doing this? What the heck? And they were like, Well you know, you’ve come this far! Just finish the season up and then if you don’t wanna do it anymore, don’t do it anymore.
Two weeks later I ran at Occidental, I PRed and I qualified for the Olympic Trials. I think just remembering what you felt during that race and what went wrong, and then using that for future training and races.
What did it feel like qualifying for the Olympic trials?
Yeah. I was the third person out of qualifying for the trials in 2012, I think then they took 24 people and I was 27th on the list. So making it in 2016, after having to miss out on the 2015 season with a hamstring injury, it was amazing! Really validated all the hard work I’d been putting in over the years.
What's on your bucket list?
Just in general?
Yeah, like for life in general.
I have a pretty big fear of heights, but I'm also super intrigued by skydiving.
Oh fuck that, I'm so scared of that.
I'm terrified. I can't even get on the edge of a balcony that’s like twenty feet up. It just freaks me out. But the idea of just being free and flying sounds so cool. That's definitely something I'd like to mentally get to.
And all the corny ones as well. Like, I want to travel more and I'd like to see more places. And catching a sweet tube surfing would be awesome. I’m not very good at surfing, I’ve only caught like one or two waves in my entire life but I feel like that would be euphoric and awesome. And on top of that, and I think this one is super doable… being able to skateboard wherever you want. I don’t need to do a kickflip or heelflip or any of that stuff. I just wanna be one of those people that can skateboard throughout town and ollie off curbs and not fall. That seems so chill and fun just to be able to cruise around town.
Did you ever skateboard as a kid?
I tried. My ankles and shins terrified me. I was kind of a baby.
It’s never too late to start, just go easy.
Just gotta be ok with falling a few times, I guess.
When you're out in the world and doing things, do people trip out or comment on your last name when it comes up?
Umm, they do every now and then. It’s definitely the older I’ve gotten, the less prevalent it is. But yeah, it happens. And it always depends on what mood I’m in or where I’m at or who it is. Sometimes they’ll ask if I’m related and I’ll say yes and sometimes I’ll say no.
It just depends on how much you wanna deal with….
Yeah. Like, I was at a camera store in Pasadena and they asked and I said yes. Because I could sort of tell — my dad grew up in Pasadena. So I sort of could tell that they had been lifelong fans, or at least were people that were knowledgeable about it. So I felt like I could talk to them a little bit about it. And they did say that they had gone to a party that my dad had played when they were in high school. So that’s pretty cool.
Oh wow, like a backyard party in the 70’s?
Yeah, it was like a backyard party. Yeah, that’s pretty cool and totally worth saying that. But then I was dropping off a check for my apartment, for my rent, and the lady asked but I was like, I don’t need to. No, no I’m not related. I don’t need to talk about this with you.
That’s funny. I know it's all you’ve ever known, but tell me what was it like growing up a Van Halen?
I mean, like you said, it’s all I’ve ever known. But it was cool. We got to do cool things. My dad is a very interesting character. He loves the heat so we would go to Hawaii a lot when I was a kid. He just loves to be in the sun. But he’s also a super hard worker. He wasn’t not around a lot but he was always working. He was always grinding. Even still to this day, he’s still a grinder. Whether he’s either working or he’s helping my step mom out—she does equestrian stuff so he does a lot of the towing of the horses and stuff. And my little brother is a big car guy so my dad will be helping him out with mechanic stuff all the time as well.
Did you ever go out on tour as a kid?
Not for the full thing. I was on tour a little bit when I was five years old, I think that was the Balance tour. And then when I was 13, that was the Best of Both Worlds tour. They were hubbing out of Boston for their East Coast stint. So I spent a month hubbing outta Boston with them, going from Boston to New York, Boston to Hartford, and all of that. That was a really cool one. And at the time I was a big Red Sox’s fan so we went to a bunch of games, so that was really cool.
Did you play any instruments growing up?
I tried a bunch but nothing really stuck [laughs]. Let's see — I started violin in first grade... that didn't stick. Saxophone in third grade...that didn’t stick. I played piano from sixth grade to ninth grade. Guitar somewhere in there. My uncle tried to teach me guitar. Drums happened a little bit somewhere in there. My dad tried to teach me. But those people that are naturally really good at it are also usually the world's worst teachers.
Haha. That’s funny.
My dad, he’d be trying to teach me a simple beat and he’d be like, Just play it. And be like, I’m fucking trying. And he’d always be like, You just gotta keep practicing, and yeah that’s true but it also seems like it just comes to some people. Like, my cousin is a really good musician and I remember when he was pretty young, I wanna say nine or ten, and he got a drum kit and he would hear songs and could immediately play them on the drums. And I’m sure he practiced but it was one of those things where he could hear, Oh that’s the tom. Oh that’s the high hat. Oh that’s the snare. And I listen to a lot of music but still to this day I’m like, Ummm that’s a sound.
I’m pretty similar to that, I relate.
But I did pick up the ukulele over COVID.
I remember you telling me that.
That’s a fun one cuz you don’t really have to be that good. It’s only four strings and you can just sort of play a little bit of this and that. It’s fun. I dunno, I like it.
Do you have a favorite Van Halen song or do you not care at all?
I’ve always liked “Hot for Teacher”. But my less popular favorite would be “Little Guitars” or “Top Jimmy”.
David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar, who’s cooler?
I honestly don't know. Like I was so young growing up and being on tour that I don't really remember interacting with Sammy at all. And then Dave's been on tour with them the last few bits but I was in college for a lot of it, so I barely got to hang out with them.
What do you parents think of your running career?
My mom and dad, they’re divorced, they’ve both been super supportive. My mom comes to almost all of my races. And my dad came to all of my big races. And yeah, my dad really appreciates all the hard work it took to get where I was. He always wants to call my college coach and thank him for everything. But yeah, they understand the hard work it took. And it wasn’t the same route that he took but ya know.
How did you get the nickname The Float God?
Haha! That’s on you guys! I guess I look like I’m floating when I’m running? I dunno. Just chilling.
Yeah, that’s why. Adam Voidoid coined it actually, it’s on video. And then, how did you get talked into running The Speed Project? Like how did that come about?
I had just left a track meet and Adam [Voidoid] DMed me. And I just assumed he was DMing me for photo work because somebody had just posted some of my photos. So I was thinking, Awesome, I would love to get some work. And he was like, Hey yeah, if you can hop on a call I have a crazy project I’d like to talk to you about. And I’m thinking, Sweet, I’m in because I love crazy projects! I wasn’t super knowledgeable about Satisfy at the time so I went on instagram and the website and just watched a bunch of videos. And I was like, They do some cool stuff, if it’s a crazy project this could be really cool to shoot and stuff. And I hopped on the call and he was like, Have you ever heard of The Speed Project? And I had heard of it from the years past so I said, Oh cool, do you want me to shoot it? No, no - we need another runner. So I was like, Ohhhh, well off the bat I'm not crazy fit right now but I have been running. And honestly, it was just something that seemed like it would be silly of me to say no to. There was no reason for me to say no. It was just such a crazy opportunity and such a crazy project, to meet people and to do something I’ve never done before. I was like, unless I have some debilitating injury, I’m saying yes to this. And I’m also kind of a yes man, I don’t like letting people down. So when Adam said they needed another guy, I told him let me think about it for a day. I was already sort of going to say yes, I just needed to make sure there was nothing I had to do that I had forgotten about [laughs].
Now that you’ve had some time to reflect on it all… What sticks out to you and what do you think you learned or took from that experience?
I just realized I still love running. There were times that we were out there that it was really tough and especially that night, the middle of the night coming into Death Valley. That night was really really rough….
That felt very similar to some punk rock tours I’ve been on, except we never got to the show… we just kept going....
Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve ever legitimately bonked running. I got out of the van at one point — oh, it was when I was running with you and I couldn’t keep up with you. And I was like, my legs are not moving at all, this is really bad. And Leigh had just said that she needed 30 minutes so I was like, Crap, we need to hold this down for a bit. And I got back into the van and thank god I had all those mini Snickers cuz I just pounded like 10 or 11 mini Snickers and it must of just like, jumpstarted my system. And then I was ready to go.
But not only did it remind me how much I really really like running, and this is also gonna sound so cliché, but you don’t really know what your body is capable of until you really try and push it. And I went into it going like, Oh maybe I’ll be able to run 45 to 50 and I can maybe hobble the last whatever they need me to run. So when we started going and I started hammering, it was like, Oh my God, your body is really crazy. The human body is nuts and what you can trick your body into with your mind is just wild. My dad is big on a lot of alternative things, he loves asking me if I’ve heard about Wim Hof. Just that kind of stuff. Just telling your body that you’re fine. The end, coming into Vegas wasn’t bad. But the miles leading up to Pahrump, and out of Pahrump, that’s when it was — you really gotta tell yourself you’re gonna do this, you’re gonna make it.
It was a rollercoaster of, "We’re gonna make it", "Maybe we’re not gonna make it", "Nah we got this".
Yeah. I went back because I did a Crossfit event in Las Vegas two weeks ago. I drove there and back, and on the drive there I was trying to remember where we went. And I still had the little pin points on my Google Maps of where we went and looking at it I thought, I don’t remember chunks. So much happened in such a little amount of time, on such a small amount of sleep, that there are miles I don’t even remember. How did we get there? When did we get picked up? Where did we start? I don’t remember....
Everyday felt like it was a week long….
It was a wild experience and I’m so glad I did it.
Considering that you majored in film, what are some of your favorite movies?
Yeah, I’ve always really loved music videos and stuff like that. I like matching visuals to audio, especially — and this is a little conceited but I like having the way I feel about a song visualized.
Well, then let’s start there. What are some of your favorite music videos first?
I like the really long form ones. Like I loved the Arcade Fire one that’s like 30 minutes long — The Suburbs, I think it’s called. It’s a weird dystopian future thing with these kids riding bikes around. That one is awesome. I love Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. I really like Kanye West’s short film that went with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — Runaway with the ballerinas, it’s so simple yet so moving. There’s so many. I need to start making lists of these things.
And so, for feature films, I’m a big Edgar Wright guy. I love Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Those are two of my favorite movies. And I really like Denis Villeneuve, he’s Canadian and did Sicario and the new Blade Runner. He partnered up with Roger Deakins on Sicario which is the Coen Brothers DP. He does those really great, long establishing shots and some really nice aerial stuff. I just love it.
Yeah, that scene where they’re going over the border into Mexico is crazy….
Ah, yeah that’s one of my favorite shots of all time. Following the trucks, it’s so sweet. Oh man! And I’m a real sucker for a really corny pulpy detective TV show or movie. I love true crime stuff. I really love Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch book series and then they have Bosch the TV show on Amazon, which is an adaptation. The books are so much better. I don’t read a ton but I wanna meet someone that can give me a good example of a TV show or movie being better than the book it’s based on. Cuz I haven’t found it yet. You can’t put an eight hundred page book into a three and a half hour movie and get any of the good stuff.
I was checking out your photography page on Instagram, is that what you’re focusing on right now?
Yeah, photography is what I lean towards. I don’t post nearly enough, I’m kind of a self-hater. Nothing I ever do is ever good enough so I never like to post.
What kind of stuff do you like to shoot mainly? I really liked those portraits you shot of your friends.
Yeah, I like combining sports with art, I guess. That’s so broad. But my dream was to shoot for the ESPN Body Issue. But ESPN magazine is now defunct so that will never be a thing. But the human body is so cool. I like highlighting athletic people. My best friend is a pretty prominent skateboard photographer and I’ve always really looked up to his work.
I shot a few things last year with a single strobe and a landscape at sunset with runners and I was sort of trying to combine running photography with skateboard photography. But it’s so hard cuz a skate trick is so much cooler than someone just out for a run. But the way that they shape the light and the way they use location, how the location is almost as important as the subject. That’s the kind of stuff I really enjoy. I’m still a little bit in my own head with being open to shooting things. I’ve always wanted to shoot way more experimental weird shit that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s kind of like when you’re in school and they’re like, Write an essay and it’s whatever you wanna write the essay about and I’m like, There’s too many things. I don't even know where to begin with what I wanna shoot.
What kind of cameras do you like to use?
I have a Nikon D850 for digital and then I have a Nikon F1 for stills. And I just got a Hasselblad 500C right before The Speed Project. So I’ve been playing around with that a lot but I haven’t really gotten a chance to check out too many of my shots yet cuz it’s so expensive to scan film. I’m still trying to find a reasonable way to scan all of it and get a look at it. I’ve shot about 40 rolls of 35mm in the last year and I’ve barely gotten to look at any of it yet.
Do you have a favorite quote that gives you comfort that you tell yourself?
So, I have This too shall pass tattooed on my arm and I didn’t know that it was a Bible quote. I was always told that it was an old proverb. Which I guess Bible quotes are too. But I was always told it was an Asian proverb so I was misled, but I still like it cuz I’ve found it to be true. Good things happen and that passes. Bad things happen and then that passes. Kind of like The Speed Project, it’s like a rollercoaster and you just gotta learn how to ride it out. If you ride out the bad stuff, good stuff will come back. And as long as things are good, they’ll get bad at some point but you just gotta remember they’ll come back.
What would your last meal be?
Shit, I’m torn between having something like a cheesy vodka sauce penne with the chicken and broccoli or just getting a big platter of sushi. There’s something about a nice baked ziti. Ah, so good, so creamy!
Any last words?
Nah, I think I’m good. I talked a lot. I talk a lot. I don’t know if I need any more last words.
Those are my last words! Thank you!