Beyond the finish line: Lex & Leo Young build legacy on and off the course

Frosh twins Lex and Leo Young are not your typical student-athletes. Renowned as some of the best cross-country runners in the nation throughout their high school careers, their ambitions transcend running — they have also worked together on a shared YouTube channel L&L and a merchandise line called Run Fast Apparel. 

The Youngs started L&L in 2016 because they wanted an excuse to create videos. “When we started the channel, it had nothing to do with running. It wasn’t until we were freshmen that we started filming stuff that was somewhat related to running,” Lex said. L&L now has over 42,000 subscribers.

“The merchandise is a much smaller endeavor. It’s between me, Lex and Nico,” said Leo. Nico is the Youngs’ older brother. “We’ve been good about using it as almost like an experiment. I think it’s just a way to spread all the positive bits of running culture that we love so much.”

The twins’ journey to fame took its initial steps in their developing years, as they watched their older brother Nico compete in track meets. 

“When Nico was running track and field for a youth club for like a year or two, and we were probably in kindergarten, we were really fed up with sitting around at track meets all day watching,” said Leo. “So, when we were old enough to do it, we were like, ‘Screw it let’s do it.’ That’d be a whole lot more fun than sitting in the stands watching.”

Nico Young is an elite runner in his own right, taking sixth at the most recent NCAA championships for Northern Arizona (NAU). “He’s a testament to showing us what we are capable of, and it makes us believe in what otherwise would seem impossible,” Leo said.

Eventually, Lex and Leo became two of the most highly touted high school recruits in the country. Lex owns the record for the fastest 5k ever run by a high schooler, 13:34.96, while Leo clocked one of the fastest high school boys 1,500 meters times in history, 3:40.86.

The twins came out of Newbury Park High School, which, in 2021, put together what many believe to be the greatest high school cross country team ever, thanks in large part to the efforts of then-juniors Lex and Leo. 

This helped to catapult their fame, which also extends well beyond their YouTube channel. They each have over 50,000 Instagram followers and have achieved near cult-like status among other high school runners. 

Throughout their high school careers, teams across the nation closely followed the twins and the unbelievably fast times they were throwing down. Recently, the twins leveraged their fame by signing an NIL deal with On Running.

Many outside observers thought the twins would follow their older brother to NAU or their former high school coach to UCLA.  

The twins did say they considered joining their brother at NAU, but ultimately decided to come to Stanford for its unique opportunities in academics and athletics.  

“I was just kinda blown away when I came here on my visit just by the environment that it presents, being a place where you’re constantly challenging yourself academically and athletically,” said Leo. “The biggest difference was just that the academic challenge here was something that I just couldn’t pass up.”

“We understood that there was a chance that we would come to separate conclusions on where we wanted to go, but I think both of us knew that going to the same place would probably benefit us,” Lex said.

The twins’ close proximity has also allowed them to continue creating YouTube content together. They posted three videos together in the month of November.

The biggest difference between high school and college cross country is the race length. In high school, runners compete in a 5k (3.1 miles), while at the collegiate level, men run the 8k in the regular season, before stepping up to the 10k for championships. Because of this difference in race distance, collegiate runners have to quickly accustom themselves to running significantly further. Fortunately, the Young twins seem to be handling this transition well.

“Athletically, they are doing great with the training. They’re very good about recoveries,” said junior teammate Robert DiDonato. 

Leo said the transition had been as smooth as it could be, and that he appreciated a trip to Colorado that the team took together. “I think that was probably huge, just to get to know the guys before you’re actually on campus or before you’re actually competing,” he said.

It can be difficult to differentiate the two — outside of their hairstyles, which Lex keeps longer. 

“You have to spend a lot of time with them to get the intricacies of their personality and how they are different,” DiDonato said.

When asked what makes them different from each other, Lex said, “I’d say I’m probably more laid back. Leo’s probably more punctual, a little bit more—”

“Put together,” said Leo, finishing his sentence.

“No,” Lex replied.

“We shine when we’re together …  it’s definitely a special connection,” Lex continued.

Coach Ricardo Santos characterized the twins as positive, upbeat and having a great sense of humor but always being able to “get down to business” at practice. Looking forward to track, Santos noted that the two have slightly different skill sets — Lex’s skillset is more aligned with the 5k and 10k, whereas Leo will probably focus more on the mile, 3k and 5k, Santos said.

“I’m hoping to run mostly miles this season, but I’m sure I’ll experiment with a few other races, probably try 5k,” Lex said. “It is nice when you get to see just the pure limit of your speed.” 

In recent years, more and more young runners are forgoing years of NCAA eligibility and turning pro early. Recently, Stanford junior and reigning NCAA champion Udodi Onwuzurike announced he would forgo his final two years of eligibility and turn pro. 

However, the twins have a different plan. “Seeing what it’s like being on a team like this, I wouldn’t trade this situation for any amount of money,” Lex said.