A slow beginning
A little bit more about myself, and running.
I went out for my first “real run” at some point in 2010, I can’t remember the exact date, probably in the spring, but I wasn’t using anything to track my runs as far I can remember. I had finally gotten a jack adapter for my Sony Ericson w880i phone, it looked like this.
Very quick note here, I used quotes around “real run”, to differentiate the fact that I put on sport clothes and went out, with the intent of running and nothing else. It has nothing to do with pace or speed!
Finally being able to listen to music while running, I laced up my shoes, and went for a run, I can’t remember the distance, but I roughly remember the route, and according to Google it’s about a mile, maybe a mile and a half. I ran it and painfully made my way back home. I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the pain the next day when walking up and down the stairs at the university.
I think I was able to maintain some rough form of consistency all the way to the summer, as in running once a week ish. I do remember running the same route regularly and slowly increasing the distance, and feeling proud every time I was doing so. I also remember starting to overtrain even then and feeling pain in my knees but assuming that I just had to power through.
I also have clear memory of this one hill, according to the strava segment it is a half kilometer, 4% incline hill, that I used to run regularly, and it always felt like climbing mount Everest. I remember thinking: “I’m in pain right now, but if I keep on training, one day this will feel easy”.
Well, I didn’t know it then, but this quote summarizes perfectly how wrong I was:
It doesn't get any easier; you just get faster.--Greg LeMond
My first race
I didn’t have any GPS devices back then, at first I wasn’t using anything to track my runs. Later in 2010, I was gifted an iPod touch, and started using the Nike+iPod kit, with the foot pod. To this day I have no idea how accurate this thing was, but if it is to be believed, I was able to get to a long run of about 13 miles either in the fall of 2010 or early in 2011. Probably between 2h10 and 2h30. I was so proud to even think: “Hey, I think I ran a half marathon”.
I had been what most people would describe a couch potato pretty much all my life. The only sport I had ever practiced regularly was archery. I started when I was around seven, and stopped when I got to high school, around 15. It was fun for a while, and I got to a decent level, winning a bunch of local meets, and making it to nationals twice. But let’s be honest, when you’re 12, there is not a lot of competition in archery in southern France, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to win a trophy, while beating one other kid, or to finish third, out of three people competing.
And this was confirmed in my two appearances in the nationals, where I finished almost last in both events. As I got older, there started to be more people to compete with, and this is when I stopped caring about it.
All in all, not the best experience in terms of persevering and perfecting a skill and also, while being extremely difficult to master, archery is also far, very far, from requiring a high level of athleticism.
In the summer of 2011 I moved to Kuala Lumpur for an internship, and while I initially intended to maintain some running, I did not. I remember running once, and in total I probably ran twice, maybe three times. I then moved to Helsinki for the fall semester and the same thing happened, I ran a bit more, but nothing consistent. I’d love to blame the weather, but it actually really wasn’t that bad.
I started an internship in Bordeaux in January 2013, and tried to pick up running in the winter, but failed again at maintaining consistency, I probably ran up to 5 times until the fall.
In September, one of my good friends got me to sign up for a 10k in Paris, in October, and so we started training together. I had gotten my first smartphone a few months earlier, so this is when I started logging my runs. I used the Nike app at the time, but they’re on Strava now! Twelve training runs later, we made it to Paris for the race. I remember how we prepared the night before, by drinking Guinness at a local pub. And this how I got to run my first race.
This was such a great experience, I remember being able to pick up the pace for the final kilometer, and being to pass other runners on my way to the finish line was an awesome feeling, I felt fast and powerful. My friend finished a few minutes ahead of me but I didn’t really care. I knew he was more athletic than me, in way better shape, good for him.
The next Monday, when we got back to the office, the CEO of the small startup we worked at asked how we did. This guy was problematic is so many ways, so what I’m about to quote is far from being the worst he’s ever done or said. He’s the kind of assholes who would take pride in humiliating employees in the office, in front of everyone, regularly making them cry.
This guy, who was a regular runner, when told I ran a 10k in fifty three minutes reacted with something like: “Wow, really? You’re 23, that’s so slow for your age, I can do so much better”. Well, dickhead, if I could speak to you today, fuck you.
And then … nothing. I got back to Bordeaux, and forgot about running, once again.
Moving to a different country
In early 2013 I quit my job with the terrible CEO in Bordeaux and moved to New York for a new job. And, like many times before, I tried to create a running habit, and failed. I ran four times for the first three months. I did have a fairly good summer after that, and managed to create a new streak record, five consecutive days, of approximately 10k each. After the fourth day I remember thinking: “I ran a marathon … in four days”. But with a lot of what was happening at the time, moving from one place to the other every other week for a while, I stopped running, again.
Fast forward a few months, March 11th 2014, it’s a Saturday, I just finished my first week at this new cool job, and my girlfriend at the time, and I are walking around East River Park in Manhattan. While sitting on a bench, I don’t remember how we got to talking about it, but I admitted: “I’ve never really practiced any sports ‘seriously’, nothing athletic at least, I tried to start running, and I got to a point where I could run long-ish distance, but I haven’t run in a while, I don’t even own running shoes anymore”. And that’s how it started, I can’t remember if she suggested it of if I did, but we walked to Paragon Sports on Union Square, and I bought a pair of Asics Gel Cumulus 15.
I remember my first run with these new shoes, it was pretty cold that day, I was really arrogant, I started running south alongside the East River, got to the Financial District, and … had to stop. About four and half miles, ish, my legs told me they were done for the day. The walk home was painful, cold and extremely uncomfortable.
I took a one week break, the next few days were painful, I remember struggling to walk the small step separating the hallway and the men bathroom at the office, and got to a pretty good rhythm, running three to four times a week. When the weather got nice in May, I also got a bike and started riding to work, which really helped to get me in better shape.
My ex-girlfriend got us to sign up for a few races with NYRR, I don’t have a lot of memories of the first one, but I vividly remember the second one, the New York Giants Run of Champions. I really wish NYRR would bring it back, finishing the race in the end zone at Metlife Stadium was an amazing feeling.
Back to the race, at the time I had spent some time on /r/running and read about the “20 minutes” barrier for 5k. It almost felt to me like you weren’t a real runner if you couldn’t break 20, or at least that you weren’t “serious” about it. And for no other reasons that I wanted to be taken seriously, I started thinking of sub-20 as a target.
Weirdly enough, this idea of running a sub-20 became a really serious goal in my mind. Later that year, in the fall, my company organized a retreat in Connecticut and one of the exercises was about goal setting, it had to Specific and Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. It if wasn’t SMART, it was some similar shit, the point is, the example that came to my mind was: “I want to run a sub-20 5k”. I got to reach that goal at some point, but it took a few more years, we’ll get to it.
I had never really raced before, and didn’t know what to realistically expect, so I started racing, and looking at my watch, noticed that I was maintaining a sub 5 min/km pace. A mix of ignorance and maybe endorphins led me to one of my biggest disappointments when crossing the finish line. I started doing math to estimate my finish time around halfway through the race, 5k, 5 minutes per kilometer, if I maintain this pace, I’ll break 20, I can do this.
It was a fairly sobering moment when I crossed the finish line in 23'23”, clearly not sub 20, and it took me longer that I wish to admit to realize how wrong my math had been. “I have to maintain a sub 4 min/km pace to break 20, not sub 5 min/km, OK, I need to train … a lot!”.
Just in case you’re used to imperial units, this is a great plug for this little conversion tool I built exactly for this purpose! A 5 min/km pace is the equivalent to an 8'03” min/mile and a 4 min/km is the equivalent to a 6'26” min/mile pace.