I know that running scares a lot of people. Running fast, well, that scares just about everyone—myself included. So when Nike approached me with the idea of a six-week training program ending with a 10K run, I had to pause. 6.22 miles isn't new territory for me, but setting a speed goal—that intimidated me. Even with the newest, fastest gear at my disposal, my lofty aspirations of running at a pace under eight-minute miles seemed mostly unachievable. But I laced up my react sneakers and started logging (ever-faster) miles despite my misgivings.
A little backstory: I'm not new to running. I started logging miles as early as middle school. I was a soccer player, then a volleyball player, and eventually a sub-par track athlete too. My fastest mile time was 6:43, which is not a record, but it's nothing to laugh at either. But sometime around my sophomore year of high school, a switch flipped.
Plagued by a few seasons of verbally abusive, belittling coaches critiquing my every move, I stopped being the same confident athlete. The minute I heard loud voices on the sidelines, my breath would lift from my lungs into my throat and suddenly I couldn't breathe. I would wheeze as I desperately tried to take a breath, and when I was pulled off the field, I finally had an excuse. It wasn't my fault that I had failed—I couldn't breathe. I know that's not a glamorous or inspiring introduction to running. In fact, it's an unusual route to getting where I am today. By the end of high school, I gave up everything. I stopped running, and I even stopped playing sports.
It wasn't until late in college that I discovered a different kind of running: the slow jog. As a rattled college student, slowly meandering my way through the hills of Berkeley offered a mental respite from the anxiety of the classroom. I could trip my way down the tree-lined streets, eyeing which craftsman house would one day be mine, meditating on the conversations I had with my roommates. Running was no longer about speed. It wasn't about winning or losing—it was all about mental clarity and peace.
My love for relaxed running continued post-college. One of my favorite activities in New York is a Sunday night run along the river (not that I do it all that often, but when I do, it was really beautiful). But having lived here for more than four years, I was in need of a challenge. When Nike approached me about running the race (and putting the new Reacts to the test), I set my ambitions high. Over the last years, I've run consistently, but I have never taken care to push myself outside of my comfort zone speed-wise. Having experienced the more unpleasant side of competition (not to mention the nausea and pain that comes with running really, really hard), I was in no rush to well, rush.
But thanks to the gentle coaxing of Nike running coach Jes Woods, I decided to go for it and to start speeding up. Before our first training session, we all sat down to set our goals, and I put sub-eight pace down to paper. Then we headed out and got to work. While speeding up is a mental battle in many ways, I noticed immediately how much the right pair of sneakers can make a difference. I was used to jogging in highly supportive, heavy shoes, but the React is different. The lightweight flyknit upper and super-reactive foam actually left me feeling speedy, and my timed runs backed that up. Not to brag, but I recorded a 6:30 mile at one point, so I was doing something right.
By the time race day arrived, I'd done all the training (and carbo-loading) I was going to, and so with the firing of a gun, I and 8000 other racers set off, running on a freeway in L.A. that was closed specifically for the event. I won't lie—after training through the NYC winter, running in sunny—and hilly—Los Angeles was tough. By mile five, I was convinced I would either faint or throw up, but with my goal in mind, I played mental chess, counting down the tenths of a mile left, convincing myself to keep jogging at whatever pace I could handle. I felt that familiar shift in my breath, listening as the air left my lungs and became drawn out and raspy in my throat, but I kept running. Tomato-faced, I crossed the finish line, having kept a pace of eight minutes per mile exactly. I'm taking it. As I slowly cooled down after the race, I felt my breath slowly come back, and I knew that this was a competition I was proud of.
If you're ready to start running, shop gear below inspired by my own race day.