The other day, I left the house and went on an invigorating ten-mile run. I log my runs pretty religiously – usually on MapMyRun, though that day I happened to use Strava – and have kept a close watch on my mileage since I started seriously running in 2013. And so I know with certainty that I just hit 4,000 miles over the past three years. At the same time, running has acquired a profound degree of significance for me – athletically, emotionally, and vocationally.
My impetus to start running began around 2011, after I realized that I wasn’t particularly impressed with my reflection in the mirror. Throughout high school I’d been about 150-155 lbs, and during my gap year, when I spent a fair amount of time being sedentary and drinking Coke, my weight spiked by about 10-15 lbs.
And so I began running, about once or twice per week. I didn’t have a smartphone or run-tracker, and so I Google-Mapped a three-mile route that took me down a main street at around 7am, as delivery trucks unloaded bread and eggs in front of still-closed restaurants. I ran in a pair of old sneakers, and usually hit about 11:00 or 11:30/mile, huffing desperately to beat three miles in under thirty minutes (a goal I didn’t meet by the time my gap year was up).
At a doctor’s appointment in 2012, my physician observed that my blood pressure was on the high side, and asked how frequently I ran. I proudly said about three or four times a month. “You should really make that three or four times a week,” he responded.
And so I picked up the pace. I cut red meat out of my diet, and shifted away from non whole-wheat carbs. I cut out soda completely. And then I bought a new pair of sneakers, and incentivized myself by mentally promising to buy a cool Nike running shirt if I was able to hit 10 miles per week.
In late-2012, my then-fiance (now wife) recommended that we embark on a pact to lose a bit of weight in advance of our mid-2013 wedding. At that point, my weight was down from an average of 165 to about 160.
I accelerated my running from about five miles/week to about fifteen. I started to run everywhere. I was then living in New York City, and so I’d do short sprints across the George Washington Bridge. I’d push out occasional seven or eight mile runs down the Greenway, a running parth that traces the line of the Hudson River. I’d do short runs around the neighborhood. I started tracking my runs on MapMyRun so as to track my progress. My weight dropped to a bit less than what I weighed in high school, and eventually became my “wedding weight.”
As 2013 progressed I started logging more serious long runs: eight miles down the Greenway, and then 10, and then 12. In mid-2013, I signed up for a half-marathon in October, eager to put my training into practice. I was still shedding pounds, and my waist size had dropped to a 31, from a 33/34. Even though I’d never run more than twelve miles, I figured I’d set the bar high for myself. I made a mental goal to run the 2013 Staten Island Half in under two hours. I ended up doing it in 1:50.
By year-end 2013, I was really invigorated by my first half-marathon. I doubled down on my training, and upped my weekly mileage to about 20, aiming to hit about 100 miles per month, all in. I signed up for the New Jersey Marathon. My weight dropped to between 135-140lbs, and the 31-inch pants I’d bought in September became too large on me. I ran in the mornings, and I ran in the evenings. Sunday mornings were my long run days. I ran to Fairway on 145th street to pick up a pound of fresh coffee, and then sprint back uptown, coffee in hand.
Did I run 10 miles this morning just to buy a pound of @FairwayMarket coffee? You bet I did. @HRPilot. pic.twitter.com/ZZkTVGStam
— David Leshaw (@DavidLeshaw) May 11, 2014
I completed the 2014 New Jersey Marathon in 3:56, just under my goal time of four hours. At this junture, my life hadn’t become running, but it had become, basically, defined by its rhythms. I scheduled meals around runs. I’d steer clear of acid-inducing foods (marinara sauce, I’m looking at you) before practice sessions. I made running playlists on Spotify. I burned through several seasons of Planet Money. I would run the seven miles from my Washington Heights apartment down to Trader Joe’s on 72nd, pick up groceries, and then subway back uptown. I bought one pair of running shoes, and then another. A running jacket. More socks. An iPhone armband. Another iPhone armband. A third iPhone armband. (Those things don’t last particularly long). That summer, I completed a local 4-mile NYRR run in 28:46, dropping my average mile time to just over seven minutes, on shorter runs. It felt good to complete four miles in 2014 in less time than it took me to complete three in 2011.
I ran the 2015 Miami Half Marathon in 1:38, at an average page of 7:32. I ran in the frigid Polar Vortex of 2015, in 18-degree weather, dodging patches of ice and snow on my run down the Greenway. It didn’t matter much: I had a great U2 playlist to keep me company. (I also had a hat, gloves, three layers of mouisture wicking clothing, and running tights). That summer, I ran in 96-degree heat. I’m pretty sure I tuned out to Punch Brothers.
Wherever I’d travel, I’d bring my running sneakers. On a vacation to Florida. On a trip to LA. I ran circles around the Capitol in Austin, and all throughout the French Quarter in New Orleans. Running is, hands-down, the best way to get the flavor of a city.
Over the past year or two, I’ve accelerated and diversified my training. I’ve run another marathon, and a few halves. I typically run 20-25 miles/week, and usually hit between 100 and 130 miles/month, depending on the weather, work, and family life. I invested in a jogging stroller so my son could start to learn to love running too, even before he could even walk. I’ve started to experiment a little bit with trail running, and am seriously considering an ultra run either in late ’16 or ’17.
4,000 miles seems a good point at which to reflect on the challenges and benefits of running. It’s rare that something that technically still might quality as a hobby can have such a profound ripple effect on everything I do. But it’s also become a bit more than a hobby: it’s become a wonderful part of my working life.
In mid ’16, I was brought on as CEO of Finishers Club – an online hub that provides runners with a profile page on which to log their race finish times – where I’ve been able to merge running with my other love – technology – so that it’s become something more definitional than distracting. I use my long runs for inspiration, for headspace, and as fuel to produce a better, “insanely great” product.
In much the same way that I get a thrill every time I beat a personal record, I get a dopamine rush every time a new user signs up on FC – no matter the distance, or their skill level. I think that the love of running is universal – it’s basically the definition of “primal” – and so the ability to connect with and benefit other runners is really a wonderful thing.
I now have my sights set on my next goal – 5,000 miles – by the beginning of 2017. The challenge of pushing out a thousand miles – and growing a company whose mission is aligned with my own passion – is both exciting than daunting. But, as Confucius said, it all begins with just a single step.