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As we still miss bibs and start lines at the start of this year, Strava and Distance are launching the Segments Series, an invitation for the runners from all across France to strive for their best time on 12 segments throughout the country, until Feb 7th. To fuel your first stride, don’t miss our series of interviews that shines a spotlight on some of the most promising of the next generation of French athletes. We spent a day with them to get an idea of the effort and the sacrifices they make daily; to understand their motivations; their state of mind after an unprecedented year; and the dreams they want to make reality. These athletes took us to their favourite training grounds and showed us a segment that suits their strengths, their specialism, or their character – so you can measure yourself against the future of French athletics.

Come with us for Naïs Racasan’s ‘life segment’, as told by the Distance team, with photos by Anne Sophie Soudoplatoff.

NAÏS RACASAN
19 years old
Favourite segment: Ile d’Amour-La Taillat, Meylan, France
5th place in the U20 800 metres at the European Championships
Meylan, France

Hi Naïs. How are you and where are you at in this strange season?
I’m very good thanks! It’s a very long season, the end’s not yet in sight, and that’s what’s been a bit difficult. There are no international objectives and it’s difficult to set concrete goals. That means it’s more difficult to motivate yourself, but you try to fix on your goals and to tell yourself you’re progressing, that’s what’s important.

How did you begin in athletics?
My grandmother was Romanian, she competed in athletics at a high level with the Romanian national squad, and my dad followed in her footsteps, he was also in the national team, running the 800 metres, 1500 metres and cross country, nationally and internationally. When he came to France he ran at a very good level at university and he wanted to pass on to us this heritage. All of my brothers and sisters, more or less, have done athletics. My sister and I are the most serious – it’s not just the family business, it’s much more than that, I really love it.

What are your best qualities and your weaknesses? How did you choose your event?
When I started I tried everything – cross country, 1,000 metres – up to the age of 15. My club where I lived in Évian only did middle distance, so I didn’t sprint or jump, only run, so it’s natural I became a middle-distance runner. At the age of 16 I had to choose my event, because 1,000 metres doesn’t exist in that age group. I was pretty quick, and I had enough aerobic capacity, so we tried the 800 metres and it clicked from the start. We also tried the 1,500, but at the moment I’m less into that. You have too much time to think at that distance – I like it when you don’t think and just run fast. The 800 is perfect for that.

When did you realise that you had the potential, that you really stood out?
In my first year in the U18s I was selected for the French national squad. I didn’t realise what the qualification races meant, but I managed to run a great time that meant I was selected for the European Youth Olympics Festival. That’s when I said to myself, ‘Top level running is great!’ I was 15 or 16 and I decided I wanted to progress and get selected again every year.

Who are the most important people around you these days?
It’s always been my parents, and above all my dad, who has taught me to run since I was little and who comes with me to all my competitions. It’s really a huge moral support. Until this year I lived with them, they help me so much. Now I’ve changed surroundings, my coach is also very important. The relationship I have with my coach is over and above all the others, as he’s who I see most in my sporting life. Of course there’s also all my friends who share my love of athletics and of exertion – it means we all progress together.

What values must an athlete have to flourish? What has your sport taught you and how has that helped you grow?
Humility, first off, because sport is a rollercoaster ride, and even the best athletes can be brought low, so if you don’t learn to be humble, it can be very difficult. And then it’s taught me respect for everyone – rivals, training companions, coach. Then there’s confidence – both in myself and in my coach. Sport helps you become open to others and to progress, not just as an athlete but as a person: it gives you values like all the ones I just mentioned. It helps you put all kinds of things in perspective, too. When you don’t win a race, that can help you be more at ease in everyday life – to realise that it’s not the end of the world, that much worse things can happen. In just three years I’ve learned a lot thanks to sport. You evolve and grow each day: at each meet you learn new things, you learn to rely on yourself and to trust that if you’ve run fast in the past the day will come when you’ll run fast again – maybe even faster! That allows you to be a bit more relaxed and less stressed in everyday life.

In what ways is your environment ideal for your training?
Here in Grenoble, where I’ve been since February, the infrastructure is cool, there’s a big track with a park behind it, the riverbanks to run along, it’s a great natural environment. I’m surrounding myself with good people, people who I trust and I see all the time. If something’s gone wrong, there are people I can talk to who will help. Whether that’s my parents, my boyfriend, my friends, my coach… I’ve also got a mental coach. What you choose to surround yourself with is so important.

How far would you like to go? Which races do you dream about? What would you like to have on your palmarès?
All sportspeople will say the same thing: Olympic gold. You turn up at training every day for that reason: that’s why you don’t just lace up your shoes and jog then say you’ve done your efforts. It’s the ultimate goal that helps everyone to strive to be better. On a smaller scale, I’d like to write myself into the history of French sport. Inspire people because of who I am and the values I bring along with me, that’s also super important. I try not to goof around, and try to use my public persona as a sportsperson to leave a good legacy. Just saying that I run would be a shame. A lot of people like me because I run; I want them also to like me because I embody positive values.

Tell us a bit about your segment then – what is unique about it and why does it represent you well?
It’s where I ran for the first time when I arrived in Grenoble, when I met my boyfriend and all the friends I train with now. I think it’s really amazing because you’re in the middle of nature, you really wouldn’t think that you’re in a big city. You can run there, long runs, threshold runs, everything. It’s super cool, I love it!

Strava recently launched the ‘Local Legend’ achievement: where do people see you running most? Do you feel you’re already the most recognised runner in town?
I’m not the Strava Local Legend, but I’ve run so much in my area since before the Local Legend existed that I was already the ‘local legend’! Maybe I don’t run much more than people out for their daily morning jog on their habitual route. I always see people I know, from my old club or elsewhere. I’m not sure if people see me as ‘that girl who runs’, I don’t really have that impression.

At your level, you obviously must take a lot of segment Course Records when training. Is this something you pay attention to and do you ever go CR hunting?
Yes, I used to get a lot, but these days a few less. I try to share all my runs but I do like to challenge myself. During lockdown my boyfriend and I made lots of segments around my house in Évian. We tried to be creative and set little challenges for each other. It’s fun to be able to measure yourself against other people without even seeing them. I used to look at the CRs to see if I was first, second or third, but I wouldn’t give everything to get it if it wasn’t to be. But during lockdown we did give it a go, just for fun.

So what advice do you have to beat your best time on your segment? Do you know anyone who could take it from you?
I was on a threshold run when I did my best time, so people will need to do a threshold run of at least three kilometres. To take it from me, they’ll have to do three kilometres in 11’20” or 11’30”. I don’t know exactly what I did, but I encourage anyone to beat it, it’ll give me a new challenge – I’ll try to beat their time in turn, this winter when I have some time!

Do you have an suggestions for clubs or athletes to follow on Strava?
I follow an American woman from the Bowerman Track Club, Karissa Schweizer. She has a private profile and she accepted my follow, she does a lot of miles. Also, follow me and my club, the EAG!

Follow Naïs on Strava.
Discover the Segments Series.