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 Alexis Miellet’s ‘life segment’, as told by the Distance team, with photos by Anne Sophie Soudoplatoff.
Hi Alexis, can you introduce yourself briefly?
My name’s Alexis Miellet, I’m 25 years old and from Dijon. I run for Dijon University Club and am a middle-distance specialist: 800 metres, 1,500 metres and cross country.
How have you managed during the two lockdown periods that have just passed?
They were quite difficult for me, because I was injured during both of them. I spent more of the first lockdown on my bike on my home trainer than running. The second, I went to the physio instead. It wasn’t easy, but in these periods I’ve been able to take stock, and work on things that I haven’t been used to working on, so I think that it will bring benefits over the long term.
What work in particular are you thinking of?
My physio and I worked a lot on muscle and joint flexibility, something I’ve never done in my life: I didn’t used to stretch much. I really did a lot of cycling in the first lockdown, something else I’ve never done in my life, either – a bit of cross-training, the sort of thing that’s more and more popular these days.
Are you nevertheless pleased with your performance level over the last few months?
There haven’t been many competitive meetings these last few months, I only ran twice this summer – once over 800 metres at Décines and once at the French Elite National Champs. I’m pretty happy because I became national champion for the third time in a row. It was the biggest title I could go for this summer, since the European Championships and the Olympics were cancelled. Not too bad, even if I’d rather not have been injured!
So you became French national 1,500 metre champion by cycling?
Exactly! I did run a little on the side, but, yeah, my preparation was very short, I had two months’ training before the French Elite Championships!
How did you begin in athletics?
My parents were athletes, so I always grew up with that in the background – I did my first cross country at three. Then I started football, that was my first proper sport, I played football from five to 16 years old. It was my father who stopped me going into athletics too early, so I didn’t burn out or get injured too young. I started athletics at 16, but it’s always been part of my life. I’ve known my coach since I was a little kid, he’s my dad’s childhood friend.
When you played football, was athletics there at the back of your mind anyway?
Yes, always. I wanted to start running when I was seven or eight, but my dad didn’t want me to. Then, when I went to a football development centre, I told myself I’d throw myself into football, but when I didn’t get signed up to take it further, I fell back on athletics. I always represented my school at cross country, apart from the years when I was at the development programme, when they prevented me from doing it. A couple of times I ran at Arnay-le-Duc, which is quite a prestigious national-level cross country race. I raced cross country without a team affiliation, and I won almost all of them!
What are your best qualities and your weaknesses?
Let’s say that I’ve got the strengths of a miler – that’s why I came to middle-distance racing. I’ve got a good base of speed and I’m not too bad at endurance. Combining these two elements has meant I’ve had some good results over 1,500 metres. As for my weaknesses, I could improve my endurance. That’ll come with age, but I’m also going to lose speed – I’ll always have a weakness!
How did you choose your event?
I started athletics as an under-18, when people often try more or less all the disciplines. I knew I wanted to do middle distance, so I ran 800, 1,500 and 3,000 metres. I felt best over the 1,500, though it wasn’t the distance where I had the best times, nor the best chance of medalling at the Nationals. Straight away I wanted to run over 1,500 at the Nationals, and I chose well, because I won that year. It’s really the distance at which I feel best.
When did you realise that you had the potential, that you really stood out?
From a very early age I was showing myself well in cross country, whether at Arnay or at school meets. I was winning them without training, so I always thought I had potential. But that’s a long way from running the Worlds or the Olympic Games – right from my first year of athletics I was French champion, but I knew there was a lot of work to do. It was as an U20, and ran at that category’s Worlds that I told myself I could perform at a very high level.
Who are the most important people around you these days?
First, there are my parents, who were athletes, and who follow everything I do. My parents and my family in general, who follow and support me a lot. My coach, Rémy Geoffroy, who’s coached me since I started, who I’ve known since I was little. I’ve known everyone around me since I was young, that’s been important to me. My physical conditioning trainer, Jean-Jacques Renier is also a childhood friend of my parents. We’ve made a bubble, a cocoon around my coaching.
When your coach saw you winning at cross country meets when you were young, didn’t he want to start coaching you then?
Yes, yes, yes! He used to say, ‘So when are you starting athletics?’ to me a lot, not pressuring me but just as a joke. Maybe deep down I think he might have liked me to start younger, but he’s happy I quit football and took up athletics.
What values must an athlete have to flourish?
First, you’ve got to have fun. Athletics, and middle distance in particular, are unglamorous and difficult. You’ve got to train every day, in all weathers, sometimes twice a day. There are times when it’s not easy, but if you’re taking pleasure in what you do, then you can overcome all this. The second value, I think, is humility. These are the two most important things. If you can have fun and stay humble, you’ll have a good career.
What has your sport taught you and how has that helped you grow?
That’s not an easy question! I learned a lot as a footballer, as there was a teacher at the development centre who taught me a lot. There’s a lot of differences between a team sport and an individual sport, obviously… athletics has taught me to focus on myself, so that I can push my limits during a race. In a team sport that’s a more difficult thing to feel, especially when you’re young.
Is athletics harder than football?
I’m not afraid to say it – and it’s not because I’m an athlete – but athletics is harder than football. There’s never a moment when you can fall back on anyone else. It’s timed and measured, so you can’t cheat. On days when you don’t feel good, or when you don’t want to, your times are bad. In football you can hide. Your teammate can make more effort one day, then you can take up the slack for him the next. You can’t have an off day in an individual sport, and that’s especially true in athletics.
In what ways is your environment ideal for your training?
I’m really happy with what we’ve got here in Dijon, except that the climate isn’t great in winter. Aside from that, I’ve everything I need: I live close to my training ground, there’s a track that’s just been redone, perhaps one of the best weights rooms in France at the Centre d’Études de la Performance [Centre of Performance Studies], a real hub for study here in Dijon. There are places to run surround by nature on trails – I hardly ever run on the road – I’ve really got nothing to complain about! The setting is ideal.
Which races do you dream about? What would you like to have on your palmarès?
The Olympic Games is the highest level of competition and it only happens every four years, so it’s more prestigous than the nationals. It’s multi-sport, too. I was lucky enough to do the Universiade in 2017, the University World Championships, which is in an Olympic-style format – a multi-sport competition with an athlete village. That allowed me to experience that style of competition, and I hope to get to the Olympics one day – in 2021 maybe! An Olympic title would be a culmination. I think that having medals is better than holding records: I’d rather be Olympic Champion than a world record-holder. There are only a handful of French world champions in middle distance events – we can’t hide from the fact that our sport is fairly riddled with doping – and it won’t be easy, but, why not, one day, if the stars align!
What’s your favourite session, and your favourite place to train?
It’s got to be intervals for the 1,500 metres, I often do a 1,000 – 800 – 600 – 400: that’s an interval session I do regularly with six minutes recovery between them, as fast as possible while aiming to keep a consistent pace. My favourite place to train is Monte Gordo in Portugal.
Tell us a bit about your segment then – what is unique about it and why does it represent you well?
It’s an uphill segment that’s a little less than 300 metres (330 yards) long. It’s quite nice, along tram tracks and just next to the DFCO football stadium where I was on my development programme. It’s a steady gradient, not too long and not too short, you can do some good repeats on it – 10 times up is a good session for me.
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?
People probably see me either on campus, on the track, or at Chévigny, just behind where I live, where I do all my running. I’m probably at the track a little more often, but I’m in the Chévigny woods a lot. I’ve started to get a bit of a reputation at Chévigny, a few people recognise me.
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?
Uh, no I don’t go CR-chasing! I use Strava to record all my training sessions, but I don’t chase CRs and I don’t look at what other people are doing. I must have bagged a few, several around Dijon, but it’s not like I go doing recces beforehand. For me, the fight happens at competitive meets!
Do you have any advice to help people beat your best time on your segment? Do you know anyone who could take it from you?
To take that segment, you’ll have had to work at your speed, since it’s not very long, but don’t go all in – it’ll take longer than 30 seconds so you’ve got to be careful at the start. I know some 800 metre runners in Dijon who could take it off me. The fastest 400/800 runner is Sacha Cultru, he was fourth in the U23 National Championships, he’s got good speed and is more used to running hills than I am. But I think I’d give him a run for his money even so!
Do you have an suggestions for clubs or athletes to follow on Strava?
I only follow one club on Strava: the TRC (Tempo Running Club).