In December of 2020, I took up a virtual challenge to run two kilometres per day for a month. Was I already a runner? Nope. I’d say I was a sporadic jogger at best. Was it hard? Absolutely — but not as hard as I’d anticipated. I managed to get outside nearly every day, and the feeling of accomplishment was incredible. My favourite thing to do was end my run on a downhill to enjoy the truly unbeatable thrill of speed. I chased that runner’s high pretty consistently throughout 2021. But this year’s routine has been marred by starts and stops.
I was in search of inspiration to help me get back on track when I got the chance to chat with Andre De Grasse. The Scarborough-born sprinter and coauthor of the motivational children’s book Race with Me! recently touched down in Toronto to launch his new partnership with Tre Stelle and the company’s new product, Cheezmade, a meat alternative made with 100 per cent Canadian cheese. He was fresh off his Team Canada gold-medal win in the men’s 4×100-metre relay at the World Athletics Championships, where he ran the final leg in a swift 8.79 seconds. And yes, I asked the most decorated male Olympian in Canadian history how I could become a better jogger.
During the interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also talked about what it was like to battle COVID-19 on his road to victory and the charitable endeavours that keep him moving forward.
Congratulations on your gold medal! What’s been the sweetest part of experiencing the win?
Just knowing that we made history … it’s been [more than] 25 years since we’ve done anything like that. So it was good to get some congratulations from the guys that have been there before — Donovan [Bailey], Bruny [Surin] and Robert [Esmie] — and, of course, other members, our relay coach.
We’ve been to two Olympic games together as a team, and we’ve won bronze and we won silver, so we just wanted to get that opportunity to try to win gold. So it definitely feels good.
You recently recovered from COVID-19 for the second time. How did that impact your training for the World Athletics Championships?
There’s always going to be ups and downs and things that you can’t control. Of course, just not being able to train at my best for the past three weeks after contracting it — it was tough. But, you know, I wanted to try to make sure I was there for my team.
I scratched from the 200 metres [race], and then just kind of laid all my focus on trying to be ready for the relay and to end the World Championship on a high. So it definitely feels good to be able to have that and say, ‘OK, I mean, it didn’t start off well, but at least it ended well.’ And I think that’s what life’s all about.
I’m hoping you can help me as an aspiring runner. What are your tips for the average person to run better?
It’s really all in the technique. You know, making sure that you’re pumping your arms. And I think for the average person, just start off with doing a couple laps around the track. Try to just feel that momentum. Take your time, obviously pace yourself … if you’re trying to run fast, you don’t need to be gearing up into that moment as quick.
I tell people, as a runner, I’m not running fast all the time. I’m literally warming up into it. I stretch. I do warm-up laps at a way slower pace. And then, of course, you’ve got to do drills to keep your technique.
Definitely I think if you work on the little, small details and start off slow, and just do those things first, then you can kind of get into the whole running thing. But don’t just start off trying to run fast because that’s how you hurt yourself. You’ve got to take your time, ease into it, pace yourself [and] obviously make sure that you’re hydrated.
So do those things and eventually, maybe I can get to running 100 metres in 8.79 seconds?
Well, you’ll definitely have a personal best! It’s funny, because I had a [virtual running] challenge … the goal was for everyone to run 400 metres, and literally every week you come back and you try again to beat your time. So a lot of people, as they kept doing it over and over again, they actually ran a little bit faster every single time, even if it was by one second … it was pretty cool to see that.
It didn’t even matter the age, to be honest. We had people in their 20s, their 30s, their 40s, they would just run. And I think that’s what it is: it’s just practice. Once you practice, it all comes into place.
Both the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation and Andre De Grasse Future Champions Scholarship Program help empower young people, giving them access to things like sport, health care and education. Why is giving back to youth important to you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of support throughout my career. And I always want to be able to return that favour to a lot of these kids. Genuinely, I just saw, especially when I went back to my old track club, how so many kids were so good. And to be able to, you know, help them get a scholarship, go off to university and maybe want to pursue their sport, it definitely is just rewarding for me to see that.
How can Canadians support your projects?
Our next project is coming up soon. I’m actually doing a wine lunch to help raise funds for the foundation. So all the proceeds will actually go back to my foundation — to helping the kids in their sport … and anything to do really with that educational piece, because we want to make sure that they turn into not just sports stars but also be able to have their education as well. To be able to be a productive citizen in the world. You can go to AndreDeGrasse.com and learn more.
As you look forward toward the fall, what are you going to be focused on?
My sport is all year round. Even though we’re not competing all the time, it’s all year round. So I mean, literally, I practice six days a week. So when the fall comes, I’ll be back in training here and gearing up for another year. Next year, we have the World Championship in Budapest, Hungary, and then that’s kind of a stepping stone for me to get ready for the  Paris Olympic Games. So definitely it’s a lot of that, a lot of family time. That’s kind of my schedule at the moment.
Ingrie Williams is a Toronto-based freelance beauty and style writer, and co-founder of the T-Zone, who lives for a bright lip and big hair. Follow her on Instagram @ingriewilliams.