On Sunday November 5, WHOOP Senior Product Designer Tom Rand completed the New York City Marathon. It was Tom’s first marathon, and he intended it to also be his last. He describes himself not as an athlete, but as simply a “regular guy.” His only goal was to finish, which he did in 4 hours, 25 minutes and 20 seconds.
Running a marathon was never something Tom expected or even wanted to do–until he started working at WHOOP.
A native of Far Hills, NJ, Tom mostly played team sports growing up, hockey in particular (check out his data in Real-Life ‘Fatigue Meter’ from Video Game Hockey?). Running was not on his radar. Tom attended college at Northeastern and then got a job at a startup in nearby Cambridge, MA. In that time, he ran a few races in the Boston area “just to get in a good workout.”
In July of 2016, Tom started at WHOOP. Shortly after, he volunteered to compete on the WHOOP team in a 203-mile Ragnar relay race from Mt. Washington to Hampton Beach. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Tom said. “But I was the new guy in the office and I didn’t want to say no. The relay was really tough and I wasn’t prepared for it at all, but it got me into running.”
It wasn’t just that race that put Tom on a path to running a marathon, it was also his experiences interacting with WHOOP athletes. Understanding who WHOOP users are, the challenges they face, and what they are looking to accomplish is essential to creating and maintaining a quality product. Tom plays an integral role in that process. He’s spent countless hours interviewing WHOOP athletes in an effort to get inside their heads and design the best device for them.
Not only has this helped Tom be better at his job, it’s affected him on a personal level as well:
“I became inspired by their stories, hearing about their accomplishments made me want to do something myself. That kind of environment is infectious. Plus, I discovered a lot about being a better athlete from the WHOOP users I spoke to. I learned about how they train, and what they do for recovery. That gave me a huge leg up when I started training myself.”
Tom decided to try a half marathon, with the goal that if he finished in under two hours, he’d sign up for a full. “I trained smarter than I ever had before,” he said. “I broke the two-hour mark–barely, but I did it.”
From there, it was just a matter of choosing which marathon to enter. “Since this was probably the only marathon I’d ever run, I wanted it to be a big one,” Tom said. “I remember watching NYC as a kid, so I figured why not. The timing was perfect too.”
Tom began training seriously early last summer, but he didn’t let it compromise other things he wanted to do. In late July, he went on a week-long Florida fishing trip with several of his friends. As can often be the case when on vacation, alcohol consumption was brutal for his Recoveries:
“I’d been training hard before the trip, but then did nothing for the entire week,” Tom recalled. “It was really hard to get back into my routine after that.”
One of the other major components to Tom’s job is helping create the tips that appear in the WHOOP app alongside your data:
This led to an unusual “Ah ha!” moment during his training. “Earlier this fall, there was a time when I hadn’t been drinking at all and I’d been sleeping really well,” Tom said. “I thought I was doing everything right, but my Recovery was tanking. I opened the WHOOP app and the recommendation read ‘You can get away with this training load in the short-term if you balance it later with lots of rest.’ It made me confident that I was still on track as long as I didn’t continue to overtrain. The crazy part was, I was actually listening to my own advice. When I originally built it, I never expected it would apply to me.”
To no surprise, Tom’s hardest training came in the month prior to the marathon. It was a bit of a juggling act for him to maintain it amongst other commitments:
“I had weddings two weekends in October, so I scheduled my hard runs on the Friday mornings before. Looking at my data, you can see with those two weekends in particular I got killed [10/14 and 10/28]. The challenge was focusing on recovery from training in order to be ready for the next week, while also having a good time at the weddings.”
As you can see in the screenshot above, outside of those two weekends, Tom did an exceptional job balancing his Strain and Recovery leading up to the race. During the week prior, he cut back his training load and tapered for the big day. Tom also did his best to improve his Sleep Regularity and get as much rest as possible in the final days before the marathon:
Tom logged a 20.7 Strain while completing the New York City Marathon. For him, it was the equivalent Strain of a professional triathlete competing in the Ironman World Championship, and a serious Ultra runner’s third-place finish at the Wasatch 100.
Roughly three hours into the race (around the 20-mile mark), Tom’s legs cramped up and he was forced to slow his pace dramatically, from 9-10 minute miles to closer to 12. You can see the exact moment this happened in his heart rate data:
Tom was also quite amused by the message he saw in the WHOOP app afterwards:
“It was an amazing feeling to finish,” he said. “I remember thinking in that moment, ‘There is no way I will ever do this again.’ But now that some time has gone by, I’m starting to wonder if I might try another one. I’d like to beat four hours, I was on track to do it for most of the race.”
Don’t be surprised if his continued interaction with WHOOP athletes helps him find the motivation to get back out there. Tom also believes his experience running the marathon will allow him to better serve our user base in the future:
“Going through a proper training plan and running the race gave me a much higher level of empathy for our athletes. To get out there and actually do what so many of them have described to me in person–it brought me that much closer to understanding their day-to-day lives.”