Meet Hellah Sidibe!

Hellah Sidibe is a former professional soccer player who found running during a low point in his life, and he’s been running ever since. His run streak is nearing six full years and he’s used it to inspire others all over the world via his social media channels where he’s known as Hellahgood. He is an official HOKA ambassador and recently joined NAZ Elite as an honorary team member as he trains for a marathon in the spring of 2023. We reached out to Hellah to see how things are going!

1) Hellah, welcome to the team! We’re so pumped that you’ll be repping HOKA NAZ Elite as you prepare for your marathon this spring. How the heck did this relationship with Ben Rosario and NAZ come about?

Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of the team and training! It’s an honor and a privilege that I’m so grateful for. Being a huge HOKA fan, it’s impossible not to know about NAZ Elite. Hearing about all the incredible athletes that run with the team and all the amazing accomplishments got me to start digging into the team and what they’re about. I found a book co-written by Ben, Run Like a Pro (Even If You’re Slow), and I said to myself – I’m trying to run like a pro so let me do some investigating into this to see what it’s all about and what Ben’s all about. I celebrated my 2000th day run streak in NYC at the HOKA store and found out Ben was going to be making an appearance. Unfortunately we didn’t get to speak that day but he did go and support me! I found out afterward and I reached out to thank him for being there. That was the start of our relationship!

2) You’re pretty darn famous on YouTube with 286,000+ subscribers to your channel. Some of your most-watched videos are from your Run Across America in 2021. What motivated you to attempt that run and can you give us a couple of highlights?

You’re too kind! It’s a great community that we built on YouTube. Everything started with my fiancé encouraging me to share my run streak story on YouTube. On day 163 of the run streak we posted a video titled, ‘Why I run every day,’ and from then on I just kept sharing my story. The run across America came about after realizing that running was a privilege that not everybody has and it wasn’t about only me anymore. Even though I like to challenge myself and hold myself accountable, I wanted to use my ability for something greater. I knew if I could use running to help others in any way possible that’s exactly what I wanted to do going forward. One day I got out of the shower and it just hit me, “You run every day anyway so why not run across the country?” To my ignorance I thought, hey maybe I’ll be the first person to do it! After doing some research I learned just over 300 people have done the run. I found the nonprofit, Soles4Souls, that takes unwanted shoes, new or used, and turns them into opportunity. You know the proverb, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime? That’s similar to the Soles4Souls model. I know all it takes is a pair of shoes to get running and from where I grew up in West Africa, Mali, having a pair of shoes is everything to us because you never know where from, or when, your next pair will come. I had an immediate connection to the nonprofit and I wanted to do everything in my ability to run across the United States and raise awareness and funds toward their mission and collect shoes along the way. The run took me 84 days for 3,061 miles averaging 36 miles a day. The first half took me about 50 days and the second half took me 34 days – much faster without the mountains! The highlight of the run was the people I got to meet along the way. It was so amazing to have people from all over the country joining in for 1 mile or 30 miles! I got to learn so much about the areas I was running through and hearing each individual’s story was always a huge motivation and eye opener for me during the journey. It got me to realize that we’re all so much more alike than we are different.

3) You’re also famous for your run streak which is now at nearly 2100 days, and still going strong. What was harder–running across the country or making it to 2,000 straight days?

The run streak became a daily routine because I found a reason to get out there. My why.. holding myself accountable, doing it for those who can’t, and knowing that it’s a privilege. Whenever I run I feel invincible, like I can do anything with the right mindset. It’s my getaway. I would say running across America was much more difficult because I put myself in a situation I’ve never been in. At that point I wasn’t even sure I could call myself an ultra runner even though I had run ultra distances in the past. I ran my first 50 mile day before I ran a marathon, a 245 mile week – running 35 miles a day but going out there, there were so many challenges in terms of altitude and vertical gain with the mountains that I hadn’t trained for at all. I told myself afterward that I was glad I didn’t look at the 3D map of the US until we were in the middle of the country. The run across America was also more difficult because I had a goal in mind of how long I wanted to take. I wanted to run it in less than 100 days so I knew that meant I’d have to cover a certain daily mileage. With the run streak I usually just get out there and run whatever I feel like running that day. Having that minimal pressure on myself is definitely how I was able to get so far in my streak. Even though my average overall is around 7 miles/day, I know I can go as low as 2 miles if I need to. My rules are just ones I made up for myself. My minimum is 2 miles and I have to run outside every day no matter the circumstances. It started as a 10 minute goal but I quickly realized that wasn’t enough for me because I grew to really love it. There’s so much joy for me in running whether I’m going out for an intuitive run or going out there with a goal but I don’t think there would be as much if I didn’t let myself fall in love with it pressure free first.

4) You’ve run the Leadville 100 ultramarathon, and you’ve run across America, but now you’re choosing to run a marathon, which you’ve called a huge challenge. A lot of people might say the ultra, or the transcontinental, are bigger challenges. Why do you think running a marathon as fast as you can is just as difficult?

If we really look at the distance of a 100 mile race and running across America, it seems just based on distance alone that it’s the tougher challenge. I do think it can be the case depending on where you’re at in your running journey. For me, being able to put myself in those areas where I’ve learned how to be stronger physically and mentally and conditioned my body to be able to run longer and further, even though the pace might not be “fast,” and the fact that I’ve endured such distance and I know what it takes and feels like to keep pushing forward makes it a little easier, humbly, for me to deal with than a fast marathon. The thing that makes running exciting to me is knowing there are so many different aspects of it. A marathon is quick and it’s over with fast. An ultramarathon can be fast but for me I’m more focused on holding on until the end and finishing the race than doing it as fast as I possibly can. Since it’s so much longer you have to be more strategic with your pace and how you push yourself. When it comes to a marathon, in my mind, you’re just sprinting until the end. I know it’s deeper than that but comparatively that’s how it seems to me. The way I look at it is like if you have a bandaid on and it’s stuck to your hair – you can rip it off quickly and deal with the pain later or you can pull it off slowly and feel the pain a little slower and longer. The slow peel is the ultra and the run across America and the quick one is a marathon. I know to be able to hold a certain pace for a marathon for me is going to be more challenging because I haven’t trained my body to do that. The other distances are really hard in their respective way but I’ve trained myself, my body and mind, to be able to push in those areas. Let’s see if my answer changes once I finish this marathon!

5) Ben has been coaching you for almost five weeks now. What’s the biggest difference between what he’s prescribed and what you were doing before?

I’m still over the moon that I’m being coached by Ben. Hearing his story and his accomplishments in what he’s able to do with his athletes is mind boggling for me. The biggest difference for me in how I’ve run in the past vs what Ben’s been prescribing to me in the past weeks is really just the combination of different styles of training. For almost 6 years I’ve just run in a way that felt comfortable for me and most of the time without a goal or plan. Now I’m running in a way I’ve never run in the past. Today I did 20×400 repeats. I’ve done maybe a few repeats thrown into a run in the past but never anywhere near 20. Being an athlete all my life I’ve really thrived on having a coach and someone to keep me accountable so having someone who’s doing that and giving me something I have to do to achieve my goal is so helpful to staying consistent. It’s much easier to make an excuse or cut back on training when you don’t have someone who’s checking in on you. When you have someone who’s dedicating time and effort into your success, it makes you want it even more. One of the things I’ll never forget was when I had a hill repeat day and I woke up to a text from Ben saying, “Hills pay the bills.” Hill repeats are something I’ve done on a small scale but never on the level I’m doing now. The way he has it set up and the way he puts the training together is like the perfect recipe and I’m excited to see how it changes me as a runner. I’ve already seen tremendous changes.

6) What’s the hardest workout Ben has had you do so far?

I’m looking at my training week now and I see a run coming up that scares me. So far the hardest workout I’ve done yet was a workout last week that was 8 miles at 6:20 pace with a 3 mile warm up and cool down. I’m someone who has difficulty keeping a consistent pace. I can average 6:20 but I can’t hold myself at 6:20 steadily. That was tough. I was nervous. I was humbled and brought back down to earth. It was a learning experience and I was just thinking, hey Hellah there is so much more work to be done. Even though I did it I felt like I was giving a lot more effort than I had in previous workouts so the effort level was an 8 or 9 out of 10. It’s really interesting because everything is becoming tougher now as we go longer and faster and even though sometimes it scares me I keep surprising myself. Then again, one day my confidence is at an all-time high and the next I’m getting my butt kicked and wondering how I’ll be able to run a whole marathon at some of the paces I’ve been running. I have a similar run coming up that’s much longer so I’m nervous. I’ve never been nervous to run before this marathon training so I just go with the mindset of trying to trust myself and the training and give the best I can that day.

7) Do you have any plans to go to Flagstaff and train with the HOKA NAZ Elite athletes?

I have plans to go out to flagstaff in March to train with the elite athletes! I’m so excited and can’t wait to see what it’s like – a day in the life with the pros. The best to do it. I always joke that I hope I can keep up with their warm up. I can’t wait to be in their territory and witness greatness first hand from the athletes and the coaches. I’m also excited to see where I’m at fitness-wise. Counting down the days to get out there!

8) Putting you on the spot here–which HOKA NAZ Elite athlete are you most excited to meet?

I love this question. I love everybody on the HOKA NAZ Elite team. If I had to pick ONE athlete though I’d have to pick Aliphine. She’s incredible. I think about her a lot during my runs. I met her very briefly before the 2021 NYC marathon and we got to take a photo together. She won the Olympic Trials in the Rocket X and I remember when I first saw them I didn’t like the look and wasn’t sure about them but I thought, if Aliphine won the Olympic Trials in these then I have to try them. Whenever I put them on now I tell myself my inner Aliphine is about to come out (I wish it really worked like that!) I think of her every time I run with them. Without knowing her on a personal level I feel like we’re really similar (not in terms of running because she’s on another level haha) in terms of outlook on life…we’re both African, born and raised in Africa, came to the US as immigrants trying to find our way and do the best we can to take advantage of this opportunity of living the American dream. She seems like she has great energy and is always pushing herself but with a smile on her face. I can’t wait to meet her.

9) Several of the HOKA NAZ Elite athletes love watching soccer. For example, Alex Masai is a HUGE Arsenal supporter!! Being a former professional soccer player, do you still follow the sport and which club do you support?

I love hearing that several of the athletes love soccer because soccer is my number one sport. Yes, I love running and running has changed me and my life in ways I could have never imagined, but I was born and raised in a soccer country and played my whole life. I’m a huge fan of the Premier League. I don’t know if Alex wants to hear this as an Arsenal guy but I’m a Chelsea guy. I became a Chelsea fan when they signed Didier Drogba back in 2004. Whenever I scored goals I would celebrate the way he did. It’s funny because whenever I run I always throw in some airplane flying wings to keep the run fun and I recently put it together that it must have been subconsciously inspired by Drogba’s scoring celebration.

10) Final question; we know Ben’s philosophy on marathon training is to let your fitness guide your goal-setting. Do you have a time goal for your marathon yet or do you need to keep training a little longer to find out what you’re capable of? Have you two talked about that?

I will never forget my first conversation with Ben on the phone when he told me, “Let’s wait until we see where you’re at some point in the middle and we’ll know then what you’re capable of.” I liked that because even though I always like to set my goals and expectations pretty high I know I’ll be happy no matter where we wind up. I feel like I’m going to need to keep training a little longer to see exactly where I’m at and what I’m capable of before I really start thinking about a time goal. My mindset is to be able to be as fit as I can at the start line and just see what my body will give me that day. Marathons are unpredictable…every race is unpredictable. As long as I know I did everything within my ability to be ready that’s all I can ask for. Anything else that happens is out of my control but I’ll push myself. I want to run hard and strong and finish strong. I want to give everything I have and not leave anything in the tank. That’s the goal.

Thanks Hellah! We’re so excited to have you joining us this spring. Fans; you can follow Hellah’s journey on social media here: YouTube | Instagram | Twitter

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