Nicolas Navarro: Run, work, nap, repeat

Nicholas Navarro during the 2017 Marathon de Paris - Photo Jean-Marie Hervio / KMSP
Nicholas Navarro during the 2017 Marathon de Paris - Photo Jean-Marie Hervio / KMSP

Away from the glitz and glamour of the Olympic Games, dozens of athletes subsidise their sports career by having other jobs. From farming to banking, Tokyo 2020 looks at several hopefuls aiming to make an impact next summer and what roles they have outside of competition. This week, we talk about the French runner Nicolas Navarro, who made the cut for Tokyo 2020 while working in a sports shop. 

The deets

  • Name: Nicolas Navarro
  • Age: 29
  • Country: France
  • Sport: Athletics (marathon)

His athlete life

Before qualifying for Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 men's marathon event, Nicolas Navarro was a cyclist. From the age of eight until he was 18, the French athlete competed as a road cyclist, until he fell and suffered a serious injury. Unable to cycle for three months because of three broken vertebrae, he would never compete in road cycling again.

As Navarro's older brother was into trail running he decided to try the sport himself. He soon realised that he not only enjoyed it but was also great at it. He ran his his first race in 2012, a 10km run in his hometown of La Crau in Southern France - a race he used to attend as a child.

"We used to see the Kenyan athletes leading the race," Navarro recalled in an interview with Tokyo 2020. "Then we tried to run with them at the side of the road. We managed to keep up for 50m."

For his first 10km race, he decided to run with the leaders and finished seventh in 34:36. Since then, he has never stopped running, winning medals in local races before moving to the marathon distance a year later at age 23.

Five years later, he was running with the elite pack at Valencia Marathon and clocked 2:12:39 - a world-class time achieved while working full-time as a bike and ski mechanic in a sports shop.

But while attempting to qualify for Tokyo 2020, Navarro took unpaid leave, including in the lead-up to the 2019 Valencia Marathon where he finished in 2:10:01 - over a minute under the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:11:30.

French runner Nicolas Navarro, who qualified for Tokyo 2020 in the marathon event, is also working full-time in a sport shop as a mechanic.
French runner Nicolas Navarro, who qualified for Tokyo 2020 in the marathon event, is also working full-time in a sport shop as a mechanic.
Courtesy of Nicolas Navarro

His professional life

Today, Navarro still works full-time when he's not preparing for races and takes unpaid leave a few months before a marathon. At the moment he's preparing to run in the 2020 Valencia Marathon - his favourite flat race - on 6 December, with the goal of beating his personal best.

After that, the French athlete from Aix-en-Provence will take a week of vacation and go back to work before the end-of-year celebrations.

At the peak of his preparation, Navarro runs over 230km a week, but whenever he has to balance full-time work and training, he runs around 150km during the week - which is about 10 hours of training.

It requires a schedule where everything is timed to the second.

"Usually on Tuesday and Thursday, I work form 9am to 5pm but this is also the day for big sessions, tempo runs or intervals," Navarro explained.

"So I wake up around 7:15am, I run the 12km that separates my flat and the sport shop then I work till lunch. I eat fast and I take a nap in the workshop, then I work until 5pm and run to catch the bus, which takes me to the track. I take a nap of over 30 minutes in the bus and then I run hard for a big training session."

It might be a difficult rhythm to sustain but it may eventually help with his marathon performance, an event where resistance is key and a strong mind is required.

"Working and training can make my mental state better," said the 29-year-old. "Some days, I don't want to go to the track as I had a tough day and I know I'm going to suffer. I would prefer to go home. But when the session is over, we are happy that the job is done."

Working in a big sports shop also leads to interesting interactions with customers, who sometimes come in for reasons other than their bikes.

"I sometimes talk with people that come to see me. They congratulate me for what I do. I feel a bit embarrassed but it's super nice!"

Despite his way of life looking complicated, Navarro likes it since "it brings balance to his life". And even if he sometimes struggles, he still manages to do everything he needs to because he hasn't lost the most important thing any athlete can have - fun.

"You have to keep having fun. The more you have fun, the more you train. And when results follows, that's good."