Halifax is hilly. I’ve been told this is a key challenge of running in the Nova Scotia capital.
Since 2014, Naval Officer and Halifax resident Michael Bergeron has added the challenge of juggling to his training and racing throughout the Maritimes and across Canada.
Now a 10K record holder in the discipline of “joggling,” Michael admits he’s always a bit jealous when he sees friendly rivals post fast times on flat courses.
In October, Michael will have his chance when he takes on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, where he and Graydon Snyder will face off in attempt to best Michal Kapral’s current half marathon joggling record of 1:20:40. Bergeron was only ten seconds off that record this past May in Fredericton.
Michael says he hopes that Toronto’s flat terrain and healthy amount of pacers and crowd support will give him the momentum he needs to further assert his joggling supremacy. Racing a friendly rival also often brings out one’s best. Snyder and Bergeron faced off in the 5K at the 2016 Blue Nose Marathon Weekend. Bergeron says, “That was my first race with another joggler and unfortunately I blew up. He [Snyder] did 17:30 and I did 18:50.”
Running became part of Michael’s life at the age of 13 when he competed in track and cross country. Juggling came around the same time when he attended circus camp, gradually working his way up from bean bags to bowling pins, swords, and torches.
The idea of combining the two didn’t occur to Michael until 2014, when a friend sent him a photo via Facebook of another “joggler” and challenged him to combine his excellent pedigree in both disciplines.
“The first race I joggled was the Navy 5K in Halifax, but up until that morning I hadn’t decided if I was going to just run it or juggle as well.” Michael came away from that race with a 19:47 and only one drop. The time was also good enough for fourth overall.
Bergeron describes 2018 as the year speed came together. “I work from a regular plan and do all my speed work without the balls, which I only use on my easy run days,” Michael says. He adds, “I used to use them a lot more, but found that once I left them behind I was making more breakthroughs in pacing.”
The plan was to take that work into the Navy 10K and get as close to the record as possible.
“We started the race a bit fast with 3:20 splits, which put us on pace for a 34:00 finish,” Michael explains. “At around 5K when we settled into a steady 3:30, I started to believe that I could do it but my pacer told me I was going too slow.”
Entering the second half of the race with a 17:37 5K split, Michael was 50 seconds ahead of the record and began to increase his speed, anticipating an slowdown at the uphill 7-8 km stretch. At 8K, “We had about a minute of breathing room.” Michael would coast to a 35:36 finish, the overall win, and a new 10K joggling record, besting the previous standard by 50 seconds.
The reactions when Michael is spotted on one of his training runs, he says, are one of two extremes. “Either people say that it inspires them or makes them want to stop running altogether,” he says with a laugh.
Perhaps it’s not the most encouraging thing to eat the dust of a guy simultaneously performing two tasks that require rigorous training and practice, but Michael hopes that’s all outweighed by the extra entertainment and interest joggling can bring to running as a whole.
It’s a fool’s game to predict whether or not Bergeron’s achievements and the subsequent media attention indicates that joggling will catch on further. But the fact that Bergeron will continue to chase records, and do so by competing with a healthy rival at a big city race, is perhaps at least an illustration that running and the accompanying pursuit of excellence that comes with can always finds new ways to express itself. If it does so in a way that brings more attention to the sport and that entertainment factor that Bergeron describes, then we can at least we can have certainty that it’s great for running.